“Build Missionaries and Teach the Gospel,” Ensign, Sept. 1983, 74–75
“Do whatever needs to be done to help missionaries, to strengthen them, to fortify them, to touch their lives,” President Gordon B. Hinckley urged new mission leaders. His remarks came during the seminar for new mission presidents held June 21–24 at the Missionary Training Center in Provo, Utah.
On Tuesday, June 21, sixty-one new mission presidents and their wives received an orientation to the MTC, witnessing firsthand the training that missionaries receive there. That evening they attended a devotional, along with some fifteen hundred newly called missionaries.
President Ezra Taft Benson of the Quorum of the Twelve spoke at the devotional. He said that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has “the greatest message in all the world.” This is the work of the Savior, he said, and moving it forward requires “complete dependence upon him.”
The following days were filled with additional training and orientation. For eight hours each day, they attended workshops and received instruction and inspiration from a number of General Authorities. Among the church leaders in attendance were all members of the Quorum of the Twelve, except Elder Mark E. Petersen who was absent due to illness. Also absent were President Spencer W. Kimball and President Marion G. Romney of the First Presidency.
On Friday morning a general session was held, conducted by President Hinckley. In speaking to the new mission presidents, President Hinckley recalled his own experience as a young missionary fifty years earlier. After writing a letter filled with discouragement, he received a brief, yet memorable, reply from his father: “Dear Gordon, I just read your letter. I suggest you forget yourself and go to work. Sincerely, Your Father.”
“The day that letter came was a great day,” said President Hinckley. “I made a pledge to the Lord that I would try to lose myself in his work. And the sun began to shine through the English fog, and it was a new and wonderful world. As I look back upon my life, all that’s happened since that’s been worthwhile I can trace back to that day of decision.”
President Hinckley listed ten gifts he hoped every missionary would bring home from the mission field. The foremost is “a knowledge of and love for God our eternal Father and His Beloved Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. There is no greater gift that can come to anyone in this world. … Unless we do all we can to foster that in the lives of every man and woman who comes under our direction, we will have failed in our ministry.”
A second gift is “a knowledge of and love for the scriptures, the word of the Lord. As a missionary, I read each evening before going to bed a few chapters in the Book of Mormon, and there came into my heart a conviction which has never left that this is the word of God. … I would hope that every man and woman who comes under your influence would leave his field of labor with a conviction in his or her heart that these things are verily true.”
Increased love for parents, love for the people among whom they labor, appreciation for hard work, and an understanding of the importance of teamwork are other important gifts.
The availability of inspiration is a seventh gift mission presidents should help their missionaries gain—“the assurance that the inspiration of the Holy Spirit is available to each of us when we live for it.” Other gifts are the value of personal virtue, the faith to act, and humility to pray. Every missionary should recognize, President Hinckley said, “that there is a power greater than ours … and that there is a source of power to which he can go—with the assurance that he will be listened to and that there will be a response.”
Elder Howard W. Hunter also addressed the new mission presidents, telling them that the Lord has placed the responsibility of missionary work “squarely upon the Church as an institution and upon each member of the Church.” Preaching the gospel is one of the basic missions of the Church, he said, “because it is the essence of the work of our Father and of the Lord, Jesus Christ.”
However, it is only one aspect of our three-fold mission to preach the gospel, perfect the Saints, and redeem the dead. “Your calling for the next three years is specifically to proclaim the gospel to nonmembers,” he said, “but we should avoid any artificial distinctions between these three great responsibilities.” They are different in some respects, but are all part of the work of salvation, he said. “It is instructive to note that the keys relating to these three missions were restored on the same day—April 3, 1836. …
Since the restoration of these keys, we have watched the Spirit of the Lord brooding over the nations.”
Elder Hunter related several stories illustrating “the remarkable demonstrations of power that attend this latter-day work.” He said that “the Lord wants all of his children to accept the gospel, to be cleansed through the atonement of Christ, and to continue in faithfulness. … The Lord expects us to baptize and to gather the lost sheep of Israel into the fold so that we can begin the process of perfection and work for the salvation of others in an ever-widening circle.”
Elder Neal A. Maxwell encouraged the new mission presidents to develop good public relations programs to “bring the Church out of obscurity” and to spread the good news of the Restoration. However, he said, “the perception of us as a Church and a people will improve in direct proportion to the degree to which we mirror the Master in our lives. No media effort can do as much good over the sweep of time as can believing, behaving, and serving members of the Church.”
Addressing the “minor but irritating challenges of misrepresentation,” Elder Maxwell counseled the leaders to develop a sense of history in order to put modern challenges into perspective. “We must not, as the Lord has instructed us, revile against those that revile. Let us instead be about our Father’s business in dignity and devotion.”
Critics of the Church are not a major concern, he said: “These tactical irritations are mere mosquitoes in the swamp. The real challenge is the spreading swamp itself, the growing secularization of the Western world. From the former we receive some stings of criticism. From the latter, … we receive deepening indifference, if not hostility, towards all things spiritual.”
Elder Maxwell explained that since much of the Christian world now exists in that “secular swamp,” true Christianity seldom gets a hearing: “So many in the world regard Christianity not as untrue or even unthinkable, but simply as irrelevant. … Upon this sober scene has burst forth the full light of the everlasting gospel. … We bring fresh evidence and reassurance of Jesus’ reality, identity, and personality to a doubting and despairing world.”