[Given by Chris Juchau at Ward Conferences in the Highland Utah South Stake in early 2016]
We are delighted to be with you today. We are enthused about the theme of this ward conference: missionary work—and about the workshops that will follow this meeting.
I have six things I would like to say on the topic of missionary work.
First, your participation in missionary work will bless you and the generations of your family that come after you. Missionary work, however you do it, will bless your life.
I had an amazing experience as a 14-year-old Teacher. My father would very dutifully take me home teaching with him on the first Sunday of every month. I did not look forward to going. What a drag to go sit with a bunch of adults (mostly) and chit chat for a while and then have a lesson! BO-RING!, I thought. But something interesting happened. I came to discover that my father really cared about those people. And even more amazing to me, I came to discover that they cared about his caring about them. That chit chat turned out to be a lot more meaningful than I’d realized. Their worries were my father’s worries and the more mature I became, the more their worries became my worries, too. I remember coming home from those home teaching visits feeling good, rewarded, and so happy that I had gone. Over time, my distaste for going was replaced by my interest in those people. In fact, the more I got to know them, the more interested I was.
I am certain that we cannot participate in any form of missionary work that involves caring about someone, even if it is “just” God and our duty to Him that we care about at first, without the experience strengthening and improving us.
Second, the more I consider the phrase “missionary work” and what it means, the broader my definition becomes.
Certainly, missionary work means, first and foremost, trying to share the gospel with those who are least familiar with it. No matter how broad our definition becomes, we should not let a broader definition become an excuse for not reaching out to non-members.
Missionary work includes any effort to lift, encourage, cheer up, buoy up, or teach others.
There is missionary work to do at home, at school, at work; in our wards and out of our wards; over the internet, on an airplane, and during vacation; irrespective of people’s status with regard to church membership or activity level.
Every person around us needs love and friendship and encouragement. We should seek to be non-judgmental and genuinely interested in those we don’t know well—or in those we do know well but judge harshly. I have found that dislike for a person is frequently born of ignorance for that person and his or her life experience—and that fondness for a person is hard to avoid, once given a little insight into who they really are.
Recently, my wife decided to make dinner and bring it to a family in our ward. She decided to do that before she decided who she would bring it to. She prayerfully chose a couple in our ward—one who seldom seems to be at the center of attention—called the sister, and told her she’d like to bring dinner over. When she arrived, she was met by this wonderful, tearful sister who said she felt touched that somebody was thinking of her and her equally wonderful and quiet husband. To my first point, you can easily guess who came home from that experience feeling touched and lifted, herself.
This was an act of missionary work. Missionary work includes expressions of love and attempts to uplift and encourage anyone—regardless of the status of their faith or the outward expressions of their faith. The Savior served people from many varied backgrounds and situations.
Third, I would like to encourage the adults in this ward to get onto senior missions—and I am not just talking to people in their 60s and 70s. If you are in your 20s, 30s, 40s, or 50s, you should be actively and anxiously making plans to serve a mission as soon as circumstances permit.
We send out a lot of young missionaries in this stake. We consistently have more than 100 missionaries serving. The demographics of our stake and the devotion of our members are such that we produce lots of wonderful and committed youth.
However. We are all getting older. And our children are getting older. We are getting closer every day to empty-nester status and retirement. This stake is a powerful engine for producing strong young missionaries who serve tremendously well around the world. We must also be a stake that is is an engine for producing the seasoned senior talent that is so much needed around the world.
Recently I was told that the Church needs 10,000 senior couples and they have just 6,000. Opportunities for senior couples are vast and varied and provide for great flexibility and even greater rewards. I know of two opportunities available right now. We are, in fact, anxiously looking for two couples for specific missions.
One is needed in Oakland to serve in the mission office with President and Sister Frandsen for 12, 18, or 24 months. It’s 40 hours of office work each week with evenings and weekends free. This couple is very urgently needed for the smooth running of that mission and to keep from having to staff the office with younger missionaries.
Another opportunity is very different from that. It is as a full-time “stay-at-home” couple serving within the boundaries of our stake—but this is a very real thing. You wear a name badge. You work 32 hours/week including morning study time, church meetings, and weekly temple service. You will do meaningful work, but you do not have to be physically fit for Nepal or Cape Verde. Ours is one of two stakes in Highland/Alpine/Cedar Hills which does not have this couple in place.
One of our sessions in the next couple of hours will be for people preparing to serve a mission as a senior couple. There will be limited room in the classroom. I hope it will be filled by adults of all ages.
I invite every person here today who is past the age of serving a mission as a young elder or sister to make real plans and undertake the appropriate preparations so that you will be able to contribute as a senior to the many missionary needs of the Church and of our brothers and sisters.
Fourth, I would like to point out that not all missionary efforts result in fairy-tale-like stories to be retold in the Ensign—though I would hesitate to call any missionary effort a failure. Not all missionary efforts follow the perfect script. But all sincere efforts to share the gospel and to lift others are good.
To wit… My family and I were on vacation in Southern California last year and I’d had a Book of Mormon in my bag for quite a while and I was anxious to give it out. On the last day of our trip, we spent some time walking along a path near the ocean. We were walking back toward our car and we passed an older couple sitting on a bench overlooking the ocean. They looked contemplative and I imagined that they were considering something serious. I debated within myself how they would receive an attempt from me to engage them.
I walked my family back to the car thinking about them and grabbed my Book of Mormon and headed back down the trail. When I got there, I started a small conversation with them and soon invited them to take my Book of Mormon and discover its message. The man was initially receptive and we chatted about an LDS person he had known many years ago, but the woman was immediately defensive and she got her way, so I kept my Book of Mormon and moved on, a bit disappointed.
Did anything good come of that little exchange? Well, of course I like to think that a seed of some kind was planted or maybe stirred a little. And I felt good that I’d made an effort. Statistically speaking, it is unlikely that that couple will join the Church, but the fact is that some efforts will be positively received and some won’t. No effort is wasted.
A year and a half ago, I knocked on the door of a man who I thought might not want to see me. I felt a little nervous, unsure how he would receive me. I didn’t have to introduce myself very much before he politely but very firmly told me to get lost. I knew that arguing or asserting myself was unlikely to soften his heart at that moment, so I assured him he had my respect and I got off his doorstep. A few months went by and we started to coincidentally find ourselves in the same place. I made a point of saying hello when I would see him but not trying to do more than that. To make a long story short, this man’s heart began to thaw a bit and hellos became small talk and small talk turned into real talk and he discovered that my interest was genuine and I discovered lots to like in him that just further developed the sincerity of my interest and so now we are friends and I can hopefully be a useful friend to him.
Fifth, missionary efforts do not need to be forced. In simply being genuine and kind with each other—and looking for opportunities to share the gospel and to lift people we truly care about—good things will happen.
As a missionary in Germany, I got to work one Saturday with my best friend in the mission. We were in his area and he had made an appointment with a man in his early twenties for about 10:00 that morning. When we got to his flat, we rang and there was no answer. We rang again and waited and were about to leave when we heard the sound of someone coming to the door. This man, not much older than we were, had probably been partying the night before. He’d obviously just gotten out of bed. He was only wearing a pair of shorts and his hair was all over the place. My friend asked if he remembered that we’d be coming. He said yes and motioned for us to come in and sit down while he headed to the kitchen. As he went in, he called out behind himself, “You guys want a beer?”
Now imagine you’re a full-time missionary. How do you answer that question? It’s obviously the perfect lead-in to the Word of Wisdom and a discussion about the evils of alcohol, the importance of spirituality, and how different we are as Mormons. My mind quickly spun with where his question should take us. But my friend, who, by many measures, including some that really matter, might be considered one of the most successful missionaries in our mission, simply answered, “This early?!” To which the man replied, “Yes, of course, you’re right.” And he came and joined us and heard a lesson about a Heavenly Father who loves him and a Savior who does, too. I was struck that morning by the lesson I learned from my friend that missionary work is about people and relating to them and not about over-lecturing on the commandments. It’s about what we have to offer more than it is about how we need to correct others. Specific teachings can come at the right time.
Lastly, brothers and sisters, may I encourage you to embrace and adopt for yourself the very first sentence in “Preach My Gospel”? The first sentence on page 1 says, “[My purpose is] to invite others to come unto Christ by helping them receive the restored gospel through faith in Jesus Christ and His Atonement, repentance, baptism, receiving the Gift of the Holy Ghost, and enduring to the end.”
I don’t believe that statement applies exclusively to full-time missionaries at all. I believe it your purpose and my purpose as common covenant disciples. It also encompasses our responsibility as members of the Tribe of Ephraim.
The Savior compared you and me to “the salt of the earth” and “the light of the world.” Salt that has lost its savor is, to soften the language of Matthew 5 a little, not as useful as it could be.
You and I must accept our role as “salt” in its full meaning and we need a sense of urgency. We must wake up in the morning and think and pray and and say to ourselves, “Who can I lift today? Who can I encourage? How can I share the light of Christ and the message of the Savior with someone?”
We must accept that our purpose is to invite others to come unto Christ. We must be “other-minded.”
I close with my testimony that the restored gospel yields fruits of happiness and that missionary work blesses us and yields some very specific fruits of happiness. It will bless your life and it will bless your family.
May we constantly look for ways to act in the interest of others. May we desire and seek love for them. And may we exercise enough faith to show that love and share goodness with them.
In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.