Other working titles:
1. Flooding the Earth with the Book of Mormon Musical
2. And Now a Word from Someone Else’s Sponsors
When I was a missionary 35 years ago, we were excited that President Kimball could announce reaching 30,000 missionaries. We were also excited to be baptizing 250,000 or more people a year. In fact, we had a couple years that reached 300,000 new converts.
Now in 2014, we are excited to say we now have over 85,000 missionaries – almost 3 times when I was a missionary! Not only that but we are now baptizing an astonishing….250,000 new converts per year?
Doesn’t it seem that we should be baptizing 3 times the number we were doing in 1979? Why aren’t we baptizing 750,000 new people a year, or even 500,000? Why can’t we even get back up to the 300,000 converts we once were doing?
The reality is, in many locations of the world, the world is saturated with the Mormon message. Or rather, A Mormon message. Especially in North America and Europe, people have heard of Mormons. They all know we ride around on bikes, wearing white shirts and ties. They know we all have 10 wives. They know Mormons are non-Christians, who worship a guy named John Smith, or something like that. They also know that it is all based on a Broadway musical by the same name.
We live in a comfortable world, where people are satisfied with their safe, partial knowledge of what goes on around them. We have sanitized napkins, sanitized diapers, sanitized food and sanitized wars. We prefer to just have enough perceived knowledge on things that we are comfortable fitting them as is into our little pink-colored sunglasses’ world.
People are not joining the Mormon Church because 1. they do not really know us, 2. they are satisfied with their current lives, and 3. they do not want to know anything that will disrupt their comfort.
In Alma 17-22, we read the story of the great missionary adventure of the sons of Mosiah among the Lamanites. Here we see two major efforts occur. In one effort, Aaron and most of his brothers go forth preaching boldly the gospel of Christ. However, they go among a people that are comfortable with their lives and the understanding they already have regarding Nephites and their religion. As it is, they have had many Nephite dissidents dwell among them for years, telling them all about the crazy and wicked things those Nephite Christians were doing! The Lamanites that dwelt in Midian and other locations were wise to cast Aaron and his brothers into jail, because they obviously were menaces to society.
Meanwhile, Aaron’s brother, Ammon, went into the land of Ishmael with a different approach. He did not begin by boldly preaching the gospel. First, he put himself in a position to assess the situation around him. He offered to be the servant of the king, where he would be in the center of events, and could determine the needs of the king and others.
It was while he was on assignment with other of the king’s servants tending flocks that a crisis occurred that allowed him to show others that the gospel has solutions. When the flocks were scattered by the king’s enemies, Ammon prayed and asked the Lord to guide him in helping the other servants, who were paralyzed with fear, because they knew they would be slain by the king.
Ammon showed forth the power of God. How else could one man fight off a group of thugs? In doing so, the king’s servants were so astounded, they immediately reported the miracle to the king on their return. The king was astounded, because someone solved a big problem for him that obviously had been occurring for years. And yet, Ammon was not eagerly waiting in the room to tell the king about the Church and gospel! No, he was still serving the king, helping him with another need. Only when their hearts were ready to hear, did Ammon open his mouth and teach them.
So eagerly did the king and servants accept the message that the king was overwhelmed and lay in a coma for several days. Now, the queen and others had a crisis – the apparent death of the king! But Ammon told them that the Lord had a solution for them as well, and the king would arise on the morrow. This pattern continues after the king arises, and solutions are provided for each crisis that occurs.
After being rescued from prison, Aaron and the other brothers learned from Ammon the pattern of success. Before opening your mouth, find out what needs the people actually have first and use the gospel power to help solve those problems. In Alma 22, Aaron goes the the chief king of the Lamanites, who has already been impressed by Ammon’s love for his son. Aaron offers to be the chief king’s servant, which would allow him to seek opportunities to serve and bless. However, Ammon already prepared the heart of the king, and he was ready to hear the words of Aaron.
Praying for Catastrophes
The Book of Mormon teaches the Pride Cycle. When people are humble, they become righteous and seek God. Once converted, the Lord blesses them and many invariably become comfortable in wealth and life, forgetting God. In their riches, they fall again into sin, until the Lord chastises them anew.
In Helaman 11, the people fell into pride and wealth, which led to wars and destruction. Knowing the path of destruction they were going down, Nephi prayed the Lord would send a famine to chasten the people. After months of famine, we learn the most wicked people passed away and the remainder humbled themselves and called upon the prophet Nephi to pray the Lord end the famine. Nephi prayed, the famine ended, and many joined the Church in that day.
There is a time when people must be pushed off their cloud, so they can learn to depend upon God. If they will not hear the words of the prophets, apostles and missionaries, then the Lord will use a louder voice:
And also cometh the testimony of the voice of thunderings, and the voice of lightnings, and the voice of tempests, and the voice of the waves of the sea heaving themselves beyond their bounds. (D&C 88:88-90)
The destructions come as a way to bring people to repentance. God prefers to bless his children, but knows that their eternal salvation is the most important thing of all. It is better to cause people to repent, because they fear, than to lose them to the subtleties, riches and enticements of Satan.
Are we praying for the wrong things in missionary work?
How often are we encouraged to pray for “missionary experiences” in our lives, only to have them appear, but not lead to anyone being converted? Is it because we lack faith? Is it because we aren’t trying hard enough? Or is it because we are trying to do the work all ourselves?
At the beginning of their mission, the sons of Mosiah prayed and fasted on such things.
And it came to pass that they journeyed many days in the wilderness, and they fasted much and prayed much that the Lord would grant unto them a portion of his Spirit to go with them, and abide with them, that they might be an instrument in the hands of God to bring, if it were possible, their brethren, the Lamanites, to the knowledge of the truth, to the knowledge of the baseness of the traditions of their fathers, which were not correct.
And it came to pass that the Lord did visit them with his Spirit, and said unto them: Be comforted. And they were comforted.
And the Lord said unto them also: Go forth among the Lamanites, thy brethren, and establish my word; yet ye shall be patient in long-suffering and afflictions, that ye may show forth good examples unto them in me, and I will make an instrument of thee in my hands unto the salvation of many souls. (Alma 17:9-11)
Notice that the Lamanites did know things about the Nephites and their religion, but it was based upon “false traditions”. They would have to replace the false teachings and beliefs with the truth, just as today we must replace the Book of Mormon Musical version of Mormonism with the original Book of Mormon version of Mormonism. The Lord tells them to be a patient example “unto them in me” and only then could they be successful instruments.
We cannot convert anyone. For some reason, we keep trying to do so. Just because we are excited about our own testimonies of the gospel, does not mean that others will immediately have that same excitement. Most will not. We must prepare them to recognize that great need all people have down deep inside for the Lord and his gospel.
Sometimes it might require us to ask the Lord to send a famine into a person’s life, so that they have a need that the gospel of Christ can heal. On my mission, I knew of two elders who taught the gospel to a family. The family recognized that it was true, however they were comfortable with their lives and said they did not want to join the Church. The elders prayed the Lord would work with them, so that they would see the true need they have for the gospel. Over the next couple weeks, the man lost his job, family members got sick, they had a house fire, and the dog died. The family sought out the missionaries, and found great joy on the day of their baptism.
There are stories of those who have prayed that angels would help their friends, families and investigators to hear and accept the gospel message. I know of two elders who taught a young woman, who had her toes on the edge of conversion, but would not commit. She said that she lost her job and was too busy looking for work. The elders asked the Lord to send angels to help her find a job, so she could concentrate again on the discussions. They saw her a couple days later, and she said she found a job. As she walked by a beauty shop, she said she felt invisible hands push her inside the building. As she was being pushed inside, she saw a help wanted sign. She asked about the job, and was instantly hired.
This asking the Lord to send angels, is actually a part of the priesthood power. One of the keys of the Aaronic priesthood is the key of the “ministry of angels”. As members of the Church, who have received the covenants and promises of baptism and other ordinances, we have the right to righteously pray for angelic assistance in bringing to pass the work of God. I am certain that it was an angel that protected Ammon from the slings, clubs and swords of the thugs he slew and disarmed (literally).
The secret to breaking the 250,000 conversions per year barrier is not to throw more money or missionaries at the problem (although both can be helpful). It is for the members to serve those around them, fasting and praying continually that the Lord will use them as instruments of service and miracles in His hands. As friends and others have crises in their lives, and Latter-day Saints rush in to save the day using the power of God, then those individuals will see just how much they need the gospel in their lives.
I have no doubt that when the fierce day of testimonies of thunder, lightning, and earthquakes occur, millions will flock to the safety of Zion and the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. As members, we must be prepared to help God show forth his great power in their time of need, and when they are ready, to preach to them the words of life in Christ.