“We Have a Work to Do,” Ensign, Feb. 1988, 2
I wish to invite members of the Church to consider anew the great mandate given by the Lord to all who desire to be known as his disciples. It is a mandate we cannot dodge, and one from which we cannot shrink. That mandate is to teach the gospel to the nations and peoples of the earth.
This was the final charge given by the Lord following his resurrection and before his ascension. It was repeated at the opening of this dispensation. Following the organization of the first Quorum of the Twelve in 1835, Oliver Cowdery, Counselor in the First Presidency, delivered a “charge” to these men. That statement has become something of a charter for all members of the Twelve who have succeeded that first group. In that charge is the following counsel:
“Be zealous to save souls. The soul of one man is as precious as the soul of another. … The Gospel must roll forth, and it will until it fills the whole earth. … You have a work to do that no other men can do; you must proclaim the Gospel in its simplicity and purity; and we commend you to God and the word of His grace.” (History of the Church, 2:196–98.)
Subsequent to that counsel, the Lord gave the revelation known as Doctrine and Covenants section 112, which was directed to the Twelve. In it are these words:
“Contend thou, therefore, morning by morning; and day after day let thy warning voice go forth; and when the night cometh let not the inhabitants of the earth slumber, because of thy speech. …
“And I will be with you; and in whatsoever place ye shall proclaim my name an effectual door shall be opened unto you, that they may receive my word.” (D&C 112:5, 19.)
At the outset, missionaries “were sent into the surrounding areas, into Canada, and in 1837 across the sea to England. It was in the Kirtland Temple that the Prophet Joseph Smith spoke to Elder Heber C. Kimball: “Brother Heber, the spirit of the Lord has whispered to me: ‘Let my servant Heber go to England and proclaim my gospel and open the door of salvation to that nation.’”
Then came Elder Kimball’s acknowledgment of his fear. Exclaiming in self-humiliation, he said:
“O, Lord, I am a man of stammering tongue, and altogether unfit for such a work; how can I go to preach in that land, which is so famed throughout Christendom for learning, knowledge and piety; the nursery of religion; and to a people whose intelligence is proverbial!” (Quoted by Orson F. Whitney, Life of Heber C. Kimball, Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1945, p. 104.)
But he and his associates went. While the language they found was essentially the same as their own, many of the customs they met were different. However, they paid little attention to these. Their message was the gospel of salvation. They spoke of little else. And history bears remarkable testimony of the success of their labors. In the years that quickly followed, the message of the restored gospel was taken to the isles of the sea where entirely new and unique cultures were encountered. It was so in the lands of Europe with new languages to be learned and new customs to be confronted.
After the Saints went West, even though they were faced with the tremendous tasks of subduing the wilderness and building a commonwealth, they did not slacken their efforts to carry the gospel to the nations of the earth. In the conference held in 1852, men were called from the congregation to go not only to the lands of Europe, but to China and Siam. It is stirring to note that in those pioneering days, missionaries were sent to India, where today, after a long lapse, we are again planting gospel seeds.
I marvel at the boldness—rather, I prefer to characterize it as the faith—of the leaders and members of the Church in that pioneering era to stretch their relatively small membership and their thin resources so far in carrying the gospel to distant lands. One cannot read Elder Parley P. Pratt’s account of his travels to Chile without recognizing with gratitude the courage and the faith of those early missionaries, who took with such seriousness the Lord’s charge to carry the gospel to the nations of the earth.
Their long journeys across the seas were made under extremely adverse circumstances. When they stepped ashore, there was neither friend nor companion to meet them. They had no briefing concerning the conditions they were to meet, no knowledge of the languages of the people among whom they were to labor. Many of them sickened as their bodies struggled to adapt to the food and other circumstances of living. But they were filled with a sense of mission, commanded by a charge to take the gospel of salvation to the peoples of the earth. The cultures they encountered created challenges for them, but these were only incidental to their larger responsibility.
Think of how conditions have changed from the mid-nineteenth century to those of today, making easier the flow of the gospel throughout the world. First, it is apparent to all that we live in a rapidly shrinking world. Weeks, even months, were once required to travel across the Pacific. Today we board a luxurious giant aircraft in San Francisco in the evening, and ten hours later pass through immigration and customs formalities in Tokyo, having enjoyed a good meal en route. We cannot dismiss lightly the importance of the vast traffic of airliners constantly crossing the trade routes of the world and the effect of such interaction among nations insofar as cultural differences are concerned.
Second, as the educational level rises throughout the world, there is a greater understanding and appreciation of other peoples worldwide. There is so much information now available to anyone who wants to visit another land that he need not go in ignorance of what he will find there. Furthermore, he will discover among the peoples he visits a rather extensive knowledge of the culture from which he comes. International broadcasting and the great news services in the world have brought Paris and Pretoria into our living rooms. We are made almost instantly aware of significant happenings in New Delhi, Buenos Aires, and in other areas worldwide.
Third, there is an increasing knowledge of languages among the people of the earth. Not only is English spoken almost everywhere in major cities—perhaps it may not be spoken well, yet it is understandable—but our missionaries go out having considerable ability to communicate in the tongue in which they will announce the gospel message to those they meet. A giant step forward in facilitating the teaching of the gospel in other lands has been the establishment of Church language training centers. These facilities are unsurpassed anywhere in the world.
Another factor that substantially blesses missionaries so that they may be productive in their sacred service is the caliber of men we have presiding over the missions. Those who serve in these capacities are not novices; they and their wives are mature brothers and sisters of broad experience. They stand as leaders and advisers, teaching the young missionaries and counseling older couples who come to them, protecting them from pitfalls into which they might stumble.
Finally, I note the tremendous growth of understanding that exists in many parts of the earth concerning that which unites us all as children of our Father in Heaven. The people in Asia to me look much the same and act similarly to people at home. That is, people are essentially the same in our own cultures as they are outside our cultures. For instance, I think of such common denominators, found among all people, as the love of husband and wife, the love between parents and children, an appreciation for beauty in whatever form it is found, a concern about suffering, a recognition of leadership, the acknowledgment of a higher power to whom we may appeal for help and who sits in judgment upon us all, the ever-present conscience, and a sense of right and wrong.
Years ago I was asked whether the missionary lessons we use in the Orient are substantially different from those we use in Christian countries. I responded that we use essentially the same lessons because we teach the same kind of people whose hearts are touched by the same eternal truths. I stated further that the people of Asia are children of God, just as are the people of America, and because we have all come of the same parentage, we respond to the same truth. The fact that one’s skin may be of a slightly different color, that one’s eyes may have a slightly different set, that one may wear a different type of clothing does not in any sense make of him or her a different kind of individual. Men and women the world over respond to the same stimuli in essentially the same way. They seek warmth when they are cold; they know the same kinds of pain; they experience sadness, and they know joy. And everywhere, people look to a superior power. They may call him by various names, and they may describe him in various ways; but they are aware of his being and look to him for strength beyond their own.
When differences—either with our neighbors or in other cultures—seem to stand as hurdles as we seek to share the gospel, quiet courtesy usually removes these hurdles. As we keep the Lord’s commandment to introduce others to the gospel, I testify that the Spirit of the Lord helps overcome the differences between him who is teaching and him who is being taught. The Lord made the process clear when he said, “Wherefore, he that preacheth [by the Spirit] and he that receiveth [by the Spirit], understand one another, and both are edified and rejoice together.” (D&C 50:22.)
I am satisfied that the most effective means each of us has in our calling to share the gospel is the Spirit of the Lord. We have all seen it in others. As we do the Lord’s work, we have also sensed it in ourselves. On such occasions, superficial differences between us and those we teach seem to fall like scales from our eyes. (See 2 Ne. 30:6.) A warmth of kinship and understanding emerges which is marvelous to behold. We literally understand one another, and we literally are edified and rejoice together.
Truly we are engaged in a marvelous work and a wonder. We now have some 211 missions in the Church and more than 35,000 missionaries in the field. We are in the lands of North, Central, and South America, all of the lands this side of the Iron Curtain in Europe, in many nations of Asia, and in the islands of the Pacific. And now the restored gospel is being carried into yet other lands. The results are marvelous to behold. Regardless of the nation in which they are found, Latter-day Saints speak with the same voice and bear testimony of the same eternal truths and with the same fervency of spirit. The cost has been great in terms of sacrifice, devotion, and labor. But the results are a miracle to witness.
Now even greater challenges lie ahead for the future. One cannot think of the hundreds of millions who have never heard of this work without wondering how our charge to teach all mankind can ever be accomplished. There are nations where we presently cannot legally go. We honor and obey the laws of these nations. But if we will be both alert and patient, the Lord will open the way in the appropriate season. His is the timetable. Meanwhile, there is much to be done with those immediately around us. As we put forth our effort and pray humbly for inspiration, we will be blessed in our desires to share the gospel with our families, friends, neighbors, and acquaintances.
The progress of the Church in our day is truly astounding. The God of heaven has brought to pass this latter-day miracle, and what we have seen is but a foretaste of greater things yet to come. The work will be accomplished by humble men and women, young and old, who will do it because they believe in the word of the Lord when he said:
“And any man that shall go and preach this gospel of the kingdom, and fail not to continue faithful in all things, shall not be weary in mind, neither darkened, neither in body, limb, nor joint; and a hair of his head shall not fall to the ground unnoticed. And they shall not go hungry, neither athirst.” (D&C 84:80.)
The work will succeed because it is the Lord who has promised:
“And whoso receiveth you, there I will be also, for I will go before your face. I will be on your right hand and on your left, and my Spirit shall be in your hearts, and mine angels round about you, to bear you up.” (D&C 84:88.)
With our charge divinely given, with blessings divinely promised, let us go forward in faith. As we do so, the Lord will bless our efforts. Let us do our part in sharing the gospel with those around us, by example first and then by inspired precept.
The stone cut out of the mountains without hands will continue to roll forth until it has filled the whole earth. (See Dan. 2.) I give you my witness of this truth and of the truth that each of us can help in ways that are appropriate to our circumstances if we will seek our Father in Heaven’s guidance and inspiration. This is God’s work that we do, and with his blessing we shall not fail.
Some Points of Emphasis. You may wish to make these points in your home teaching discussion:
The Lord has given us a mandate to teach the gospel to all people.
Present-day communication, transportation, and educational systems make it more convenient for us to share the gospel with others than it was for members and missionaries in previous centuries.
Men and women of all nationalities are the same in that they love their spouses and children, appreciate beauty, empathize with suffering, recognize the existence of a higher power, and have a sense of right and wrong.
Differences between people can be overcome by courtesy, love, and the Spirit of the Lord.
Each of us call be blessed in our efforts to share the gospel with others as we seek inspiration and guidance from the Lord.
Relate your personal feelings about the mandate given by the Lord that we share the gospel with others.
Are there some scriptures or quotations in this article that the family might read aloud and discuss?
Would this discussion be better after a pre-visit chat with the head of the house? Is there a message from the quorum leader or bishop?