Addressing new mission presidents and their wives during a sacrament meeting June 22, President Thomas S. Monson said, "The parents of every missionary kneel each day in prayer and ask our Heavenly Father to bless that son or daughter in the mission field. And in that prayer they ask a blessing upon you, for you in effect become a mother and a father to their child. You help determine the destiny of that young man or that young woman. Someone said, 'The power to lead is also the power to mislead, and the power to mislead is the power to destroy.' Let there be positive leading, positive motivation, positive uplift on your part as you inspire your missionaries."
The sacrament meeting at which President Monson spoke was held at the Missionary Training Center in Provo in conjunction with the 2008 Seminar for New Mission Presidents. The meeting was attended by President Monson's counselors in the First Presidency, Elder Henry B. Eyring and Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf, and members of the Quorum of the Twelve and Quorum of the Seventy. The seminar continued through June 25.
Speaking to mission leaders from a practical standpoint about motivating missionaries, President Monson shared counsel which could be applicable also to stake and district leaders, parents of missionaries and the general membership of the Church.
He encouraged mission presidents to have personal interviews with each missionary upon arrival and at given times throughout their missions. He suggested that the approach to the interviews be similar to that which was recommended many years ago by President Spencer W. Kimball, who said: "When I interview a missionary, I don't say to him, 'Are you doing this wrong? Are you doing that? Do you have this problem or that problem?"'
President Monson said that President Kimball would say, "Tell me what you most admire about your companion."
That, said President Monson, will stop the missionary for a moment. "He starts to think about what he admires most about his companion. Then another question of President Kimball's: 'If you had a little brother 18 years of age preparing for a mission, what would you tell him to do so that he might be a good missionary when he goes out to serve?'
"That sets a positive tone for the interview," said President Monson. "My suggestion is that we provide help that we love, not scold. 'Show how' is more important than 'tell how' in that kind of a situation. We read from the Doctrine and Covenants, Section 108, verse 7: 'Therefore, strengthen your brethren in all your conversation, in all your prayers, in all your exhortations, and in all your doings."'
Mission presidents as well as missionaries and their families need to know that the Spirit will guide decisions made in carrying out the Lord's work. President Monson illustrated this by relating an experience he had when he presided over the Canadian Mission and was inspired to move one young man from the city of Belleville, Ontario, to Welland, Ontario.
"He wasn't due for a transfer, but the impression came so strongly that I made the transfer. The next week when I received a letter from his companion, tears came to my eyes when I read: 'President Monson, I know you were inspired in sending Elder Smith to us in Welland. We are teaching ten Italian-speaking families whose English skills are limited. In my heart I had been praying for a companion who could speak Italian. You found the only missionary in the mission who spoke Italian.'
"I thought to myself as I read that line, 'I knew nothing about whether or not that boy spoke Italian.' With a name like Smith, you don't think he is going to speak Italian. How did I know that his mother was Italian, and that she had taught the boy to speak in her native tongue? In that way he was able to carry the gospel to those families in Welland. That is just one example."
President Monson said that he does not like to see emphasis placed upon when missionaries become senior companion or if they'll remain a junior companion. "I like more or less to treat the companionships equally, even though we know that one of them is in charge. I would show one above the other on the roster, but I would downplay the idea of who was senior and who was junior in that kind of a situation.
"Always select your outstanding missionaries to introduce the new elders and new sisters to the field. I had a young man, James Arnett, from Price, Utah. He never was a district leader, never was a zone leader, never was an assistant to the president; but if I were to name on one hand my most outstanding missionaries, he would be one. The reason was that he was such an outstanding trainer of new missionaries. I would put an elder with him for a month, then I would give him another new elder, then another, and so on. His influence could be seen in almost every missionary whom he had trained and those who had been trained by those he had trained. You will occasionally find that type of talent. Utilize it when it comes. From the Doctrine and Covenants comes this beautiful passage: 'And if any man among you be strong in the Spirit, let him take with him him that is weak, that he may be edified in all meekness, that he may become strong also"' (84:106).
President Monson counseled mission presidents about activities they allow on missionaries' preparation day. He spoke of having met a missionary who had a foot in a cast. President Monson thought perhaps the injury had been sustained in a game of football, baseball or basketball, but learned that the missionary had skateboarded down a cement causeway at about 30 miles an hour and smashed into a cement wall. President Monson said, "It's a shame to teach a young man Portuguese, let's say, and have him wait week after week after week for that visa and then finally get down to Brazil, and then get in a game of touch football, break a leg, then have to go home and lose all of that Portuguese training, all of that motivation all for a game of football. There are other things missionaries might do on preparation day that could destroy and damage the Spirit. We need to be very careful about what activities are allowed on that day."
Missionaries are to be encouraged to write a letter or e-mail home every week, President Monson said. "I call it the Monson Rule of Proselyting. I like to tell missionaries that it isn't so significant how much you write just be certain to write....Those letters and e-mails from a missionary son or daughter can bring parents into the Church."
He told of a time when he was a member of the Quorum of the Twelve and met a missionary in Los Angeles who, in the six months he had been serving, had never received a letter from his parents. President Monson encouraged him to continue writing every week, and then said, " I promise you, Elder, that if you continue to send a letter home to your mother and father every week, you will see changes."
President Monson said that he returned to California months later and met again with that missionary, who reached into his pocket and brought out a letter from his mother. It said, "Dear Michael, Thank you so much for your weekly letters. You will be pleased to know that Dad has been ordained a priest, and I am taking the lessons with the missionaries, and Dad is going to baptize me. We have figured out that in one year's time we can come out to Los Angeles with the family when you complete your mission, and we can all go to the Los Angeles Temple together and be sealed for eternity. Keep up the good work. Love, Mother."
The missionary said, "'Elder Monson, the Lord fulfilled your promise.' To which I said, 'The Lord answered your prayer."'
President Monson encouraged mission presidents to work closely with local leaders and members. "There is just no substitute for a member-oriented proselyting program. Tracting will not substitute for it. Golden questions will not substitute for it. A member-oriented program is the key to success. It works wherever we try it. I hesitate to deal in dramatic statements, but let me try one: The greatest single thing you as a mission president can do to increase the effectiveness of your missionaries and their productivity is to ensure that the proper relationship is maintained with the ecclesiastical leaders in the area where they proselyte. I can think of no greater thing that you could do....
"It was President Kimball who said, 'No mission can achieve its full potential without member help.' Then President Kimball said, 'We expect to...involve the members of the Church generally in opening the gospel doors to our Father's other children."'
President Monson spoke of the importance of building "mission spirit." Let each missionary, he said, know that he or she "has been called to the greatest mission in all the Earth."
He said he liked the philosophy of a teacher he once read about. She said, "No one fails in my class. It is my responsibility to help each one succeed."
He said that for years he carried in his wallet a photograph of one of his missionaries, Heber Barzee. President Monson held up an enlarged copy of the photo, and said, "Elder Barzee gave me the picture, and on the back he wrote, 'Dear President Monson, I am happy.' When I would look at that smile, I would say to myself, 'It is my job to motivate and demonstrate and to show every missionary in my mission how to be successful. It isn't my job to scold; it isn't my job to berate or to pressure. My assignment is to show each missionary how to be successful so that he's as happy as Elder Barzee.'
"I think one of the best ways we can do that is to remember that 'the worth of souls is great in the sight of God,' and if we should labor all our days and bring save it be one soul unto Him, how great shall be our joy with him in the kingdom of our Father. And if we should labor more diligently and bring many souls unto Him, how much greater shall be our joy (see Doctrine and Covenants 18:10, 15, 16).
"You may sometimes be tempted to say, 'Will my influence make any difference? I am just one. Will my service affect the work that dramatically?' I testify to you that it will. You will never be able to measure the influence for good you will have."
E-mail to: [email protected]