PROVO, Utah — Having just spoken to hundreds of elders and sister missionaries in a special devotional in the Provo Missionary Training Center, President Thomas S. Monson and his wife, Frances, were quickly shuttled to a nearby chapel where 130 newly called mission presidents and their wives awaited.
With scarcely a moment to catch his breath, he launched into a discourse of scripture, counsel and personal experience, admonishing the presidents to make the most of this season of service.
The mission field, he said, "is a field of making memories."
To impress the significance of their callings, and the "worth of souls in the sight of God," President Monson, first counselor in the First Presidency, recounted an experience with President David O. McKay about 43 years ago.
One day, having just returned from serving as mission president in eastern Canada, President Monson was leaving the Church Administration Building when he greeted President David O. McKay, who was leaving the building with another person.
President Monson shared with him the farewell greeting from a French-Canadian sister who said, "I will never see the Prophet of the Lord or shake his hand. However, you will. When you do see him, will you tell him it is in my behalf."
President McKay smiled and took my hand and said, "This handshake is for that dear sister."
After this short conversation, President Monson finished walking down the steps and was "half-way to the rose garden" when President McKay called to him "in a booming voice" and motioned for him to return.
Then, putting his finger near President Monson's face, President McKay said, with a smile, "Remember Brother Monson, once a missionary, always a missionary."
"Yes, sir," President Monson replied.
Because of that admonition, "I try to be a missionary every day of my life," he said.
President Monson spoke to the mission presidents June 23 as part of the annual weeklong training seminar at the Provo MTC.
Imparting counsel garnered over years of extensive experience as a mission president and General Authority supervising missionary work in many parts of the world, President Monson said, "My philosophy is: No one fails in my class. It's my responsibility to show them how to succeed. . . . Show how (to perform missionary work) by your own efforts. That's how you really teach."
President Monson spoke of the great admiration missionaries acquire for their presidents. "You'll find they pitch their voices like yours. Your favorite scriptures become their favorites. If you are an engineer, they'll all want to be engineers. It's the greatest admiration society in the world.
"Don't let them down," he said.
President Monson spoke of his call as a 31-year-old to serve as mission president in Toronto. He told how he returned home that evening to tell his wife, who was sick in bed expecting their third child, that they had three weeks to prepare to leave. With two young children and a third expected, they left their new home of one year for Toronto, an area they had never seen.
"It turned out to be one of the greatest experiences of our lives," he said.
He assured the newly called mission presidents and their wives, who might be inclined to worry about their familes, that the Lord will do for them just as He did for Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon in 1833. Long absent from their families and concerned about their welfare, the two were assured by the Lord that "your families are well; they are in mine hands" (see Doctrine and Covenants 100:1).
"All shall be well with you and yours," added President Monson.
Discouragement can plague missionaries, he acknowledged. "But you don't need to lose them. You need to inspire them. Sometimes that's difficult," he said, telling several experiences of his missionaries and how, when some were discouraged, he invited them to spend several days in the mission home where they could feel the spirit of the mission president and mission leaders.
"The Lord magnifies a missionary if he does his part," he testified.
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