The author lives in Utah, USA.
Many full-time missions are being disrupted right now by global health challenges. My heart aches for those who have been delayed, reassigned, or sent home entirely. And yet, when I think of what the Lord’s work is really about, I realize that what He needs—maybe even more than missionaries with name tags—are lifelong disciples He can depend on. And that’s something each of us can commit to, regardless of where we are in the world.
The word disciple is used more than 200 times in the New Testament. According to the Bible Dictionary, disciples are “followers of Jesus Christ.” There have been many men and women in the Church, including general authorities, who for various reasons didn’t have the opportunity to serve a full-time mission but were faithful followers of Christ. But they didn’t allow external factors to define their spirituality or their standing before God.
What does being a disciple mean to you? Perhaps that’s a question to ponder while reading the stories below. Each highlights a different principle of discipleship that might help you craft your own personal definition.
In Matthew 14, we read about the Savior walking on water and Peter wanting to join Him. You’re probably familiar with the story. Following the Lord’s invitation, Peter climbed out of the boat and, defying laws of nature and physics, put his feet on water and walked toward the Master. But then the waves and the winds became “boisterous” around him (Matthew 14:30). Distracted by these threats, Peter took his eyes off the Savior and began to sink, crying out for help. Jesus “immediately” caught hold of His dear disciple and pulled Peter to safety (Matthew 14:31).
There are metaphoric waves and winds around us today. Constant media coverage reveals people in panic, governments in confusion, and other scary circumstances beyond our control. At times it may feel as if we are sinking in a boisterous sea. But Peter’s story teaches us that one question will make a big difference in our experience: What is our focus? Are we focusing on the threat of winds and waves, or are we focusing on the mercy of the Savior? He is beckoning us today, as He does every day, to come unto Him. He is waiting to show us miracles.
I hope we choose to humbly and faithfully focus on Jesus. It might help to memorize the words He shared with the frightened and confused fisherman in that small boat on the sea: “Be of good cheer,” He said. “It is I; be not afraid” (Matthew 14:27).
The year 1834 was a difficult one for early members of the Church in the state of Missouri, USA, who had been driven out of Jackson County. The Lord directed Joseph Smith to form a group called Zion’s Camp to help these persecuted Saints. More than 200 men volunteered. They left their families, assuming they were going to be a militia for the Lord. They were ready to fight for the Savior—and see Him fight for them.
But the journey became a difficult one. Members of Zion’s Camp faced many different trials. Many fell sick, and some died. A few reacted by becoming bitter and angry. Others, including Brigham Young, recognized it as a special opportunity to walk with Joseph Smith and witness the living prophet of the Lord in action.
Then the most unexpected thing of all happened. As they were nearing their destination, the Lord told Zion’s Camp to turn back! They would not be fighting after all. Many of the weary men were furious and confused, and perhaps some thought the whole journey had been a waste of time. It later became obvious that the Lord was preparing and testing His future leaders through that grueling experience. Eight of the original Twelve Apostles, and all of the first Quorum of the Seventy, were called from the men who had been in Zion’s Camp.1
The true purpose of Zion’s Camp didn’t have to do with arriving at a physical destination. Rather, it seems to have been a journey to refine the souls of servants who would lead the Church forward. There are many young people today who have made sacrifices to serve the Lord on a mission. Perhaps they were even assigned a geographic destination for their ministry. But now, like those in Zion’s Camp, they are being told to “turn back” in one way or another.
How will we react when events in our life don’t go as planned? Will we become angry and bitter? Or will we let this opportunity refine us? Will we pay special attention to our modern-day prophet, appreciating the technology that allows us to so easily watch him in action?
If we are willing to march wherever the Lord takes us, we will see miracles. And most importantly, our souls will be refined so that we can fulfill our earthly mission with courage and faith.
Like many missionaries, my first day at the missionary training center was filled with mixed emotions. I was excited! But I was also anxious, especially about going to a foreign country and learning a new language.
I felt like we were assigned to practice teaching when we had barely figured out how to say “hello” and “where’s the bathroom?” After one extremely basic lesson on prayer, we were left with 30 minutes … and nothing to say. Fortunately, the woman we were practicing with understood English enough to reassure us about her country. My companion and I left feeling good, and we went right into an interview with our MTC teacher to talk how things went.
That teacher said something I will never forget. After listening to me talk about my nerves and the lesson, he looked me in the eye and said, “Elder, it’s OK to feel nervous. But in the lessons, stop thinking about you. This is God’s work. It’s not about you.”
I’ll admit, his words stung for a moment. But I also felt the Spirit testify to me that what he said was true and that I needed to change. What I learned that day helped me through the highs and lows of my mission. It humbled me when I was feeling confident and secure, reminding me that outward success wasn’t what was most important. It also comforted me when I felt frustrated with failure, reminding me that outward success (or the seeming lack of it) wasn’t what was most important.
It’s OK if you are feeling lots of mixed emotions right now. Just don’t let them get in the way of what is most important. As God teaches in Moses 1:39, “For behold, this is my work and my glory—to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.” Always remember that this is His work.
Let’s return to the question I brought up earlier. What does being a disciple mean to you? I hope these stories have encouraged you to be fearless and focused when facing the waves and winds. I hope you value the journey you are on, regardless of your eventual physical destination. And I hope that, through the many emotions that come with today’s trials, you will remember that the Lord is leading this great and marvelous work. It is our privilege to follow Him and call ourselves His disciples.