[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.
I don’t have much time to write this week, but do have one thought that’s been on my mind a lot lately that I would like to share as my plane heads quickly toward that darn 10,000-foot level and it is this: fast offerings are under-utilized in the LDS church!
By “under-utilized,” I do not mean that what is received by the Church is either too-little or poorly spent by the bishops of the Church. I mean, rather (and rather bluntly), that the members of the Church do not pay enough in fast offerings.
Fast offerings can, and generally do, bless those on whose behalf they are spent, of course. But fast offerings also bless the giver. And I think there is a correlation between the amount given (not in absolute terms but in relative terms—remember the widow’s mite) and the blessings received.
When I was a senior in high school, my seminary teacher told me he heard Marion G. Romney (I think) say that if members would double their fast offerings, the Lord would double their income. And he said he did it and it worked. I’ve never felt comfortable trying to hold the Lord directly to that promise for myself, perhaps since I haven’t directly heard a prophet say such a thing and I think I’d feel like I was tempting or testing the Lord somehow and I don’t think it’s my job to test him.
On the other hand, the Lord has invited us to try him with regard to tithing. “Prove me now herewith,” He said. So perhaps it’s not a stretch to think he invites us to do similarly with fast offerings.
At any rate, we ought to pay generous fast offerings without expectation of any “return on investment.” Caring for the poor is a fundamental responsibility of every Christian. It’s so fundamental, it makes me wonder why it isn’t brought up in the temple recommend questions. “Do you provide generous fast offerings in support of the poor and the needy to the extent your circumstances will allow?” Or something like that.
I also wonder why we do so little to teach our children to pay fast offerings. We sometimes complain about our children seeming insufficiently grateful. Yet we too seldom teach them to appreciate what they have by sharing it with those in greater need than they.
Of course, I don’t wish to imply that I’ve mastered either the adequacy of my own fast offerings or the teaching of my children. I certainly know many people (medical professionals, psychologists, social workers, policeman, professional teachers, etc) who spend far more time ministering to people’s basic needs than I do. However, I have experienced enough to testify with great confidence that generous blessings follow generous fast offerings—and less generous blessings follow less generous fast offerings. This is an opportunity we should not minimize. For many good reasons.
Caring for the poor in significant ways is a key element of living after the manner of happiness!
The Sabbath, it seems to me, is one part blessing, one part opportunity, and one part test.
The blessings are many! Through our Sabbath worship, attitude, and change of pace, including church attendance, our spirits, bodies, and minds are rejuvenated. Honoring the Sabbath keeps us “unspotted from the world.” It also results in the Lord blessing us in ways that are scripturally broad (“I will cause thee to ride upon the high places of the earth” and “the fullness of the earth is yours” and “therefore he giveth you on the sixth day the bread of two days,” for example)—but which become individual and specific as we recognize distinct blessings in our lives. As in many aspects of our covenant relationship with God, those blessings flow generously depending upon the sincerity and contrition of our hearts.
The opportunities are also many! “The Sabbath was made for man!” And: “it is lawful to do well on the Sabbath!” (My exclamation points.) The Sabbath is for doing good. The Savior taught this over and over again as he healed a man with a withered hand, another with “the dropsy,” a woman bent 18 years with infirmity, and, no doubt, others. He taught of “weightier matters,” which certainly place people and worship and principles and attributes over rules. He taught that an ox in a pit must be pulled out and that people who hunger must be fed.
James taught about visiting the widows and fatherless. In fact, the phrase “unspotted from the world” is found twice in the scriptures: once as an introduction to the Savior’s teachings on keeping the Sabbath in D&C 59 and also connected to James’s teachings about “pure” and “undefiled” religion. Clearly the Sabbath is for serving others and is an opportunity to give of ourselves, typically in quiet ways, to lifting, building, encouraging—and maybe even helping heal—others. True Sabbath worship consists of more do’s than don’ts.
The Sabbath is also a test—a test of our hearts. The Sabbath might be made for man, but it was given as a “sign” and a “covenant” and is about our relationship with God. Of the ten commandments Moses received on Sinai, the first four specifically refer to our worshipping and respecting God. The fourth of those is “Remember the Sabbath.” That probably means remembering more than that the day of the week is Sunday and that that’s the day we’re supposed to go to church. Remembering the Sabbath might mean remembering the Savior, remembering God’s love, remembering that He provides for us, remembering His mercy, and remembering to have grateful hearts. It might mean remembering that our hearts should be broken and our spirits contrite. It definitely means worshipping and demonstrating that we “have no other gods before [Him].”
Keeping (or honoring or remembering) the Sabbath is yet another way to live after the manner of real happiness. Lasting and meaningful joy is found neither in Super Bowl games, Super Bowl outcomes, Super Bowl commercials, nor in Super Bowl parties. Nor is it found in demonstrations of isolated piety or in sleeping all day. Joy and happiness are found in placing God first, knowing that we sincerely strive to place Him first, knowing that He knows that we strive to place Him first, and in serving Him by serving our neighbors: family, friends, and strangers. May we seize the day.