Episode 52: Reimagining missionary work with leaders of the Missionary Department, Elder Marcus B. Nash and David N. Weidman


In March 2020, as the coronavirus pandemic intensified across the globe, leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints turned their thoughts to full-time missionaries facing increasing health risks and nations about to close borders. They began returning missionaries to their home nations and reimagining the work.

This episode of the Church News podcast explores all that has happened to missionary work during the past year and a half and looks forward to the future of missionary work in the Church of Jesus Christ. The episode features Elder Marcus B. Nash, a General Authority Seventy and executive director of the Church’s Missionary Department, and David N. Weidman, managing director of the Church’s Missionary Department to talk about missionary work, with Church News managing editor and former Arizona Phoenix Mission president Scott Taylor as guest host. 

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Transcript:

Sarah Jane Weaver: I’m Sarah Jane Weaver, editor of the Church News. Welcome to the Church News podcast. We are taking you on a journey of connection as we discuss news and events of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints with leaders, members and others on the Church News team. We end each Church News podcast by giving our guests the last word and the opportunity to answer the very important question, “What do you know now?” We hope each of you will also be able to answer the same question and say, “I have just been listening to the Church News podcast and this is what I know now.” 

In March 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic intensified across the globe, leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints turned their thoughts to full-time missionaries, facing increasing health risks and nations about to close their borders. They began returning missionaries to their home nations and reimagining the work.

This episode of the Church News podcast explores all that has happened to missionary work during the past 18 months and looks forward to the future of missionary work in The Church of Jesus Christ. 

We are joined by Elder Marcus B. Nash, General Authority Seventy and executive director of the Church’s Missionary Department, and David N. Weidman, managing director of the Church’s Missionary Department, to talk about this important topic. Today, we also welcome guest host Scott Taylor of the Church News — Scott was president of the Arizona Phoenix Mission from 2011 to 2014, and served as a branch president at the Provo MTC until 2018.

Scott, thank you for hosting today.

Elder Nash and Dave, Welcome to the Church News podcast.

Elder Marcus B. Nash: Thank you. 

David Weidman: Thank you.

Missionaries walk to class near the Oval common area at the Missionary Training Center in Provo on Wednesday, Aug. 25, 2021.
Missionaries walk to class near the Oval common area at the Missionary Training Center in Provo on Wednesday, Aug. 25, 2021. Credit: Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Scott Taylor: You know, we could probably spend not only an entire podcast but an entire series of podcasts talking about missionary work, missions, missionaries and proselyting during the pandemic; but we’re going to talk about hopefully today and get your insights and perspectives on lessons learned, experiences gained, perspectives increased from the pandemic that are in application today in missionary work in missions and with missionaries. 

But, in order to know where we’re at, and where we’re headed, let’s revisit the past a little bit. Elder Nash, when the pandemic started, you were presiding over the Africa West Area, and so you saw missionary work, missionary impacts through the pandemic a little closer to the ground. Why don’t you start, and then, Dave, we’ll have you talk — you were managing director in the Missionary Department at the time — and we’ll have you talk about the bird’s-eye view until Elder Nash joins the department in last summer, after the start of the pandemic.

2:14

Elder Marcus B. Nash: When we received notice that the pandemic had settled on the world, I was on a mission tour in the Nigeria Lagos Mission there in West Africa. I received the email one night from Church headquarters saying it was time to get things rolling, and I quickly called Church headquarters, and I said, “I’m in the middle of a mission tour, does this mean I’m to return to Church headquarters in Accra, Ghana, the area offices?” The response was, “Yes, and I imagine you’re going to have lots of questions flying your way, so get ready.”

So, we changed our flight. The next morning, Sister Nash and I met with a few of the missionaries, we jumped on the flight, returned back to Accra, and then began quite a journey. And I’ll just share this part of it, that we received the direction that we were going to return missionaries back to their homelands, and we began this process from the ground level in West Africa. 

Someone called me after we got this notice — about two or three weeks later, someone called and said, “How are you doing?” I said, “Well, have you ever tried to swim in a tsunami? That’s what it feels like.” It was around the clock: Moving missionaries and doing this, answering this call, putting together this strategy, and it was just stunning. It was miraculous what happened. The Lord wanted them to get home, and doors opened, and flights became available, flights were chartered — it was just really an amazing journey. 

And one thing I’ll say about the Missionary Department, before I was ever a part of it: I called Chris Miller — he was our point man on this — and I said, “Did you get any sleep last night?” He said, “Yeah, I think I got a couple of hours.” And that’s what was going on that side of the Atlantic, as well as on the Africa West side.

Scott Taylor: Dave, if there was a tsunami going on in West Africa, it was that times about 100 in a worldwide perspective.

3:59

David Weidman: It was, Scott. I remember early January (2020), we were in a meeting with Missionary Executive Council and executive directors’ conversations that occurred. In those executive directors’ conversations, Elder (Weatherford T.) Clayton actually said, “There’s a virus in China that we need to keep our eyes on. It spreads rapidly, people can infect other people before they become symptomatic, and people are dying from it.”

When you add those three things up, it just was not very good at all. From January through February, we continued to watch it and monitor it. There were missions in Asia, Mongolia and Hong Kong where we began to take action pretty quickly because governments were taking actions. They were restricting travel, restricting movement inside of those countries. 

And then in the middle of March, what we thought would be manageable and contained became much, much larger than that. And from March until the middle of April, over 30,000 missionaries came out of their missions and returned home, and eventually by the middle of the summer, they were reassigned to other missions.

During that period of time, one miracle after another occurred. Flights opened up, people stepped in to help out at the right time, generosity just poured out, hotels opened, flights became available that otherwise weren’t available, and we saw the hand of the Lord in bringing missionaries home. 

Sister Linda Hsiung of the China Hong Kong Mission takes a selfie with other missionaries on the city's Mass Transit. The photo is one she included as a submission to the Church History Department's project of documenting missionary experiences during the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic, which drew 7,000 online entries from missionaries and mission leaders worldwide.
Sister Linda Hsiung of the China Hong Kong Mission takes a selfie with other missionaries on the city’s Mass Transit. The photo is one she included as a submission to the Church History Department’s project of documenting missionary experiences during the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic, which drew 7,000 online entries from missionaries and mission leaders worldwide. Credit: Intellectual Reserve, Inc.

Perhaps the greatest miracle was missionaries themselves. They were given the opportunity to either return to the mission field under pandemic conditions or postpone their mission for some time. The bulk of the missionaries raised their hand and said, “Put me back in, coach, I want to go out and serve.” They’re remarkable, incredibly resilient. They love the Lord, and through them, miracles did occur, and continue to occur. 

Now one other story that sets up this conversation, Scott: As we were having discussions with the senior Brethren, they consistently turned to us and said, these are almost their exact words, “The Lord probably didn’t plan the pandemic, but it did not catch Him by surprise. So, find out what the Lord is trying to teach us about missionary work through this pandemic.” And we went to work almost immediately, in April, and began to look and learn from the pandemic. We still had missionaries in the field, there were still mission presidents in the field, they were operating, they were helping move the work forward, baptisms were continuing, teachings were continuing. So, we went out to missions and learned from them. There’s revelation scattered among these missions, and our job was to collect that revelation, condense it and then move forward from that, helping missions move forward and helping us learn a new way of doing missionary work. 

We’ve talked a lot about MTCs. A call went out to Kelly Mills — who heads up our global MTCs — on a Tuesday, and we said, “Kelly, next Monday, all the missionaries in MTCs need to be vacated. They need to be back home or in the mission field, and we need to be set up running at-home MTC.” And in that five-day period of time, the team in the MTCs turned it all around, and missionaries went out, new training was developed, a curriculum developed, and on Monday morning, we started up in MTCs with the at-home model.

Scott Taylor: So, Elder Nash, we’ve got to the point where you’re now not just part of the Missionary Department, but overseeing it as the executive director. But what summaries would you have about the past 12, 14, 15 months, being involved that way?

7:38

Elder Marcus B. Nash: I just want to give an amen to the resiliency of the missionaries and their mission leaders. As we’re sending missionaries home, you had missionaries who were leaving West Africa to return to the United States and were sad about it. They love the people they serve. They grow to love the place where they serve, and it was bittersweet to watch the missionaries and their feelings about leaving the field where they’ve been serving among people they’d grown to love and who loved them. 

Then you turn to mission leaders. We had conversations with mission leaders saying, “We’re going to need you to stay a little longer — although you thought you were ending your mission, we may need to stay longer.” And they would say, “Okay, that’s it. We’ll do it.” I remember one mission we found a flight for them to get home and the replacement to come in. We called the mission president and his wife and said, “Well, you need to go home now. We were able to get you two seats on the flight and it’s in about a week.” And they were like, “Oh really, do we have to go?” And it’s just so inspiring to see how people are as they serve the Lord with all of their heart.

Scott Taylor: You mentioned about the missionaries having to leave West Africa, those nations they grew to love, and yet, Dave, building upon what you said, they agreed to re-up, to serve during the pandemic, knowing that many of them would not be going to the same mission because of travel restrictions and limitations and were still willing to do that.

9:10

Elder Marcus B. Nash: That’s correct. That’s just a statement of the faith and resilience of these wonderful missionaries.

David Weidman: Scott, if I can add to that: To me, one of the biggest learnings from COVID-19 is the deep, rich body of faith that’s in the Church — the missionaries have deep faith, think about parents, you know, in an uncertain environment, and they’re saying to their son or daughter, “We support you in your decision in your going back out again.” Deep faith, incredible faith. 

In the middle of the pandemic, we’re trying to figure out how to get missionaries home, and I called a close friend of mine who had served as a mission president, an Area Seventy. And as the phone rang, he picked it up. I said, “I need — “ and without me finishing the sentence, he said, “Anything, anything. Whatever you need, you’ve got it.” I said, “I need you to help me get a bunch of missionaries in Central America home.” He said, “It’s done. Don’t worry about it.” Just incredible faith. It strengthened my faith.

Addie Rutter teaches French via video conference at the Provo Missionary Training Center to training missionaries in their homes on Wednesday, March 25, 2020. In an attempt to control the spread of COVID-19, missionaries are being trained by remote video conference rather than travel to the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' 10 missionary training centers.
Addie Rutter teaches French via video conference at the Provo Missionary Training Center to training missionaries in their homes on Wednesday, March 25, 2020. In an attempt to control the spread of COVID-19, missionaries are being trained by remote video conference rather than travel to the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ 10 missionary training centers. Credit: Laura Seitz, Deseret News

Scott Taylor: So, over the last 12 to 15 months?

10:10

Elder Marcus B. Nash: You’ve heard the saying “drinking from a fire hydrant?” Well, that’s what it has been like, and when I received the assignment to come and serve as the executive director of the Missionary Department, it was a bit of a surprise. I was in my fourth year, I expected to finish that fourth year and maybe get a fifth year in West Africa, and all of a sudden, we’re heading back. And then the pandemic descended, and so we remained a little longer than we thought we were going to remain after the change in assignment. 

So, I participated by Zoom in a lot of Missionary Department meetings so I could learn, and I kept thinking, “Can I ever get on top of this?” And I kept wondering and hoping that it would come. Then I come into the department, and we have people like Dave Weidman — I’ll stop there, because I would start listing people — but we have these incredibly talented people who serve in the Missionary Department. They’re not just talented. They’re consecrated, full of faith, devoted, and so when you combine high talent with high and full concentration and full devotion, miracles happen. That’s been my experience over the last 12 months or so that I’ve been doing this, as I’ve been working with these fantastic people who love the Lord and are giving their all. 

Also, as I was coming, in my own personal scripture study, a scripture they heard me cite quite often when I came, is one that I just want to share now, because I think it was for me, to hear this scripture. It’s in Doctrine and Covenants, section 111, verse 11. And it says: “Therefore, be ye as wise as serpents … “ So, be smart, and we’ve got a lot of smart people in Missionary Department, you know, the staff — I’m not talking about me, I follow them. 

So, “be as wise as serpents, and yet without sin; …” Be smart, but good. Be holy. And then he says this: “And I will order all things for your good, as fast as you’re able to receive them.” And that became my personal motto. I want to be smart; I pray for smarts. I want to be good; I will do my best to be good, so the Spirit can work through me and in me and others, all those others I’m working with. And then I will trust that He will order everything for our good as fast as we’re able to receive them. Some of my prayers then and still are — I just don’t want to get in the way, let me help that to happen and not get in the way, because I think He wants to give us things pretty quickly right now.

This pandemic is leading us to all sorts of learning. We have watched missionary work transform. Now, when I say transform — I’m not saying we leave everything behind, but the transformation is that now we are understanding how many lines we can have in the water, how well we can reach people all across the globe and teach by the Spirit, and engender faith all over the world, and that maintaining the intimacy and the personal nature of teaching by the Spirit to the one. And you can multiply that across the globe now. I’m sure we’ll get in more detail on that, but that’s one thing I’ve learned is that there’s a lot of learning to do. He’s wanting to teach us as quickly as we will receive it, and it’s coming fast — there’s a lot that we’re learning. 

Scott Taylor: Great. We’ll talk about those applications. How would you describe missions, and missionaries right now as far as being settled, organized, assigned and involved in missions throughout the world? We’re starting to see some missionaries travel to different MTCs, we’re starting to see missionaries travel to different international assignments. How would you describe where we’re at right now and what still has to happen?

13:56

David Weidman: Scott, right now we are in the process of opening MTCs, but our MTC experience has changed. By the end of the year, all but two or three of our MTCs should be opened. That’s barring anything major happening with a pandemic, but we think we’ll be back operating most of our MTCs by the end of the year.

The MTC experience has changed, though. We learned during the pandemic that there are certain advantages of MTCs at home and advantages of MTCs on-site. So, the Missionary Executive Council and the Quorum of Twelve Apostles have approved a hybrid model for MTCs where missionaries, in most cases, will start their MTC experience at home. It helps them adapt better, they learn the language as well, they learn the doctrine as well. They learn how to teach as well. In fact, in some cases, they have real-life experiences teaching that would be very difficult to have when they’re at Provo or the Philippines are at an on-site experience.

Sister Rozanne Sellers directs Sister Elizabeth Wheatley as she moves through the check-in process at the Provo Missionary Training Center in Provo on Wednesday, Aug. 18, 2021.
Sister Rozanne Sellers directs Sister Elizabeth Wheatley as she moves through the check-in process at the Provo Missionary Training Center in Provo on Wednesday, Aug. 18, 2021. Credit: Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

14:55

Elder Marcus B. Nash: Let me interject one thing: For example, we have missionaries in an at-home MTC experience who are teaching their dad, who’s not a member of the Church. And they’re being involved in the baptism of their dad, his or her dad, before they actually leave for the on-site MTC.

David Weidman: We also have parents who are saying, “Wow, we felt the Spirit, we were so blessed. We loved having our son or daughter in the room upstairs, in the basement downstairs, wherever it happened. We loved having that experience and that Spirit in our home. It was fantastic.” So there are advantages to the at-home. 

What’s also happening is this generation knows how to connect online, they know how to develop relationships online. So, they’re connecting with their companion, they’re connecting with their district, they’re connecting with their instructor, they’re learning what an MTC rhythm and curriculum is like —  they’re learning all of that while they’re at home. But there are some things that they’re not learning. So when they arrive at the MTC, what happens? They know their district. They know their instructor. They know and they love their companion. And so it feels to them less like, “Gosh, I’m at the MTC and I’m leaving the world behind.” No, they’re walking from a family into a new family, and they already know that new family. That transition is much easier than it was before.

Elder Marcus B. Nash: If I may — some of the missionaries are saying, “It feels like I’m coming for a reunion with my companion and my district,” and so, the leaving home is not quite so difficult for them.

Scott Taylor: And having been on-site a couple times already at the Provo MTC, I see those are tender, tender connections.

David Weidman: They’re powerful, powerful.

Scott Taylor: It’s their first time in-person but already lifelong friends.

16:39

David Weidman: Scott, they’re actually introduced to their branch president while they’re at home. Before they arrive in the MTC, they met their branch president or branch presidency, so these relationships are beginning. And when they arrive at the MTC, then they learn the missionary schedule a little bit more. In some places, there’s certain medical things that need to happen, like vaccinations and other things. And they’re perhaps learning a little more about what it’s like to be a missionary in the field. So these things at home, on-site build on each other, and it’s a better outcome than it ever was before.

Scott Taylor: So just to alert our listeners who might not be familiar with the schedule, the online segment of the missionaries’ training is about one-third, so if they’re going to be serving in their native language, it’s one week at home, and two weeks on-site at the MTC. For those that are learning a language, it’s the first third of six or nine weeks at home and then the second thirds on-site.

17:40

Elder Marcus B. Nash: The thing that’s interesting too is that in the world, one size does not fit all. And there are places in the world —  and I think of my beloved West Africa — and there it doesn’t work as well to have an MTC at-home experience because at home, some of them don’t have a place where they can go and actually have an experience with the computer, working through the computer and with their district and their instructors. So, in those cases, for example the Ghana MTC, we actually are sending the missionaries straight to the MTC; they’re not having an at-home experience because it’s very difficult to do it in that region of the world.

Scott Taylor: One of the blessings of online MTC is the ability to use digital resources and that has been growing over time in the Missionary Department. Lots of people think that it started with a pandemic — that’s not true. 

I remember being in Hong Kong on an Olympics assignment in 2008 before the Beijing Olympics and talking to missionaries there. They were teaching a lot of full-time domestic workers who lived in homes and couldn’t always meet the missionaries well. They had cell phones with texting capabilities and were texting messages and scriptures. 

I remember in 2010, working for the Deseret News and doing a story on the New York Rochester Mission, headed by President Mike Hemingway, who’s now executive secretary at the Provo MTC, and they were going to start social media proselyting online, proselyting through Facebook.

A personal experience in Phoenix: When we were there in 2013, we were asked to help pilot the iPads, and the iPhones for the Missionary Department — one of six missions, and it was fascinating. The missionaries at first thought, “Oh my goodness, I’ve got social media access with Instagram and Facebook and online journals and webs and blogs, things like that.” And their attitude was, “If I throw anything out there, something will get stuck on the wall and people will see, people will flock to it,” not realizing that digital proselyting and digital missionary work is one by one, it’s laser-focused rather than taking a shotgun approach. 

And in the MTC after our mission, they were moving from iPads to tablets; and in the last two or three years, the move has been from tablets to smartphones. Elder Nash and Dave, tell us about digital proselyting then during a pandemic and how that was a lifesaver, and a game-changer.

Missionaries called to serve in Brazil learn Portuguese through participation in the virtual missionary training center in August 2020.
Missionaries called to serve in Brazil learn Portuguese through participation in the virtual missionary training center in August 2020. Credit: Screenshot

20:08

Elder Nash: This is something that has made a tremendous difference and will continue to make a difference. We’ve learned that you can teach online by the power of the Spirit, and it is the same experience as it would be face-to-face. We’ve learned — I think you set it up, I don’t know how much more I can add to what you said because online proselyting is more of a targeted approach than just a broad blast. And we’re learning that with the online proselyting, the online communications and teaching, we can get behind the locked gates of the gated communities, and this is a wonderful thing. And I’m going to go back to West Africa for a moment. There you have the gated communities, and we’d love to proselyte there, we’d love to reach those people, and they are a God-loving, God-fearing people by nature. So even in the gated communities, they would welcome missionaries, if they could just get access. Well, now they have access, and we’re reaching them, and they’re in communication with missionaries, learning and growing. So, as you said, a game-changer — It really is.

David Weidman: If I can add to that — Elder Nash, you’ll remember this: One of the things that we learned from our missions that were moving forward during the pandemic — the missions that were doing well kept their missionary purpose. They understood very, very clearly that during this pandemic, we’re still called to be missionaries. We’re still called to fulfill the Great Commission, the Grand Commission. We’re still here to help gather Israel. We’re still here to find those who will let God prevail in their lives. We just have to figure out how to do it in a way different than how we’ve done it in the past.

As you said, Scott, there were a lot of efforts that have been going on before then that created an environment where they could take learnings and then just put them in place and grow them from there. But the foundation is missionary purpose — they kept their missionary purpose, and that’s what we see today. I had one example of that: I was talking with a sister in Morristown, New Jersey, and she was explaining to me the use of technology, and she said, “When I go on Facebook, I’m entering sacred ground.” I said, “Sister, help me understand that.”

Scott Taylor: That’s a new term for social media.

David Weidman: Yes, but I think it’s important to understand, for all of us; it’s important for me to understand. She said, “Those who need the gospel of Jesus Christ are on Facebook. Those who are searching for answers to prayers are on social media. My purpose is to find them and help them find the Savior, and that’s why it’s sacred ground to me.” I said, “Who taught you that?” She said, “My mission president did — he helped me understand that my missionary purpose hasn’t changed at all.” And instead of walking down some of the sketchy alleys in Morristown, New Jersey — and I was bishop in Morristown, New Jersey, and I’ve walked those streets myself in some ministry assignments — I may be going online, where the evils and the dangers are no less significant, they’re just different. But if I treat it as holy ground, if I hold my missionary purpose close to my heart, and if I have faith in the Savior, I will find those who are seeking God’s help. It’s a totally different world than running away from the fears and dangers if you’re looking for the one.

24:34

Elder Marcus B. Nash: If I may add to this — it’s interesting because you have missionaries who are grounded in their purpose, and when you’re grounded in your purpose, mountains move, and doors open, and miracles happen because our God is a God of miracles. So you have missionaries grounded in their purpose and they’re teaching — what we’re observing, is we’re seeing members. … We’re seeing the missionaries, and I think it’s also the Spirit of God is moving the members — our members, Latter-day Saints across the globe, are becoming increasingly engaged in missionary work. 

Now you can see and you teach on the phone when you’re using us online, a member — think of other parts of the world, developing areas of the world. In those developing areas of the world, you have people — they’d have to pay a taxi fare, and that costs them money, time away, they get there and then the lesson doesn’t happen, so they get the taxi fare back. Well, now they can just pause and for 20 minutes, 15 minutes, join the missionaries in the lesson, and they are part of it. 

But there’s a synergism in this relationship. As the members and the missionaries are in the harness together, it just lights a fire in both missionary and member, as well as the people that are teaching. So, this transformation is also helping transform how the members are engaging with the missionaries in missionary work and bringing their own friends.

I want to make mention one other thing. One of the things that we key on is that you have a mission, and missionaries are grounded in their purpose. Now, you have social media there. It could be a distraction — that potential, that risk is there; and so we have something we call “safeguards,” and this is an amazing resource for our missionaries — here are the habits, I’ll give you four principles we give our missionaries. 

First one is, be in tune with the Spirit. Just remember this as you’re doing this. Two, be focused on your purpose. And then three, be disciplined. When you’re finished, put the phone down. You fulfilled your purpose, you’re done with the social media. And then lastly, we teach them, be one — four eyes, two pairs of eyes on the screen.

Now what if a missionary learns this and goes home with that? Then you can see the protection and strength that will thrive, and they’ll continue to wield as an instrument to help people. If I could just share one experience: I was visiting with some missionaries about safeguards, and one of them mentioned the “be one” standard, he said “My companion went to go to the restroom, and I know I’m not supposed to look at my phone when he’s in the restroom. I had just read one of President (Russell M.) Nelson’s talks, and it was really inspiring to me. And I thought, ‘I want to read it again.’” He goes to the restroom, he was thinking, “Well, what’s wrong with reading President Nelson’s talk even if it’s only my eyes on this screen?” And he said, “No, I’m going to follow the standard.” He said, “I put my phone down” and then he got very emotional, and he said, “And I then proceeded to have one of the most important revelatory experiences I’ve ever had in my life, but I would not have had if I’d read that talk a second time.” So, think what the missionaries are learning as they use social media, using these kind of guidelines. 

Missionaries walk at the Missionary Training Center in Provo on Wednesday Aug 25, 2021.
Missionaries walk at the Missionary Training Center in Provo on Wednesday Aug 25, 2021. Credit: Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Scott Taylor: It reminds me, what you’re saying, of a mission presidents’ seminar that I attended with then-Elder (Russell M.) Nelson, President of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles, and he was talking about digital technology coming in with missionaries and he said, “this is an opportunity to help inoculate the next generation.” And you see that with these type of experiences, when they’re obedient, when they’re purposeful, when they follow the directions they have. It blesses them not just as a missionary, but throughout their life. 

Elder Marcus B. Nash: Correct.

Scott Taylor: We’ve talked about digital missionary work, we’ve talked about training and MTCs — it reminds me of another mission presidents’ seminar that I was at in the North America Southwest Area with Elder (David A.) Bednar in April of 2014, and he had learned that the three of the Arizona missions were piloting the iPads and the digital technologies. And he said, “I foresee a day when we will have a lot of training, being done digitally, and maybe not in MTCs but in the homes” — you know, the thinking then was, let’s have our return missionaries have tablets or iPads, take them home and help with the training. But when the pandemic hit, the MTCs closed, and the training went online, my wife said, “Hey, remember that mission presidents’ seminar with Elder Bednar?”

28:58

Elder Marcus B. Nash: Yes, it’s remarkable. We are led by prophets, seers and revelators.

David Weidman: Part of this, Scott, this revelation that you touched on: Using technology relates to training that happens in the field. Again, some of the learnings that we’ve had is the mission presidents now don’t have to try to cram all of their training into a zone conference that extends over a six-hour period of time. I know for the mission president, I know for the missionaries, it’s kind of mind-numbing. 

By using technology, presidents can have short and more frequent trainings with missionaries. So, there’s one mission president has “Triple-T” — you know, Tuesday training at 10. It’s a 20-minute training session, the entire mission attends it through a Zoom call, he will train on a topic that’s been identified by the Missionary Executive Council or through his interactions with missionaries. Part of that training is him calling on missionaries to report and share what they learned from last week’s training — how did they put it into practice, and what happened as they applied it and put it in practice? Incredibly powerful. Missionaries hold things better when it’s short and it’s simple. They also embed it into their heart when they go out and immediately apply it. So, the way that we’re training missionaries in the field has changed tremendously by use of technology.

Elder Marcus B. Nash: And people learn — we all learn better this way. So rather than having a missionary go into someone’s home and teach them for 45 minutes or an hour, and it’s been a spiritual experience, but the individuals are looking at their watch and saying, “When are you going to be done?” type of thing. Now missionaries are understanding, “I can go in, I can teach the principle, the gospel. I can be in and out in about 15 minutes, leave an invitation, follow up and I come back again the next day.” And they’re going to go, “You’re only here 15, 20 minutes — keep coming. Please, we’re hungry for this.”

It just changes the dynamic and accelerates the learning. It impacts the mission tours. You remember the mission tours when general authorities would come to your mission, and we typically would have big, long zone conferences and go from one to the other. Completely different dynamic now. Now, I will meet with some zones —missionaries in a couple or three zones, depending on geography — for an hour and a half, and it’s alive because they’re asking questions and it’s really dynamic. And then we’ll take a pause for 15 minutes or so and then we’ve arranged for the big screens and the whole mission then joins us, we take only another hour and a half or so, and I will extend the invitation of the principle that we’re teaching and all have been involved in this very dynamic, and then I can say, “Now, apply it for the next 24 hours, and I’ll ask for a report tomorrow when we meet together again in the entire mission.” And also during the mission tour, I can be doing things — interacting with the missionaries and their study and all these kinds of things and teaching. It gives me so much flexibility and a better sense of the mission. Well, then we’ll travel the next day, we’ll meet missionaries in-person and we’ll join everybody else, and then the best point of the mission (tour) is when you say, “All right, elders and sisters, what experiences did you have, as you acted on the invitation that I extended yesterday?” Well, these are missionaries — I mean, these sisters are amazing. These elders are faithful. They’re just  great, and they will have had experienced miracles. Now, it’s not just role-playing anymore. I actually can ask them to do something, they go out in real life and do it, nd they experience the hand of God in real life, and it just drives the learning deeper into their souls.

Scott Taylor: Thank you, you’ve just given me a new story idea to follow up on. I followed your predecessor, Elder Brent Nielson, on mission tours a half a year before the pandemic and focused on how they were, and I’m going to have to get with Elder Nash and say, “Let me tag along.”

32:42

Elder Marcus B. Nash: Let’s have some fun. It’s so fun. 

David Weidman: You know, Scott, I’m going back to your original question, if that’s OK, about what have we learned through this 18-month period of time through the pandemic here. One of the things we’ve learned is what a great job members do in sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ. As we look underneath the hood, so to speak, as we look at some of the data and boy, I’ll tell you, members are absolutely phenomenal. Study after study have suggested that in the nonmembers’ eyes members are revered, their lifestyle is modeled, they’re great in the neighborhoods — people have, generally speaking, great respect for members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. And Elder Nash, we just introduced a “Love, Share, Invite” principle-based approach to sharing the gospel that’s having phenomenal effect.

Elder Marcus B. Nash: It really is. Dave’s looking at me, I’m nodding because I would say it’s another miracle. This is the season of miracles. It really is. And we’re watching members engage at a level and scope that I don’t think we have ever seen, at least in the modern era of the Church. It’s really phenomenal.

In the days before his missionaries evacuate due to coronavirus concerns, President Dennis L. Phillips of the China Hong Kong Mission finds some humor in an overhead advertisement in a photo with several sisters. The photo is one he included as a submission to the Church History Department's project of documenting missionary experiences during the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic, which drew 7,000 online entries from missionaries and mission leaders worldwide.
In the days before his missionaries evacuate due to coronavirus concerns, President Dennis L. Phillips of the China Hong Kong Mission finds some humor in an overhead advertisement in a photo with several sisters. The photo is one he included as a submission to the Church History Department’s project of documenting missionary experiences during the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic, which drew 7,000 online entries from missionaries and mission leaders worldwide. Credit: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Scott Taylor: “A season of miracles” — that’s an impressive phrase. Elder Nash or Dave, can one of you tell us a little bit more on this “Love, Share and Invite” program?

33:57

Elder Marcus B. Nash: Well, the first thing I’d say — and I mean this in the gentleness and kindness of terms — it’s not a program. Love, share and invite are principles. This is the beauty of it. It’s not a program. 

We love God with all of our heart, mind, and strength, all of our soul. And we love our neighbor as ourselves. And there is a synergy between those two glorious commandments. So, with that love, that impels us — our love of God impels us to love our neighbor, because they are likewise children of the God we love so much. 

The next logical, just natural, — that’s the better word — the natural thing to do then is we share. “Freely ye have received, freely give” (Matthew 10:8). And we have received something that brings light and meaning into our lives. Share it. Now, does that mean we have to have a sit-down — here, let me sit down, I would tell you about the Church — That could happen if you feel to do that, but just live your life, be you, and share your life. Don’t put in a candlestick under a covering. Hold it up. Just share your life, invite people to come help you teach your Primary class or have someone over to dinner and you have family prayer before you eat dinner. Just share your life. And people are curious about us. They see the good. It’s in the countenance, and they’re intrigued by it, And sometimes we can push them away if we push them. So let’s just share our lives with them. 

And then, as the Spirit prompts, we invite them. We share, we invite them — to come and have that dinner with us or to come listen to our child speak and sacrament meeting, or we invite them to come to an activity or whatever it may be. Or, we have something we’re working on and we need some help, we say “Come and help.” You’ve heard Elder (Dieter F.) Uchtdorf teach this. And then, of course, it’ll move into “Come along, come and be a part,” and it’s a very natural, normal thing. And I think our members, all of us, are learning this, and that we’re seeing that missionary work is just being you as a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Scott Taylor: Dave, what do you say about — or maybe even say to — missionaries who have seen a change in their assignment, whether it’s been reassigned after returning home, or receiving calls where they’re not able to go to their original assignment because of limitations, restrictions, things like that?

36:29

David Weidman: The first thing I’d say is thank you, and I’m proud of you, and I love you, and I know the Lord loves you. These young men and women that are out there now, they are true pioneers. In my mind, they are doing what they’re doing today because of what they did in the premortal existence. They were valiant, strong, noble, they had faith in the Savior Jesus Christ, and they’re out there today in their missions during this period of time because of who they were before and doing what God is asking them to do right now, because He knows they can do it. 

The second thing I say to them is that in the call letter, you were called to teach the gospel of Jesus Christ, you were called to be his emissary, and you were assigned, as Elder Bednar says again so well, you were assigned to a specific mission. Those assignments can change. They should know that the change in assignment is not made in an arbitrary way or capricious way, these are made by Apostles of the Lord, and they’re made under the same keys that the original assignments were made. So, they’re serving where they’re serving because an Apostle of the Lord has assigned them to serve in that area, and they’re entitled to the same degree of revelation. They’re entitled to the blessings of the flow from it. They’re entitled to all that God has for those who, in an assignment, labor with all their might, mind and strength. 

And the third thing that I’d say is, as they’re out there laboring, continue to teach us what God has for us today. Some of the best ideas come from the field, some of the best ideas come from missionaries that are out there, because they feel inspired and move out in their work. They’re teaching us how to do missionary work in this environment.

38:16

Scott Taylor: Sarah Jane Weaver, as she concludes every podcast, always asks the same question, or at least the question that starts the same: “What do you know now?” What do you know now about missionary work, post-pandemic, the changes, the applications, the learning, the perspectives that have been gained and gleaned and refined during this pandemic period?

As I answer that question, I think of three words — and they really have been defined with examples here in our discussion today. One is mobility. Can you imagine trying to do this with large groups, tens of thousands of missionaries coming in and going, changing, reassigning, re-enlisting over state and international borders?

The second one is flexibility. You have to be able to be flexible to change, and not say, “That’s not how we did missionary work before, it’s not going to work. … What do you mean, stay in our apartments? I have to be out on the street. … What do you mean, teach through a smartphone? We’ve got to do it in person for the power of the Spirit.”

And the third one is sustainability, and that is with the changes and the enhancements and the improvements that have taken place and the new ideas and the revelation, the missionary work is sustained, despite a pandemic.

Dave, what do you know now?

39:43

David Weidman: So, I’ll break it into three things as well, Scott. The first is seers. I know now, more than I’ve ever known before, that our Church is led by prophets, seers and revelators —15 who view into the future and have a sense of the future, sometimes a clear sense of the future. But their seership, their view into the future for the last 18 months has led us through this period of time, to a new future.

Second, revelation. The phrase I said earlier, “Revelation is scattered among us.” It’s out, with over 50,000 missionaries today. Revelation is out there. Revelation to do things in ways that we haven’t done them before. Revelation to gather scattered Israel in better ways than we’ve done before. More effective ways, more efficient ways. Communities and apartment complexes that we haven’t been in before. That revelation is coming to individual missionaries. 

And the last thing is, I know the Savior’s in this work. I always knew it, I knew it as a missionary, I knew it as mission president, and I knew it as my children served missions. This is His work. We’re bringing two fish and five loaves and we’re placing all that we have in the hands of the Savior, and He’s feeding the masses. He’s the One that’s doing this work. That’s what I know.

Missionaries listen to Elder Ronald A. Rasband of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles prior to a missionary broadcast at the Joseph Smith Memorial Building in Salt Lake City. The devotional was released on June 4, 2020.
Missionaries listen to Elder Ronald A. Rasband of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles prior to a missionary broadcast at the Joseph Smith Memorial Building in Salt Lake City. The devotional was released on June 4, 2020. Credit: Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Scott Taylor: Thank you. Elder Nash?

41:10

Elder Marcus B. Nash: I love what you both have said, and as I contemplate that question, the first thing I would say is that I know — I’ve known this before, I’ve always had a feeling about the young people in the Church — but I know that they’re up to the task, that this generation that is rising, they were sent to this earth at this time, not by coincidence, but by design.

A scripture came to mind just a couple of minutes ago. In section 138 — and speaking of some of the giants of the Restoration, there’s this interesting verse in section 138 verse 56. It says, “Even before they were born, they, with many others, received their first lessons in the world of spirits, and were prepared to come forth in the due time of the Lord to labor in the vineyard, for the salvation of the souls of men.”

So, I believe we have a generation that has been prepared from, even before they came to this earth, and they are needed. I cannot tell you how much they are needed. I’ll make another statement about them, and that is President Nelson, where he says, “You were sent to earth at this precise time, the most crucial time in the history of the world, to help gather Israel. There’s nothing happening on this earth right now that is more important than that, there’s nothing of greater consequence, absolutely nothing. This gathering should mean everything to you. This is .. ” — he italicized that word  — “ …  This is the mission for which you were sent to earth.”

I pulled aside some missionaries a while ago that I saw, a couple of sister missionaries, and I said, “Do you realize you’re pioneers?” You heard Dave use that word. I said, “Do you know what a pioneer is? A pioneer is someone who goes the way before, doesn’t wait for someone else to move the path and pave the road. A pioneer is someone who goes the way before so that others may follow.” And I told these two wonderful sister missionaries full of light. I said, “You realize that you are pioneers, you are showing us the way before. We would not be receiving the flood of revelation that is flowing right now if you had not decided to be missionaries. If you put it on pause, then we’d be pausing our learning, and we’re learning so much because of you.”

So, again, a big expression of love and respect, and a sense of urgency to our rising generation, they are needed, and they came to this earth for this purpose. So I’ve learned that. 

And another thing, and I will conclude with this: The Lord is in this work. He’s directing it. He directs down to the minutest details. He directs the calls. He directs the assignments. He directs us as we go about his work. We’re in the middle of this flow of revelation right now, and He is directing it. He’s not off in some far corner of the universe, no. He’s present, and He is fully engaged and helping prepare the world for His Second Coming. And, as missionaries, we get to be on the front lines of that preparation, and He is in earnest engaged in it. He’s leading it, through prophets and apostles, and through a senior and a junior companion, as we all align and follow Him. 

I want all listeners to know that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the Lord’s Church. It’s true and it’s living. It has tremendous purpose. I know that Joseph Smith was and is a Prophet of God — I say that because I know it. I know the Book of Mormon is the book of books — missionaries are learning ever better how to use that great sickle, as it were, for the harvest. I know that President Nelson is a living prophet. We are so blessed to be led by a prophet, and by prophets working in unity. And I know that we have a loving Father in Heaven, I’ve been all over this globe, I’ve been all over the world, and as I go about and I look into people’s eyes, they are my brothers and they are my sisters, beloved of our Father. 

And I conclude by sharing my witnesses of Jesus the Christ. I know He lives. I know Him. He’s good, kind, magnificent and patient; and as we’re open to the guidance He wants to give us, He’ll give it to us as fast as we’re able to receive it. And I share that in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

Sarah Jane Weaver: You have been listening to the Church News podcast. I’m your host, Church News Editor Sarah Jane Weaver. I hope you have learned something today about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints by peering with me through the Church News window. Please remember to subscribe to this podcast. And if you enjoyed the messages we shared today, please make sure you share the podcast with others. Thanks to our guests, to my producer, KellieAnn Halvorsen, and others who make this podcast possible. Join us every week for a new episode. Find us on your favorite podcasting channel or with other news and updates about the Church on thechurchnews.com.