Interspersed among video cameras and prompters lined up for the taping of a missionary devotional featuring Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf and Sister Harriet Uchtdorf, display monitors showed video clips of full-time missionaries both asking and answering questions. Screens also displayed collage-like views of missionaries in Utah and Washington joining live via videoconferencing.
Fittingly, technology served as both the medium and main topic as the Uchtdorfs spoke with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ full-time missionary force spread across the globe in a devotional that the member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles called “almost like a worldwide Zoom meeting.”
In the devotional posted Thursday, Feb. 25, on the missionaries’ online portal, Elder Uchtdorf — who chairs the Church’s Missionary Executive Council — saluted the elders and sisters of the COVID-19 pandemic era as those who learned to use technology and social media in new and effective ways to proclaim the gospel worldwide.
“When restrictions to our missionary work ease again, don’t just go back to the old ways. Go back to the future,” he said. “Move forward and upward as you apply what you have learned during the pandemic.”
Elder Uchtdorf said the Lord was not surprised by the pandemic. “He prepared us and the world. He prepared the means and the tools. But it is up to you to discover these tools and use them effectively and efficiently in the Lord’s way. You are engaged in finding and teaching methods that are dramatically different from the past.”
He acknowledged his technological roots trace back to an 8-bit Commodore 64 home computer in the 1980s, while today’s smartphones are many times more powerful. And technology is like a native language for those adept at smartphones, digital tablets and social media.
“However, as missionaries, you need to learn how to use this powerful language wisely and effectively the Lord’s way,” he said.
The streamed devotional included a global question-and-answer session, involving 14 elders and sisters from nearly a dozen different missions. Elder Marcus B. Nash, a General Authority Seventy and the executive director of the Missionary Department, conducted the devotional. And the Utah St. George and Washington Spokane missions participated virtually in the taping and enjoyed a few minutes of direct interactions with the Uchtdorfs.
Elder Uchtdorf promised that through trusting the Lord, the missionaries will find, teach and make disciples as they “gather the seekers” — no matter the age, language, nationality, ethnicity, religious or socioeconomic background. “With the help of technology,” he added, “people might even find you.”
Elder Uchtdorf said missionaries’ social media products and technology efforts don’t need to be perfect or professional, but rather authentic and intentional. “Use your heart when creating them, think of the people they are meant for, and seek the help of the Spirit. If you aim for these goals, I promise you the Spirit will help you to touch the hearts and the minds of the people.”
He also cautioned: “Please protect each other from going off on the wrong path.”
Missionary purpose is the answer
He asked Sister Uchtdorf — “the sunshine of my life” — to answer several questions, the first from Sister Matáu Endemann of the Samoa Apia Mission, who recently lost her mother. “What are things I can do to rise above this challenge and keep my purpose in my heart?” she asked.
With empathy and “a big hug from the distance,” Sister Uchtdorf told those struggling with serious family challenges to remember that God is with them and to see fulfilling one’s missionary purpose as “the answer to all your challenges.”
“Your message brings the answers to life’s most important questions to God’s children. Life did not begin with birth, and it does not end with death. Families can be forever. Your very personal experiences applied to your message will bring peace and hope to all you will teach, and to you.”
She recalled being a young girl in Frankfurt, Germany, watching her father suffer in the final weeks of his life and praying for help and comfort. After his passing, “this heavenly help finally came” as two missionaries knocked on the family’s door, seeking to share the message of the restored gospel with the young, single-parent family.
“It was as if angels had been sent to us from Heaven. The light they shared with us was the light of their testimonies, their love for the Lord and for us,” she said.
Sister Uchtdorf reminded the missionaries that they are messengers of light, truth, glory, hope and happiness. “Your daily service will bless many lives around you, and I promise it also will bless you — with peace, hope, and a strong faith to move forward and upward.”
Additional questions, answers
Elder Benjamin Zamora of the Chile Concepción Mission asked how missionaries can help those they teach have spiritual experiences through technology that will lead them towards baptism. And Sister Payton Nelson of the Florida Orlando Mission asked how missionaries who may be struggling with their own faith can help others grow theirs.
Lesson preparation, personal preparation and remembering missionaries are the Lord’s representatives are keys in using technology, said Elder Josiah Davis of the Japan Nagoya Mission. “Just because we are behind a screen doesn’t mean we are providing entertainment. We are helping people come closer to Jesus Christ and providing them with spiritual nourishment.”
Obedience and personal and companionship studies help cultivate the Spirit within a missionary as well as in the messages that missionary shares, said Sister Sinenhlanhla Buthelezi of the Uganda Kampala Mission. “I know how the Spirit is able to work wonders in the people that we teach, and through the same Spirit of which we possess, we can be able to help them even feel the influence of the heavens.”
Sister Maryn Church of the Bulgaria / Central Eurasian Mission asked how missionaries can better act on the Holy Ghost’s first prompting, without hesitation. And Elder Lindokuhle Madlala of the South Africa Johannesburg Mission inquired how to focus on a missionary’s tasks despite pandemic isolations and internet constraints.
Said Sister Meg Takara of the Japan Nagoya Mission: “I know that as we focus on our missionary purpose, we can better help the people we teach online to have spiritually uplifting experiences, and that we and the people we teach can come closer to our Savior Jesus Christ.”
While preparing the lessons with the needs of investigators in mind, Elder Adan Faria Da Costa of the Brazil Porto Alegre Mission said, “the Holy Ghost will confirm all truth — the truth even comes through a social media message or a video call.”
Sister Jimena Padilla of the Mexico Puebla North Mission wondered how missionaries can trust they are doing all possible when they do not see hoped-for results.
Sister Jassive Duran of the Mexico Mexico City Mission said missionaries and those they teach can feel the Spirit at the same time, despite distances and circumstances. “We need to help them to recognize that the Spirit of God never changes, and we can feel it in every moment.”
Elder Kamahiwa Kawa’a of the California Newport Beach Mission recalled showing an unmarried couple he was teaching in Fiji a video tour of the Rome Italy Temple. “When it got to the part in the video where it showed the bridal room and the sealing room, the sister that we were teaching began to cry. And at the end of the video, she looked at us and she said, ‘I want to be married there.’ ”
Points of conversion
Elder Uchtdorf asked his wife to address the final two questions. Sister Amber Kunz of the Florida Orlando Mission asked how missionaries can help and fellowship everyone during a time of social distancing and limited in-person contact, while Elder Vincent Hamer of the Bulgaria Central Eurasia Mission asked how to encourage members who may have become discouraged with missionary work.
Sister Uchtdorf encouraged the missionaries to observe lovingly and listen carefully to the people and to the Spirit. “You will feel and know in your hearts how to connect to members and how to benefit from their experiences in your finding and teaching.”
She returned to the conversion of her family, telling of the Nov. 7, 1954, baptism of her mother, Carmen Reich. Only four weeks later, one of the missionaries asked the widowed mother of two to write down her testimony so they could use it in helping others feel the spirit of conversion.
Before her conversion, Carmen Reich knew nothing of the Book of Mormon, Joseph Smith or the Church’s temples, which at the time only existed in the United States, Canada and Hawaii.
Sister Uchtdorf displayed the original letter in the broadcast — returned by the missionary to the family 40 years later as a treasured gift — and cited some of the points her mother listed as important in her conversion:
- “The return of modern revelation through the Prophet Joseph Smith.
- “The Book of Mormon, a companion to and as a second witness of Jesus Christ, together with the Bible.
- “The reality of a personal God. God the Father, God the Son, and the Holy Ghost, together with personal prayer and guidance.
- “The beauty of the Plan of Salvation. With faith in a premortal life, the purpose of our earthly life, and the hope of life after death.
- “The Word of Wisdom as a practical guide to keep body and spirit in the most perfect shape.
- “Totally new to me were temple work with many sacred ordinances, enabling our family to be together forever. What a merciful gift from heaven.”
While her mother passed away in 2000 at age 83, Sister Uchtdorf pointed out how her efforts continue to bear fruit today. Two of Sister Reich’s great-great-grandchildren are serving missions in Europe — one in Paris, France, another in Berlin, Germany — while a third is a recently returned missionary teaching other missionaries in in-home missionary training.
She concluded: “Use the wonders of modern technology to find and teach the gospel with creativity and be guided by the Spirit. Use them wisely, counsel together, be grateful, let the Spirit guide you in everything you do. You are amazing! The Lord is with you, and He will bless you.”
The Savior’s grasp
Elder Uchtdorf shared a video showing the creation of a painting that depicts the Savior’s hand and another hand within the grasp of His.
He explained that the painting process symbolizes how missionary work is all about, helping people in normal and natural ways to embrace the gospel and the Church of Jesus Christ, through love, sharing and invitations.
Individuals still have to use their own agency, Elder Uchtdorf said. “However, you can — and you must — help them to come within the grasp of the Savior, on their path to salvation and eternal life.”
He challenged the missionaries to never give up doing such sacred work. “By your dedicated efforts you will help to create the more complete picture by helping people to draw closer to Jesus Christ and His Church,” he said, explaining that lots of work and small, almost unnoticeable paint strokes help make the picture perfect and whole. “That is what you do, that is your daily work — using technology and many other ways.”
While life’s proverbial paint strokes may seem random or chaotic to an outsider, “they are purposefully placed for the Savior’s masterwork to be completed — and you are His hands,” Elder Uchtdorf said.
“As you know your purpose, as you are inviting others to come unto Christ, each of your little acts of faith — neighborly love you show — is like a painter’s brush stroke.”
With his testimony of the Father, the Savior and the Church, Elder Uchtdorf offered a blessing and promise to the missionaries: “As an Apostle of the Lord, I bless you, to find joy in this marvelous work and a wonder. I bless you with the assurance that you will not only come within the grasp of the Savior’s hand, but that you will feel the comfort of His loving arms around you, and that you may dwell with Him eternally.”