“How would you summarize your three-year mission assignment in just one word?”
The question stumped me as my wife, Cheryl, and I attended our last set of Sunday meetings in our “home ward” for three years while presiding over the Arizona Phoenix Mission. She and I were on opposite sides of the north Peoria meetinghouse chapel saying our goodbyes to ward members in late June 2014, when one brother walked up and asked the above question.
My mind raced through three years of 650 missionaries, thousands of members and leaders, convert baptisms, lessons, arrivals, departures, interviews, zone conferences, council meetings, smiles, tears, exhaustion and more.
And one word to summarize it all?
After a few moments of thinking, I had my response.
The brother cocked his head with some uncertainty, admitted it was something he wasn’t expecting and asked me to explain.
“Becoming” wasn’t a word or phrase that I remember specifically using with our missionaries until the last half-year or so of our assignment — Sister Taylor had long been using “becoming” with purpose and emphasis for some time, so maybe I am a slow learner.
But from the start, the principle permeated every teaching and training and, hopefully, the examples we tried to set — that living the principles of faith, repentance, baptism, the gift of the Holy Ghost and enduring to the end is more empowering and enabling than merely knowing of and teaching them as the doctrine of Christ. That losing oneself in the service of others is the best way to find oneself. And that serving a mission is not a means to an end nor a one-time achievement but — like many of other life events — is part of life’s journey that is best traveled on a covenant pathway.
I was reminded of that brief conversation twice recently — the first as I worked with Missionary Department leaders, staff and others in compiling the Church News coverage of the new missionary handbook, “Missionary Standards for Disciples of Jesus Christ.” Released publicly on Nov. 15, it moves from the previous rules-oriented manual to a principles-based guide.
“Instead of living a list of do’s and don’ts, it’s actually an invitation for them to become disciples,” said Elder Brent H. Nielson, a General Authority Seventy and executive director of the Missionary Department.
Added Elder Richard Neitzel Holzapfel, the department’s senior manager of curriculum and a Utah Area Seventy who helped oversee and develop the new missionary handbook: “Someone asked me, ‘How is this different than the former one?’ We’ve taken all the good principles, all the positive things, and we’ve made it a manual on ‘becoming.’”
The second reminder came while watching the Nov. 17 Face to Face broadcast, where key elements of the new Children and Youth program were unveiled. In a special message as part of the presentation, President Russell M. Nelson underscored the principle of ‘becoming.’
“Keep the Savior at the center of your plans. Always ask yourself and prayerfully ask your Father in Heaven, ‘What can I do to become more like Jesus Christ?’ As you do this each day, miracles will happen,” he said.
Elder Gerrit W. Gong of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, who hosted the worldwide broadcast, later said of the new program: “It focuses on you discovering and becoming your best divine self through activities and service, learning and growth.”
And the phrase “Strive to Be” — from being featured on program logos to being used with hashtags on social media — reinforces the principle of “becoming.”
Losing oneself in the service of others is the best way to find oneself.
Returning to that Sunday in late June 2014, I remember watching as our ward-member friend walked away from me, thinking maybe he didn’t get the kind of response he was wanting — perhaps one of conclusion rather than of continuing, one of finishing and finality rather than refining and future growth.
He walked through aisles and around other individuals, making a beeline for Sister Taylor and engaging her in a brief conversation.
Intrigued, I approached my wife after he had left and inquired about the topic of conversation between her and this brother.
“He asked me how I would describe our mission service in a single word,” she replied.
I smiled. “Interesting — he asked me the same thing. And what was the word you came up with?”
Her response, without pause or prompt: “Becoming.”