In the 2018 Area Plan all of us are invited to help better prepare the rising generation to successfully serve full time missions. It is our desire that every worthy and able young man serve a faithful mission and that many of our young women also choose to serve. We also hope many more older members will begin preparing for the time when they can serve senior missions. Especially as we help the rising generation prepare for missionary service let us remember the following principles.
1. The importance of GRATITUDE:
Recently Sister Palmer and I met with all the missionaries serving throughout Madagascar. It was a time of rejoicing as they were returning to a land and a people they love after an extended absence. In November 2017 the missionaries were evacuated from Madagascar after a severe outbreak of the bubonic and pneumonic plague, so we were meeting them as they had just begun to return. These wonderful missionaries felt such gratitude to once again be serving where they were originally assigned and among members who had valiantly continued the missionary work without them. They were also grateful to have been able to continue to serve while assigned to other missions. These missionaries understand in a very real way what a privilege and blessing it is to be a full-time missionary.
Why is gratitude so important? When missionaries return home full of gratitude for the privilege of being a missionary they will recognize that thanks to all the resources of the Church (including mission presidents who have left home and employment to guide and teach them) they have learned how to set goals, work hard and take personal responsibility for their spiritual and temporal well-being. If they are humble and grateful, they will never come home with the false idea that now the Church owes them anything. And as they serve with all their might, mind and strength they will come to learn the simple truth for the rest of their lives that as they lose themselves in serving others they will find themselves. They, like King Benjamin, will know that no matter how much they serve Him they will always be in the Lord’s debt. (Mosiah 2:20-22,34).
2. The importance of SACRIFICE:
All over the world we have missionaries, young and old, who make great personal sacrifices to serve the Lord. This has always been the case in the history of the Church. In their desperate poverty, and in the midst of a time of terrible persecution, the early members of the Quorum of the Twelve were commanded to leave their wives and children at home and depart from Far West, Missouri to missions in the British Isles and other far-flung parts of the world. As a result of this enormous personal sacrifice, the faith of these early leaders was surely strengthened, and a foundation was laid that allowed the Church to begin to prosper as converts from Europe then began joining Zion. (D&C 112)
Our missionaries today are also asked to make significant and meaningful personal sacrifices by saving funds towards the cost of their missions, leaving behind family and all other personal affairs and living a consecrated life “with an eye single to the glory of God” for eighteen to twenty-four months.
To ensure fairness across the variety of missions, young missionaries and their families throughout the world are asked to contribute a fixed cost equivalent to US$400 per month towards the cost of a mission (including housing and a modest allowance for food and essential living expenses). Where a missionary and his family have meaningfully sacrificed and done all in their power to contribute towards this cost, if there is still a shortfall, the bishop will encourage the ward and quorums to assist and then may also request assistance from funds contributed by other members to the general missionary fund.
In a recent meeting with priesthood leaders in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, Elder David A. Bednar was asked by a bishop what sacrifice was needed by prospective missionaries. His inspired response was: “These young men and young women should be prepared in such a way that they will feel gratitude all their lives for the privilege and opportunity given them by the Church to serve a mission. They should sacrifice enough that this is the result. There is not a fixed amount and every situation is different. That is why you bishops are given the gift of discernment.”
I recently met a young missionary who is a great example of the sacrifice and gratitude Elder Bednar describes. Elder Rabemananjaina is from the town of Toamasina in Madagascar and is a very recent convert who was the only one to join the Church in his family. After his conversion, he desired to serve a mission and discussed this with his branch and district president. Although it would have been easy for the branch president to simply submit this eager young convert’s mission papers once he expressed the desire, these wise leaders taught the good young man the importance of making a meaningful personal sacrifice of time as well as money. So they agreed on a personal goal for how much he would earn before submitting his mission application. He then diligently and very willingly spent the next year working hard in various jobs and was able to save the money needed to meet the goal. Elder Rabemananjaina’s mother is not a member of the Church but is very proud of her son and knows how hard he has worked for the privilege of serving the Lord on his mission. When the mission president visited her following a devastating cyclone which severely damaged her home, he was deeply touched to see that one of her remaining prized possessions was a copy of the Area Plan proudly displayed on the wall alongside a photo of her missionary son.
This well-prepared missionary did not hesitate when his priesthood leaders told him he needed to wait and work to demonstrate meaningful sacrifice for the privilege of serving the Lord. Now he is full of enthusiasm and gratitude to be sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ in his own country.
3. The importance of CONSECRATION and INTEGRITY.
Occasionally we hear of missionaries, or the families of missionaries, who misunderstand the purposes of a mission and instead of viewing this calling as a time to 'Give and Serve', see it as a time to 'Receive and Take'. Rather than recognizing a mission as consecrated service, they mistakenly think of it more as a job and may even dishonestly use mission allowances for personal gain by purchasing unapproved items such as phones, cameras or computers or by sending money home to families. Sadly, a few even save part of their mission allowance for use after their mission. But the living allowance received by every missionary is from sacred and precious tithing funds and is only to be used as specified in the missionary handbook. How could any missionary take “the widow’s mite” for his or her own selfish use, while at the same time teaching investigators the importance of obedience? The Book of Mormon condemns any such practice in the strongest possible language: “Priestcrafts are that men preach and set themselves up for a light unto the world, that they may get gain and praise of the world; but they seek not the welfare of Zion. Behold, the Lord hath forbidden this thing...But the laborer in Zion shall labor for Zion; for if they labor for money they shall perish.” 2 Nephi 26:29
We are very thankful for many of the rising generation here in Africa who have faithfully prepared to serve the Lord as one of His missionaries. We now have nearly as many missionaries serving from the Africa Southeast Area as serving in the Area. Each of these missionaries has their own story of sacrifice and preparation. Most are humble and obedient, faithful and hard working. Many have non-member families and are recent converts but as they return home from their missions full of the fire of testimony we are confident they will continue to serve in the Church, and will marry in the temple and establish gospel centered homes.
4. The important example of PARENTS and GRANDPARENTS who also prepare to serve.
We are also thankful to see many of our faithful members preparing to serve senior missions in the temples and missions throughout the Area. With four new temples announced, or under construction in our Area, the need is great and we must no longer rely on senior couples coming from other continents. Local missionaries bring an understanding of the local cultures and languages that make them especially effective servants of the Lord. African senior missionaries serving within Africa also provide a powerful example to children and grandchildren of the importance of serving the Lord, even when it involves great sacrifice.
Elder and Sister Rakotovao are a delightful and dedicated couple who are natives of Madagascar and who cannot stop smiling while serving the Lord as senior missionaries in the city of Ansirabe, Madagascar. When they joined the Church seventeen years ago they were already married and too old to serve as young missionaries. But they are now showing the Lord their gratitude by serving their third mission as a senior couple. In 2010, they sold their land and everything in their house so they could serve as senior missionaries in the Johannesburg temple. Of this experience they recently said, “Serving in the temple is serving others. While serving others we felt like we were serving Our Lord God. It is this strong feeling in us that drives us to serve a mission again.” And so, after serving faithfully in the temple for two years they returned home and began preparing for yet another mission. Earlier this year they once again left their home in Antananarivo to serve where needed under the direction of the mission president. They are grateful to be missionaries in the Lord’s church and are an inspiration to all Latter-day Saints as they serve their third senior couple mission with great devotion and personal sacrifice.
5. The important example of RETURNED MISSIONARIES continuing to SERVE and SACRIFICE
Returned missionaries who have served successfully as consecrated missionaries come home full of faith and testimony and a powerful conversion to the gospel of Jesus Christ. They experience the “mighty change of heart” described by Alma. They then become great blessings to their families and wards as they exemplify the Lord’s teachings that “When thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren” and “Where much is given, much is required”.
Sister Dickie is a greatly loved senior sister missionary serving in the Harare Zimbabwe mission. Her experience is a story of how generations are blessed by sacrifice, gratitude and consecration in mission preparation. Fifteen years ago, while struggling to support a family, she helped financially support her son, Freeman, as he served in the Kenya, Nairobi mission. Each month her stake president, Eddie Dube would check in with her to see if she was managing ok while making monthly contributions. She would simply tell him she was grateful for the many blessings she was receiving while supporting a missionary. Her son, who had contributed what he could, also felt gratitude for the very real sacrifices made by his mother. Now many years later this returned missionary son, Freeman Dickie, serves as stake president in Beira, Mozambique. And this time it is Freeman Dickie and his brother and sister who are willingly and happily contributing the cost of their dear mother’s missionary service while she lovingly consecrates her time and effort. This is a wonderful example of how when missionaries and their families contribute in meaningful ways to their missions, they come home full of gratitude, recognizing what a privilege it is to be one of the Lord’s missionaries. Then they gladly serve in callings and willingly sacrifice by helping other family members, or contributing to the ward or general missionary fund, so others can receive the same blessings from serving a mission that they have appreciated so much.
In this way, generations of future and returning missionaries can avoid the Pride Cycle spoken of in the Book of Mormon, by replacing pride with humble service and gratitude. We could instead call this the Gratitude Cycle.
May each of us consider how we can help prepare ourselves, our children, and the young people within our wards and branches to serve successful missions. The old proverb, “It takes a village to raise a child”, could be changed to “It takes a ward or branch to prepare a missionary”. As we look to the future of the Church in Africa, its strength will not be found in the quality of its buildings but in the testimonies of its members and in our willingness to show our love and gratitude to God by humbly serving others.