To read more insights from Daniel, visit his blog: Sic Et Non.
There were plenty of frustrations when I was serving as a missionary in German-speaking Switzerland. The greatest, of course, was simply that people weren’t very receptive. That, I’m sure, was partly due to the country’s sheer success; Switzerland is an extraordinarily beautiful place, and it’s free, peaceful, safe, and prosperous. When humans are comfortable, they rarely seek out anything that will fundamentally change the way they live.
Another factor in the reluctance of the Swiss to open the doors to missionaries, however, was and is surely the private and reserved character of the culture. They weren’t enthusiastic about receiving strangers and foreigners into their homes at the mere ringing of a doorbell.
Another of my frustrations, though, came from the fact that our missionary efforts had been concentrated for generations in the same short list of cities and towns, while, owing to our small numbers, many smaller villages in rural areas, scattered throughout the mountains and along (literally) Alpine lakes, never heard our message at all. I expect that similar limitations occur all around the world.
With that background in mind, it’s perhaps not surprising that Doctrine and Covenants 84:62, which was revealed in Kirtland, Ohio, in late September 1832, resonated with me during a recent reading:
“Therefore, go ye into all the world; and unto whatsoever place ye cannot go ye shall send, that the testimony may go from you into all the world unto every creature.”
On one level, it’s easy to see how we who are not serving as full-time proselyting missionaries can “send”: We can, for instance, send missionaries out into the field—children, grandchildren, even parents. We can help to support them emotionally, financially, and with our prayers. We can send money to the missionary fund.
But what about places where missionaries cannot or generally do not go? I found myself thinking immediately of President Spencer W. Kimball’s remarkable 1974 address “When the World Will Be Converted.” Early in his remarks, he cited President John Taylor as having said that “God will hold us responsible to the people we might have saved, had we done our duty.”
I feel that President Kimball’s speech is worth quoting at length in this context:
King Benjamin, that humble but mighty servant of the Lord, called together all the people in the land of Zarahemla, and the multitude was so great that King Benjamin “… caused a tower to be erected, that thereby his people might hear the words which he should speak unto them.” (Mosiah 2:7.)
Our Father in heaven has now provided us mighty towers—radio and television towers with possibilities beyond comprehension—to help fulfill the words of the Lord that “the sound must go forth from this place unto all the world.”
Even though there are millions of people throughout the world who cannot read or write, there is a chance to reach them through radio and television. The modern transistor radio can be mass produced by the thousands in a size that is small and inexpensive. We can preach the gospel to eager ears and hearts. These should be carried by people in the marketplaces of South America, on the steppes of Russia, the vast mountains and plains of China, the subcontinent of India, and the desert sands of Arabia and Egypt. Some authorities claim that this tiny miracle will be recorded by future historians as an event even greater than the invention of the printing press. The transistor is an eloquent answer to the illiteracy and ignorance which reign supremely over the earth. The spoken voice will reach millions of hearers who can listen through a $3 or $4 transistor but could not read even an elementary treatise.
There are over 7,000 AM and FM radio stations in the United States, with thousands more in other parts of the world. There are innumerable opportunities for us to use these stations overseas, if we only prepare the message in the native languages.
Also, missionaries could be supplied with small portable cassette tape players and go into the homes with prepared messages to humble family groups all around the globe. Millions of people are anxious and willing to learn, if only they can hear the “sound” in their own language and in a manner that they can grasp and understand.
Just think what can be accomplished when we broadcast our message in many languages over numerous radio stations, large and small, around the world, and millions of good people listening on their transistors are being indoctrinated with the truth.
The Lord has blessed the world with many Early Bird satellites. They are stationed high in the heavens, relaying broadcast signals back to almost every corner of the earth’s surface. Today there are 67 earth receiving stations operating in 50 countries of the world. Certainly these satellites are only the genesis of what is in store for the future of worldwide broadcasting.
And President Kimball was speaking in April 1974, nearly half a century ago. The accelerating technological innovations over the past forty-seven years have been remarkable, as he expected them to be:
I believe that the Lord is anxious to put into our hands inventions of which we laymen have hardly had a glimpse. . . . If we do all we can, and I accept my own part of that responsibility, I am sure the Lord will bring more discoveries to our use.
Are we doing all that we can?
President David O. McKay’s admonition “Every member a missionary” has long been difficult for Latter-day Saints who live in isolated or largely-Latter-day Saint communities. And it’s been hard for those who are shy, or afraid of approaching non-members.
But virtually anybody with an internet connection can be active online, advancing the cause of the Kingdom worldwide. No large budget is required, no elaborate radio or television studio. In fact, I can testify from personal experience that the internet and social media can (with the possible exception of the literally benighted “hermit kingdom” of North Korea) reach even places where it’s currently unthinkable for missionaries to go. I have met a man who taught himself the Gospel of Jesus Christ by reading through the Church’s website in religiously-restrictive Saudi Arabia, his native country. On a government computer screen in the Islamic Republic of Iran, no less, I myself have seen the website that an American Baha’i friend had put up to promote his faith, which is legally prohibited in Iran. It is definitely possible to “send” where we “cannot go.”
We can all support organizations—such as the More Good Foundation (https://www.moregoodfoundation.org/), FAIR (https://www.fairlatterdaysaints.org/), Book of Mormon Central (https://bookofmormoncentral.org/), Meridian Magazine (https://latterdaysaintmag.com/), and, yes, the Interpreter Foundation (https://interpreterfoundation.org/) that are dedicated to commending and defending the cause of the Restoration online. Their potential reach is genuinely global.
We have learned a very great deal about social media during the COVID pandemic, about posting videos, blogging, conducting virtual discussions. I don’t believe that the Lord willed the pandemic, but I’m quite confident that he expects us to learn from it and to use what we’ve learned.
“I am confident,” President Kimball said in 1974, “that the only way we can reach most of these millions of our Father’s children is through the spoken word over the airwaves, since so many are illiterate.”
I have no doubt that he was correct. But we live today in a world where even fully literate people seem to be turning more and more away from the printed word to visual learning—and we have greater capacity to help with visual learning and other non-traditional methods of teaching and learning than we have ever enjoyed before. And that brings me to a famous talk given by President Kimball, then a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, back in the late 1960s under the title of “The Gospel Vision of the Arts.” Again, his remarks are worth quoting at some length:
For years I have been waiting for someone to do justice in recording in song and story and painting and sculpture the story of the Restoration, the reestablishment of the kingdom of God on earth, the struggles and frustrations; the apostasies and inner revolutions and counter-revolutions of those first decades; of the exodus; of the counter-reactions; of the transitions; of the persecution days; of the miracle man, Joseph Smith, of whom we sing “Oh, what rapture filled his bosom, For he saw the living God” (Hymns, no. 136); and of the giant colonizer and builder, Brigham Young.
We are proud of the artistic heritage that the Church has brought to us from its earliest beginnings, but the full story of Mormonism has never yet been written nor painted nor sculpted nor spoken. It remains for inspired hearts and talented fingers yet to reveal themselves. They must be faithful, inspired, active Church members to give life and feeling and true perspective to a subject so worthy. Such masterpieces should run for months in every movie center, cover every part of the globe in the tongues of the people, written by great artists, purified by the best critics.
Our writers, our motion picture specialists, with the inspiration of heaven, should tomorrow be able to produce a masterpiece which would live forever. Our own talent, obsessed with dynamism from a CAUSE, could put into such a story life and heartbeats and emotions and love and pathos, drama, suffering, fear, courage; and they could put into it the great leader, the mighty modern Moses who led a people farther than from Egypt to Jericho, who knew miracles as great as the stream from the rock at Horeb, manna in the desert, giant grapes, rain when needed, battles won against great odds.
Take a Nicodemus and put Joseph Smith’s spirit in him, and what do you have? Take a da Vinci or a Michelangelo or a Shakespeare and give him a total knowledge of the plan of salvation of God and personal revelation and cleanse him, and then take a look at the statues he will carve and the murals he will paint and the masterpieces he will produce. Take a Handel with his purposeful effort, his superb talent, his earnest desire to properly depict the story, and give him inward vision of the whole true story and revelation, and what a master you have!
Closing his remarks, President Kimball cited the famous American architect and urban designer Daniel H. Burnham (d. 1912):
Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men’s blood
And probably themselves will not be realized.
Make big plans; aim high and hope and work,
Remembering that a noble, logical diagram once recorded will never die,
But long after we are gone,
Will be a living thing,
Asserting itself with ever-growing insistency.
Remember that our sons and grandsons are going to do things
That would stagger us.
If, in fact, a powerful global Latter-day Saint presence online, carried by a Dunkirk-like flotilla made up not only of excellent and attractive films, persuasive writing, and arresting art but also of personal blogs and Facebook posts and online personal testimonies, were to reach the hearts of people in those scattered Swiss towns and villages and far beyond, we would face a new challenge: How to serve them when they’re distant and isolated. But that’s a challenge that we would love to face, and a bridge that we would be happy to cross when we come to it. And we’re far better at online meetings than we were just two years ago!
“No unhallowed hand,” the Prophet Joseph Smith declared, “can stop the work from progressing; persecutions may rage, mobs may combine, armies may assemble, calumny may defame, but the truth of God will go forth boldly, nobly and independent, till it has penetrated every continent; visited every clime, swept every country and sounded in every ear; till the purposes of God shall be accomplished, and the great Jehovah shall say the work is done.”
For more from President Spencer W. Kimball on these topics, see “The Gospel Vision of the Arts” (https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/ensign/1977/07/the-gospel-vision-of-the-arts?lang=eng) and “When the World Will Be Converted” (https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/ensign/1974/10/when-the-world-will-be-converted?lang=eng). If I may say so, President Kimball’s words were constantly on our minds during the creation of the “Witnesses” theatrical film.
For a stunning—and revealing—photograph of the Korean peninsula at night, see https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:Night_in_North_Korea#/media/File:Korea_at_night.png.