For the Sacrament meeting program, we had quite a line-up: Benjamin spoke, Tanner played a primary song medley on piano, then Tracey and Larry spoke. Lacey, Bridgette, and Tracey sang "May I Serve Thee" accompanied on piano by me, and then I took up the last fifteen minutes or so. We all focused on missionary work, of course, and it was a wonderful program. Thanks to everyone who supported me this weekend!
I really wanted to speak first so I could make the joke about this being a “Long” Sacrament meeting...but according to the Official Church Handbook Of Whatever It Is, you’re supposed to save the best for last!
For anyone who doesn’t know already, I’m Larry and Tracey Long’s daughter, Brittany. I just graduated from Southern Utah University with a degree in English, and last year I received a call to serve in the Japan Tokyo mission. I’ll be going to the Provo Missionary Training Center for ten weeks to learn how to teach in Japanese, and I don’t leave for the MTC until February 8th, so if you see me in the grocery store or something between now and then, don’t worry—I’m still going!
I wasn’t sure at first what I wanted to speak about today, so I asked my mum, and she said I should explain a bit about why I want to serve a mission. It’s a fair question, especially when asked by people who aren’t members of the LDS church, so I have three reasons to share.
The first reason for me was, like most 19-year-old boys, a sense of duty. The old joke is that I didn’t know a mission was optional for girls until I was ten or twelve because I come from an extensive family legacy of sister missionaries. I grew up hearing missionary stories from my mother, grandmother, and almost all of my aunts serving around the world, so of course I expected to one day do the same. When I got older and found out I wasn’t obligated to go on a mission, I still felt a sense of duty and a desire to serve. I felt—and still feel—that my life has been so incredibly blessed because of the gospel that I would be ungrateful not to spend a measly eighteen months helping build the Lord’s church.
After I received my Patriarchal blessing a few years ago, my desire to serve increased to include personal benefits for me as well. I was promised that it would be a great experience to help my personality and testimony grow. I’ve heard and seen how missionary service blesses others in helping them become more faithful and diligent Latter-day Saints who have confidence in sharing the gospel, and I want that change to work with me, too. I remember I once made a list of the ten women in my life I most admire, and eight out of those ten women were returned sister missionaries. I’m certain that their few months of service made all the difference in being more faithful saints, loving mothers, and understanding leaders. The kind of humility and trust that a full-time mission requires makes the Lord’s servants into better, more Christlike people, and I know that the time I spend in Japan will teach me how to rely on the Lord and to do His will.
The final reason I am so excited to be a missionary didn’t occur to me until the last year or so, and it’s become the most important reason during the months I’ve been preparing to serve. It’s what I want to talk about for the rest of the time that I have because I feel that it is so essential to missionary work: I want to serve because I love this gospel. I feel joy because of what the Atonement of Jesus Christ has done— and is doing—in my life, and I want other people to have that joy too. Even though I don’t yet know any of the people in Japan, I feel so much love for them because I know in a few short months I will be there teaching them how to be as happy in this church as I am. That is, I think, the true spirit of missionary work: sharing the gospel with others so they can take part in the happiness we have by knowing God’s plan for us.
As I’ve been studying Preach My Gospel, the official manual of missionaries of the church, the book sums up in the very first chapter what I’ve been feeling. It says, “As your understanding of the Atonement of Jesus Christ grows, your desire to share the gospel will increase.” I can testify that that is true. Over the past few years I have been learning more and more about our Savior’s great sacrifice: how it works according to scripture, how I can feel it helping me overcome difficulty, and how other people, because of faith in Christ’s Atonement, are healing and changing every day. The knowledge that I have and am gaining is wonderful; it makes me so happy to know that all my hardships, mistakes, and sins can be set right because of my Savior’s love for me, so of course I want to share that message with other people. This gospel changes lives, and the Atonement—the central event of our Heavenly Father’s plan—is what enables change in our lives. I have become personally acquainted with this truth time and time again, and each instance of learning more or feeling my Savior’s love increases my happiness and my hope. Along with that, I have an increased desire to share that hope with someone else who needs it.
Some of you may know that I spent several years studying French in school. I studied the scriptures in the French language and one of the coolest things I noticed was that there is no word for “gospel” in French. Every time it’s mentioned, “gospel” is translated as “good news.” I think that is perfect! There could be no greater news than the gospel of Jesus Christ which enables us to overcome imperfections through faith in Him and living as He lived. I feel so strongly that the good news of our Father’s plan gives me direction, peace, and—above all—hope and happiness. It would be so selfish of me to keep all of that to myself. I explained to someone recently that it’s sort of like when you finish a great book, or find a new restaurant that you love: you don’t want to keep it a secret! You tell your friends or post it as your facebook status or something. You want to spread the good news of something that brings you joy. The Atonement of Jesus Christ is a great deal more important than a book or a restaurant, but the principle is the same. Missionary work is about telling others how they can be as happy as we are.
For a scriptural example, the manual Preach My Gospel talks about Lehi’s vision of the tree of life that we studied just last week in Sunday school. In 1 Nephi chapter 8 starting in verse 10, Lehi says,
“And it came to pass that I did go forth and partake of the fruit thereof; and I beheld that it was most sweet, above all that I ever before tasted. Yea, and I beheld that the fruit thereof was white, to exceed all the whiteness that I had ever seen.
“And as I partook of the fruit thereof it filled my soul with exceedingly great joy; wherefore, I began to be desirous that my family should partake of it also; for I knew that it was desirable above all other fruit.”
Now, we know from 1 Nephi chapter 11 that the fruit of the tree of life is the gospel of Jesus Christ. Lehi said that it was “desirable to make one happy.” When he partook of it, he felt “exceedingly great joy.” The gospel of Jesus Christ was sweeter, whiter, and more precious to Lehi than anything else, as I feel and I’m sure many of you do. The very first thing Lehi did after partaking of this great and precious thing was “desire that [his] family should partake of it also.”
Lehi was speaking of his immediate family: his wife and his children who, later in the dream, did come and eat of the fruit of the tree. However, there were other people in the vision too making their way toward the tree. If we think of our earthly “family” in the broadest sense, we should desire that every one of Heavenly Father’s children, our brothers and sisters on earth, should partake of the fruit by coming to a knowledge of our Father’s plan and receiving the ordinances necessary for salvation.
The only way to spread the gospel is through missionary work. The full-time missionaries are active in proclaiming and teaching truth, but as we’ve heard from prophets and apostles countless times, full-time missionaries can’t do all the work. They need help from every member to reach out to others and bear witness of Christ.
According to the prophet Joseph Smith, “After all that has been said, the greatest and most important duty is to preach the Gospel.” He also said, “Let the Saints remember that great things depend on their individual exertion, and that they are called to be co-workers with us and the Holy Spirit in accomplishing the great work of the last days.”
I think I can safely say that most of us are here because we love the gospel; we love the feelings of peace and we love being assured that our Father cares for us and keeps His promises. We might desire to do missionary work out of duty to commandments or because of the promised blessings, but we need to keep in mind the purpose of missionary work is so that others can have what we have and love what we love. I think that can help take a lot of the fear out of missionary work. We have so many inhibitions about talking with friends, co-workers, or family members about the gospel, but part of that hesitation and fear of rejection can be alleviated when we are motivated by love. We love this church, and we want those we associate with to love it and share in our blessings. Preach My Gospel says, “You can know you have been a successful missionary when you love people and desire their salvation.”
Sometimes we rely too much on the hope that missionaries will knock on doors of people we care about, and we forget that we already know everything we need to help share the joy of the gospel. Every person who possesses a testimony is able to share it. Doctrine and Covenants 62:3 says that when we share our testimony, the angels in heaven hear and rejoice for us, and our sins our forgiven. That is a wonderful promise!
Preach My Gospel says, “You show your love for the Lord and gratitude for His Atonement by bringing souls unto Him.” President Heber J. Grant said, “The best way in the world to show our love for our neighbor is to go forth and proclaim the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.” Active missionary work thus accomplishes the two great commandments as taught by our Saviour: to love the Lord our God and to love our neighbours. President David O. McKay said, “True Christianity is love in action. There is no better way to manifest love for God than to show an unselfish love for your fellow men. This is the spirit of missionary work.”
The scriptures call charity the pure love of Christ. Our Savior called all to repentance; He wants everyone to partake of His Atonement. When we have charity, Christ’s love, we desire for all we know to feel the peace and happiness we feel, and it is not a passive desire. True disciples of Christ want to share His love and they do—they don’t need a nametag or a calling to do so. Sharing the gospel is as simple as telling others why the church makes us happy.
With the church getting so much publicity recently, it is a wonderful opportunity to answer questions about our religion. A question like, “What does your church believe?” can seem overwhelming, but the answer can be as simple as, “We believe that God loves us and wants us to have joy, so He sent His Son Jesus Christ to guide us and help us overcome everything bad about the world.”
In the mission prep class I took this semester, we had activities where we practiced answering specific questions in sixty seconds, and others where we had to plan a five minute lesson. Every week we got better at sharing our testimonies and delivering short statements of truth as simply and powerfully as possible. One activity we had was practicing teaching the plan of salvation to several returned missionaries so we could get their feedback. I’ll always remember that one RM said to me, “Keep smiling! You’re teaching God’s plan of happiness and you want your investigator to know that the plan works!” He advised everyone in the class to forget how nervous and scared we were; we knew our message was true, and we wanted those listening to feel it was true. Our message made us happy, and we wanted to make others happy as well.
So here’s my challenge to you: this week, reflect on how much joy you have tasted because of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Count the blessings you have because of the church. Then think of someone in your life who you want to have those blessings too. Plan how to share your joy with someone who needs it in their life. The most important part of missionary work is committing to doing it. When the Lord sees your sincere desire to share the gospel, He will give you opportunity and courage to teach His message of hope and spiritual healing.
I want to look back at Lehi’s vision of the tree of life. After Lehi ate the fruit, felt joy, and desired for his family to partake of it, he said:
“And as I cast my eyes round about, that perhaps I might discover my family also, I beheld a river of water; and it ran along, and it was near the tree of which I was partaking the fruit.
“And I looked to behold from whence it came; and I saw the head thereof a little way off; and at the head thereof I beheld your mother Sariah, and Sam, and Nephi; and they stood as if they knew not whither they should go.
“And it came to pass that I beckoned unto them; and I also did say unto them with a loud voice that they should come unto me, and partake of the fruit, which was desirable above all other fruit.
Lehi’s family did not know where to go; they would not have been able to partake of the fruit if Lehi hadn’t sought them out and called to them. Our desire to share the gospel is only part of what we must do; like Lehi, we must search out those who need joy and then “beckon them” to what will bring them happiness.
It’s also important to remember that some of Lehi’s children chose not to partake of the fruit. Not all of our missionary efforts will be successful, or even wanted, but we are promised great blessings if we do our part to share the gospel with love for others. Elder Quentin L. Cook said at a recent general conference, “Our leaders have consistently counseled us ‘to live with respect and appreciation for those not of our faith. There is so great a need for civility and mutual respect among those of differing beliefs and philosophies.’ It is equally important that we be loving and kind to members of our own faith, regardless of their level of commitment or activity. The Savior has made it clear that we are not to judge each other. This is especially true of members of our own families. Our obligation is to love and teach and never give up.”
President George Albert Smith, who we started studying this year in Relief Society, “felt that the most effective way to share the gospel was to look for the good virtues in people of other faiths and then, with boldness and kindness, offer to share additional truths of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ.” While presiding over a mission in Europe, he taught a Presbyterian minister by first acknowledging all the good things the man already had in his church: his education and training, his good character, and his virtue. Then President Smith said, “[Now let the missionaries] sit down and share with you some of the things that have not yet come into your life that have enriched our lives and made us happy. That is the attitude of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”
When we let those we teach know that we love them and don’t want to take things away from them but to enrich every aspect of their lives, they will be more receptive to our message. Love on our part can make all the difference.
I haven’t even been officially set apart as a missionary yet, but already I can feel the Lord blessing me with an increase of love for the people in Japan I will soon have the privilege of teaching. I pray for it all the time because I know a deep love for the people will help me overcome the trials and frustrations that come with missionary service. A full-time mission seems daunting to me right now, but I feel exactly like President George Albert Smith when he said, “Knowing that the Redeemer of mankind has offered to the world the only plan that will fully develop us and make us really happy here and hereafter, I feel it not only a duty but also a blessed privilege to disseminate this truth.” It will be a privilege for me to share with others what makes me so happy.
The last scripture I want to share with you is in the book of Alma, chapter 36. Alma the Younger had an incredible conversion to the gospel of Jesus Christ and worked most of his life to teach his people the truth. He says in verse 24, “Yea, and from that time [meaning his conversion] even until now, I have labored without ceasing, that I might bring souls unto repentance; that I might bring them to taste of the exceeding joy of which I did taste; that they might also be born of God, and be filled with the Holy Ghost.”
I hope I can say that in eighteen months time: that I have “labored without ceasing” to bring others the same “exceeding joy” that I have in this church. I want to testify to you that I know the work of this church is true and is guided by our Heavenly Father who loves us and wants our happiness. I know that the message our missionaries share is true: Jesus Christ is the Savior of the world, and this is His restored church. I testify that all the work we do for families here and in the next life is authorized by God to bring us blessings and happiness for now and eternity. I bear witness to you of these things in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.