Cover image via Gospel Media Library.
First, here is what this article is not. It’s not a reminder to find folks for the elders or sisters to teach. It’s not about writing to missionaries. It’s not even about asking where they’re from or what they want to do when they go home.
It’s an idea that I think might be very new to some of you. It was to me, and the inspiration for this piece came to me out of the blue. I’m told we’re supposed to listen to those promptings. This was exactly what I needed to learn. See if you feel the same way.
We’ve all heard people talk about their locally assigned elders and sisters. Often the comments are positive. “You’ll love Elder Smith—he’s hilarious!” “Sister Brown is so knowledgeable—she really knows her stuff.” “Elder Jones is super sharp—he could go home and become a bishop!” “Sister Jensen really brings the Spirit to her teaching.” All good things.
But we’ve also heard other comments. “I have a family I want to refer to the missionaries, but I want to wait until we have some really impressive ones.” “What’s with that new elder? He hardly smiles.” “I wish Sister Barnes hadn’t been transferred. We’ll probably never get another missionary that well-prepared.”
Judging people unfairly is one of the toughest hurdles we all face—not just at church but in life. The difference here is that we actually harm the Lord’s work when we think this way about the emissaries sent to teach the gospel of His restored church.
When we evaluate the teaching capacity, the educational level, the polished manners, the personality, or the appearance of any missionary, we are showing a lack of faith in God. Yep, strong statement, right? And I will confess I have sighed with disappointment when a truly amazing elder or sister has gotten transferred. But I’ve been absolutely wrong. When we wait for set after set of missionaries, until we find one worthy to teach our friends, we are holding up the work. We think we know best, but we don’t.
By thinking we need super smart, super engaging, super charismatic missionaries, we’re saying that this—this PR package– is what will impress investigators. And it’s not the case! Those sincerely seeking truth will be receptive to the whisperings of the Spirit, and the shiny package doesn’t matter.
My husband is a convert whose experience included being taught by a shy elder with a severe speech impediment. Do you know what he thought about that young man? He was bowled over by the fact that this young kid had chosen to spend two years in a struggling, rejection-filled endeavor with a physical challenge that would make it even harder. Yet, here he was. That alone made my husband see him as a giant among men. That kid couldn’t rely upon a clever delivery, funny lines, or a confident approach. All he could do was plead for the Spirit. No flash and dazzle. Just pure revelation to guide him and to witness of truth.
Sometimes we forget who’s actually in charge. We forget that God will place missionaries in the absolute right path where a sincere investigator is ready to learn. He knows both parties completely (whereas we know next to nothing) and He knows how to have exactly the right questions asked, exactly the right answers given. He knows each of their hearts. And, unlike us, he doesn’t have to rely upon exterior impressions. In fact, those sometimes get in the way.
Who was the greatest missionary of all time? The Savior, Jesus Christ. Yet here’s how Isaiah described him: “…he hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him. He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not.” (Isaiah 53:2-3)
It’s rather amazing what can happen when we stop using our mortal brains and let God take the helm. Whoever is assigned to your ward is there through inspiration. Those missionaries are meant to teach your friends. We will help our missionaries far more if we remember there’s design here, not a roll of the dice.
And we will love them more because we’ll stop sizing them up as if they’re applying for a job. We’ll stop assuming anything and realize we simply have no idea what’s in their hearts. But God does. He knows which of his sheep are honestly looking for answers. And he has prepared these impossibly young yet impossibly ready missionaries. Our part is to have faith. Faith in the program and even more importantly: Faith in God.
Hilton’s newest work, A Little Christmas Prayer, is not just for Christmas. Sometimes it takes a child to raise a village, and this tale teaches anyone, of any faith, the magic of gratitude. All her books and Youtube Mom videos can be found on her website. She currently serves as an Interfaith Specialist for Public Affairs.