“I Couldn’t Find a Good Excuse,” Ensign, Feb. 1986, 46
I told the bishop I had all the blessings I needed. I didn’t need to serve a mission to get more.
My wife and I were enjoying a comfortable life. I was retired and we had paid off all our debts. I had a nice little shop at home with every kind of tool that an old man could ever want. And I had a three-acre garden and several hives of bees that brought in a little extra income.
We were comfortable, too, with the Church service we had given over the years since we’d been baptized. I had been a seventy for twenty years and had enjoyed local missionary experiences. Then I became a high priest and was teaching a Sunday School class—an assignment I was really enjoying. We felt we had done all that the Lord had required of us and the rest of our lives was ours to enjoy.
Then the bishop came to see if we were ready to go on a full-time mission. I declined, telling him that I had done all the Lord had asked me to do and that those fifteen- and sixteen-year-old boys and girls in my Sunday School class still needed me. “Besides,” I said, “I have all the blessings I want.” He didn’t press me any further.
About a year later, he brought up the subject again.
“Walter,” he said, “I have been doing a lot of praying about this. I want you to know that the Lord wants you to go on a mission. You told me that you have a lot of blessings and that you don’t need any more. That’s fine. But there are a lot of other people who need some blessings that only you can give them. Your wife needs them, the ward needs them, and your children need them to say nothing of all the people you’ll come in contact with in the mission field. Think about it.”
I rolled that idea over in my mind all night. I knew my wife would support whatever decision I made. The problem was, I couldn’t decide one way or the other.
The next morning I was up before dawn; I went outside and sat down on a beehive box and waited until it was light enough to go out into the garden to get a couple of cantaloupes for my breakfast.
As I sat there eating, I looked at all the “stuff” I had carried around for the past twenty-five years wherever we had moved. I had used some of it and had given some to my friends and neighbors. But I still had a lot of good things that weren’t being used at all and weren’t doing anybody any good.
At that moment, a thought came to me: “I have been in the Church nearly twenty-six years now and have acquired a wealth of gospel knowledge. I’ve used some of it and have given some to friends and neighbors. But there is a lot of it still sitting here that isn’t being used at all, and nobody is getting any good out of it.”
I got up right then and went into the house. “We’re going on a mission!” I told my wife.
I picked up the phone and called the bishop. “We’re ready to go. Get the papers ready and let us know what we need to do.”
Later, I started wishing I hadn’t said anything. But by that time we had already told all the ward members about our decision—and I didn’t know how to get out of it gracefully. The more I thought about it, though, the more I didn’t want to go.
A week before we were to leave for the Missionary Training Center, I started having chest pains. That could have been the perfect excuse not to go on my mission. But for some reason, I didn’t take advantage of it. The bishop gave me a blessing, and I felt fine.
At the MTC, I started having chest pains again and went to the hospital to see what was the matter. The doctor checked me over and said I was just experiencing too much stress and that I would be fine if I’d take things a little easier. I did, and began to feel a lot better. But I was still looking for that good excuse.
After we arrived at our mission assignment in Florida, I said to myself, “What am I doing here? I’m homesick. I can’t stand all of these trees so close in around me; I need the wide open spaces. If only I had never told the bishop I’d do this! What good can I possibly do here?” I felt completely out of place.
One evening, the branch president asked us if we could visit a couple who had received the missionary lessons two or three times. They were good people, but they hadn’t joined the Church.
“Take me to them!” I said.
We went over to see them, and in less than thirty minutes we had set a baptismal date with the husband. Three weeks from the time we arrived in our field of labor, we baptized him.
When our mission president heard about it, he was delighted. There hadn’t been a baptism in our area for over a year, and only six in the last five years. This gave me the encouragement I needed.
Things really started happening after that; people started coming to church who hadn’t been there in years; we noticed a greater feeling of love and unity among branch members; and we baptized the wife of that first contact.
Then we received a referral from Salt Lake City and baptized another man—the first black man to be baptized in our area. He told us he had prayed for a long time for the Lord to send someone to him who could tell him which was the true church. He told us that when we first knocked on his door, he saw a light shining around us—and right then he knew that his prayers had been answered. He was baptized shortly after that.
We truly enjoyed our mission. Shortly before leaving, we baptized another couple—the brother of our first contact. They are all very special people, and we’re excited about what’s happening in their lives.
I feel very repentant about the attitude I had about serving a mission. Although it was one of the hardest things we’ve done in our lives, the rewards have been beyond measure. I found that I really did need more blessings. We can hardly contain the happiness and joy we feel. My wife and I grew more and felt better than we had in a long, long time.
But even more important, we found that the bishop was right about other people needing blessings, too. We found that there are lots of people who need the blessings of the gospel—blessings that we as Latter-day Saints can share with them. I wish couples all over the Church knew how much they are needed to share with others the knowledge and experience they have acquired over the years in the Church. If only they knew the joy their missionary service could bring them and others, they would jump at the chance.
Nothing can compare to the Lord’s promise:
“If it so be that you should labor all your days in crying repentance unto this people, and bring, save it be one soul unto me, how great shall be your joy with him in the kingdom of my Father!
“And now, if your joy will be great with one soul that you have brought unto me into the kingdom of my Father, how great will be your joy if you should bring many souls unto me!” (D&C 18:15–16.)
The Lord didn’t say it would be easy, but he did say it would be worth it. And it was!