Pres. Hinckley admonishes youth, focuses on converts

Retaining newly converted Church members is "serious business," President Gordon B. Hinckley said Saturday evening in his priesthood session address, which also included admonitions to young men and a reaffirmation of policy concerning missionary service by young women.

"With the increase of missionary work throughout the world, there must be a comparable increase in the effort to make every convert feel at home in his or her ward or branch," President Hinckley said. "Enough people will come into the Church this year to constitute more than 100 new average-size stakes. But unfortunately, with this acceleration in conversions, we are neglecting some of these new members. I am hopeful that a great effort will go forward throughout the Church, throughout the world, to retain every convert who comes into the Church."This is serious business. There is no point in doing missionary work unless we hold on to the fruits of that effort. The two must be inseparable."

The prophet then read a letter addressed to him from someone who had read his April 1997 general conference address on the Internet about the same subject.

"Your perception of converts and their special needs was especially moving to me since I was a convert to the Church," the man wrote. "I wanted to write to you and tell you that I agree with all of your statements, and that had more members been aware of the needs of a convert I would probably have stayed in the Church."

The letter writer went on to tell of hearing the gospel from the missionaries and to describe his experience following his baptism.

"I suddenly was thrown into an environment where I was supposed to know what was going on," he wrote. "I now was not the focus of attention, but just another member. I was treated as if I was in the Church for years. I had been told that there would be six discussions following my joining the Church. They never took place.

". . . I gradually lost my `warm, fuzzy feeling' about the Church. I felt like a stranger. I began to doubt the Church and its message . . . . That was a low point in my life."

He wrote further that he used the missionaries for support but when they were transferred, he felt he was basically left alone. Finally, he decided he perhaps had rushed into the Church too quickly. Ultimately, he wrote to his bishop and asked that his name be removed from Church records.

"Now, it's two years since I left the Church," he wrote in his letter to President Hinckley. "I have gone back to

my old churchT and haven't been involved with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for quite some time. I am constantly praying and asking God to guide me. . . . I regret that I left the Church and had my name removed from the records, but at the time I felt that there was no other option. The experience left a bad impression with me and it would be difficult to overcome."

"What a terrible tragedy," President Hinckley exclaimed after reading the letter. "I believe the writer still has a testimony of this work. That testimony has been with him since the time he was baptized, but he has felt neglected and of no consequence to anyone.

"Someone has failed, failed miserably. I say to bishops throughout the world, that with all you have to do - and we recognize that it is much - you cannot disregard the converts. Most of them do not need very much. They need a friend. They need something to do, a responsibility. They need nurturing with the good word of God. They come into the Church with enthusiasm for what they have found. We must immediately build on that enthusiasm. You have people in your wards who can be friends to every convert. They can listen to them, guide them, answer their questions, and be there to help in all circumstances and in all conditions. Brethren, this loss must stop. It is unnecessary. I am satisfied the Lord is not pleased with us. I invite you, every one of you, to make this a matter of priority in your administrative work. I invite every member to reach out in friendship and love for those who come into the Church as converts."

Turning to another matter, President Hinckley said he wanted to speak to every boy listening.

"We honor and respect you young men," he said, adding that he believes this is "the best generation we have ever had."

"I could wish for you nothing better than to see in your lives total loyalty to the Church, total faith in its divine mission, total love for the work of the Lord with a desire to move it forward, and total dedication in performing your duty as members of the Aaronic Priesthood."

He warned them about temptations, including pornography, and, emphasizing his statements, admonished: "Do not watch it or read it. It will destroy you if you do. It will take from you your self-respect. It will rob you of a sense of the beauties of life. It will tear you down and pull you into a slough of evil thoughts, and possibly of evil actions. Stay away from it. Shun it as you would a foul disease, for it is just as deadly."

The prophet counseled young men not to get involved in steady dating while they are young. "When you reach an age where you think of marriage, then is the time to become so involved. But you boys who are in high school don't need this, and neither do the girls.

President Hinckley said leaders deal constantly with people who under the pressures of life marry while very young. "There is an old saying, `Marry in haste, repent at leisure.' How true that is."

He also admonished young men to stay away from alochol, adding, "Graduation from high school is no reason for a beer bust. Better stay away and be thought a prude than go and regret it ever afterwards. Stay away from drugs. You cannot afford to touch them. They will utterly destroy you. The euphoria will quickly pass and the deadly, strangling clutches of this evil thing will embrace you in its power."

The prophet told young men to get all the schooling they can and to plan for missionary service.

"My young brethren, you are something special," he said. "You must rise above the ordinary. You must put on the whole armor of God and walk with virtue. . . . Pray with fervency and with faith. Pray to the God of Heaven whom you love and who loves you. Pray in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ who gave His very life for you. Stand up and walk as becomes the sons of God."

Then, directing his remarks to bishops and stake presidents, the prophet said the First Presidency and Council of the Twelve are united in saying to young women they are not under obligation to go on missions.

Acknowledging that the Church needs some young women, that they perform a remarkable work and that they can get in homes where the elders cannot, he nevertheless noted: "Young women should not feel that they have a duty comparable to that of young men. Some of them will very much wish to go. If so, they should counsel with their bishop as well as their parents. If the idea persists, the bishop will know what to do."

He repeated earlier instruction that missionary work is essentially a priesthood responsibility. "We do not ask the young women to consider a mission as an essential part of their life's program. Over a period of many years we have held the age level higher for them in an effort to keep the number going relatively small. Again to the sisters I say that you will be as highly respected, you will be considered as being as much in the line of duty, your efforts will be as acceptable to the Lord and to the Church whether you go on a mission or do not go on a mission."

President Hinckley said he did not wish to say or imply that the services of sisters are not wanted. "I simply say that a mission is not necessary as a part of their lives."

He added that it may seem strange to discuss the matter in priesthood meeting. "I say it here because I do not know where else to say it. The bishops and stake presidents of the Church will hear this. And they must be the ones who make the judgment in this matter."

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