“Prepare to Serve,” New Era, April 2017
When I was growing up I had a real fear of standing up and talking in front of people. I was so frightened, I would get ill thinking about it.
During the time I was Primary and Young Men age, we had opening exercises in Sunday School, where we were asked to give two-and-a-half-minute talks in front of the whole congregation. One time when I was assigned a talk, my father had me memorize the story of the First Vision, and then he stood in the back of the chapel with the talk in his hands. I was at the pulpit, but I was so nervous that I froze up and couldn’t remember what I had memorized. My father tried mouthing the words for me, but because I wasn’t a very good lip reader I finally said, “What are you trying to say, Dad?” He marched up to the front of the chapel, put the paper on the pulpit, and I read my talk.
On another occasion my father told the missionary class he was teaching that anyone could give the first discussion that was about the Godhead. He said, “To prove it, I’m going to have my 10-year-old son give you the first lesson next week.” All that week he gave me the opportunity to learn the lesson, and I successfully taught the discussion to his class. When I became a missionary I knew well the story of the First Vision and I knew how to talk about the Godhead.
Those little experiences and many others like them changed me, and I was gradually able to overcome my fears. I am grateful for my father, who gave me opportunities to grow and who helped me learn how to do hard things. When we overcome our fears and step outside of our comfort zones, we can progress and become what the Lord would have us be (see D&C 6:34, 36; 35:17; 38:15).
There are things that you can do now that will help you prepare for a mission and for the rest of your life. For example, learning a foreign language can be a highly stressful activity that occurs in some missions. If you think that might be difficult for you, take a foreign language class in school. Doing so will help you as a missionary and all through your life.
Here are six more ideas to consider that will help you prepare for your future:
Working for others will teach you valuable skills on how to interact with people. It will teach you lessons on time management, money management, and how to work effectively.
See what it’s like to live on your own, or to live in a college setting with roommates. Youth activities such as camps and conferences will give you a taste of life away from home and will help you stretch yourself.
When you serve a mission, you will work hard. You will also have a preparation day when you can relax and have the opportunity to engage in wholesome recreational activities, see some beautiful things, and learn about the culture of your mission. When you take regular time to unwind, you will be refreshed and better able to address issues that follow.1
“Good nutrition and exercise help us manage stress better. … Thirty minutes of exercise each day strengthens your immune system, increases your energy, and stabilizes your mood.”2
Get away from digital media and learn how to talk to real people in real time. You can practice by talking with your parents: ask them questions about the past, about their jobs, about the strains in their lives. Dating is also a form of preparing for a mission as you learn people skills by talking to and getting along with others.
Learn how to listen to what others are saying, and be willing to share your story. Learn to listen to both the Holy Spirit and to what the other person is saying. People are much more willing to listen to the gospel message if they perceive that the missionary is interested in them.
The more you serve in your community, the more you will be able to look outside of yourself and develop a willingness and understanding of how to help people.
Remember the sons of Mosiah in the Book of Mormon. “Now they were desirous that salvation should be declared to every creature, for they could not bear that any human soul should perish; yea, even the very thought that any soul should endure endless torment did cause them to quake and tremble” (Mosiah 28:3). As they served the Lamanites, they grew to love them (see Alma 26:26–31). If you can have that kind of desire, that kind of love for people, you will have a successful mission.
One of the challenges, as well as a great blessing, of serving a mission is learning how to adjust to new situations. I served in the North German Mission and was still learning the language when I arrived. The first night I was in Germany, right after I dropped my bags off, my wonderful companion said, “Are you ready to go? Let’s go tracting!” I watched him go to two or three doors and talk to people. Then he pushed the doorbell and said, “It’s your turn!”
I’ll never forget the woman who came to the door while I stood there with a Book of Mormon in my hand. All those feelings of anxiety and nervousness that I’d felt when I stood at the pulpit as a child came back again. But because I had worked hard to learn the language and had experience teaching about the First Vision, I knew what I could say. She didn’t accept the Book of Mormon, and she shut the door on me. My companion looked at me and said, “Nice job, Elder Schwitzer. Welcome to Germany.”
Over time, being a missionary became easier as I had the opportunity to meet people and share the gospel. That’s what is amazing about the gospel of Jesus Christ: the more you testify, the more you grow as a missionary. You don’t just go out to serve a mission; you go out to become a missionary, and in the process you become a disciple of Jesus Christ.
I know that when we rely on the Savior we can build a strong foundation where we can overcome the difficulties of life and turn them into strengths. Sometimes I wonder what my life would have been like if I had stayed shy and not pushed myself to do my best. The gospel of Jesus Christ helped to change me into a different person than what my natural tendencies were. I am so grateful for it in my life.