“Be a Missionary,” New Era, May 1980, 33
Each one of us touches the lives of our friends, and we can be missionaries if we want to be. There should never be any people living around us who are not members of the Church who have not been invited to join the Church. There are many who are our next-door neighbors, and they have never had an invitation to join the Church.
I was back in Omaha a few years ago on Church assignment to attend the ground-breaking exercises of the Mormon Memorial Bridge over by Winter Quarters. I met a man there who was a district president in the mission area. He had lived in Salt Lake for 17 years, and had worked in the Union Pacific office until it was transferred to Omaha. He did not join the Church in Salt Lake. When he moved to Omaha, he met the missionaries. I asked him, “Why didn’t you join the Church in Salt Lake?” He said, “No one ever invited me to.”
I was riding with a stake president toward Farmington, New Mexico, and the mission president who was riding with us had lived in Ogden for 12 years with the same experience. I asked him why he hadn’t joined the Church in Ogden. He said no one had ever invited him to.
I told those stories up in Wyoming some years ago. The stake president said that reminded him of when he was the bishop of a ward. One of the men living in his community called him up and said, “Bishop, do you think I am a good enough man to be a member of your church?” He said, “It just dawned on me that we had never invited him to be a member of the Church. So I made arrangements to baptize him Friday night. Then I called up a woman in the community and told her that this man was going to join the Church and wouldn’t she like to come along also? She said, ‘Bishop, I have wondered how long I would have to live in your community before you would invite me to join your church.’”
Now, you don’t have to be old men or even 19 years old to be able to open the door. You could take some of your friends to some of your ward or seminary activities, and then turn them over to the missionaries—make arrangements for the missionaries to call on them. You will never do anything in this world that will bring you greater joy and happiness than to be an instrument in the hands of the Lord in bringing somebody into this Church.
The Lord said: “And 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!” (D&C 18:15.)
I had an experience when I was in the southern states that helped me to realize what I think the Lord meant. I received a letter from a good brother from down in Phoenix. He was quite an elderly man. He said that his grandfather was one of the first converts in the state of Mississippi back in 1840. He said, “Since that time my father and his descendants have given over 100 years worth of missionary service to the Church.” There were then 15 in the mission field, and we had three of them in our mission.
I told that story in a missionary meeting after I was appointed Presiding Bishop in 1940—just 100 years after the grandfather joined the Church. His grandson happened to be in that meeting and I didn’t know it. He came up to me after and said, “Brother Richards, it is now 165 years of service.” When you get to adding 10 or 15 years at a time, it doesn’t take long to add another 100 years.
This was my thought: If that missionary who waded through the swamps of Mississippi back in 1840, when they traveled without purse or scrip and many of them contracted malaria fever, had only brought that one man into the Church, he might not have thought that he had done much. But in 100 years there was 165 years of missionary service from that one man and his descendants, without counting all the converts he had made and all the converts they had made. How can you “lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal” (Matt. 6:20) in any better manner than by performing a service like that?
Whether you are in the armed forces, serving a mission, or among your friends, day by day there is opportunity for you to say something, to do something, to open the way—to invite people to hear of this wonderful truth. I always say that there is not an honest man or an honest woman in this world who loves the Lord who wouldn’t join this church if they knew what it was. To me it is truly what Isaiah called it, “a marvellous work and a wonder: for the wisdom of their wise men shall perish, and the understanding of their prudent men shall be hid” (Isa. 29:14). If we can just get their attention long enough to show them what it is, they will join the Church.
I like to compare the Church to a jigsaw puzzle. You dump all the pieces out on the table, and you pick them up one at a time. After you have looked at every piece, you still don’t know what it is all about. You might have a giraffe’s neck, and an elephant’s trunk, or the back of a barn; but when they are fitted together, there is a beautiful pattern. You couldn’t take one piece away without destroying it.
When you get a little Mormonism here and a little over there, you don’t know what it is all about; but when it is fitted together, nobody could take anything away from it.
Some years ago I was assigned by President David O. McKay to talk to a group of ministers. Two churches were holding a convention in Salt Lake, and present were their leaders from California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Utah, and Nevada. I talked to them for two and one-half hours at their request to tell them what Mormonism really is. I told them before I closed my talk, “When I was the Presiding Bishop of the Church, we were responsible for the building program of the Church. We had the plans prepared for the Los Angeles Temple. We took those plans and showed them to the presidency of the Church one day. We didn’t have the electrical or the plumbing plans complete, and yet we had 84 pages, about four feet long and two and one-half feet wide, with literally thousands and thousands of figures and drawings and designs. There was that temple built spiritually, yet there wasn’t a hole in the ground. All the builder needed to do was to know how to read and execute those plans, and he couldn’t leave out 25 pages and have a completed building.
“You can take those plans and go all over this world and try to fit them to every building in the world. There is only one building they will fit, and that is the Mormon temple down in Los Angeles. Oh, of course, you can find buildings that have materials in them like in that temple, such as electric wiring, plumbing, cement, and lumber, but you can’t find any other building that they will fit.”
Then I held up the Bible. I said, “Here is the Lord’s blueprint. Isaiah said the Lord has declared the end from the beginning. (See Isa. 46:10.) It is all here if you know how to understand it.”
I said, “You can take this, the Lord’s blueprint, and try to fit it to every church in the world. There is only one church that it will fit, and that is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Of course, you can find churches that have some things in them which are in this, the Lord’s blueprint, but you can’t find any other church in the world that this will fit.”
Then I proceeded to illustrate. I took a lot of texts. I will take just one to illustrate. I quoted from John 10:16, where the Savior said, “And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd.”
I said to these ministers, “Do any of you know why that is in the Bible? Do any of you know any church in the world that does know why it is in the Bible?” Then I tied it in to what I had told them about the promise of Joseph of a new land in the utmost bound of the everlasting hills. (See Gen. 49:26.)
“In describing that land, Moses uses the word precious five times (see Deut. 33:13–17),” I said. “Do any of you know where that land is?” Then I told them what I had already told them, that it was the land of America. I talked about the two records that were to be kept. (See Ezek. 37:15–20.) “Do any of you know anything about the record of Joseph? Do any of you know why it is mentioned in the Bible?” Then I told them that when the Savior visited the Nephites here in this land of America, He told them that they were the other sheep of whom He spoke. He said that never at any time had the Lord commanded Him to tell His disciples who the other sheep were—only that He had other sheep that were not of that fold. (See 3 Ne. 15:11–24.)
We have the whole truth if we would just realize it, and that is why the prophets call it “a marvellous work and a wonder.” I do not think you will do anything in this world that will bring you greater joy than bringing people to a knowledge of the truth. We experience that constantly in our missionary work.
A woman was converted up in Idaho. She comes down to see me often. She calls me after nearly every conference. She is a nurse. She gave me a check for $500 for the children’s hospital because, at the death of her husband, one of our Saints stepped in to tell her what she might expect in the future if she just knew the truth. I got a letter from her recently. She said she had found more love in this church than she had ever known in her life—even from her own mother.
I received a letter from a woman down in Alabama. She had lost her husband. She is a dignified, wonderful woman. The missionaries brought her the truth. Now she writes that she has never known such joy in all her life as she has known since the elders brought the gospel to her, and she is doing a wonderful work in the Church. We get reports like that constantly.
You remember the little story President Grant used to tell about the Scandinavian brother who was converted and came over to America. He hadn’t been taught too much about the Church. So the bishop went to him to teach him the law of tithing. He finally agreed to pay his tithing. Then the bishop wanted some fast offering. He agreed to the fast offering. Then they wanted to build a chapel. The man thought that ought to come out of the tithing, but before the bishop got through with him, he had paid his donation for the chapel. Then the bishop went to him to ask his son to go on a mission. He said, “That’s the straw that breaks the camel’s back.” Then this bishop said, “Brother So-and-so, whom do you love in this world more than anyone else, aside from your own family?” He thought a minute and said, “I guess I love that Mormon elder who came up to the Land of the Midnight Sun and taught me the gospel of Jesus Christ.” Then the bishop said, “Brother So-and-so, how would you like somebody to love your boy just like you love that missionary?” He said, “Bishop, you win again. Take him.”
You just cannot get away from it.
President Anthon H. Lund told us missionaries years ago when I went on my first mission that the people would love us. He said, “Don’t get lifted up in the pride of your heart and think they love you because you are better than other people. They will love you because of what you bring to them.” I didn’t know what he meant then, but before I left the little land of Holland, I knew. I shed a thousand times more tears when I left there than I did when I left my loved ones at home to go to Holland.
I went with my companion into one home where I had been the first missionary. One little short woman, with tears rolling clear down the front of her apron, looked up into my eyes and said, “Brother Richards, it was hard to see my daughter leave for Zion a few weeks ago, but it is a lot harder to see you go.” Then I knew what Brother Lund meant when he said, “They will love you because of what you bring to them.”
I went to tell a man good-bye who stood in the uniform of his country. He was tall and wore a little Dutch beard. He got down on his knees and took my hand in his and hugged it and kissed it. Then I think I understood what Brother Lund meant when he said they will love you.
If we go back far enough, each one of us is indebted to some missionary for our being in this Church. Why shouldn’t we assume the responsibility to pass it on?
I want to tell you, when you bear your testimony of the divinity of this work, it is going to do something.
Do you remember when Peter stood before the people, following the day of Pentecost, and they heard the gospel preached in their own tongue? They were pricked in their hearts, not just because of philosophy, but because of the witness that Peter bore that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the living God.
I tell the missionaries when they go out into the field that they will never raise their voices to testify that Jesus is the Redeemer of the world, and that Joseph Smith was His Prophet, and that the Book of Mormon is true, without the Lord causing their bosoms to burn within them; and if they will bear their testimonies, with the Spirit of the Lord accompanying it, so that their words are not as sounding brass and tinkling cymbal, the words will pierce the hearts of the honest, and they can all be instruments to bring people into the Church.
I was in New York some time ago. I told the Saints I met with there that the president asked them all to be missionaries. I said, “Now, won’t you all stop and think for a minute of someone you know who isn’t a member of the Church—someone you work with, your neighbor, your friend, or a relative—someone you can bring to a knowledge of the truth? They will love you for it throughout the eternities. It would be worth more to them than if you would give them a million dollars.”
Not long after that I received a letter from a young man in Houston, Texas. He had been in New York attending a convention in his particular field and had attended our meeting. The letter went like this. He said, “Brother Richards, I heard you invite each one of us to be an instrument in the hands of the Lord in bringing someone to the knowledge of the truth. I wrote a letter to my wife and told her that I had a proposition to make to her when I came home.” When he got home he told her what I had said. He said, “There is a young man who works in the office with me. He knows I’m a Mormon, but I have never told him why. I would like to invite him over, with his wife, for supper some night. After supper we will have something to talk about.”
To make this story short, he wrote me a two-page letter telling me the joy he had had in leading this man and his wife into the waters of baptism. I have since met them down in Houston. I believe he is now the stake president of the Sunday School.
I heard a young missionary up in the Northwest say that he wouldn’t take a million dollars for the experience of his mission. I sat behind him and said to myself, “Would you take a million dollars for your first mission in the little land of Holland?” I began counting the people I had been privileged to bring into the Church, and I have lived to see their boys and girls and their grandchildren and now their great-grandchildren going on their missions. What kind of a man would I be to sell them out of the Church for a million dollars? The son of one man alone has done enough for this Church to more than compensate me for everything that I did.
Brother Matthew Cowley was one of the great missionaries of the Church. Talking in one of the BYU devotionals, on March 12, 1946, he made this statement. I would like to give it to you because it so clearly voices my feeling toward the great missionary program of the Church. He said:
“As you have heard, I have been on two missions to New Zealand. I have attended two universities, and I will say now at the outset, if I had my life to live over again and I had to choose between the missions to New Zealand and my education in two universities, I would select my missions to New Zealand from every standpoint: from the standpoint of education, from the standpoint of spiritual development, of character development, and every other angle of development that we might consider. I would not exchange one for the other for anything. And so, I am pleased to stand before you now, not as a lawyer, not as a college graduate, but as a missionary.” (Matthew Cowley, Man of Faith, p. 203.)
That is my feeling. I think the missionary program of the Church is the greatest thing in all this world, and it is a program that we can all be engaged in, no matter where our lot is cast—not only in the words that we speak, but in the nobility of our lives, to let our light so shine, that the world, seeing our good works, can glorify our Father which is in heaven. (See Matt. 5:16.)