A call to serve

Each week there are thousands of letters mailed from Church headquarters to destinations around the world. But no letters bear more significance than those that convey a call from the prophet to serve as a full-time missionary.

Only those who have waited for this special envelope to arrive in the mail understand the anxiety and the anticipation associated with the receipt of such a call.Some recipients go off by themselves to open the letter and learn of the call in private. Still others gather family members and friends around them and open the envelope for all to hear at once. Few experiences in life quite equal the joy of such a call.

In the earlier years of the Church, missionary calls were usually extended to brethren with wives and children to support. They sacrificed all they had, leaving loved ones to carry on for themselves, while they fulfilled the call to teach the precious gospel message.

Still other missionary calls were publicly announced in general conference sessions, with no prior notice given to the individuals so called.

For many years the calls that were mailed came from a familiar address at Church headquarters, known simply as "Box B." When such a letter arrived, its recipient knew without even opening the envelope that he was being called on a mission.

Now, a prospective missionary has been carefully prepared and interviewed by ward and stake leaders, and the letter bearing the call from the prophet is eagerly anticipated because the assignment enables the missionary to begin specific preparations and plans for service.

A call to serve the Lord has always borne special significance in Christ's true Church. Literally, a mission call is a call from Him in the very spirit of His entreaty to the disciples Simon Peter and Andrew.

Of that experience we read:

"And Jesus, walking by the sea of Galilee, saw two brethren, Simon called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea: for they were fishers.

"And he saith unto them, I am he of whom it is written by the prophets; follow me, and I will make you fishers of men." (Matt. 4:18-19, from JST Matt. 4:18.)

President Lorenzo Snow, then a counselor in the First Presidency to President Wilford Woodruff, wrote of missionary calls in 1894, saying:

"We send our elders to preach the Gospel. Who sends them? President Woodruff? In one sense, no. The God of Israel sends them. It is His work. There is no mortal man that is so much interested in the success of an elder when he is preaching the Gospel as the Lord that sent him to preach to the people who are the Lord's children." (Millennial Star, 16 July 1894, p. 451.)

The fifth Article of Faith affirms that everyone called to serve in the Church, including missionaries "must be called of God by prophecy . . . by those who are in authority. . . ."

In accordance with this policy, each missionary is called of God through the president of the Church. The commission is of divine origin. The service given should be equal to the power of the call.

President Joseph F. Smith affirmed this when he said:

"There can be no greater, or more important calling for man than that in which the Elders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are engaged, when in the discharge of their duties as missionaries to the world. They stand as teachers, counselors, and leaders to the people. They are commissioned with the word of life, and `the power of God unto salvation' to minister unto . . . this world." (Millennial Star, 18 June 1875, p. 408.)

A call to serve is a powerful mandate. It is the beginning of one of life's greatest experiences. Faithful fulfillment of the call brings even more joy and satisfaction. President Heber J. Grant testified of this when he said: "In all my labors I got nearer to the Lord, and accomplished more, and had more joy while in the mission field than ever before or since. Man is that he may have joy, and the joy that I had in the mission field was superior to any I have ever experienced elsewhere. Get it into your hearts, young people, to prepare yourself to go out into the world where you can get on your knees and draw nearer to the Lord than in any other labor." (Improvement Era, November 1936, p. 659.)

But perhaps the Prophet Joseph Smith said it best in these brief words:

"After all that has been said, the greatest and most important duty is to preach the Gospel." (History of the Church 2:478.)

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