President Kimball Speaks Out on Being a Missionary
May 1981

“President Kimball Speaks Out on Being a Missionary,” New Era, May 1981, 46

President Kimball Speaks Out on Being a Missionary

We are not merely inviting people to go on missions. We are saying, this is your work!

The gathering of Israel is now in progress. Hundreds of thousands of people have been baptized into the Church. Millions more will join the Church. And this is the way we will gather Israel. It is to be done by missionary work. It is your responsibility to attend to this missionary work, and we hope you will not excuse yourselves from this responsibility.

The gospel knows no nationality. All people in the world are the sons and daughters of God. They are all our brothers and sisters. And we are anxious to fulfill the obligation of the Lord Jesus Christ when he gave us that basic command, “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15).

I was asked a few years ago, “Should every young man who is a member of the Church fill a mission?” And I responded with the answer the Lord has given: “Yes, every worthy young man should fill a mission.” The Lord expects it of him. And if he is not now worthy to fill a mission, then he should start at once to qualify himself. The Lord has instructed, “Send forth the elders of my church unto the nations which are afar off; unto the islands of the sea; send forth unto foreign lands; call upon all nations, first upon the Gentiles, and them upon the Jews.” (D&C 133:8).

Thus, the elders—the young men of the Church of the age to be ordained elders—should be prepared and anxious to fill a mission for the Church throughout the world. Presently, only about one-third of the eligible young men of the Church are serving full-time missions! One-third is not “every young man.” The average stake that I have visited had only between 25 percent and 40 percent of its eligible boys on missions. That’s all! Where are the other boys? Why do they not go on missions?

Certainly every male member of the Church should fill a mission, like he should pay his tithing, like he should attend his meetings, like he should keep his life clean and free from the ugliness of the world and plan a celestial marriage in the temple of the Lord.

While there is no compulsion for him to do any of these things, he should do them for his own good.

Someone might also ask, “Should every young woman, should every father and mother, should every member of the Church serve a mission?” Again, the Lord has given the answer: Yes, every man, woman, and child—every young person and every little boy and girl—should serve a mission. This does not mean that they must serve abroad or even be formally called and set apart as full-time missionaries. But it does mean that each of us is responsible to bear witness of the gospel truths that we have been given. We all have relatives, neighbors, friends, and fellow workmen, and it is our responsibility to pass the truths of the gospel on to them, by example as well as by precept.

What a thrilling thing it is, my dear brothers and sisters who are fellow members of the kingdom of God, to be entrusted by the Lord to serve as messengers of His word to our brothers and sisters who are not members of the Church. The scriptures are abundantly clear in stating that all members of the Church are responsible to do missionary work: “It becometh every man who hath been warned to warn his neighbor” (D&C 88:81).

We should not be afraid to ask our youth to render service to their fellowmen or to sacrifice for the kingdom. Our youth have a sense of intrinsic idealism, and we need have no fear in appealing to that idealism when we call them to serve.

One young man spoke tellingly of this when he recently said, “I hope that when I am called to go on a full-time mission, I am called and told that the Lord wants me to go, and that it is my duty, rather than just being told that a mission would be a good thing for me if I wanted to go.”

All young men in the Church should be very eager to go on a mission, and they should also assist their parents to fill missions after the families are raised. Young people should study the gospel, prepare themselves for service in the Church, and keep the commandments as diligently as it is possible to do.

Young men having planned for 19 years to fill a mission will be more fruitful, more effective, and more successful when they serve and more people will come into the Church and will create more enthusiasm and there will be a chain reaction. Is there any other thing that would have a greater chain reaction and affect more interests and people?

Can you imagine what would happen to the seminary and institute programs with so many wonderful young men who have been planning for missions from birth until seminary days? Seminary and institute buildings would be crowded with a new kind of maturity and seriousness that would give the Church a new image. The morality of the youth would greatly increase. They would be taught cleanliness and righteousness in a way that they have never been taught before. Can you see what would happen to the sacrament meeting attendance and priesthood meeting attendance?

I wish every boy and girl could go to seminary, because that is where they learn many of the truths of the gospel. Seminary is where many of them get their ideals settled in their minds about what they are going to do, and they go on missions.

Remember it costs money to go to the various parts of the world and preach the gospel. Remember, then, it is your privilege now to begin to save your money.

Every time money comes into your hands, through gifts or earnings, set at least part of it away in a savings account to be used for your mission. It is your mission; it is your opportunity and responsibility. Remember that pennies make dollars, and sacrifices for a just cause make character.

It is incumbent upon each person to prepare himself for the solemn obligation and privilege of missionary work. As he learns the alphabet, the times tables, and later things requisite to his college work, he will be preparing for his life’s work. In the same manner he should be preparing all the days of his childhood and youth for the great mission of his young adulthood and his life’s spiritual growth.

His preparation consists largely of effort in three areas:

  1. Keeping his life clean and worthy and remaining free from all sins of the world. (The Lord has provided that forgiveness can be had if there is total repentance. If there have been problems, there must be a total transformation of life, a change in one’s life, if he is to be forgiven.)

  2. Preparing the mind and the spirit—to know the truth. To arrive at mission age and be illiterate in the gospel, or otherwise, would be most unfortunate indeed. Certainly by the time a young man reaches his 19th birthday, he should be prepared to step from his conventional role at home into the important role of the missionary without a total reorganization of his life, his standards, or his training.

  3. Preparing to finance his mission so it may be his own contribution, so far as possible. How wonderful it would be if each future missionary could have saved for his mission from birth. How wonderful it would be if every boy could totally or largely finance his own mission and thereby receive most of the blessings coming from his missionary labors.

Of course, if the boy is a convert in his teens, his years of saving are limited. If he lives in a country where the economic standards are low and opportunities are severely limited, he can still be governed by this policy so far as possible and do the best he can.

Our work is to preach the gospel to the world. It is not self-imposed. We are under divine commandment. The Prophet Joseph Smith said: “After all has been said, the greatest and most important duty is to preach the gospel.” All the other programs are extremely important but, of course, we cannot influence people until we get them in the Church.

When the Savior stood on the Mount of Olives just outside Jerusalem with 11 of his apostles and cast his eyes toward the heavens, he seemed to see the great work that would need to be done to gather scattered Israel.

I think he was seeing Russia, and China, India, and all of Asia. I believe he was seeing the isles of the sea, and North and South America. And I believe he was seeing the Near East world also.

I ask you, what did he mean when the Lord took his apostles to the top of the Mount of Olives and said: “And ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth” (Acts 1:8)?

These were his last words on earth before he ascended to his heavenly home.

What is the significance of the phrase “uttermost part of the earth”? He had already covered the area known to the apostles. Was it the people in Judea? Or those in Samaria? Or the few millions in the Near East? Where were the “uttermost parts of the earth”? Did he mean the millions in what is now America? Did he include the hundreds of thousands or even millions in Greece, Italy, around the Mediterranean, the inhabitants of Central Europe? Or did he mean all the living people of all the world and those spirits assigned to this world to come in future centuries? Have we underestimated his language or its meaning? How can we be satisfied with 100,000 converts out of 4 billion people in the world who need the gospel?

The Savior said:

“All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth.

“Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.” (Matt. 28:18–19.)

He said “all nations.”

Remember, our ally is our God. He is our commander. He made the plans. He gave the commandment.

The Lord has promised great blessings to us in proportion to how well we share the gospel. We will receive help from the other side of the veil as the spiritual miracles occur. The Lord has told us that our sins will be forgiven more readily as we bring souls unto Christ and remain steadfast in bearing testimony to the world, and surely every one of us is looking for additional help in being forgiven of our sins. (See D&C 84:61.) In one of the greatest of missionary scriptures, section 4 of the Doctrine and Covenants, we are told that if we serve the Lord in missionary service “with all [our] heart, might, mind, and strength,” then we may “stand blameless before God at the last day” (D&C 4:2).

And, further, 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!

“And now, if your joy will be great with one soul that you have brought unto me into the kingdom of my Father, how great will be your joy if you should bring many souls unto me!” (D&C 18:15–16.)

If one labors all his days and brings in save it be one soul! What joy! One soul! How precious! Oh, that God would give us that kind of love for souls!

What a marvelous opportunity our missionaries have. They are making the final preparation for their life’s work. They are not going to be common men and women. Every one of them must be special so that the Lord will approve of them and appreciate them. I am speaking of all those who should be on missions as well as those who are on missions.

Today they are building their life just as much as if they had loads of gravel and stacks of timber to build it with. If we could see our lives today and then see them 20 years from now, we could each go back and decide: It was back there during those years when I was a missionary where I made my life’s decision.

Do you think that the only reason the Lord has called them to the mission field is to preach the gospel? Absolutely not. That is important. But they are also called into the mission field to make sons and daughters of God into strong, powerful leaders in the future.

A great prophet of the Lord once said to a group of missionaries: “You are being released from this mission. You have filled two years; but you are not released from your life’s mission, and you never will be. Your mission is for the rest of your life, and you will receive additional and changing assignments.”

You are 19 years old when you are called; maybe you will be 79 when you die. In those 60 years, what a powerful influence for good you can be. And you must do it! This is serious business. We are not merely inviting people to go on missions. We are saying, this is your work! The God of heaven, through his prophets, has called you to this service. Every man, woman, and child who has the gospel, who has been baptized, has a responsibility.

I have no fear whatever that the candle lighted in Jerusalem years ago will ever be put out. It will shine ever more brightly. This is the work of the Lord. We are on his errand. He has commanded us specifically, and yet we are unknown among many people of the world. It is time to gird up our loins and go forward with new dedication to this great work. We covenanted, you and I, to do it. May we all say with that young man, found in the temple by his anxious parents, sitting in the midst of the doctors, “I must be about my Father’s business.”

Photo by Jed Clark

Photo by Eldon K. Linschoten

Painting by Harry Anderson