Do you remember when you first went to school and learned to read, to write, and to do math? Do you remember when you learned to cook, to play football, to play the piano, or to sew. How long does it take to learn something new?
As a missionary, there are many things to learn: the lessons, the language, learning about people, learning about yourself, learning about God, learning how to hear Him, learning to follow the Spirit.
The Lord does not expect us to know everything by next week. We learn “line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little, there a little.” (2 Nephi 28:30) Even Jesus Christ grew grace upon grace and He grew “in wisdom and stature and in favour with God and man.” (Luke 2:52)
President Russell M. Nelson became a heart surgeon after many years of study. He became a famous heart surgeon after many years of experience. President Henry B. Eyring became a professor after many years of study. He became university president after many years of experience. President Dallin H. Oaks became a lawyer after many years of study. He became a state supreme court judge after many years of experience.
A missionary who had struggled learning French gave these tips that can apply to anything we need to learn: “calm down and be patient; the Lord called you to this mission and He will help you; practice words, fill your mind with those words, and then the Holy Ghost will give you words to say when you need them; be patient, it can take 3-7 months or more to speak well and it’s okay to still struggle finding words.”
Adjusting to Missionary Life also reminds us to be patient in learning.
- If reading, studying, or memorizing is hard for you, be patient with yourself. Take short breaks frequently at first; then gradually study for a few minutes longer at a time. Take notes on what you read to help you remember. Read out loud (quietly) if it helps. Try memorizing by (1) repeating things out loud, (2) reading or writing things several times, or (3) moving around and acting things out as you learn. See which technique works best for you. Use other strengths you have, such as contacting potential investigators, navigating, or being cheerful.
- Keep your sense of humor when you make a mistake. Then try again. Two stories illustrate having a sense of humor when learning a new language.
First, our instructor told us of a young missionary serving in Japan who was telling about the First Vision. In Japanese he said, “I saw a pillar of light above the brightness of the sun, and in that light, I saw two carrots descending into a bowl of soup.” Well, they all laughed, he laughed, then they corrected the story. That family felt the spirit and was later baptized.
The second story: my companion got up to bear his testimony. He started by telling the members how much he loved their smiles. The French words for mice (souris) and smiles sourires) are very similar. He told them how much he loved their mice. All laughed, he laughed. They felt his love and his great spirit.
- Find the strength in a weakness. Sometimes having a weakness teaches us strengths like compassion, empathy, patience, humility, and reliance on the Lord. Sometimes a weakness (like being easily distracted) has a strength that goes with it (like noticing things others miss). Look for the strengths that might come from your weaknesses.
- If you feel jealous of someone else’s skills, refocus your attention on your personal mission. Put your energy into developing your strengths and contributing them to the work. This is your mission.
Learning the Language. For learning a language, whether you are learning a new language or adapting to unfamiliar accents:
- Study Preach My Gospel, chapter 7. Prayerfully apply this chapter, “Learn Your Mission Language”
- Keep working hard. Trust the Lord to bless you with the gift of tongues as you need it to accomplish what He desires. Remember, few missionaries become completely fluent in a new language. The Lord knows you, called you, and will use your strengths to bless others. He will compensate for your weakness. Contribute all the gifts you have.
- Have fun with your new language. Sometimes it is easier to speak a new language when we don’t expect ourselves to be experts.
Although our skills and abilities may not be perfect, the Lord will make up the difference as we trust Him, serve Him, and serve those around us. May He continue to bless each of us as we share His gospel with the world.