“Conver(t)sation,” New Era, Oct. 1978, 17
How do you get a nonmember interested in the Church? There are many good answers to this question. But what approaches are the most effective? Several recent converts were asked this question. Their answers, their enthusiasm, and their ideas provide good insight into member-missionary work.
“Missionary work?” Sue Ann Yazzie, a 17-year-old Navaho from Shiprock, New Mexico, brushed long, black hair from her shoulders and smiled. Her warm, brown eyes sparkling, she said, “The best way to get someone interested in the Church is to be friends with him.”
A member of the Church for two years, Sue Ann talked about her conversion: “Even before I joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I believed that when we die we will be able to see friends and relatives who have died before us. I lost faith in the church I was attending when the minister said, ‘If you think you will be able to see your dead ancestors when you die, you’re mistaken.’ It was then that I asked the Lord which church was true. I promised I would keep the commandments if he would help me.”
Sue Ann wanted to attend high school off the reservation. When she was asked to participate in the Indian education program in Richfield, Utah, she accepted. In Richfield the Indian students live in a dormitory and attend local schools.
When one of the employees in the dormitory invited Sue Ann and several of her friends to a family home evening, she wasn’t really interested. “At the time I wasn’t sure if I liked the Mormon church. I didn’t know very much about it. But I went just to keep my friends company. That was when I first became interested in the Church. I liked what I heard.
“Later, when I read the Book of Mormon, many of the parts seemed familiar. When I was younger my grandmother told me many of the Navaho legends. It was from her that I first heard the story of the great white god, who will one day return,” she said.
Sue Ann wants to share the gospel with as many people as she can. Recently a friend of hers, Elouise Meyers, finished the missionary discussions and was baptized. Sue Ann explained, “I had an appointment with my bishop and decided to take a buddy with me. I took Elouise. I knew she didn’t know much about the Church. While we were waiting for the bishop, the missionaries walked by. I asked them if they were teaching anyone that night. They answered, ‘No.’ ‘Well,’ I said. ‘Why don’t you teach my friend?’ They set up an appointment.”
For David Wojnar, 22, from Springfield, Massachusetts, a good friendship played an important role in his conversion to the Church. Now a missionary serving in the Utah Salt Lake Mission, Elder Wojnar talked about the role of friendship in missionary work.
“When I graduated from high school, I decided it was time to move away from home. I got a job in Virginia and moved in with an old friend. One of my roommates was a Latter-day Saint. We soon became good friends. We did things together, and we could talk about anything. He had a sincere interest in me. We were friends first, and being friends probably helped more than anything else,” Elder Wojnar explained.
“Eventually he asked me to go to a young adult activity with him. They were putting on a play. The young people came up and made me feel welcome. They all were excited about meeting someone new,” Elder Wojnar said. “They were different from anybody I had run around with before. There was a different spirit.
“When I became involved in the activities and started attending church, the members made me feel special and important. They never put me down because I was a member of another church.”
At that time, Elder Wojnar still wasn’t ready to commit himself to baptism. “My other roommate, my friend from Massachusetts, was taking the discussions and was almost ready for baptism. When the missionaries came, I always found an excuse to leave. Most of the barriers I had were just fear and not knowing what would happen. I was determined to serve the Lord, and I just needed time. No one seemed excited or upset about the hesitancy that I was experiencing. My friend was patient and didn’t give up on me. He was still my friend, and eventually I did make the commitment,” Elder Wojnar said.
“Being sincere is one of the most important aspects of missionary work,” Elder Wojnar explained. “If you’re sincere and a true friend, people will respond to the gospel. It’s not as important for members to teach the doctrines as it is for them to plant the seed. Being a good example is also important. It means more than just living the principles. It means going out and showing the results of living the gospel. Don’t be afraid to let people know you’re a Mormon. I’m tickled pink whenever I can tell anybody I’m a Mormon,” Elder Wojnar concluded.
Patience is an important part of missionary work. Both Cindy, 15, and her sister, Tina Doxstater, 14, were involved in Church activities for two years before they were baptized. Cindy explained that she was impressed by the closeness of Mormon families and by the Church activities that her friends took her to. But she wasn’t ready or sure about making a commitment.
“The members of the Church accepted us for what we were,” she said. “They didn’t push, and that helped.” Cindy’s friends didn’t give up on her. When one of them said, “Why don’t you take the missionary discussions?” She said, “Yes.” With the encouragement of their friends and a science teacher at school, Cindy and Tina were baptized this year. The science teacher, Larry Anderson, baptized them.
Violet Wilson, 18, from Kellogg, Idaho, had also been involved in Church activities for several years before she joined. She said that an important influence in her joining was the members making her feel like she was one of them.
Cragg Rogers, 21, from San Diego, California, was first introduced to the Church when his parents gave him a survival trip for a graduation present. There were 37 Mormons and three non-Mormons enrolled in the program. They spent 28 days in a southern Utah desert.
“It was really a spiritual trip,” Cragg recalled. “From the first I noticed there was something different about the Mormons. Whenever we came up against hard circumstances, they would pray about it. We were out in the middle of the desert, with almost no food or water, and they held church on Sundays. They even had me give a talk, if you can believe it. In the general misery of a survival trip, everyone helped each other. There were no airs. That survival trip turned my whole life around,” Cragg said.
It was two years after that first introduction to the Church before Cragg finally joined. The spirit of the LDS friends Cragg had made on the survival trip left a deep impression.
“The spirit I felt on that trip was on my mind, and I couldn’t get rid of it,” Cragg said, smiling. “I finally decided to get into it and really find out what it was about. The members were more than willing to help.”
Referring to missionary work, Cragg said, “The best way to influence someone is to live what you believe. Be yourself and don’t try to be what you think someone else would like you to be. Those people who lived the way they should brought me into the Church. I’m grateful for them. I hope I can do the same. I may get turned down 40 times when trying to interest someone in the gospel, but the one success makes it more than worthwhile. I’m sure the people who helped me were also turned down many times,” Cragg concluded.
Being a true friend, having respect for other people’s values and beliefs, exercising patience, being yourself, setting an example, and avoiding forming member cliques that shut out or look down upon nonmembers are some of the important techniques these recent converts recommend in member-missionary work.
Sue Ann Yazzie said something else that applies to missionary work: “Missionary work? My advice is to get busy.”