“Making Member-Missionary Work Work,” Ensign, Jan. 1998, 54
“I feel sorry for the first person I talked to about the gospel,” says Lynn Storey, stake mission president in the Sugar Hill Georgia Stake, which includes suburbs northeast of Atlanta, the midsize cities of Gainesville and Athens, and rural areas extending to the South Carolina border. “I was not good at it. But once I started making the effort, I began having some positive experiences and I said to myself, I can do this.”
Following the example of stake president George Wangemann, members and leaders in the Sugar Hill stake are testing the waters of missionary work and finding them invigorating. “Rubbing shoulders with the full-time missionaries and President Wangemann and others who know how to do missionary work has created a desire in me to share the gospel,” says Brother Storey. “I’m not your best example of a member missionary, but I guarantee that a year from now I’ll be better than I am now because I’ve caught the spirit of it.”
A former mayor of Gainesville, Georgia, and a current member of the city council, President Wangemann has been blessed with many missionary opportunities because of his public service. During a recent two-month period, he handed out more than 50 copies of the Book of Mormon along with accompanying Church pamphlets, tapes, and videocassettes. Expressing appreciation for his stands against the opening of a nude dance club and the liberalization of alcohol sales, one newspaper called him the “moral conscience of the [city] council.” Several media stories have highlighted President Wangemann’s Church service and beliefs, and he routinely shares gospel principles and Latter-day Saint scriptures in public speeches and editorials.
“When I decided to run for public office,” President Wangemann says, “I got down on my knees and told the Lord I wanted it to be for the building of his kingdom. I think almost any job in life can be a mission if we use our opportunities to build the kingdom. Sure, we understand there are times when we cannot tactfully share the gospel of Jesus Christ at work, but sometimes the Spirit of the Holy Ghost moves us to say certain things and act certain ways that cause people to ask questions that can lead into a missionary conversation.”
Like President Wangemann, Chip and Tammy Hood of the Gainesville Ward have purposefully cultivated employment situations that allow them to freely share the gospel. Earlier in their marriage, the Hoods worked together in a hair salon. Facing opposition because of their positive statements about the gospel, the couple began praying harder for help to fulfill their dream of opening their own salon. They worked hard and were able to accomplish their goal about two years later.
The Hoods began openly sharing the gospel with clients, but success was not forthcoming. “For probably eight years we worked and worked, and we never really saw a lot come to pass,” Tammy recalls. “But in the last couple of years, we’ve really seen our efforts pay off. The Lord had to train us, take our zeal, and show us how to use that power. Now every time we turn around, another friend is getting baptized.” The couple estimates that more than 30 of their friends and associates have joined the Church.
What is the secret of their success? “We say a prayer about missionary work before we go to work,” Chip explains. “We give them just enough to whet their appetite and make them want to know a little more.”
For Tammy, one of the easiest ways to share the gospel is to ask people’s opinions. “Once they give their opinion, I say, ‘That’s really interesting.’ Then I tell them a little about my beliefs. Often they say, ‘Wow, that’s neat. I’d never thought about that.’ I just keep working the conversation that way until finally they ask, ‘What church do you go to?’ I never push religion at the beginning. I just share my beliefs, and they start opening up.”
Chip says he loves it “in the evening when it’s my last customer, and the gospel comes up, and there’s no one else in the salon, and we can just have a good talk. When clients learn I am a Latter-day Saint, often that’s all they want to talk about for the rest of the appointment.”
It is important to avoid contention, Chip says. “I never disagree with people. I let them share their beliefs, and then I share mine. When the Holy Ghost witnesses to them about what I’ve said, all of a sudden they change their view. If they haven’t been put on the defensive, it’s amazing how fast people adopt a principle when they know in their hearts it’s true.”
The Hoods tell the story of one woman who found a copy of the Ensign among the salon magazines. “She asked if she could take it home, and of course I said yes,” Chip recalls. “Later she called us and asked if it would be OK if she and her husband came to church with us. They were baptized a month or two later.”
Because of injuries sustained in two accidents, Tammy is no longer able to cut hair, so now she and two other Latter-day Saint women do image consulting. “I believe that every day and every single person is a missionary opportunity,” she says. “The other day we did a workshop for a group of 25. We said a prayer that the Spirit would be with us, that we might be able to leave uplifting feelings with the people, that they might desire to be close to us again, that we might eventually be able to share the gospel with some of them. We hope they’ll want to know what makes us feel so good about ourselves.”
“I’m a mother missionary,” says SaraEllen Turner, a member of the Gainesville Ward. Her husband, Joseph, agrees: “We’ve accomplished more missionary work through our children than we have through ourselves. They are a great example for their teachers, and they’re attracting other good children. We’ve met the nicest families through the children’s relationships at school.”
One of those families was Kevin and Sharon Combs and their two children. After the Combses’ daughter met the Turners’ daughter at school, the mothers started sitting next to each other at school activities. “There was a whole lot of information exchanged both ways,” SaraEllen says. “Whatever I did to help Sharon understand the gospel, Heavenly Father compensated me with a good friend I needed at that time.”
Kevin Combs was aware that as the couples became closer friends, the Turners were slowly introducing them to the Church. “It worked out really well because they didn’t get pushy, which would have sent me running,” Kevin says. “But when the time came, we had been primed. The Turners were still there when we finally got curious.”
Reaching a major crossroads in life often prompts people to open themselves to the gospel. The families had been friends for more than two years when Sharon’s younger sister was killed in a car wreck. “That motivated us with curiosity about exactly what was going on after this life,” Sharon recalls. “We asked a lot of questions, and Sara said we were asking the wrong person—we needed to meet with the full-time missionaries. So we did.”
At the first discussion held in the Turners’ home, one member of the Combs family said, “We hope that no matter what we do, if we don’t get baptized we’ll still be friends.”
“Of course we will,” SaraEllen remembers replying. “In fact, we’ll be even better friends because you’ll know and understand us better.” The Combs were baptized in February 1995 and sealed together as a family in the nearby Atlanta Georgia Temple in May 1996.
“Talking about the gospel seems easier for me when I pray for missionary opportunities,” SaraEllen says. “It takes living by the Spirit to know when to share, what to share, how much to share. I’m the best missionary when I’ve read my scriptures—especially the Book of Mormon—that morning. Whoever I’m with that day, there’s always something we’re doing or talking about that correlates to something I’ve read. The Book of Mormon is a most powerful part of my member-missionary work.”
Stake president George Wangemann and stake mission president Lynn Storey were both impressed recently by a quote from President Gordon B. Hinckley: “I have always thought that we will do our best work when we get people interested in the Book of Mormon to the point where they will read it. It is then that the Spirit can bear witness of its divinity” (in Sheri L. Dew, Go Forward with Faith: The Biography of Gordon B. Hinckley , 100).
“That hit me like a ton of bricks,” President Wangemann says. “I said to myself, That has got to be the answer for so much of what we do in missionary work. The success we have hinges so much on how well we utilize the Book of Mormon in missionary work and whether we get people to read it and pray about it and ponder it.”
Stake missionary Richard Dugan first met LDS missionaries more than 30 years ago, but he did not join the Church until a couple of years ago. Now he keeps copies of the Book of Mormon in all his vehicles and throughout his house. “What’s really easy is to have it available all the time,” he says. “Sometimes people have to pick up a Book of Mormon just to sit down. When they’ve got it in their hand, it’s really easy for me to say, ‘I’m glad you picked that up, because that was your copy.’”
On one occasion Brother Dugan was helping a carpet cleaner move a table in his home. He noticed a copy of the Book of Mormon lying between them on the table. “I said, ‘Oh, by the way, do you have one of these?’ The man did not, so I told him a little about the book and how important it has been for me. I invited him to take it and read it, and he accepted.”
Brother Dugan emphasizes the importance of following the Spirit of the Holy Ghost in missionary work. “We don’t have to do a whole lot of work really,” he says. “The most work we have to do is overcoming our fear, because we will be inundated with opportunities to share.”
In describing the challenge of missionary work, President Storey paraphrases a quote he read in some training literature distributed by the Georgia Atlanta Mission: “The fear and the resulting soul struggle to open your mouth to say something about the gospel and the Church to a nonmember seems always to be there, no matter how many times we have done it before. It may be that this fear and the soul struggle are just part of our mortal testing and trial. Also, it may be that the adversary is always there opposing by his influence such an important act of righteousness.”
President Wangemann believes “members should not be discouraged in doing missionary work just because a baptism doesn’t result. Many are seed planters. That’s me—I’m basically a seed planter. There’s no telling how many seeds we plant. You never know what’s going to happen.”
“It takes time to become a good missionary,” says Doug Barton, ward mission leader in the Collins Hill Ward. “It’s like lifting weights. You can’t lift 200 pounds over your head the first time you try. You have to develop the muscle. The key is praying for Heavenly Father’s help and then just opening your mouth.”
“Missionary work is kind of like jumping off a high dive—you’ve just got to do it,” says J. T. McWilliams, a stake missionary. “I’m embarrassed that it took being called as a stake missionary for me to get involved.” Brother McWilliams’s approach to missionary work is to make friends with neighbors and, as soon as the time feels right, give them a copy of the Book of Mormon or introduce them to the missionaries. “If they tell me they’re not interested, I say ‘Fine, thank you,’ and I still say hello, pet their dog, and stop by and see them.”
In forming their approaches and attitudes about missionary work, some members of the Sugar Hill stake refer to a passage by President Spencer W. Kimball: “Our goal should be to identify as soon as possible which of our Father’s children are spiritually prepared to proceed all the way to baptism into the kingdom. One of the best ways to find out is to expose your friends, relatives, neighbors, and acquaintances to the full-time missionaries as soon as possible. Don’t wait for long fellowshipping nor for the precise, perfect moment. What you need to do is find out if they are the elect. ‘[My] elect hear my voice and harden not their hearts.’ (D&C 29:7.) If they hear and have hearts open to the gospel, it will be evident immediately. If they won’t listen and their hearts are hardened with skepticism or negative comments, they are not ready. In this case, keep loving them and fellowshipping them and wait for the next opportunity to find out if they are ready. You will not lose their friendship. They will still respect you” (The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, ed. Edward L. Kimball , 553).
“We can’t take rejection personally,” says Brother Barton. “I’ve never had anyone be offended when I’ve tried to share the gospel with them. People respond well when they can sense you’re doing it out of love. I’ve had people turn down my invitations, but it’s never ended a friendship or broken relationships of trust.”
Besides coordinating the efforts of more than 60 stake missionaries and ward and branch mission leaders, President Storey does his own missionary work on business trips. “I’m keeping up contact with several individuals I’ve given copies of the Book of Mormon to on airplanes,” he says. “It’s like bearing your testimony in Church; you know when you have to do it.”