Serving a mission is like learning to ride a bike, President Bingham tells training missionaries

PROVO, Utah — While full-time missionaries of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and bicycles have been linked for decades, missionaries currently in training can liken their preparation and service to learning to ride a bike.

Relief Society General President Jean B. Bingham reminded training missionaries of their wobbling, imbalance, falls, limited confidence and hesitancy when first learning to ride a bicycle. Improvement meant worrying less about mechanics and paying more attention to where one was going. Other joys came in going to more places, riding faster and experiencing the thrill of racing down a hill.

But learning to ride also meant struggling to go up a hill, having the chain slip off the gear wheel and facing other challenges — some fixed by one’s own self, and others needing expert repairs.

“Each of you are metaphorically getting on your bicycle as you begin your mission service,” said President Bingham, speaking at a Tuesday, Feb. 22, devotional in the Provo Missionary Training Center. Brother Bruce Bingham also spoke during the devotional, which will be broadcast to MTCs worldwide and be available to all full-time missionaries on their online portal.

New missionaries first concentrate on the “hows” — of language, contacting, teaching, cuisine and culture. “As you gain experience, you’ll understand that you don’t have to know all the answers at once, and that the Holy Ghost will prompt you to respond in loving, even miraculous, ways,” she said.

With increased experience and growth, “your missionary service will become joyous to you, even as if you were flying effortlessly down a hill with the wind of success in your face,” she said. And other days will seem like trying to cycle uphill — or walk the bike up the hill — as illness, homesickness, rejection and fatigue hit.

“All of these ‘learning opportunities’ that none of us would choose are inevitable and essential components of spiritual growth,” she added.

Missionaries for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints raise their hands to answer their favorite hymns during a devotional with President Jean B. Bingham, Relief Society general president, at the Missionary Training Center in Provo, Utah, on Tuesday, Feb. 22, 2022.
Missionaries for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints raise their hands to answer their favorite hymns during a devotional with President Jean B. Bingham, Relief Society general president, at the Missionary Training Center in Provo, Utah, on Tuesday, Feb. 22, 2022. Credit: Adam Fondren, for the Deseret News

Life and example of Spencer W. Kimball

President Bingham spoke of President Spencer W. Kimball, the Prophet and Church President during her young adult years, whose childhood included typhoid fever, partial facial paralysis, nearly drowning and deaths in his immediate family. His mission in the Swiss-German Mission was interrupted by World War I, and he was reassigned to the Central States Mission.

During his three decades of service as an Apostle, Elder Kimball traded his feelings of inadequacy for trust in the Lord, later experiencing several heart attacks and a throat tumor that required surgery to remove all but half of one vocal cord. He spoke with a raspy voice the rest of his life.

At age 77, he was diagnosed with significant heart disease, with his age and severe symptoms resulting in a high-risk surgery. He was weak, weary and resigned to being ready to die, when President Harold B. Lee — then of the First Presidency — emphatically and prophetically reminded him that he had been called and was not to die but to continue to live.

A world-renowned cardiothoracic surgeon was chosen to perform the complex and lifesaving open-heart surgery — Russell M. Nelson, who is now Church President and Prophet. He related the inspiration he received in accomplishing that divine intervention: “I had a sure witness as I was standing there that the man I had just operated on would become the President of the Church!”

Twenty months later, both President Joseph Fielding Smith and President Lee had unexpectedly passed away, and Spencer W. Kimball was sustained and ordained as the Church’s 12th prophet-president.

During his tenure, President Kimball traveled to 85 countries, with both the missionary force and number of temples doubling. Other highlights included a new English hymnbook, new editions of the standard works, two revelations added to the Doctrine and Covenants, satellite communications added to meetinghouses, Sunday church services shortened to three hours and, of course, the revelation that extended the priesthood to all worthy males.

President Kimball “accepted a calling he never expected to have and magnified it in such a way that millions of people, living and dead, were blessed,” President Bingham said. “Despite his personal challenges, he forgot himself and went to work, impacting an astonishing array of Church activities and programs as well as the spirituality of members.”

President Jean B. Bingham, Relief Society general president, greets missionaries after speaking during an evening devotional at the Missionary Training Center in Provo, Utah, on Tuesday, Feb. 22, 2022.
President Jean B. Bingham, Relief Society general president, greets missionaries after speaking during an evening devotional at the Missionary Training Center in Provo, Utah, on Tuesday, Feb. 22, 2022. Credit: Adam Fondren, for the Deseret News

When life’s gear chains come off

When trials come, missionaries and members should remember that Jesus Christ has felt all the hurt, confusion and painful feelings one will feel and has the power to help one over and through every challenge, no matter how difficult, said President Bingham. “Your Savior understands you and will always be there; you just need to reach out and be willing to act on the impressions He sends you through the Holy Ghost.”

When life’s gear chains come off and wheels seem to spin without much movement, President Bingham underscored the importance of self-reflection — “the first place to look is within.”

She added: “Feeling like we always know best or that we can do it ourselves removes us from the influence of the Spirit. Not following the mission rules or rationalizing disobedience also puts us outside the realm of the Spirit’s promptings.”

The way to repair an out-of-sync spirit is to humbly approach Heavenly Father in prayer, asking for His forgiveness and pleading for the Savior’s help to repent and change, President Bingham said. “Sometimes we may need the help of an expert to help us reset, repent and move forward. Be assured that your mission president is ‘willing and wanting and waiting’ to help you. He loves you already and is eager to see you overcome obstacles that may keep you from fulfilling your wonderful potential.”

Another stumbling block to progress is imagining challenges that may possibly occur and letting that fear stop missionaries from moving forward. “Some of us may be tempted to look at the ground right in front of us, seeing only the immediate problems, which makes it hard to keep an eternal perspective,” she said. “From that vantage point, pebbles on the road can look like boulders and a small crack can loom as big as a crevasse.”

Those on the Lord’s errand are promised help in times of adversity, she added, then quoting President Nelson: “When the focus of our lives is on God’s plan of salvation … and Jesus Christ and His gospel, we can feel joy regardless of what is happening — or not happening — in our lives. Joy comes from and because of Him. He is the source of all joy.”

And joy is best experienced when turning outward and focusing on serving and helping others. “When we forget ourselves and go to work with love, we find greater peace and happiness during the tired times, the hungry and thirsty times, the slogging-in-the-rain times, even in times of significant trial.”

President Bingham encouraged missionaries to have a favorite scripture or hymn in mind to remind them of their long-term goals, bringing a true perspective and peace. She shared several of her favorites.

A missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints shares his favorite scripture on his phone during a devotional with President Jean B. Bingham, Relief Society general president, at the Missionary Training Center in Provo, Utah, on Tuesday, Feb. 22, 2022.
A missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints shares his favorite scripture on his phone during a devotional with President Jean B. Bingham, Relief Society general president, at the Missionary Training Center in Provo, Utah, on Tuesday, Feb. 22, 2022. Credit: Adam Fondren, for the Deseret News

Confidence, communication and companionship

President Bingham returned to the bicycle analogy, highlighting cyclists who are expert, refined and confident — then relating it to missionaries. “As you become more aware of the Spirit and choose to follow the revelation that comes to you, you will have the confidence to rely on the Holy Ghost to show you ‘all things what ye should do.’”

“As you keep the commandments and follow mission rules, your power to communicate through the Spirit will increase. As you work to increase the unity in your companionship, you will be able to maximize your efforts and use your time most effectively. And as you discard any extra baggage of pride or sin or temptation to ‘take it easy,’ you will experience greater progress in the work.”

She closed with her testimony and an emphasis of the promise to “eat of the good of the land of Zion in these last days” to those who give their hearts, their love, their willing minds and their obedience to the Lord.

“To me, that means our diligent, faithful efforts will be blessed and magnified through His love and the Spirit’s influence. Your time as a missionary will be as sweet as it is challenging, and your heart will swell with joy that cannot be expressed in words,” President Bingham said.

“If you do not already, you will come to know for yourself that Jesus is indeed the Christ and the head of His Church on the earth in these last days. You will be able to share that knowledge with those you love as we strive to become a Zion people in preparation for the Second Coming of the Savior.”

‘Finding your why’

Brother Bingham recalled his own days as a missionary and an impactful question from his own mission president: “Why did you come on a mission?”

“I ask you that most important question,” he said to the missionaries. “What difference will it be for you to understand the why of your missionary service? All the difference.”

Brother Bingham told the missionaries that “finding your why” is “the first thing you should do.”

“Brothers and Sisters, I invite you to ‘find your why,’” he said. “Knowing why will sustain you in times of trial and discouragement, which will surely be yours at some point. Knowing why you serve will bring eternal blessings into your life.”