“Helping Your Children Be Missionaries,” Ensign, Oct. 1977, 67
A minor crisis had just entered the life of fifteen-year-old Matt, one of my sons, who as one of only twelve Mormon students in the entire high school. How could he answer question fifteen correctly without violating the class rule that forbade the student from changing the wording on any true-or-false question? He read the statement again.
“Joseph Smith, the alleged Mormon prophet, wrote the Book of Mormon. True or False?”
Matt felt that he would have a 100 percent score if he got this one correct. But how could he respond to such a statement? The teacher expected “true” but the statement was “false.”
It was time to hand in the papers. He must respond now or never. He quickly crossed out the word “alleged” and after putting a line through the word “wrote” he penned in the word “translated.” He then put a heavy circle around the word “true” and handed in his paper.
After the roll was called the next day, the teacher’s first remarks were, “Matt, stand up.”
“Tell us all why you changed the wording on question fifteen,” the teacher said in a stern tone.
Matt remembered exactly the wording of question fifteen. He grinned broadly and replied, “Because Joseph Smith wasn’t an alleged prophet. He was a prophet. And because he didn’t write the Book of Mormon—he translated it.”
The teacher said, “Come up front and take as long as you desire. Tell us just why you believe the way you do.”
Matt had the thrill of telling the entire class about the Church. And he also received credit for a correct response on question fifteen.
While we lived in that city, each of our children had many opportunities to talk about the Church. They considered it “fun” to be able to look each day for natural opportunities to tell their friends about the gospel.
I suppose the word natural is the best word I could use to describe the way to get our children and ourselves to be missionaries. You just watch for “natural” opportunities. Nothing need be forced. Just keep your eyes, ears, and hearts open, and on numerous occasions it will seem like the only thing to say will be something about the Lord and his Church.
We tried to make it clear to our children that it wasn’t their job to convert everyone, but it was their blessed opportunity and privilege to naturally inform everyone they could about the Church.
We all knew that if we smiled, had good will, and kept the Church standards we would be able to have many gospel-centered conversations. Whenever we felt compelled to convert everyone we soon would realize that we were becoming overbearing. And being overbearing was a forced response for us and very “unnatural.”
For example, our oldest son had the opportunity of giving an address at his high school graduation exercises. He at first felt he should say a good deal about the Church. But that somehow seemed unnatural, for the people there were from many churches.
But it did seem natural to close his talk with these words: “When I came to this school three years ago I didn’t know any of you. I was a stranger here. But now as I speak to you my mind is flooded with the pleasant memories of the way you’ve treated me. Your kindness and your friendship have caused me to love this city and its choice people. This place has become my home and this school has become my school. You have become my dearest friends. And so now because of the way you’ve treated me I say to you what the great Mormon prophet, Brigham Young, once said as he found his new home in the West. To me, ‘This is the place.’”
The people rose to their feet and applauded for many long minutes.
His natural and completely sincere expression had won their hearts and would in many cases open their doors.
We realized, of course, that our being friendly and living a good life would not teach people the doctrines of the Church any more than the math teacher’s living a good life teaches his students how to do algebra.
But being a friendly, warm person would open the door to natural discussions that would lead to the opportunity to bring about a meeting between friends and missionaries.
Our family traveled a good deal and often ate in cafes. As the waitress approached with coffee we would make this natural response: “No, thank you. We don’t drink coffee. We’re Mormons.”
The words “We’re Mormons” seemed natural and easy. Conversations often followed, and addresses were obtained so that missionaries could call.
Our sons were interested in sports. A statement such as “I hope BYU wins in the Fiesta Bowl” could naturally lead to a discussion on “Where is BYU?” “Is it a Mormon school?” ”Are you a Mormon?” “What do you guys believe anyway?”
We taught our children that we all needed to be the kind of persons who would make others want to talk to us. We made it clear that if someone challenged the Church it didn’t have to be a crisis for us. We didn’t have to get angry or upset if someone criticized our beliefs. We merely needed to smile and respond without being contentious or overbearing. We needed to understand that the people we were talking to just didn’t understand.
When we moved into our new home in a city with but few Mormons, we decided we would invite all the neighbors to an open house at our home. We didn’t think very many would respond to our printed invitations, but they all came! We could hardly get them all in the house. It was the first time many of the neighbors had met the other neighbors.
After a long evening together, all departed for their homes except one family. They were Catholics, and they lived just down the road from us. They had children the same ages as our children. That was the beginning of a deep friendship. Their boys would come out to play basketball with our boys and their girls would come to play hide-and-seek with our girls.
While our children played with theirs on warm summer evenings, we, the parents, would watch fireflies together and talk of many dear things. A warm friendship developed and the parents started saying, “How do you get your children to be so well adjusted and so friendly?” We would say, “They learn most of that at church and at family home evening. They also learn many of those qualities at Primary.” They said, “We would give anything if our children could be more that way.”
We invited them over for a special family home evening and they invited us back. But all this wasn’t doing the job, not really. We had to do more, so we invited the missionaries over and had the family come too.
The children of their family really came to like the missionaries. They said in a good Southern way, “Why don’t y’all come to our house and tell us about y’all’s religion?” So the missionaries started going over and they would greet the missionaries with the words, “Y’all come to tell us about y’all’s religion?” And the missionaries did tell that family about our religion, but the family had deep roots in the Catholic Church and did not yet wish to change. Our saddest goodbye when we left that city was the goodbye we said to those dear friends. Last summer their boys came out to Utah to visit with our boys and they are coming out again. Our friendship is eternal.
Some people take to missionary work really well and others feel like it is a little too much and they don’t want to impose upon people. But it seems like our children—and yours—can, without imposing on anybody, just naturally bring up conversations about the Church. Not everybody will be interested, but many will. Those who seem interested can then be taught by the missionaries. In our experience the hardest question of all was to ask, “We know two missionaries who would like to call on you. Would you like to meet them?” But even that seems natural if you are talking to someone you like—or maybe even love.