President M. Russell Ballard was serving as president of the Canada Toronto Mission when he learned one of the great lessons of missionary work.
A pair of sister missionaries were teaching a bright and prominent business executive. The man and his family loved the gospel but would not accept the invitation to be baptized.
President Ballard invited the couple to the mission home, where he bore his testimony and answered every question they had. Not only did he think the man would be baptized, he envisioned him as a future bishop.
To his surprise, the sisters called back two weeks later and said the man was still undecided. President Ballard invited them back and began to repeat the process when inspiration came to try something different.
He invited the man to kneel and pray to know for himself if the missionaries were true messengers and if what they had taught was true.
“He started to say the words and broke into tears,” said the Acting President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. “When you ask, then God will answer. There is a great lesson in that in the way we teach.”
The essential missionary lesson was one of several President Ballard taught missionaries serving in Gilbert, Arizona, on Saturday, Nov. 19. The Church leader was accompanied by Elder Neil L. Andersen, also of the Quorum of the Twelve, and his wife, Sister Kathy Andersen.
President Ballard reminded the missionaries of the Savior’s often repeated counsel in the scriptures to “ask, seek and knock” as the way to find answers to questions, especially in shepherding friends of the Church through the conversion process.
“You have been blessed and set apart by your stake presidents,” he said. “You are entitled to seek and call down the blessings of heaven and the power of God in your teaching process.”
President Ballard said it’s important to teach people to ask the Lord their questions, preferably on their knees, but not necessarily in your presence. He urged the missionaries to ponder deeply and counsel together about how they might focus more on getting those they are teaching to pray about the truthfulness of the message.
“Real conversion, decision-making and commitment, it has been my experience, comes at that moment,” he said. “They don’t necessarily have to get down on their knees, but they do need to sincerely pray and ask God our Father in Heaven if this message is true. ... If you do all the praying, they are not going to have the same experience as they would in praying themselves. It’s a big difference.”
Along with teaching people to find answers through prayer, President Ballard advised the missionaries to study more deeply Ch. 3 of “Preach My Gospel”— titled “What Do I Study and Teach” — which on the doctrine of Christ.
“You need to know that so you can teach those principles by the power of the Spirit in your own words,” he said. “Most people do not relate to you sitting down and reading something to them as a lesson. You become more powerful as a missionary when you can teach the principles in chapter three because you know it, it’s part of you.”
President Ballard chastened any missionaries who might be counting down the days until their mission is over.
“If any of you have a chart on the wall, you tear it down,” he said. “You want to capitalize on every day the privilege that is yours to witness and testify to the people in the area that you are assigned that Jesus is the Christ, that He is the Savior and Redeemer of all mankind.”
President Ballard recommended that each missionary companionship develop a close relationship with the bishop in their ward where they are serving. Ask the bishop who he would have the missionaries visit or how they might be of service. Involve the local members in missionary work as much as possible and always smile when welcoming people to church, he added.
“How precious is one soul? To our Father, they are all precious,” President Ballard said. “When we can redirect people back to Heavenly Father and to seeking in the spirit of prayer to know whether or not what you are teaching is true, you will have more progress in moving towards conversion with those you are teaching and working with.”
Finally, President Ballard invited the missionaries to take time to ponder the Atonement of Jesus Christ.
“Once in a while, let your mind go to Gethsemane and know that the Lord loves us,” he said. “This is His Church, and He will help us. He gave it all; He’s asking us to do the best we can.”
Elder Andersen told key experiences from President Ballard’s service as a young missionary in England in the late 1940s. He called him “one of the great missionaries of this dispensation.”
Elder Andersen related how President Ballard was one of two missionaries selected by his mission president to preach in historic Hyde Park on his first day in London. As he prepared to stand and speak, his mission president took hold of his arm and said something he would never forget: “Teach the gospel.” His sermon on baptism only lasted about 45 seconds, but young President Ballard resolved to work harder, be better prepared and never let that happen again.
Elder Andersen used President Ballard’s experience to motivate the missionaries to be prepared to teach the gospel and bear witness of Jesus Christ.
“People need to hear your solemn testimony that Jesus is the Christ, the Redeemer and Savior,” he said. “Always keep that in your mind — How do I bear witness of Christ, even to those who believe in Christ?”
Elder Andersen also encouraged the missionaries to learn and know the names of members in their wards and branches, from the leaders down to the Primary children.
“You like it when they know your name and something about you,” Elder Andersen said. “You need to know ward members so they trust you and want you to teach their friends and the people they know. ... I hope you are making that effort to know them and know them well.”
He closed with his witness of Jesus Christ as the Savior and Redeemer of the World.