“Missions—Only You Can Decide,” New Era, Sept. 1984, 38
Brethren, I’m honored to stand before you tonight. First, I’d like to talk about a much-discussed topic in the Church—referees.
Before each game at BYU the captains of the two teams meet at the center circle with the referees and go through a meaningless ritual where nothing of real significance is said. But on the day we played Notre Dame, a referee friend of mine said something during that meeting that really hit home with me. He said, “Men, we referees are going to work hard tonight. We’re going to make some mistakes, but you work hard too.”
I remembered his words, and the game began. During the last few minutes, I went up for a rebound, and a bigger Notre Dame player knocked me to the floor. As I lay there, I looked up, and the referee pointed down and indicated that the foul was on me. Surprised at his decision. I got up off the floor. I smiled at the referee and said, “You know, you were right in what you said before the game.”
He looked at me with a puzzled expression. I continued, “You said you were going to make some mistakes tonight, and you just made a big one.” We looked at each other, and we both had a good laugh and continued to play.
I have great respect for referees because they make many tough decisions which must be made in a split second and which are open to public view. But there are decisions in life that are much more important than those made by referees—decisions made in a slow, deliberate, prayerful, private manner. One such decision is whether or not to go on a mission. While I was growing up I had a desire to serve a mission. But when it finally came time to send in the papers, I was hesitant. The decision became filled with pressures. I didn’t know whether to leave after my freshman year, after my sophomore year, or after I had completed my college education. I fought with a multitude of inward thoughts and feelings. I also wondered if I had enough knowledge to go out there and give what was so precious to me to somebody else. I talked to a lot of people, and most of them willingly shared their opinions with me. Some said that I should go immediately, others said later, and some said I shouldn’t go at all. I wonder, if I had asked you, should I go now or later or not at all, what would you have told me?
Perhaps you would have been like one of our great priesthood leaders. I went to him, and we talked about my situation. He listened with patience and concern. After I expressed my feelings about being able to play basketball when I returned, he said, with words that sank deep into me, “Devin, if you serve a mission and serve faithfully, when you return you will be a better basketball player than you are now.”
I had great confidence in that man, and I felt that he was moved by the Spirit to say what he did. I felt he was talking to me personally and not to all athletes who serve missions, because each case is different. He could advise me, my parents could advise me, my friends could advise me, but they couldn’t serve for me. I was the one who was going, and no one else could make my decision. I had to make that myself.
One reason I desired to serve a mission was that I had seen the impact that serving a mission had on my father and mother. Many times in our family home evenings Dad would mention his mission. He told us about his call. He had a desire to serve a mission, but when he expressed that desire to his father, his father discouraged him from going. My dad grew up on a chicken farm in American Fork, Utah. Because of failing health, his father didn’t feel that he would be able to maintain the farm, and there would be no money to finance a mission.
Bishop Melvin Grant came to discuss the matter with my dad’s family. When Dad’s father told the bishop that his son couldn’t go, Dad’s mother stood right up from her chair and said, “I’ll take care of the chickens. My son George is going on a mission.”
And so he went to England. My dad told me that a few months into his mission he received a letter from his mother that said, “I think the chickens know where you are, because they’ve never laid as many eggs as they are laying now.”
In April of 1980 I entered the Missionary Training Center and began to learn Spanish to prepare to serve in Madrid, Spain. While in the MTC, I knew that I was doing the right thing. In my heart I wanted to someday return to play basketball. Yet at the same time I decided that even if I never played another game of collegiate ball I wouldn’t regret the decision that I had made.
In Spain I had the honor of wearing a little name tag that said “Elder Durrant.” That title, Elder, was a greater honor than any I had ever before known. I had many experiences as a missionary. When someone accepted the gospel, I felt indescribable joy. When people rejected the message of the gospel, it brought me great sorrow.
One of my most joyous memories began during the summer of 1981. We had walked the city streets all morning talking to businessmen about the Church. By noon we were hot and tired and ready to take a break. We decided to walk through a nearby park, and as we did so, we could see off to the side a group of young people. We decided to see if they would listen to our message.
As we approached, they looked at us with some suspicion. We told them we were missionaries of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. They laughed a little and made a few mocking comments. It seemed obvious that they didn’t want to listen to us. But there was one young man in the group who looked at us with a sincere interest. So we focused our attention on him. He had a guitar. We asked, “Would you play something for us?” He smiled, lifted his guitar, and began to play.
When he finished, we told him more about ourselves and our message. He told us his name was Jose Manuel. We talked for a few more minutes and then ended the conversation by asking if we could talk to him another day about our church. He replied he would be glad to listen to us and that we could find him in the park most every day taking his dog for a walk or playing his guitar.
As we left, we couldn’t imagine this young man ever being baptized. A few days later we were in that same area. To our pleasant surprise, there he was. We asked if he would listen to us. He consented, and we pulled two park benches together, and my companion and I sat on one and he sat on the other. We looked into Jose Manuel’s eyes and told him about Jesus Christ. Near the end of our message we told him about the Book of Mormon and that Jesus Christ had visited America after his resurrection. We challenged him to read about this great event. He said he would. We left the book, yet we had our doubts if Jose Manuel would ever even open it.
A few more days went by, and we decided to see how he had done on his reading assignment. To our surprise, he told us that he had read the part in the Book of Mormon that we had assigned him. He explained that he had told his friend about what he’d read. His friend also wanted to read the book, so Jose Manuel had given it to him. He asked us if he could possibly get another copy. We told him that we could probably work something out.
After that we continued to teach him the gospel. We saw him change his appearance and his heart. He wanted to be baptized.
Nearly three years have passed since we first met Jose Manuel in that park in Madrid, Spain. He is now a member of the Church. A few months ago he, like you and me, had a decision to make. He had to decide whether or not to serve a mission. Jose Manuel had every reason in the world not to go. He was just a recent convert. His knowledge of the gospel wasn’t that extensive. He had lost his father a few years before, and his mother didn’t want him to go. Other family members didn’t want him to go either. He didn’t have the finances to be able to serve for 18 months. He also had to complete his military service before he would be able to even think about serving a mission. Everything was against his going on a mission.
Every one of us, as we think about a mission, can find a number of reasons why we shouldn’t go. We must each look beyond those reasons. The key is to look for reasons to go. And Jose Manuel had some reasons to go. He knew that Jesus Christ was the son of God and the Savior of the world. He knew that Joseph Smith had seen a vision. He knew that the Church was true. He knew that it had changed his life, and he wanted to go out and share that knowledge with others.
Jose Manuel had a desire to serve. He was called to the work. With the help of the Lord, he was able to work things out. That always seems to happen. He overcame the obstacles, and he’s now serving in the Spain Barcelona Mission.
We’re all faced with different obstacles that sometimes make serving missions seem difficult. In my dad’s case, his father was ill. Jose Manuel’s family didn’t want him to go. I wondered about my basketball future. Many of the obstacles we face are those within our own minds. For just a minute I want to talk directly to you—just you. You who might say, “I have this girl friend”; or, “I’ve got a good job and a car”; or, “I’ve never been good at schoolwork, and I know I could never memorize scriptures and all those discussions”; or, “I can’t talk to people who I don’t even know”; or, “I couldn’t be obedient to all the rules missionaries follow”; or, “I don’t really know the Church is true, so how could I tell others about it?”
To those who have such thoughts and feelings: if you don’t now have a testimony, you can gain one on a mission. Your girl friend will be all right. You can learn the scriptures and discussions well enough to be effective. You’ll have the courage you need to talk to strangers. You can be obedient. You can do it.
Some of you may be fearful about your ability because to this point in your life you have struggled. Perhaps you’ve not been academically gifted or socially prominent. I agree that being socially graceful, well educated, experienced in leadership, and able to speak well are useful talents for doing missionary work. But there is something beyond these which can give a missionary his real power.
I was told recently of two missionary companions—one had many outward talents, the other didn’t. They had received a letter from a man and his family to whom they had taught several discussions. The letter told the elders to come by and pick up the Book of Mormon because the family had decided they were not interested in continuing the discussions.
The more outwardly talented elder felt confident that by using all his social skills and all his learning he would be able to change the man’s mind. During the meeting he used every persuasive skill he could think of. The other elder listened. Finally the man agreed to continue the discussions.
Later, at the family’s baptism, the talented elder remembered the night with some degree of pride. After the baptism the man told him, “The night I changed my mind and continued to have you teach me was the most important night of my life. As you talked to me, my mind was so determined to not listen that there was nothing you could have said that would have caused me to continue. But then I looked at your companion. His eyes were focused on me. I saw in his face more love than I’d ever known before. My heart felt a spirit that made it so I could not resist his silent message. I decided then that if this church could cause someone to love like that, then I wanted to be part of it.”
Outward social and educational talents help, but more needed than these are the inward talents of love and faith and testimony. In these talents we can all be equal.
If your health will allow, make yourself worthy to serve. Push aside the obstacles and go.
I pray that the Lord will bless us in all of our decisions—decisions about missions, decisions about marriage, decisions about character, about dedication, about morality.
I’m grateful for the honor that I had of being Elder Durrant while in Spain. I know that Jesus Christ lives, that while he was on the earth he taught us the way that we ought to live. I know that he expects us as holders of the priesthood to take what he has given us and go out and share it with others. And as we do this, he not only blesses the lives of the people we come in contact with, but he also blesses us. I know that the gospel he has given us is true. That’s why I wanted to share it—because it means so much in my life.
I testify of these things in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.