"No mission will ever reach its highest potential until there is cooperation between the missionary force and the membership of the Church," declared President Thomas S. Monson.
Addressing the annual Mission Presidents Seminar June 24, President Monson, first counselor in the First Presidency, encouraged a warm, close relationship between the stake and mission organizations."Of course we work hard," he said. "But the Prophet Joseph said that we must work by mental exertion and not by physical force. The referral program is such an example which brings people into the kingdom of God - through friendship and close fellowship when we work with the member organization.
"If we have all the mission presidents and the stake presidents and all of the district presidencies as partners in our missionary labors, we will see the mission take off."
President Monson, who personally extended the call to about half the 111 new mission presidents and their wives in attendance, congratulated them for accepting their callings.
"Your responses thrilled me," he said. "You said, `Yes, I am ready.' I just marvel at the faith of our Latter-day Saints to leave home, hearth, children - and especially grandchildren; that's where the heart really starts fluttering - and put it all on the line, wherever you go, whatever you say."
He promised the new leaders that their devotion would "make a big difference in the lives of your missionaries."
President Monson was accompanied to the seminar by his wife, Frances. In his remarks, he reminisced about the time he and Sister Monson were called with about three weeks notice to leave their home and move their small family to eastern Canada where he served as mission president.
After his call was received, "I came home in the middle of the day. It was snowing outside. [His wife] asked `What are you doing home?'
"I said, `We've been called to preside over a mission.' She had to sit down. . . . We were on our way in three weeks. That's all the preparation we had.
"Off we went and it was the most lovely three years anyone could have."
He said that while "all feel inadequate when it comes to these assignments . . . here are two thoughts given to Frances and me when we went into the mission field. Elder Harold B. Lee, then of the Quorum of the Twelve, said, "Remember this, whom God calls, God qualifies."
President Monson told the new mission presidents: "Will you rivet that into your souls so your missionaries will know that you are a servant of God and have had hands laid upon your head and that you have been commissioned under the call of the Lord to assume the responsibility to which you have been called."
President Monson also said that Elder Lee told them, "When you are on the Lord's errand, you are entitled to the Lord's help."
This concept is also contained in a verse in the Doctrine and Covenants, explained President Monson. He quoted:
" `I will go before your face. I will be on your right hand and on your left, and my Spirit shall be in your hearts, and mine angels round about you, to bear you up.' (D&C 84:88.)
"That's the great promise to a missionary," he said, and encouraged the new presidents to share it often with their missionaries. "It will penetrate the hearts of the new missionaries and it will reinforce the experienced missionaries; they will never get tired of hearing the promise of the Lord to them."
Once missionaries "put their hand to the plough" (Luke 9:62), they should not look back, but go forward with the work, he said.
"And work it is, my brothers and sisters. It is not a vacation."
But the work, as the hymn suggests, is sweet, he said. (See Hymns, No. 147.)
President Monson emphasized the responsibility of the presidents to their missionaries, to whom he referred as the "fruitage of the parents of the Church."
"I get a little choked up when I think about the missionaries," he said.
President Monson described seeing parents outfitting a young missionary at a local department store. "Obviously, they wanted the best for him. Then I looked down and saw the shoes on the father's feet, obviously worn out and they will stay worn out because the money all went to the missionary.
"In their prayers, they ask God to let their son's mission president be the one `To lead my boy to his future possibilities that he may come home honorably, having had an eternal experience not attainable in any other way, exemplary in knowledge of truth.' "
He recalled some spontaneous advice he once gave to a missionary that was simple but valuable in retrospect: "Learn how to cook, and love the people."
President Monson also encouraged the presidents to follow "the Monson rule." This rule is to "have the missionaries send a weekly letter to their parents" who will "worry and fret until they know how their missionary is doing."
A mission president's responsibility is to help each missionary progress, counseled President Monson. He encouraged the attitude that, "No one fails in my class. I am the president, and I want to save every single one of them, and lift each one to his or her highest potential."
When missionaries are progressing, they are happy. He held up a photograph that was captioned on the back, "I am happy." The picture was of a missionary with such a broad smile that it prompted laughter among the new leaders.
As each mission instills a sense of tradition, it strengthens the missionaries, said President Monson.
He also said that missionary work continues beyond the mission. He told of returning from his mission in Canada, and meeting President David O. McKay at the foot of the steps of the Church Administration Building. President McKay called to him.
"He said, with his finger pointing at me, `Brother Monson, remember. Once a missionary, always a missionary. Do you understand?' "
"I said, `I understand.' "
Concluding, President Monson said, "I want more than anything in the world for you to be the mission president who will love every missionary you have. Be your best self, and the Lord will bless you."