Sunday, June 22, 2008

Sharing the Gospel

A few days ago, Prof. Osler asked me to write about my training to become a missionary. He noted how difficult it is to talk to others about faith and religion. So I thought I'd oblige him. I'll talk about my training, but because so few will actually be full-time missionaries for any length of time, I'll address sharing the Gospel with others when you're not a full-time missionary.

The Missionary Training Center (The MTC)



Worthy, single young men in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are eligible to serve full-time, two-year missions when they are 19 to 26 years old. Worthy, single women in the Church can serve full-time, eighteen-month missions at any time after they turn 21.
Before going to their respect field of service, all missionaries go to one of seventeen missionary training centers throughout the world. If they are learning a foreign language, they will spend two to three months, depending on the difficulty of the language, in the MTC. If they will not be learning a new language, they will spend three weeks in the MTC.
Prior to serving in the Ecuador, Quito Mission, I entered the Provo, Utah MTC. And after I served my mission, I trained missionaries at the MTC for eighteen months while I attended BYU. For a few months, I was even in the same group of teachers as my fellow Baylor Law School Alumnus, David Corbett.
Life in the MTC is unlike anything. The first few days seem to last forever. Missionaries spend eight to twelve hours a day in classes. There are breaks for meals, and five days a week, they get to go to gym.
In class, missionaries learn the fundamentals of the foreign language they are studying, if they are learning one. Other classes focus on Gospel Doctrine. And others focus on proselytizing and teaching techniques. The size of each class varies from as few as five or six missionaries to a few thousand! But most of the classes are with very small groups.
Instructors in the MTC use various techniques to teach, but they each do their best to love the missionaries into learning. (When I got to Baylor Law, it was a shock when several of the instructors tried to intimidate me into learning. Frankly, I prefer the methods used by MTC instructors.)
Looking back, we spent little time on how to handle the first contact we make with people to invite them to hear our message about the restored Gospel. And most of that time was spent on how to knock on someone's door, introduce ourselves, tell them briefly about our message, and ask to share more of it with them.
Life in Ecuador


After I left the MTC, I still felt unsure about how to share the Gospel message to the people of Ecuador. And most of what I learned about how to actually be a missionary came from my first two companions, Elder Quitian and Elder Rekoutis ("Elder" is the title given to male missionaries).

Elder Quitian taught me the service opens doors. During our lessons with those interested in our message, he would help families shuck corn or would remove corn from the cob. We helped a family harvest wheat using sickles and carrying the sheaves from the field to the family's home for threshing. It was obvious that Elder Quitian loved the people we served, and I could tell they knew it.

Elder Rekoutis taught me to enjoy the time I spent with those I served. He loved talking to people and getting to know them. He continued the example of service Elder Quitian had given me as we dug wells and cleaned streets. And he taught me to work hard, even when things aren't going well.

You see, the key to sharing the Gospel is Love, and we show how much we love people as we serve them and show genuine concern for them.

Later on my mission, I learned to open my mouth and talk to anyone who would listen. I realized that saying hello and making eye contact was enough to stop most people. Of course, it probably helped that I was a white guy dressed in a suit with a black name tag and speaking Spanish.

I spoke with hundreds of people on the streets and buses of Otavalo, Quito, and Cayambe, and I realized it didn't matter what I said as long as I opened my mouth and gave people to opportunity to listen to my message. And many of them invited me into their homes, where I was able to teach them about Jesus Christ, the restoration of His Church through the Prophet Joseph Smith, and the Book of Mormon.

I loved my mission, and I still dream about being in Ecuador.

Sharing the Gospel when You're Not a Full-time Missionary

Because most of us aren't full-time missionaries, we aren't going to be walking the streets and knocking on doors offering to share the Gospel message with any who will listen. But what we don't realize is that we have more opportunities to share our convictions with our family, friends, and associates.

The most important attribute we need when we share the Gospel is Love. It's natural for us to love our families and friends. And if we're filled with Christian love, something Mormon's call Charity, we'll even love those whom we meet for the first time.

The next most important thing is that we need to love people no matter what, regardless of whether or not they accept our message.

I've also learned that some of the most powerful sermons are taught without anyone saying anything. Christ taught us to let our lights shine so that people will believe in Him and glorify God. Matthew 5:16. People watch us closer than we recognize, and when they observe our service and joy, they'll want to know why we are how we are. And they'll ask.

And we need to talk to people. We can talk about anything, and as we create a bond of friendship with others, it's so easy to talk about the deep things, our hopes, our fears, our deepest desires, our heartaches, and the things that give us hope and comfort and peace. That's when we can share with perfect sincerity what our beliefs have have done for us.

Finally, we need to be bold. There's no reason to hide our beliefs out of fear that we'll damage our friendship if we talk about religion. At Baylor, I had many wonderful opportunities to share my beliefs with my fellow students, friends, and even a few professors. None of them accepted my beliefs and became Mormons, but all of them are still my friends. And what's more, my friendship with them was actually strengthened because I was willing to share what I consider my greatest possessions: my love for Jesus Christ and my conviction that He has restored the fulness of His Gospel through living prophets.

To read more about how to share the Gospel, I suggest you read the following talks:

"Sharing the Gospel," Dallin H. Oaks.

"Sharing the Gospel," Robert C. Oaks.

"Witnesses Unto Me," Jeffrey R. Holland.

To invite missionaries from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to visit you in your home, click here.

To read more about my experiences in Ecuador, go to "The Dance," and "My Andean Home."

3 comments:

LDS News Source said...

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Prof. Osler said...

Craig--

Thanks for this great post. It is exactly what I was looking for.

This past month I was on a layover in DFW airport, and saw an LDS missionary sitting alone eating lunch. I went and sat with him and asked about his mission (this, believe me, is not like me-- I'm basically a shy person in that setting). Anyways, he seemed very happy for the company and appreciated the fact that I knew so much about his faith (largely from you). We had a great talk, and it was a high point of my day.

Thanks for what you have taught me-- it has already helped me to live a fuller life.

Craig said...

Prof. Osler,

I bet that Elder was pleasantly surprised. It was a very rare thing for someone other than a Mormon to approach me and to have something GOOD to say to me. Usually it was to tell me I was a child of Satan or that I was going to hell.

You've helped me so much in so many ways, and I'm glad I've been able to help you in some way, however little.