PROVO, Utah — A formula for missionary success. A reminder to be intentional and repentant rather than overwhelmed by perfectionism. An anecdote spanning nearly a half-century to represent missionaries being unaware how their simple efforts ripple across eternity. And a closing apostolic blessing.
These points highlighted a Tuesday, Nov. 5, devotional message delivered by Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles to the 1,647 missionaries at the Provo Missionary Training Center.
“My beloved friends, be successful missionaries by doing well those things over which you have control: your thoughts, your feelings and your actions,” said Elder Uchtdorf, chair of the Church’s Missionary Executive Council. “Be grateful. Look for positive things to talk about. And lift up your voices in praise to your Heavenly Father.
“Know that you will stumble. Always stand up again. You may definitely be disappointed at times. But I ask you, never be discouraged or without hope. Move forward. Repent. Rise again. And know that you will influence many for good and that because of your sacrifice, they will hold you in sacred remembrance.”
The hour-long devotional, which included a message from Sister Harriet Uchtdorf, was broadcast live to half of the other 10 MTCs worldwide and on a tape-delayed basis to the others.
Succeeding, increasing and repenting
Elder Uchtdorf shared a simple formula on how missionaries can be successful: “Success means doing well those things over which you have control.”
Even the best missionary may not see many — or any — baptisms, and if one uses baptisms as an indicator of success, it could lead to frustration, disappointment or false pride, he said.
When missionaries concentrate on the things they have control over, “the Lord will magnify your efforts as missionaries,” Elder Uchtdorf said.
Mentioning his missionary grandson serving in a European area with few baptisms and difficult work, Elder Uchtdorf said his weekly correspondence is filled with gratitude for every experience, including the “almosts.”
An earnest and seeking young man who wasn’t home for a teaching appointment resulted in “we almost taught him that day;” conversations with a seemingly “golden” family led to “they almost came to church today;” and speaking with a friendly individual on the street became “we almost got an appointment.”
His grandson is not overly optimistic or unrealistic but rather understands the challenges of his mission, Elder Uchtdorf said. “He chooses to look at the blessings God is bestowing upon him instead of the difficulties he is enduring. He chooses to be grateful instead of hateful. Given the choice between being malcontent or content, he chooses the latter. He is grateful for the ‘almosts.’ ”
Elder Uchtdorf cited the theme for the new Children and Youth program starting in 2020: “And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man” (Luke 2:52). He underscored the word “increased” as growing and learning, adding “the growth process for us is similar” and encouraged the missionaries to use the scripture as a template for personal growth.
“How will you grow closer to God? How will you serve others better? How will you improve yourself mentally and physically?” he asked. “Will you give some thought to that? If these areas were important in how the Savior became the person He became, surely we can benefit from the same.”
He repeated a theme from his recent general conference address: “Remember that discipleship is not about doing things perfectly; it is about doing things intentionally.”
Of repentance, Elder Uchtdorf acknowledged some think repentance is only for resolving big matters. Rather, it is a principle to be used regularly — even daily — to not only activate the Savior’s Atonement and have transgressions forgiven but to help elevate and prioritize things one is working to change and improve.
Unseen, unknown influences
A missionary’s influence extends far beyond what he or she sees or even knows, like ripples through eternity, Elder Uchtdorf explained, sharing a friend’s recent story to illustrate his point.
The friend opened an unexpected email from a sender he didn’t recognize, discovering a photo of himself four and a half decades earlier as a Church missionary serving in a far-away land. The photo was accompanied by a brief message written in Spanish: “I would like to know if this is you in this photograph?”
The friend responded affirmatively and asked if the sender could explain how he had obtained it.
As a missionary, Elder Uchtdorf’s friend and his then-companion had taught a young family — parents and two daughters — that joined the Church. At the same time, political tensions divided that country, with a subsequent military coup resulting in dissenters arrested and detained.
Remembering the Savior’s teachings, the missionary friend decided he and his companion should attempt to visit those in prison. Allowed by the warden, the prison visit wasn’t just a small, intimate interaction with a handful of prisoners but rather a meeting with the two visitors facing some 200 standing and glaring inmates in a large, baren room with no seating.
Panicked by the unexpected setting, the missionary friend offered a few words of encouragement and testified of the Savior, then with the warden’s permission went down the line of prisoners to shake their hands. Feeling a sense of hate and hostility from some and mindful of local misperceptions of missionaries being CIA agents, the two missionaries wondered if they would be attacked, hurt or taken hostage.
“My friend chalked the whole experience up as a poor decision on his part,” Elder Uchtdorf said, “and he felt extremely blessed that God had protected him and his companion.”
The friend had forgotten about the experience until the emailer’s response resulted in him learning the rest of the story 46 years later.
One of the young inmates was touched by the Spirit that day, feeling something and committing to find the faith those young men had represented. He found the Church, was baptized and then served a mission himself. Returning afterward to a hometown ward, he met a young woman — also a convert; they fell in love and married.
Later the couple were discussing how they had learned of the Church. She showed a photo of the missionary who had taught her and her family. To his surprise, it was the same missionary who had visited the prison and spoke to the inmates.
“Can you see the beauty of this work?”
The couple continued to be a local pillar of strength for the Church, he serving as branch and district president, bishop and stake president. Four sons served missions of their own. Meanwhile, Elder Uchtdorf’s friend never knew what had happened after he left the area and then his mission. He had no idea that anything ever came from his prison visit.
“He told me that this had nothing to do with him or anything he said,” Elder Uchdtdorf said. “It was an example of our Heavenly Father using your imperfect efforts to bring about His own purposes.”
But the couple’s account to the friend told how their lives had been influenced for good because of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
“You don’t know how many years I have wanted to find you, so that I could tell you how beautiful my life has been since I was baptized,” the man wrote, adding “I am sure that you never thought your mission would bring such happiness to a family so far from your country. … Can you see the beauty of this work? … I am eternally grateful.”
Blessing and lingering
Elder Uchtdorf left an apostolic blessing with the missionaries and missionary leaders, that by their drawing close to the Lord and opening their hearts to His voice, He would draw close to them and magnify their efforts.
“I bless you with faith, gratitude, grace, dignity, humility and boldness — a humble countenance and a love for those you serve with and those in your countries,” he said.
“I pray that you will joyfully go about your days inviting others to come unto Christ. I bless you with wisdom and peace, knowing that your sacrifice is acknowledged and accepted and that as you go about doing well with those things over which you have control, the good Lord will be with you and direct your paths.”
In her brief message, Sister Uchtdort spoke of the conversion of both her family and her husband’s family to the Church. “All members across the world love missionaries,” she said. “You are their heroes.”
The love she spoke of was evident after the conclusion of the devotional, radiated by the glances, smiles and waves from the Uchtdorfs to the missionaries, followed by her repeatedly blowing kisses with broad gestures and him using his hands to outline a heart to the attendees.
The Uchtdorfs lingered long, first on the rostrum and then on the auditorium floor. Their happy, loving countenances and their taking an occasional step forward toward the gathering suggested they wanted nothing more than to individually greet the 1,600-plus missionaries that evening.
“Oh, this is so hard,” said Sister Uchtdorf to Elder Uchtdorf, recognizing they had to finally step back, exit away from the missionaries and depart for home.