I’ve written 100 articles for Meridian Magazine, and thought I’d commemorate this event with another one about a favorite subject of mine: Missionary work. Only this time I’m going to share something for those who cringe at the thought of it: How to be an accidental missionary.
Too many of us have the mistaken idea that missionary work is difficult and scary. Too many of us think it’s an arena reserved for the, well, unreserverd-those gregarious folks who never met a stranger and have no problem striking up a conversation. Shy people can’t do this, they seem to think.
And you introverts have now given me the chance to use a foreign phrase in my article, and look very erudite, because I’m going to say au contraire. Shy people make some of the best missionaries! Here’s why you are particularly gifted: Shy people often come across as more sincere. They’re the last folks to show off, to be all about themselves, or to delight in the sound of their own voice. People like that. There’s a whole segment of the population who are put off by the chatty crowd. They don’t like being “sold.” To them, a quiet person who reflects and thinks deeply is someone they feel comfortable around. The pressure is off and calmness prevails. Whether you like it or not, you reticent folks draw others to you like a magnet.
Missionary work is not about the hard sell. It’s not about slapping people on the back. Missionary work is rooted in love. Simple, genuine love. And sincerity is not the exclusive domain of any particular personality type. The shyest person on the planet can convey caring and an interest in others. A smile goes a mile. Looking out for others, remembering their concerns, helping them at work, being a good neighbor-none of these things require razzle or dazzle. Just thoughtful “other-centeredness.”
Quiet folks are also fully able to convey the happiness and joy they feel as members of Christ’s restored church. Just as grouchiness can be shown by extroverts and introverts both, so can contentment and gladness. Your countenance, your behavior, and your loving actions all tell others about your inner delight in your faith. It “tumbles” forth, as Elder Holland has described it.
Showing your own joy, and truly caring about others, are the two best missionary tools you have– and neither one is scary or difficult. Just going about your life and looking for opportunities to serve others, makes it simple to share your faith. As conversations naturally develop, it’s easy to let others know you’re LDS. It comes up naturally as you tell a grocery clerk you went to church over the weekend, or you mention to a coworker that you heard from your son or daughter on a mission. Friendliness doesn’t have to be over the top. It just has to come from the heart.
One time we had an airport shuttle take our family to the airport. Once we had loaded the luggage we asked the driver to stop for a minute while we had a family prayer. After, his eyes were brimming with tears and he said he was an inactive Mormon who could tell, from our prayer, that we were LDS. He vowed right then to come back. He felt the spirit. And all we were doing was being as regular LDS family.
After a career in television, most would think my husband was super gregarious. In fact, he’s on the shy side and doesn’t like to show off in a crowd, or be Mr. Entertainment at a party. But he does love to speak with people one-on-one, and loves to welcome newcomers to church, or talk with strangers about the gospel. For him, the topic makes all the difference, and if he can share his testimony, he becomes anything but shy. His enthusiasm simply spills over in pure delight, and never once has anyone found that offensive.
Once, on a vacation, he got into an animated discussion with a hotdog vendor on the streets of New York City. Right before our eyes a friendship bloomed and before you knew it, the fellow had invited us to come and stay with his family in Egypt. One of our boys sidled up to me and whispered, “Dad is insane.” I just grinned and said, “May the whole world catch it.” When your love for others and your genuine desire to share the gospel is sincere, bonds of friendship form. Those truly seeking truth will recognize what they’ve been seeking.
Letting people know you’re LDS, and then living a quiet example of your faith, is being a great missionary. The Lord will lead others to cross your path and your prayers and preparation will be answered. He needs all kinds of missionaries and the soft-spoken ones have a vital role to play, even if they don’t think they fit the salesman mold. The key is to remember that you really aren’t selling the gospel; you’re living it.
Listen to Hilton’s radio advice show at blogtalkradio.com/jonihilton on Thursdays at 2 pm PST.
Joni Hilton is also “Your YouTube Mom” and shares short videos that teach easy household tips and life skills at
Be sure to read her blog at jonihilton.blogspot.com.
She is currently serving as Relief Society President of her ward in Northern California.