“Ward Members a Model of Missionary Preparation,” Liahona, Aug. 2008, N5–N7
Strong, supportive families who are grounded in the gospel play a vital role in preparing youth to share the gospel as full-time missionaries. Add the support of dedicated leaders, and the result is a generation of committed missionaries.
Such has been the experience of the Voyager Ward in the Gilbert Arizona Val Vista Stake. Of its 310 members, 21 elders and 1 sister have accepted calls to serve the Lord over the past two years.
What has been done to help produce such dedication? Family foresight, excellent examples, and making preparation a priority early.
Christopher Law recently returned from the Massachusetts Boston Mission. “I can’t remember when I decided to serve a mission,” he said. “I always knew I would. … Going on a mission was a part of our family’s daily conversation.”
Families who help their children look ahead to missionary service from an early age help build enthusiastic, committed youth.
Bishop William Whatcott of the Voyager Ward said: “I believe the emphasis our parents have put on the importance of serving has been critical. Because of that, we have found that by the time our young men receive the Aaronic Priesthood as deacons, the decision to serve a mission has already been made, and their desire to stay faithful and close to the gospel through their teenage years is greater.”
Families are best at equipping a future missionary with what he or she will need both spiritually and practically. One of the key tools a family has for helping children prepare to serve is family home evening.
Frank Lang, an advisor in the priests quorum and parent of a missionary, encouraged parents to hold family home evening whether they are new or established members.
“That is where our children learn about the gospel,” he said. It also offers frequent opportunities to emphasize the importance of missionary preparation and service.
Brother Law noted that family home evening was a time for his family to do member missionary work. “Making missionary work a part of the family helps develop the desire to serve,” he said.
While the family is key in fostering practical and spiritual preparation, the encouragement and examples of good Church leaders can support the instruction given in the home and can make a big difference in the lives of the family members.
“We have had wonderful leaders who have been great examples, mentors, and instructors,” Bishop Whatcott said. “From the time these young men are deacons until the time they leave on their missions, their leaders have focused on helping them stay active and maintain their desire to serve a mission.”
Once a month the young men of the Voyager Ward meet together to hear returned missionaries from their ward, including those who served many years ago, share their testimonies and life-changing mission experiences. Bishop Whatcott calls the monthly experience “invaluable.”
Brother Lang agrees. “The boys catch the vision of how important a mission is in their lives—that it still affects these men even now,” he said. “These returned missionaries bear powerful testimony of the importance of serving a mission.”
Leaders in the Voyager Ward have also felt it would be appropriate in their ward to gather the young men together on a Sunday evening before one of them leaves for the missionary training center. After a simple dinner, the young men share what the departing elder means to them. He in turn shares his testimony.
Mission preparation is more likely to become a priority in the lives of young men when it is a priority in the lives of parents and leaders.
Priesthood leaders make an effort to support the family years before a young man is of missionary age.
At weekly missionary preparation classes, priesthood leaders teach with the assistance of recently returned missionaries. The Preach My Gospel manual is used for the lessons and discussions. Once a month parents attend the class to serve as investigators so the class participants can practice teaching the gospel.
Seminary attendance is also an important factor in helping to prepare young men for a mission, according to Brother Law. “Be active in seminary,” he said. “It helped me a lot. Scripture mastery is key. I used those scriptures every day on my mission.”
However, no matter how high a priority they are for parents and leaders, the choice to serve and the choice to prepare must be made by the missionary.
“No one can convince them to serve without the Spirit touching their hearts,” Brother Lang said. “They each must be taught and converted by the Spirit. We leaders or other boys cannot do it.”
Vee Hiapo, the mother of two returned missionaries, B. J. and Kiana, said, “We must have faith that our children will make the right decisions and allow them to use their agency.”
And in the end, if a young man or woman chooses to serve, even those who may be struggling with finances or a lack of family support will find a way. “The Lord will provide a way for them to serve if they follow Him in faith,” said Lothaire Bluth, Val Vista stake president.