Mission Prep Quotes from October 2018 General Conference

missionary work ministering to the spiritual needs of others

Deep and Lasting Conversion to Heavenly Father and the Lord Jesus Christ by Elder Quentin L. Cook

“There is so much more to this adjustment than just shortening the Sunday meetinghouse schedule. President Nelson has acknowledged with gratitude how much is being accomplished as a result of your faithfulness to previous invitations. He and the entire leadership of the Church desire to bring greater gospel joy—to parents, children, youth, singles, the elderly, new converts, and those people the missionaries are teaching—through a home-centered, Church-supported, balanced effort.”

Lift Up Your Head and Rejoice by M. Joseph Brough

“Young people, God requires hard things of you. One 14-year-old young woman participated in competitive basketball. She dreamed of playing high school basketball like her older sister. She then learned that her parents had been called to preside over a mission in Guatemala.

“Upon arrival, she discovered that a couple of her classes would be in Spanish, a language she did not yet speak. There was not a single girls’ sports team at her school. She lived on the 14th floor of a building with tight security. And to top it all off, she could not go outside alone for safety reasons.

“Her parents listened to her cry herself to sleep every night for months. This broke their hearts! They finally decided they would send her home to her grandmother for high school.

“When my wife entered our daughter’s room to tell her our decision, she saw our daughter kneeling in prayer with the Book of Mormon open on the bed. The Spirit whispered to my wife, “She will be OK,” and my wife quietly left the room. We never heard her cry herself to sleep again. With determination and the Lord’s help, she faced those three years valiantly.”

“At the conclusion of our mission, I asked my daughter if she was going to serve a full-time mission. Her answer was “No, Dad, I have already served.” I was just fine with that! But about six months later, the Spirit awoke me in the night with this thought: “I have called your daughter to serve a mission.”

“My reaction was “Heavenly Father, she has given so much.” I was quickly corrected by the Spirit and came to understand that her missionary service was required of the Lord.

“I soon took my daughter to lunch. From across the table, I said, “Ganzie, do you know why we are here?” She said, “Yes, Dad. You know I have to serve a mission. I do not want to go, but I am going.”

“Because she gave her will to Heavenly Father, she served Him with all of her heart, might, mind, and strength. She has taught her father how to do a hard thing.”

Laying the Foundation of a Great Work by Elder Steven R. Bangerter

“Our lives have been blessed by setting aside time on a regular basis to enjoy personal interviews with each of our sons. During one interview I asked our son about his desires and preparation to serve a mission. After some discussion, there was a moment of reflective silence; then he leaned forward and thoughtfully declared, “Dad, remember when I was little and we started having father’s interviews?” I said, “Yes.” “Well,” he said, “I promised you then that I would serve a mission, and you and Mom promised me that you would serve a mission when you got old.” Then there was another pause. “Are you guys having some problem that will stop you from serving—because maybe I can help?”

Truth and the Plan by President Dallin H. Oaks

“We are a missionary people. We are sometimes asked why we send missionaries to so many nations, even among Christian populations. We receive the same question about why we give many millions of dollars of humanitarian aid to persons who are not members of our Church and why we do not link this aid to our missionary efforts. We do this because we esteem all mortals as children of God—our brothers and sisters—and we want to share our spiritual and temporal abundance with everyone.”we are missionary people

Believe, Love, Do by Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf

“Just think about missionary work; the courageous, humble, and confident sharing of the gospel is a wonderful example of ministering to the spiritual needs of others, whoever they are.”

Sisters’ Participation in the Gathering of Israel by President Russell M. Nelson

“In our worldwide youth devotional last June, I spoke about a young man whose life changed when his parents exchanged his smartphone for a flip phone. This young man’s mother is a fearless woman of faith. She saw her son drifting toward choices that could prevent him from serving a mission. She took her pleadings to the temple to know how best to help her son. Then she followed through with every impression.

“She said: “I felt the Spirit guiding me to check my son’s phone at specific times to catch specific things. I don’t know how to navigate these smartphones, but the Spirit guided me through all the social media that I don’t even use! I know the Spirit helps parents who are seeking guidance to protect their children. [At first] my son was furious with me. … But after only three days, he thanked me! He could feel the difference.”

“Her son’s behavior and attitudes changed dramatically. He became more helpful at home, smiled more, and was more attentive at church. He loved serving for a time in a temple baptistry and preparing for his mission.”

The Role of the Book of Mormon in Conversion by Elder Shayne M. Bowen

“As a young missionary going to Chile, I learned a life-changing lesson about the conversion power of the Book of Mormon. Mr. Gonzalez served in a respected position in his church for many years. He had extensive religious training, including a degree in theology. He was quite proud of his biblical expertise. It was obvious to us that he was a religious scholar.

“He was well aware of the missionaries of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as they went about their work in his home city of Lima, Peru. He always wanted to meet with them so that he could school them in the Bible.

“One day, almost as a gift from heaven, so he thought, two missionaries stopped him in the street and asked if they could come to his home and share the scriptures with him. This was his dream come true! His prayers had been answered. Finally, he could set these misguided young boys straight. He told them that he would be delighted to have them come to his house and discuss the scriptures.

“He could hardly wait for his appointment. He was ready to use the Bible to disprove their beliefs. He was confident that the Bible would clearly and articulately point out the error of their ways. The appointed night came, and the missionaries knocked on the door. He was giddy. His moment had finally arrived.

“He opened the door and invited the missionaries into his home. One of the missionaries handed him a blue book and bore a sincere testimony that he knew the book contained the word of God. The second missionary added his powerful testimony of the book, testifying that it had been translated by a modern prophet of God named Joseph Smith and that it taught of Christ. The missionaries excused themselves and left his home.

“Mr. Gonzalez was so disappointed. But he opened the book, and he started to leaf through its pages. He read the first page. He read page after page after page and didn’t stop until late into the afternoon of the next day. He read the whole book and knew that it was true. He knew what he had to do. He called the missionaries, received the lessons, and gave up the life he had known to become a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”

Mission Report from Senior Missionaries after 18 months of Teaching Institute

paul and terry smith mission to texas 2018

Paul and Terry Smith visiting their son Jimmy and some of their grand children who live in the area of Texas where they were called to serve a mission in 2018.

Editor’s Note: My parents completed their senior mission last month and I wanted to give one final report. As they were beginning their mission, I posted several articles about their senior mission, written by my dad:

Editor’s Note Continued: My dad wrote weekly emails to the family during their mission. The following are excerpts from his last few letters. They should give a good flavor of the work they did for a year and a half, and additionally it contains a good testimony bearing. It has been good to visit with my parents from time to time during their mission. In fact, we saw them much more during their mission than before they were missionaries thanks to the travel flexibility given to senior missionaries. They are from Maryland, but they got called to serve in the Dallas metro area where I live with my family–miraculous. Without further adieu, here are some of the final letters from my dad. Please note that names of people they worked with have been changed.

Aug. 20, 2018

Dear Family,

Below is our weekly report.  Our mission is drawing to a close, but we feel there are several things we need to accomplish before leaving.  Among our remaining goals is for three specific individuals to be baptized.  Actually, we think all three will be baptized.  Whether or not this happens, and when it happens is out of our control.  But because we love and care for them, and because we pray for them with all our heart we are accomplishing what the Lord wants us to do.  We cannot force others to accept the gospel, but when our hearts are drawn out to those we serve with love and the commitment to help them–this is fulfilling the calling that the Lord gave us. As we recognize this and appreciate the fact that the love of God is in us and is helping us–this is what happens when we magnify our missionary callings.  Nevertheless, and as wonderful as this is, our hearts do fill with increased joy when these people we love have the courage and determination to enter into the waters of baptism.

We have some good news about Elizabeth and Isabelle.  Both of them are saying positive things about being baptized.  Mom and I visited Elizabeth in the knee rehabilitation facility on Friday, August 10th.  She has conducted a lengthy and thorough investigation of the Church.   She said she would like to be baptized, but she said she still had questions about marriage in heaven and about “sealings.”  I think we answered these questions to her satisfaction.  We hope she will schedule her baptism after her knee heals from the recent surgery.

With regard to Isabelle, the Elders told me Saturday that she now wants to be baptized, but she wants to make sure that she thoroughly understands the doctrines of the Church before she does so. I told the Elders that Brigham Young followed the same approach. We pray for Elizabeth, Isabelle and Anna to obtain the witness and to have the courage to join the Church–the blessing of receiving the sanctification of the Spirit fills my soul with love and happiness and with desires to serve God and my fellow man.  With all my heart I yearn for these sisters and for all my family to experience this same transformative blessing that comes in complying with the ordinance of baptism and receiving the Gift of the Holy Ghost.

We are starting to prepare the syllabus for our Pearl of Great Price class that will begin in a week.  I love the Pearl of Great Price.   We are looking forward to teaching two classes on this.

Saturday night we attended the wedding reception for Xander and Lillian.  They are both wonderful people.  It is a wonderful opportunity for us to participate in their celebration.  We have had about ten marriages in our YSA ward this year–this has taken 20 strong people from our ward.  We celebrate their marriages, and then try to figure out how to move forward in the YSA ward.  Fortunately, we have a bunch of new people coming into the ward.

God bless you all.  We pray for you every day. Love, Mom and Dad

August 26, 2018

Dear Family,

We have four weeks to go here in Denton, Texas and our schedule is totally full of things to do until then.  On Tuesday, we will begin to teach two classes on The Pearl of Great Price.  We are really looking forward to that–there are so many marvelous truths that are taught in that book.

The young lady Isabelle confronted an obstacle this week, which I hope she will be able to overcome–the Institute director had a sign put up that no animals were allowed in the Institute building.  The support specialist put the sign up on Friday, right after Isabelle and her dog walked out of the building, after having a missionary lesson with the Elders.  After I spoke with the Institute Director this morning (Monday), he took the sign down, although they will be barring dogs from the building in the future.

September 10, 2018

Dear Family,

We attended another wedding reception on Saturday.  I’ve counted ten weddings in our ward this year–and together they have involved many of the leaders in our ward.  Nevertheless, we have a couple of dozen new people, and the ward keeps on doing well.

The wedding this weekend was a temple wedding, but the bride’s parents were not happy about it.  The bride is an attractive, intelligent young lady, who has was president of the Institute council.  The groom is also intelligent and has a great personality. So the wedding festivities unfolded under a disappointing shadow, as the bride’s parents did not attend either the wedding or the reception.

The young lady we have written about previously, Isabelle, has decided to be baptized.  It is scheduled for tomorrow night.  Mom and I really rejoice about this.  We love Isabelle, and we have befriended her for over a year.  She has gotten over the Institute’s anti-dog policy incident that I previously mentioned.  She is intelligent and talented (a harp player), and she is very concerned about eternal things.  We had the privilege to be at the Institute building a couple of months ago when she came to talk about our relationship with God and the purpose of life.  We will always cherish that discussion.  Despite her parents’ efforts to dissuade her from having anything to do with the restored gospel of Jesus Christ, Isabelle has received spiritual witnesses that are now culminating in her baptism.  Last year she was dissatisfied with the gospel because she felt it was chauvinistic.  She has come a long way.  She understands plural marriage, and she is very impressed with the virtue, goodness, kindness and faith of the young single adults.  We rejoice at Isabelle’s progress and decision.

We had an outdoor pool party for the Institute people on Saturday night.  Even though it drizzled all night, we still had 50 people attend.  They swam and played games and ate hamburgers and hot dogs for about four hours.  We had at least two investigators, both of whom fit in very well.  We love being a part of the growing of the kingdom of God on earth.

We love you all, and we pray for you every day. Love, Mom and Dad

September 17, 2018

Dear Family,

We only have a few days left before we leave for home. We are leaving with flash and flare. At church, Sunday, Isabelle was confirmed a member of the Church. I had the honor to be in the circle confirming her. We love Isabelle, and we have prayed for her and attended her recitals, and chatted with her with some regularity for a year and a half. Her boy friend, Wyatt, confirmed her. I don’t believe she was baptized just to please Wyatt. From what I observed, she had made the decisions before that relationship developed. I do believe that Wyatt was a help, but I think the conversion to Jesus Christ and the restored gospel was genuine.

On Saturday, we visited 79-year-old Elizabeth in Decatur. We had a wonderful visit with her. She again mentioned her interest in being baptized. She wanted to talk to her bishop about whether she should do this even though there continued to be some things she did not yet understand.

On Saturday evening we visited Jimmy and Heather and their children. We have been so blessed to be able to visit with them several times during our mission. We love them and their children. We will miss them being so close, as we move back to Maryland.

Today, I taught the Institute Director’s two Institute classes. He had to attend meetings today with Church Institute leaders who were visiting from Utah. I loved teaching those classes—both lessons pertained to the Lord’s commission to Joseph Smith to proclaim the gospel to the world. In 1829, revelations confirmed that this is the thing that is greatest worth to us—to preach the gospel to the world. This type of service is uplifting and satisfying, as we teach the knowledge about the divine purpose of earth life, and as we teach about and offer the covenants of the gospel of Jesus Christ to those who will believe in Him. We are so grateful for the Gift of the Holy Ghost, which brings us peace and joy and certainty and good desires.

On Sunday, at church, the bishop asked us each to say a few words to the YSA ward, as that was to be our last Sunday. We were happy to do so. We love them, and we have devoted our time to being there to greet them with a smile, an encouraging word or a compliment. We rejoice in their successes, and we sorrow with their struggles. In just two or three minutes, I shared with them my witness that God lives, that Jesus Christ is the Savior, and that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the only church on the face of the earth that has the fullness of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Other churches have many truths and many great people. But none of them teach all of the important, fundamental truths of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

It is so sad that other good Christians do not accept The Book of Mormon. The messages about and from Jesus Christ that are conveyed in the Book of Mormon are wholesome, pure, virtuous and true. Those who want the truth will not rest until they embrace the Book of Mormon. Those who know and love the Lord Jesus Christ will eventually accept and embrace The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I know this is true.

It has been the greatest privilege and opportunity for mom and me to serve the Lord as full-time missionaries for eighteen months. We have been very impressed with all the young missionaries with whom we have labored in Denton, Texas. They are pure and dedicated and disciplined—just the way God’s servants have to be.

We love you all. Mom and Dad

Editor: Here are some other photos from their mission.

paul and terry smith mission to texas 2017

Paul and Terry Smith in the kitchen of the Institute building in Denton, Texas by the campus of the University of North Texas. Each Friday they prepared a lunch for all the Institute students.

paul and terry smith mission to texas 2017

In November of 2017, Paul and Terry’s son Jimmy was invited to speak at the Friday Forum at the Denton Institute. He spoke on what the prophets have taught about Christopher Columbus.

paul and terry smith mission to texas 2018

Paul and Terry’s grandson, Abraham Smith, performed a band concert for his middle school at the University of North Texas and they were able to attend.

Missionaries on Prescription Medications

doctor writing a prescriptionIn a continuing effort to answer the most pressing questions from readers, today I want to address the prospects and limitations and procedures of missionaries who’s health situation requires them to be on prescription medications during their mission. The Church doesn’t say a lot about this subject publicly, so I am going to pull together all the resources I can find and hopefully it all comes together and makes sense.

Disclaimer

I am not an expert on the matter of prescription medications, but due to the many questions I get from the readers on this subject, I’m going to attempt it. My hope is that this article can answer some questions on the minds of future missionaries and their parents regarding the options and limitations for those who have to take prescription drugs. And for those questions that I can’t answer right now, I’m hoping the article can spur participation from people who do know the answers in the form of comments on this page. Nothing here should be construed as professional medical advice or official counsel from a Church leader.

Burning Question: Can They Serve a Mission?

The burning question on the minds of numerous future missionaries and their parents is: will the fact that an individual is on prescription medications prevent him or her from going on a mission or limit where he or she will be able to serve? The answer, unfortunately, is that it depends on a lot of factors. The fact that the potential missionary is taking prescription drugs usually does not prevent them from going on a full-time mission, but it frequently does affect where they can serve. There are a lot of considerations you and the Church and doctors have to make on this matter, so let’s start to unpack it.

If Health Is Stabilized, Then Yes

The Church’s Missionary Preparation Student Manual has an excellent chapter on physical and mental health preparations that a missionary should make before going on a mission. The chapter starts with this important quote from former Church President Gordon B. Hinckley, who emphasized the importance of establishing good mental and physical health before serving a full-time mission:

“Missionary work is not a rite of passage in the Church. It is a call extended by the President of the Church to those who are worthy and able to accomplish it. …Good physical and mental health is vital. …There are parents who say, ‘If only we can get Johnny on a mission, then the Lord will bless him with health.’ It seems not to work out that way. Rather, whatever ailment or physical or mental shortcoming a missionary has when he comes into the field only becomes aggravated under the stress of the work. …Permit me to emphasize that we need missionaries, but they must be capable of doing the work. …There should be an eagerness and a desire to serve the Lord as His ambassadors to the world. And there must be health and strength, both physical and mental, for the work is demanding, the hours are long, and the stress can be heavy” (“Missionary Service,” First Worldwide Leadership Training Meeting, Jan. 2003, 17–18).

The manual goes on to emphasize that potential missionaries who are suffering or have suffered with mental or emotional illness (such as depression or anxiety) should prepare for a mission by seeking professional treatment and perhaps medication. But again, the implication is that if the condition can be controlled through medication, then a full-time mission is possible. Elder Richard G. Scott, former member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said:

“Missionary work is extremely demanding. If you have emotional challenges that can be stabilized to meet the rigors of a full-time mission, you can be called. It is vital that you continue to use your medication during your mission or until competent medical authority counsels otherwise. Recognize that emotional and physical challenges are alike. One needs to do all that is possible to improve the situation, then learn to live within the remaining bounds. God uses challenges that we may grow by conquering them” (in Conference Report, Oct. 2003, 45; or Ensign, Nov. 2003, 43)

In March 2007, Donald B. Doty, M.D., then Chairman of the Church Missionary Department Health Services, wrote an article for the Ensign magazine called Missionary Health Preparation.  He said that “during the course of preparing to serve, prospective missionaries may discover serious physical or emotional issues. Prospective missionaries and their parents should be completely candid in disclosing all health issues and medications on the missionary recommendation application.” Regarding chronic health issues he said:

“Headaches are a common, difficult health problem that may worsen during missionary service and that can be difficult to evaluate and treat in the field. Occasional stomach and bowel problems may also become chronic during missionary service. Heart problems and breathing problems such as asthma should be thoroughly evaluated before missionaries begin service. With proper treatment, many health problems become controllable, making missionary service possible if treatment continues throughout the mission. …Those who suffer from chronic or recurring feelings of depression, sadness, anxiety, or fear should be evaluated by a doctor or mental health counselor. Mood swings, especially when they involve temper and anger, should also be evaluated. Treatment, including counseling or medication or both, often reduces or relieves mood disorders, making missionary service possible.”

Everything I’ve read from the Church indicates that prospective missionaries that have health challenges in their life, whether physical or mental, who can get those issue under control, including with the aid of prescription medications, and have reasonable expectations to be able to do the missionary work and live the mission schedule can serve a full-time mission.

Laws Governing Prescription Drugs May Limit Where You Can Go

While people on prescription medications can serve a mission if the guidelines above are met, where they serve may be limited due to the nature of the medication, the laws governing it’s transportation, and the ability to see doctors to keep prescriptions current.  According to United States Postal Service rules, in order to send prescription medicines through the mail, you must be a registered drug manufacturer, pharmacy, medical practitioner, or other authorized dispenser. In most cases this will mean that missionaries taking prescription drugs will need to have the medications mailed to them directly by an online or mail-order pharmacy. Parents will not be able to pick up medications at their local town pharmacy and mail them to their missionary.

Laws governing the transportation of prescription medications across international border can be even more problematic. As Latter-day Saint, we strive to obey the laws of the land, therefore these legal requirements have natural implications about where a missionary can serve. In most cases that I am aware of, and please correct me if I’m wrong, when a missionary has a medical condition requiring continuous prescription medication, then he or she is generally sent to serve a mission in the country where he or she is from. They are not usually sent to a foreign country because of the difficulties getting the medications there and also I believe the Church likes to keep them in their home country in case a medical situation arises, that they are close to their home doctors.

Another legal factor in this discussion that can affect where a missionary serves is that prescriptions need to be kept valid and often times that means the doctors are required to physically see the patient periodically in order to keep the prescription up-to-date. If the medical condition is relatively straight forward, like asthma or diabetes, a physical meeting with the doctor may not be required for the duration of the mission or if it is, establishing a relationship with a local doctor in the mission is not difficult. But for more complex medical conditions, like mental and emotional health disorders, periodic physical visits are often required and establishing a relationship with a doctor in a far away place is not practical. In such cases, serving a mission close to home may be the only alternative.

Instructions to Priesthood Leaders

Local priesthood leaders are in charge of making sure every full-time missionary that leaves from their ward and stake are fully qualified to serve a mission and are medically capable of performing their duties. In 2017, the Church issued a policy that bishops and branch presidents should assess the worthiness of youth and their physical and emotional preparedness to serve a mission by periodically reviewing with them a standard set of missionary interview questions in the years before their mission. In addition to testimony and worthiness topics, these questions are designed to help priesthood leaders determine whether a prospective missionary is ready for the demands of missionary service physically, emotionally, and mentally.

Only those individuals who are capable of handling the rigors of missionary work should be recommended to serve. If prescription medications are required to help a missionary stay physically and mentally able to serve, they can still go, though the medical issues and drugs taken will need to be disclosed in the missionary application. If approved for missionary service and the youth receives a call, the mission president will work with the family to help ensure the missionary’s physical and mental health throughout the mission. Mission presidents are instructed to become familiar with the medical histories of each of the missionaries that arrive in the field including becoming aware of any chronic health problems, mental health issues, and medications they are taking.

Develop a Plan with Your Doctor

If you are a prospective missionary who takes prescription drugs and you feel capable of fulfilling a full-time mission, or if you are the parent of a youth in this situation, I encourage you to develop a plan with your doctor before you submit your application to the bishop. Do your homework and know where you can and cannot get the medications you need. Know where, geographically in the world, it will be possible to get the prescriptions needed or to have the medications mailed to you. Have a plan for who is going to call the doctor or go to the online pharmacy periodically to make sure the prescription gets renewed.

Be prepared to discuss your plan with your bishop and stake president as you are turning in your application and fully disclose the situation in your mission paperwork. Also ask your doctor to put a helpful note in the comments section of the medical forms he or she fills out for your mission. This comment section is a good place the the doctor to explain your health situation and instill confidence in your priesthood leaders, including those at Church headquarters, that though you are taking prescription drugs, the situation is under control, you will be able to continue to take them during your mission, and that you are fully capable of serving as an ambassador of the Lord in a full-time mission.

I should also warn you that if you have health conditions similar to those discussed in this article, be prepared for delays when your application gets to Church headquarters. There is a team of doctors at Church headquarters who reviews the medical portion of each mission application form. They are trained to look out for certain medical conditions and prescription medications that are often associated with missionaries who have had a hard time fulfilling and completing their missionary service. If the missionary is flagged for those health reasons, the doctors will want to be very certain you are capable of missionary service before they allow your application to proceed in the mission call process. Often times this can mean many communications between yourself, Church headquarters, your doctors, and priesthood leaders. So please be patient.

Honorably Excused and Church Service Missions

Unfortunately, some health problems can present insurmountable obstacles to serving full-time proselytizing missions. The First Presidency has stated: “There are worthy individuals who desire to serve but do not qualify for the physical, mental, or emotional challenges of a mission. We ask stake presidents and bishops to express love and appreciation to these individuals and to honorably excuse them from full-time missionary labors.” (First Presidency letter, Jan. 30, 2004) In such cases, if the youth still has a strong desire to serve, young people should seriously consider a Church service mission. Church service missions allow individuals to live at home and receive appropriate medical care while serving a mission with part-time or full-time equivalent hours in a variety of functions. Talk to your bishop  and stake president about arranging a Church service mission that would be a good fit and enjoyable.

In summary, I hope this article has been helpful. As I began to write this, I didn’t think I would find much official information from the Church, but in the end I found quite a bit. If you have additional questions or if you have had experiences related to this topic, please use the comments section below. The road to going on a full-time mission for youth on prescription medications can be bumpy, but for many of them, it will result in serving an honorable full-time mission, which is an experience unlike any other and one well worth the struggle. Both missionaries and the people they teach are recipients of the wonderful blessings of missionary work such as growth in faith and testimony of the gospel of Jesus Christ. I hope and pray that as many as possible will have that opportunity.

How to Respond to Accusations of Racism in The Book of Mormon

The Book of Mormon illustrated stories for children -- the page where the Lamanites become a dark-skinned people.I recently heard of a confrontation a man had with two missionaries where he accused them and their church, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, of being racist. As evidence, the man pointed to a verse in The Book of Mormon, 2 Nephi 5:21, which reads:

“And he had caused the cursing to come upon them, yea, even a sore cursing, because of their iniquity. For behold, they had hardened their hearts against him, that they had become like unto a flint; wherefore, as they were white, and exceedingly fair and delightsome, that they might not be enticing unto my people the Lord God did cause a skin of blackness to come upon them.”

The man felt that this verse is proof that The Book of Mormon and its followers are racist against people with black skin. One of the missionaries told the man that he was taking the verse out of context and reiterated that the Church is not racist, that their message, Christ’s message, is one of love for all people, regardless of race. It was clear, however, that the young missionaries did not know how to respond to the particulars of race and skin color in The Book of Mormon. Of course, this is not an easy topic to discuss, and I think this would have been a difficult situation even for the most prepared missionary. The story made me realize that this is a topic many missionaries may face and one that certainly should be discussed on a mission preparation website so missionaries can be as prepared as possible to respond.

How to Respond? Always with the Spirit of God

How you choose to respond to the accusation of racism in The Book of Mormon will depend on a lot of factors, the most important of which should be the promptings of the Holy Ghost to you in the moment. The Spirit of God is the true teacher and testifier, so for a missionary to be effective he or she must have the Spirit. There are several things you need to do to have the Holy Spirit with you as a missionary:

  • Study the Scriptures: Studying the words of God found in the holy scriptures regularly and thoroughly will bring the Spirit of God into your life more fully and help prepare you for the discussions you will have with those learning about the Church. D&C 84:85 says, “Neither take ye thought beforehand what ye shall say; but treasure up in your minds continually the words of life, and it shall be given you in the very hour that portion that shall be meted unto every man.”
  • Obey the Mission Rules: The First Presidency states in the Missionary Handbook that living those rules will help missionaries have the Spirit of God with them. “Follow these standards. They will help you magnify your calling and protect you physically and spiritually. Use this handbook regularly. Strive to understand and live the principles and standards taught in it. Learn and live the higher law as taught by Jesus Christ (see Matthew 5; 3 Nephi 12). Strive to enjoy the companionship of the Holy Ghost, and follow His direction in living these principles and standards.”
  • Don’t Argue: Verbal battles and Bible bashing are not effective teaching methods. Such behavior is unbecoming of a missionary because anger and contention drive away the Spirit of God. 3 Nephi 11:29 says, “For verily, verily I say unto you, he that hath the spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the devil, who is the father of contention, and he stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger, one with another.”

When you do all within your power to have the companionship of the Holy Spirit, you will be in the best position to respond to this question about The Book of Mormon, and all other questions you’ll need to respond to on your mission. But beyond having done your spiritual preparation, I recommend that you study the issue of race in The Book of Mormon specifically in order to be able to speak intelligently on the subject, should it come up. One of the primary drivers of how you will respond to an accusation of racism in The Book of Mormon could hinge on whether you interpret the dark or black skin of the Lamanites as literal or figurative, physical or spiritual.

Is the Lamanite Dark / Black Skin Literal or Figurative?

A large number, perhaps the majority, of Latter-day Saints take the black or dark skin of the Lamanites mentioned in The Book of Mormon to be literally the physical skin pigmentation. It should be noted, however, that there is a growing body of Saints, myself included, who feel the dark or black skin is a spiritual metaphor not to be taken literally. The purpose of this article isn’t to convince you one way or the other regarding that topic, but in responding to the question of racism in The Book of Mormon, it is important to know that those two perspectives present two alternative ways of addressing the issue. If you want more detail on why I think the Lamanite dark or black skin is figurative and spiritual, then read this article on my personal website.

Literalists: The Skin is a Sign and Not the Curse Itself

Many Church leaders and manuals teach that the dark skin of the Lamanites was the sign of the curse and not the curse itself. The following quote is from Joseph Fielding Smith, 10th President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from 1970 to 1972. It is quoted in the Book of Mormon Student Manual for Institute.

“The dark skin was placed upon the Lamanites so that they could be distinguished from the Nephites and to keep the two peoples from mixing. The dark skin was the sign of the curse [not the curse itself]. The curse was the withdrawal of the Spirit of the Lord. …The dark skin of those who have come into the Church is no longer to be considered a sign of the curse. … These converts are delightsome and have the Spirit of the Lord” (Answers to Gospel Questions, comp. Joseph Fielding Smith Jr., 5 vols. [1957–66], 3:122–23).

After establishing that the changed skin color is not the curse, the Institute Manual chapter goes on to explain what the curse is–being “cut off from the presence of the Lord” (2 Nephi 5:20). The curse is caused, according to verse 21, “because of their iniquity” and “hardened … hearts.” Throughout the history of the earth, the wicked choices of men and women has always resulted in this curse of being cut off from the presence of the God.

Literalists: The Book of Mormon Teaches Racial Harmony

Ahmad Corbitt was serving as president of the Dominican Republic Santo Domingo East Mission of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints a few years ago when he wrote an article titled Revelations in the Summer of 1978 — A Personal Essay on Race and the Priesthood. Brother Corbitt appears to take the skin color references about the Lamanites literal in his four part essay and points out that The Book of Mormon contains an excellent example of a biracial nation living together in harmony.

“My friends were surprised when I told them that the Book of Mormon is, in my view, the most racially and ethnically unifying book on the earth. In response to their surprise, I shared the following overview of the Book of Mormon as it relates to the unity and harmony of the human family, irrespective of race and ethnicity. …It is miraculous that a book published in 19th-century America could include a record of a ‘fair’-skinned nation and a nation with a ‘skin of blackness’ reaching pure equality and unity. That it could rise in ever-increasing relevance to become, in my view, the most racially unifying book of scripture in the world compels both mind and soul to recognize the hand of God in its emergence.”

As evidence that The Book of Mormon is racially unifying, Brother Corbitt cites these scripture verses from it:

  • “He inviteth them all to come unto him and partake of his goodness; and he denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; and he remembereth the heathen; and all are alike unto God, both Jew and Gentile.” 2 Nephi 26:33
  • Throughout The Book of Mormon, converted Nephites referred to Lamanites as their “brethren,” and converted Lamanites used the same term when they spoke of the Nephites. See, for example, Jacob 2:35; Jarom 1:2; Mosiah 22:3; Helaman 15:1, 3–4.
  • “And it came to pass that there was no contention in the land, because of the love of God which did dwell in the hearts of the people. And there were no envyings, nor strifes, nor tumults, nor whoredoms, nor lyings, nor murders, nor any manner of lasciviousness; and surely there could not be a happier people among all the people who had been created by the hand of God. There were no robbers, nor murderers, neither were there Lamanites, nor any manner of -ites; but they were in one, the children of Christ, and heirs to the kingdom of God. And how blessed were they!” 4 Nephi 1:15–18.
  • Mormon said on the title page that the book was written and compiled for “the convincing of the Jew and Gentile that Jesus is the Christ, the Eternal God, manifesting himself unto all nations.” The reference to “Jew and Gentile” encompasses the entire world, including all races and ethnic groups.

For those of you who interpret the dark skin of the Lamanites to be literal, these quotes by President Smith and Brother Corbitt make excellent responses to the accusation of racism in The Book of Mormon and clearly show that that is not the case.

Figurativists: It’s A Spiritual Metaphor

For those who believe that the references to dark or black skin are figurative, the response to the accusation of racism in The Book of Mormon is simpler in some ways and more difficult in other ways. Simply put, it’s not racism because The Book of Mormon is not talking about literal skin pigmentation but rather it is speaking of spiritual darkness. This explanation, however, can be a difficult thing for many people to accept.

As far as I can tell, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has no official position on whether or not the dark skin of the Lamanites is to be understood as literal or if it is a spiritual metaphor. I have searched LDS.org long and hard and there is almost no discussion of the subject. In fact, all I could find on LDS.org on this topic is one web page, the lesson in Institute manual with the quote from President Smith as referenced above, and even that doesn’t come out and state a position. Rather it appears to be simply going on the assumption that the dark skin is literal.

Again, my purpose here isn’t to convince anyone one way or the other about the literalness or figurativeness of dark skin. I think both are valid points of view. And if the Church ever publishes an official interpretation, I’ll be happy to get behind it. Until then, given that the figurative interpretation is more rare, I do want to provide a couple of pieces of evidence so people don’t think I’ve gone rogue.

Dark and Black Mean Gloomy, Impure, and Wicked

If you go look at the scriptures, in the Bible and The Book of Mormon, at the use of the adjectives dark, black, and white and the noun skin, you will see that a vast majority of the time when these words are used in reference to people, they are metaphorical and spiritual in nature.

  • Black means gloomy, dark, impure, and hidden. See Lamentations 4:8, 5:10, Job 30:30, Jeremiah 8:21, Nahum 2:10, and Joel 2:6.
  • Dark means filthy, wicked, impure, and the absence of light. See Matt 6:23, 1 John 1:5, 1 Nephi 12:23, 2 Nephi 30:6, Jacob 3:9, Mosiah 27:29, Alma 19:6 “the dark veil of unbelief”, Alma 26:3 “the Lamanites were in darkness”, and Mormon 5:15.
  • White means clean, pure, true, and righteous. See 1 Ne 13:15, 2 Nephi 30:6 (the word “pure” was “white”prior to 1981, see footnote b), Jacob 3:8, 3 Nephi 19:25 (“white as the countenance … of Jesus”), and Mormon 9:6.
  • Skin means the outward appearance and countenance. See Job 30:30, Lamentations 5:10, Jacob 3:8, Alma 3:6, and 3 Nephi 2:15.

For more detail on the meaning of these words in the scriptures, may I point you to an excellent video by Marvin Perkins. Brother Perkins’ video, titled Skin Color & Curses, outlines his research and explains that “the words black and white do not refer to literal skin color in the scriptures.” He points out that “every scripture in The Book of Mormon that made you believe that the Lamanites had a darker skin than the Nephites, every last one of them, have a new footnote on it” in the post 1981 edition of the scriptures leading readers to the Topical Guide entry on Spiritual Darkness.

The Heart Metaphor

For those hesitant to accept that the word “skin” is being used as a metaphor, may I draw your attention to metaphor often used in the scriptures that references another part of the body–the heart. A quick search on the scriptures section of LDS.org shows 1,475 occurrences of the word “heart” in the scriptures. The vast majority of those instances are clearly metaphorical and not a literal reference to the bodily organ that physical pumps blood.

  • as a man “thinketh in his heart” (Proverbs 23:7)
  • “Blessed are the pure in heart” (Matthew 5:8)
  • “Harden not your hearts” (Hebrews 3:8)
  • the “intents of his heart” (Alma 12:7)
  • the “poor in heart” (Alma 32:3)
  • “bringeth a change of heart” (Helaman 15:7)

In the scriptures, the “heart” is a reference to our inner most feelings–our metaphorical core–just like skin is a scriptural metaphor for our outward appearance. Both, of course, are metaphors we still use in society today.

Figurative Interpretation Supported by Hugh Nibley

Hugh Nibley is one of my favorite LDS authors. He was a scholar, a professor at BYU, and highly regarded within the LDS community. On the topic of Lamanite dark skin, he made the following statement:

“The Book of Mormon always mentions the curse of the dark skin in connection with and as part of a larger picture: “After they had dwindled in unbelief they became a dark, and loathsome, and a filthy people,” etc. … We are told (Alma 3:13, 14, 18) that while the fallen people “set the mark upon themselves,” it was none the less God who was marking them: “I will set a mark upon them,” etc. So natural and human was the process that it suggested nothing miraculous to the ordinary observer. …The mark was not a racial thing but was acquired by “whosoever suffered himself to be led away by the Lamanites” (Alma 3:10); Alma moreover defines a Nephite as anyone observing “the tradition of their fathers” (Alma 3:11). Which makes the difference between Nephite and Lamanite a cultural, not a racial, one. Does this also apply to the dark skin? Note that the dark skin is never mentioned alone but always as attending a generally depraved way of life, which also is described as the direct result of the curse. When the Lamanites become “white” again, it is by living among the Nephites as Nephites, i.e., adopting the Nephite way of life (3 Nephi 2:15—16).” (Lehi in the Desert; The World of the Jaredites; There Were Jaredites  >  Desert Ways and Places)

Conclusion

Hopefully, the material in the article will help you better understand the issue of race in The Book of Mormon and thus equip you to better respond if the topic comes up on your mission. My purpose here isn’t to tell you how to respond so much as it is to prepare you with knowledge and the perspective of prominent authors. Most importantly, as I stated in the beginning, my purpose is to encourage you to avoid contentious arguments, testify of the truths you know, and let the Holy Spirit guide all that you say and do as a missionary. Good luck, and God bless.

Missionary Letters to Home that IMPACTS Others

young woman writing letterWhen I went on my mission to Rosario, Argentina in 1995, several times before I left my mom and dad gave me strict instructions to write a thoughtful letter home each and every week. They, of course, wanted me to send the details of my experiences, the work I was doing, and the people I was teaching. They also promised to keep all the letters I sent home which would form a wonderful journal of the happenings of my mission and how I grew in faith and testimony by sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ with others.

True to form, I wrote by hand wrote a one- to two-page letter home each week, and my parents saved each one. When I returned home two years letter, they presented me with a binder containing my letters home and that record has proven very valuable to me. It has served to jog my memory on the personal mission stories and events I’ve discussed on this website. I think the advice to write a good letter home each week was one of the best pieces of advice my parents gave to me, and now I am passing it along to you, the audience of this website.

Missionary letters home are not just a good way to document the happenings of your mission, these letters are an opportunity to build the faith and testimony of family and friends back home. The influence you could have on those people could be just as powerful as the influence you will have on the members and investigators you interact with in your mission field. As you bear your testimony of the work of the Lord in your letters or now more likely, emails, to parents, family, and friends, their faith with grow and their testimonies will be strengthened.

What Makes a Good Letter to Home?

What distinguishes a good letter home from a poor one, and what advice can I give the youth to help them write a good weekly letter home? In contemplating the answers to these questions, I developed an acronym that consolidates my advice in an easy to remember mnemonic device. Remember that good letters home IMPACTS you and your family and friends in a positive and eternal way. IMPACTS is an acronym and is designed to remind to include the following in your letters or emails home:

  • Investigators. In your letters or emails home, share news and stories about the people you are teaching the restored gospel. You should respect the privacy of those about whom you write, so be careful about what you say, and perhaps you should not use their complete name, but the very essence of missionary work is the love we have for the people we teach. So talk about the people you are teaching. And when your family and friends back home hear about these people, your love for them and for the work will shine through.
  • Members. Tell about the members of the in the ward/stake/branch among whom you are serving. Many missionaries around the world have a hard time finding people to teach, but members of the Church are around almost all missionaries, sharing in the work. Talk about the members you are visiting and what you admire about them. Talk about the members, and sometimes investigators as well, who are feeding you dinner. Share your gratitude for this service that most missionaries receive, and talk about other experiences you are having with the local members of the Church.
  • Pictures. A picture says a thousand words, so remember to send home photos. Sending pictures is meaningful way to let your family and friends know you are doing well, which is why learning to take and send digital photos via email is something included on the checklist of skills to have before your mission. Don’t get too distracted taking pictures on your mission, but pictures of the members and investigators that you’re working with, and photos of the your area and companions will make for excellent keepsakes the rest of your life. When you do you weekly service projects, this is another great opportunity to take pictures to send home.
  • Authentic. Be authentic in your letters and emails by sharing the good and the bad, the hardships and the triumphs. Sincere writing is one way for you to better understand yourself, and the act of writing helps bring personal revelation. Regular, honest, introspective writing will be uplifting, and it will help you see God’s blessings in your life and the Lord’s hand in helping you endure and overcome trials. Life is full of ups and downs, and the mission is no different. In life and on your mission, acknowledge the hard things but try not to dwell on them too much.
  • Companion. Tell about your companion and the things you are learning from him or her. Many missionaries will make friendships with their mission companions that will last a lifetime. Occasionally, you will be glad when your time with a certain companion is over. Whichever the case may be, you can learn a lot from your companion, so make note of the things you like about him or her, and perhaps just make mental notes of the things you don’t like, so you can be sure not to emulate those undesirable qualities.
  • Testimony. Perhaps most importantly, use your letters or emails home to share your spiritual experiences and tell how your faith and testimony of the Savior Jesus Christ is growing. Talk about what you are learning in your personal scripture study. Talk about the miracles you’ve seen in your life and the lives of others. Bear your testimony to your family and friends just like you should also do in the missionary lessons you teach.
  • Stories. Stories applies to all the other elements. Whether you are writing about investigators or members, bearing testimony or writing about other topics, share stories that relate significant or inspiring experiences. Try to think of stories that will help the people back home who are reading your letters and emails. Writing with a purpose to help others will often lead to new insights and inspiration that you can share. Stories are an effective communication tool because people remember stories and are more likely to apply the lessons they teach. Jesus, as you know, often taught through stories we call parables.

What the Missionary Handbook Says about Writing Home

Perhaps it goes without saying, but of course, follow the instructions provided by the First Presidency of the Church regarding letter writing as outlined in the Missionary Handbook of rules:

  • “Write to your family each week on preparation day. Limit correspondence with others. Share your spiritual experiences.”
  • “Never include anything confidential, sensitive, or negative about the areas where you serve.”
  • “Use e-mail only on preparation day. You may use computers in public places, such as libraries or appropriate businesses that offer Internet access. While using computers, always stay next to your companion so that you can see each other’s monitors. Do not use members’ computers.”
  • “Do not become preoccupied with communicating with family and friends. Except as outlined under ‘Family Members and Friends’, you should communicate with family and friends only on preparation day.”
  • “Avoid slang and inappropriately casual language, even in your apartment with your companion or in letters to your family.”
  • “Do not make negative or offensive comments about political or cultural circumstances, even in letters or e-mails home.”
  • “Do not telephone, write, e-mail, or accept calls or letters from anyone of the opposite sex living within or near mission boundaries.”

Missionary Memories

Former President of the Church Thomas S. Monson said this about writing letters home:

“In many respects, a mission is a family calling. The letters which a missionary sends to Mother and Father are packed with power—spiritual power. They are filled with faith—abiding faith. I’ve always maintained that such letters seem to pass through a heavenly post office before being delivered to home and family. Mother treasures every word. Father fills with pride. The letters are read over and over again—and are never discarded.” (Missionary Memories by Thomas S. Monson)

Conclusion

To all the young people out there, be faithful in writing thoughtful letters or emails home each week. If you’re not sure what to say, think of the IMPACTS acronym and write about Investigators and Members, include Pictures, be Authentic, mention your Companion, include your Testimony, and tell Stories. There will be p-days when the time you have to write a letter will be short, but I promise that if you take the time to write a good letter each week, your parents, family, and friends will be grateful, and you too will be blessed on earth and in eternity for the record you’ve kept of your service to God.

P.S. A note to parents, print out a copy of your missionary’s letters home. I heard a story in Church of a parent who saved all the emails from their son on a mission by keeping them in her email system. Something happened with the email provider and all their emails were destroyed, including those precious communications from their son. I think keeping electronic backups of emails from missionaries is great, but it is also wise to print them out and have a physical backup. 🙂

Answering Gender Identity Questions on Your Mission

Summary: Mormon missionaries should be prepared to answer some basic questions about gender identity. This post discusses what the scriptures and LDS Church doctrine teaches about gender and gender roles, and gives some basic knowledge and advice to missionaries regarding how to answer questions on this topic.

Statue of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden

I was recently listening to a political debate about whether there are only two genders or if there are more. On one side was a person advocating two and only two genders, on the other side was a person putting forth the position that there are infinite genders. I realized, as I listened, that I need to be teaching my children what the gospel of Jesus Christ says about gender and gender roles to combat what they are certain to hear at school and elsewhere in the public discourse. My wife suggested that this is also a topic that missionaries need to understand and be prepared to answer, and I agreed.

The Definition of Gender

Merriam-Webster’s first definition of gender is one word, “sex” as in the biological sex, male or female, of a person or animal. Wikipedia, on the other hand, has a different, and much more complicated definition of gender, which is reflective of modern times and the direction the world is heading. Says Wikipedia, “Gender is the range of characteristics pertaining to, and differentiating between, masculinity and femininity. Depending on the context, these characteristics may include biological sex (i.e., the state of being male, female, or an intersex variation), sex-based social structures (i.e., gender roles), or gender identity.” I should note that Webster also provides a secondary definition of gender along the same lines of that described Wikipedia.

Webster's Definition of Gender

Historically, gender has been the equivalent of biological sex, male and female, but in a relatively new phenomena gender is now considered by some to be a social construct or how an individual identifies, regardless of biology. I believe this changing and complicating of the definition of gender is another example of the world losing “plain and precious” truths as described in 1 Nephi Chapter 13.

From the LDS Church’s perspective, gender is straight forward—male and female, as defined in the first book of Bible and in the Family Proclamation. Genesis Chapter 1 talks about how God created the earth and on the sixth day “God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them” (Gen 1:27) In The Family: A Proclamation to the World, our modern prophets have said: “All human beings—male and female—are created in the image of God. Each is a beloved spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents, and, as such, each has a divine nature and destiny. Gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose.”

gender is an essential characteristic

Since followers of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ and the world may have different definitions of the word gender, missionaries need to be aware of these differing opinions and be prepared to respectfully answer questions that could arise. Missionaries should not argue with people about this topic, but as the opportunity arises and as prompted by the Holy Ghost, they should simply state that the Church maintains the traditional definition of gender—biological sex, male and female.

Intersex, Gender Dysphoria, and Transgender

I won’t devote much time on intersex (people born characteristics of both biological sexes), transgender (a person whose personal identity does not correspond with their birth sex/gender), gender dysphoria (feeling one’s emotional and psychological identity to be opposite to one’s biological sex), or other disorders of sex development. This is because I am not a medical doctor or psychiatrist, nor do I have authority to give the Church’s official perspective on these subjects. Still, missionaries should be aware of these terms and know that these conditions exist.

There are a wide variety of intersex conditions cause by numerous circumstances such as genetic, chromosomal, and biochemical factors, and enzyme deficiencies and no one seems to know exactly how frequently they happen. These intersex conditions are rare, though, with estimates ranging anywhere from 0.01% to 1% of the population being affected. But the vast majority of people will carry either XX or XY chromosome pairs, women being XX and men being XY.

Missionaries should know that intersex and other sexual development conditions are legitimate physical, mental, and emotional issues that some people deal with, and they should treat the subject seriously. It is important to treat people who have questions about these subjects with love and respect, though generally missionaries should not allow themselves to get bogged down in discussing these topics with others. The missionary’s time should be devoted to fulfilling their unique purpose, to preach the gospel and invite others to come unto Christ through faith, repentance, and baptism.

Missionaries should treat people with kindness and understanding who bring up this topic. If pressured to provide more answers, missionaries should direct people who have serious questions about the Church’s stance on these gender identity issues to Church bishops, stake presidents, or mission presidents. Missionaries may also want to point them to the Mormons and Gay website. While the Church doesn’t say much on these subjects publicly, on that website they do say: “Many of the general principles shared on this website (for example, the importance of inclusion and kindness) apply to Latter-day Saints who experience gender dysphoria or identify as transgender.”

Gender Roles and Marriage between Men and Women are Essential to LDS Doctrine

People may wonder why the LDS Church is so firm in their stance of gender and the reason is that our roles as men and women deeply rooted in our doctrine. We believe gender is an important part of our eternal identity and it plays a major part in our duties and mission on earth. We believe that men and women are different, each with unique talents and characteristics that together complement each other and make each other whole. Genesis 2:24 says “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.” 1 Corinthians 11:11 teaches that “neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord.”

Modern revelation received by the prophet Joseph Smith confirms that husbands and wives need each other to be saved in the Celestial Kingdom of God. “In the celestial glory there are three heavens or degrees; And in order to obtain the highest, a man must enter into this order of the priesthood [meaning the new and everlasting covenant of marriage]; And if he does not, he cannot obtain it” (D&C 131:1-3).

Referring again to the Family Proclamation, we see that men and women have different God-given roles and responsibilities.

“By divine design, fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness and are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families. Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children. In these sacred responsibilities, fathers and mothers are obligated to help one another as equal partners.”

Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said:

“Two compelling doctrinal reasons help us to understand why eternal marriage is essential to the Father’s plan. Reason 1: The natures of male and female spirits complete and perfect each other, and therefore men and women are intended to progress together toward exaltation.”

“…Gender …in large measure defines who we are, why we are here upon the earth, and what we are to do and become. For divine purposes, male and female spirits are different, distinctive, and complementary. … The unique combination of spiritual, physical, mental, and emotional capacities of both males and females were needed to implement the plan of happiness. Alone, neither the man nor the woman could fulfill the purposes of his or her creation” (Marriage Is Essential to His Eternal Plan, Liahona, June 2006).

FHE Lesson PowerPoint Slides

As I mentioned in the beginning, one impetus for this blog post was because I wanted to prepare my own children for the arguments they will hear win the world and arm them with the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ on the subject of gender. Therefore, I created the following PowerPoint slide deck which I am gladly sharing with all the visitors to this website. May you have joy and success in raising your children to know their divine purpose and God-given missions on this earth.


A Great Way To Teach The Plan Of Salvation

The following is a guest post from Chipper Whatcott. Chipper was born and raised in southern Utah. He served a full-time mission in Mexico City, and now attends Utah Valley University. You can connect with Chipper on LinkedIn.

sister missionaries using plan of salvation cardsTeaching the Plan of Salvation to people investigating The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints can be difficult, but there is a way missionaries can make it easier for them.

The Plan of Salvation is hard to teach because it’s really complex. As members of The Church, we know about Spirit Prison and Paradise, the Second Coming, the Resurrection, the Final Judgement, and the Kingdoms of Glory. We also have a distinct understanding of the Pre-Earth Life, the Veil, and our purpose on this Earth. Trying to teach that to someone who has never heard of these things is tough. It’s like trying to explain a foreign language.

When I was on my mission, my companions and I would cut out images from church magazines that represented steps in the Plan of Salvation. We’d laminate them and take them around with us to our appointments. It was a great teaching tool, especially for slow learners and children. Approximately 65 percent of the world’s population are visual learners, so it makes sense that this teaching tool was so effective.

While the images worked well, they weren’t ideal. They were all different shapes and sizes. Some were photos and others were hand-drawn images. Due to each image being different in shape and size, they were hard to store. I couldn’t wrap them in a rubber band or put them in a folder, so I just had to throw them in my backpack and hope for the best.

That is when I had the idea for teaching cards. A thin deck of cards would be lightweight, small, and easy to store. It wouldn’t weigh down my backpack, nor would it take up a lot of space.

Missionary with Box of Flagship Teaching Cards

Each deck, which I have dubbed Flagship Teaching Cards, comes in a small, lightweight metal box with a set of 10 ultra-strong, easy-to-use teaching cards. The cards are so strong that they literally cannot be torn by human hands. And they’re water-resistant too.

An added bonus is that none of the images on the cards include written words. This gives a missionary the ability to teach any investigator, no matter the language they speak.

If you would like to purchase a deck of these plan of salvation cards for missionaries, visit the Flagship Teaching Cards webstore.

Flagship Teaching Cards of plan of salvation

Elder Sanchez’s Journey into the Mission Field

elder sanchez and rowell with smith family rockwall texas may 2018About a month ago, I believe it was the first Sunday in May, I was sitting with my family in fast and testimony meeting. The two full-time missionaries, both relatively newly assigned to our ward, each went to the pulpit, introduced himself, and bore his testimony. First was Elder Justin Sanchez and he told about how his family was from Honduras and that he grew up in rather poor circumstances, often living in double-wide trailers and generally wearing hand-me-down clothes. While they were poor as to worldly belongings, he said, they were rich in the blessings of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

In his testimony, Elder Sanchez mentioned that he was older than most missionaries—he was 25 years old. He went on to bare a nice testimony of the restored gospel, and as he spoke, I felt inspired to invite him to our home to talk to our children in more detail and give more of his background story and testimony. I felt my children, who are good kids that we try not to spoil, are nevertheless, accustomed to a rather comfortable life in many ways, especially when compared to many other people in the world. I felt my kids could benefit from hearing Elder Sanchez’s humble life story and perspective.

After the meeting, I asked him if he could come present a family home evening lesson to our family one night in the coming week and he agreed. Upon hearing his more detailed life story, I also thought it would be of great benefit to the audience of this website to see his perseverance in preparing for and fulfilling a full-time mission for the Lord. With Elder Sanchez’s permission, I now share his story.

Elder Sanchez’s Family Background

Elder Sanchez’s maternal grandfather was a member of the LDS Church, but he was inactive, and therefore, his mother did not grow up in the Church. At some point during his mom’s adult married life, but before Elder Sanchez was born, their family met the Mormon missionaries and joined the Church. When Elder Sanchez’s mom was pregnant with him, she received a spiritual prompting that there would be complications with his birth. Their family was poor and did not have health insurance. So, the family decided to go to Honduras, where Elder Sanchez’s father was from, to have the baby there because the family would have good medical coverage.

Miraculous Birth in Honduras

Elder Sanchez’s mother’s spiritual premonition and inspiration turned out to be right—he had the umbilical cord wrapped around his neck three times and he ended up being safely delivered via C-section. The family felt his safe birth was a miracle and that he would have been still born had they stayed in the United States for the birth. While his family moved back to the US soon after his birth, they soon did relocate to Honduras.

Elder Sanchez’s family, financially, was not doing very well in the US, but his father’s family owned some land in Honduras that they offered to him to use as a homestead and farm. The family decided to go for it, and so Elder Sanchez’s parents and all his brothers and sisters moved to Honduras. On the first night there, they all slept on a single mattress in one room. But soon their situation improved and they ended up with a nice home and circumstances. All the siblings helped on the farm where they grew pineapples, mangoes, corn, and peanuts.

Hurricane Mitch Forced the Family to Move

It was fall of 1998 and on October 26, Hurricane Mitch was in the Caribbean Sea and had become a category 5 hurricane. It made landfall in Honduras a few days later, on October 29. Some parts of Honduras reported three feet of rainfall from the storm and the hurricane produced ocean waves estimated to be 44 feet in height. The rainfall also caused widespread mudslides across the mountainous areas of the country. An estimated 70 to 80% of the country’s transportation network was destroyed, including most bridges and roads. Crops and agricultural livestock damage was valued in the billions. All told, the storm caused 7,000 deaths in Honduras and cost the people of that country $3.8 billion in damage (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hurricane_Mitch). The Sanchez family was safe from the storm, but their farm was wiped out and so they packed up once again and moved back to the United States.

Hurricane Mitch damage in Honduras

A Mission Call and Difficulties at the MTC

The Sanchez family eventually settled in the state of Oregon, and though they continued to struggle financially, they were active in the gospel. Elder Sanchez had some of his older siblings serve missions, which was a great example to him. After he finished high school, he worked for a while to earn and save money for his mission and then at age 20, Elder Sanchez received a mission call to Billings Montana.

In the Missionary Training Center (MTC), his thoughts frequently turned to the difficult financial situation of his family back home.  His family counseled him not to worry about their needs and to focus on his mission, but it was difficult. Elder Sanchez says that, at this time, he also began to struggle somewhat with his personal testimony of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. He said that throughout his life, he had leaned on the testimony of his parents and siblings, but now he realized he needed to know for himself if he believed the things that he would be teaching as a missionary. That, together with the personal struggles of challenges back home, made it difficult for Elder Sanchez to feel the Spirit of God while at the MTC.

After three weeks in the MTC, in counseling with the MTC president, the difficult decision was made that Elder Sanchez should return home and come back to the mission when he was more ready. Upon returning home, he knew his family loved and supported him, but he felt misjudged by the other members of his ward. He stopped attending church meetings as regularly as he should have, and while he never went inactive, it was a couple of years later before he became fully engaged with the church again.

A New Mission Call

Elder Sanchez didn’t go into detail about what led him back, but he said that certain circumstances led him back to full participation in the gospel and the Church. At this time in his life, he wanted to make the efforts necessary to find out for himself if the gospel and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was true. He attended his church meetings, read the scriptures and prayed, and began to feel the Spirit of God working in his life. He knew he had felt the Spirit confirm the truthfulness of the gospel and he prayed to know what God wanted him to do with his life. He wanted to improve himself and the prospects for his future and when he prayed, he felt like he should look into going back into the mission field. He asked his bishop about it and soon he received a new mission call, this time to the Dallas Texas mission.

So at age 24, Elder Sanchez began anew his full-time missionary service. He said it was difficult coming into the mission field when he was considerably older than most the other new missionaries, who are generally 18 or 19 years old, but he’s glad he did it. I can imagine it took a great amount of faith, dedication, and humility to return to the mission force, but we too are glad he did it and that we have gotten to know him.

Lessons Learned through Service and Adversity

Elder Sanchez said that before his mission he had many challenges, but the mission has helped him to lose himself in the service of others. Prior to his mission, he spent his life concerned about his own trials, but the mission has been just the opposite, he says, you concern yourself with others and their well-being. He learned the lesson President Hinckley taught when he said: “Why are missionaries happy? Because they lose themselves in the service of others” (Chapter 14: Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Gordon B. Hinckley). Or as the Savior taught: “Whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel’s, the same shall save it” (Mark 8:35).

Elder Sanchez additionally said that he has found that because of his struggles in life, he has been able to relate to others he has met on his mission and the challenges they  have. He has found that facing and overcoming adversity is an experience that connects us and that Jesus Christ in particular, who suffered more than all of us with his infinite atoning sacrifice, is the common connection between everyone’s life. Elder Sanchez has found that when we realize the love Heavenly Father has for us in sending His Son, that we can receive hope and courage to conquer all of our challenges.

My family and I were very grateful that Elder Sanchez came over and shared his story with us and that he is allowing us to sharing it now with the Mormon Mission Prep community. His strong faith and testimony is clear and we know the Lord has blessed him and will continue to watch over him and his family. We’re thankful that the Lord assigned him to our ward so that we could get to know him and we pray for the choicest blessings to attend him the remainder of his mission and throughout his life.

5 Tips on Saving Money For a Mission

Introduction: The following is a guest post by Dennis McKonkie, who served a mission in Atlanta, Georgia for the LDS Church. His mission changed the trajectory of his life, and he feels indebted for all he learned during his two-year service. Dennis has a Bachelors Degree in Computer Science from MIT and works as a Computer Science Consultant.

Serving a full-time mission is incredibly fulfilling. It changes lives, both yours and the people you meet and teach. However, it is also expensive. While the church does a great job of crowd-funding for it’s Elders and Sisters through missionary funds, there is an added boost to your personal mission when you know you are paying for it with your own money. Here are a few tips for those future missionaries who want to start earning money now.

1. Set Up A Budget

Regardless of what you plan to do with your life after getting out of high school, setting up a budget is a necessity. Whether you decide to go on a mission or go straight to college or to a job, having a budget will help. While you are in high school (or even before), maintaining a budget will help develop important life skills that you will use forever. It might be hard to set up a budget if you are still in high school, simply due to the fact that you may not have many financial responsibilities. If this is the case, try doing what I did: Set a goal of how much money you will spend each month and save everything else. My monthly budget was usually about 100 dollars. That covered the gas for my truck, the few times I would eat out at lunch time, and some play money to spend on things like going to the movies or a baseball game. I saved the rest of the money I earned for my mission and only spent it if I really wanted something, like the time I splurged on a new baseball bat.

2. Get A Part-time Job

If you live in a rural area, you can work as a farm hand or in a local convenience store. If you live in a more populated area, you could work as a night-time janitor for office buildings (I did that for a couple of years at my father’s office). I had a mission companion who worked at a Dairy Queen throughout high school. By the time he left, he was a manager at the restaurant and made more money than his peers. He was able to purchase his own truck in high school and saved up enough money to pay for his mission.

Many restaurants will hire people who are as young as 14. This means that those who take these jobs early on will be able to save up some money for at least four years before leaving. Making $3,000 or $4,000 a year for part-time work could add up to a nice sum.

Once you turn 18, you could spend the summer before a mission selling door to door. There are plenty of options, ranging from selling pest control services to home security systems. These companies love working with returned missionaries, as they develop great communication skills and work ethics while serving the Lord. If you are a pre-missionary, you will develop many of these skills before heading out to the mission field, which will make your mission even better.

3. Become An Entrepreneur

If you’re looking to become an entrepreneur, it’s possible to get started at a very early age. You could look to meet needs that require physical labor, like mowing lawns or shoveling walks, or you could look to babysit or walk dogs. Finding out what people in your community need and then seeking to meet that need at a fair price can lead to some pretty good earnings down the road. Enterprising young people could also look to flip cheap items for a profit on sites like eBay or Amazon.com. I’ve seen a couple of my friends pay for their missions through these efforts.

4. Look For Scholarships

Many missionaries attend college for a year or more before leaving on a mission. As part of an overall plan to save money, it’s important to look for scholarships to help you conserve money that you could use to pay for your 18-month or 2-year missionary service. Some options are athletic scholarships and academic scholarships, and for readers in the United States, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Also, if you are interested in studying science, technology, engineering, or math (STEM) in college, there are scholarships just for people who are studying in those fields such as this STEM scholarship. There are similar opportunities for students in almost all fields of study.

5. Save Money Gifted to You

Most teens will get a gift of some sort for major life events like birthdays and Christmas. Additionally, some cash gifts can come in around high school graduation. You should look at these gifts as building blocks toward your ultimate goals. Even a couple of hundred dollars a year could add up to $1,000 by the time you hit graduation. Graduation gifts could add up to even more.

In my family, my father gave us a rule to live by from a very young age: as soon as we got money, we were to put 10 percent away for tithing and 20 percent away for savings. The remaining 70 percent was for us to do what we wanted. Oftentimes I would put more than 20 percent into my savings account, because my needs were met and I didn’t need more money to blow on candy and baseball caps.

Conclusion

I promise you this, serving a mission will be one of the most challenging things you have ever done. It will also be one of the most rewarding. Paying thousands of dollars to go serve others is a tough pill to swallow, but the blessings come back to you tenfold. Trust that you are doing what is right and give it everything you have. God bless you.

My MTC Experience: Oct to Dec 1995

I was in the Missionary Training Center (MTC) in Provo, Utah from October 25 to December 26, 1995 as I prepare to go to Rosario, Argentina to serve my full-time mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This article is one of a series of posts I have written about my mission to the Argentina, Rosario mission. Click here to see them.

I loved the MTC from the very beginning; everyone I met there was so nice and the spiritual growth I experienced was phenomenal. I’ll have to tell you about it in words because I only have a couple of pictures from my MTC experience. I had a camera, but it was the first time I had ever owned a camera, thus I wasn’t very familiar with the process of loading and unloading the film. Apparently, I did something wrong in the process and all the pictures got exposed and turned out completely blank. Thankfully, my friend Mark Bigelow, who was my freshman roommate at Brigham Young University (BYU) the year before, was at the MTC at the same time as me and he donated this picture he snapped on his camera.

mark bigelow and jimmy smith at Provo MTC Oct 1995

Here’s my friend Mark Bigelow and I in front of the map at the Provo, Utah MTC.

Traveling to and entering the MTC was the typical experience in some ways, but in some ways not. I flew from my home in Maryland to Utah on a Tuesday and spent the night in Provo at the college apartment of my brother Stephen. I don’t remember getting dropped off. I presume it was Stephen, so it probably wasn’t the typical family tearful goodbye.

I liked the MTC from day. I enjoyed the spirituality and I felt comfortable. My comfort level was helped by the fact that the MTC facilities reminded me of the dorms at BYU. My MTC stay was just a few months after I completed my first year of college at BYU and all the facilities (beds, laundry, cafeteria) was just like in the BYU dorms. Check out this post for more information on the life and schedule at the MTC and what facilities and services are available.

I was amazed at how they just threw us into Spanish, teaching us to pray and contact people in Spanish, on our very first full day. I was in one of the first trial runs of the Technology Aided Language Learning (TALL) program which included a daily class in a computer lab where we had the ability to listen to native Spanish speakers and also record ourselves and play it back. I believe using this kind of technology, which was very new at the time, is now part of all missionaries’ curriculum at the MTC.

At the MTC, I felt I had a peaceful, happy life that was relatively stress-free. I had few worries about what was going on in the outside world, I just studied Spanish and the gospel and felt the Spirit God almost all day, every day. I loved learning more about the gospel of Jesus Christ and how to share it with others. I think my ability to really enjoy the MTC came from the preparation I received during my youth, at home and at church. I had been an active member my whole life, my parents held family home evening weekly, I attended early morning seminary, I had read the Book of Mormon, and I had prepared myself spiritually and physically for the mission. These things I did to prepare led me to receive a strong testimony of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. I knew the gospel was true and I knew that a mission was where God wanted me to be, and I was able to immerse myself in the work and truly enjoy it.

Of course, I know not all missionaries enjoy the MTC and the experiences there as much as I did. I have known plenty of missionaries who struggle with the transition to missionary life. Many missionaries have a hard time adjusting to life away from home, some have trouble learning the language, and many, frankly, have a hard time being spiritual all day every day. If youth have largely ignored spiritual things throughout their life, then going to the MTC can be a difficult transition. I believe that preparing spiritually is the most important thing to prepare for prior to going a mission because a firm testimony will help youth overcome any other trials. But physical and emotional preparation, as discussed throughout this website, is also vital mission prep.

I had many special, spiritual, faith-promoting experiences at the MTC, but I’ll share just one that happened after I had been there for about a month.  We had a lesson on faith and as I sat there listening, my mind and soul seemed to open up and receive knowledge from heaven. After the class, one of the other missionaries asked me what I had learned about faith, and as I tried to convey through words what I had felt the Spirit of the Lord poured over me like never before.  The other missionaries and I worth both greatly edified by this experience.

The more I learned about the restored gospel of Jesus Christ, the more I realized how much I didn’t know. The more I studied the scriptures, the more I wanted to immerse myself in them and learn all that I could.  An hour a day of personal scripture study suddenly didn’t seem like nearly enough.

I came away from the MTC with more gratitude in my heart, more meekness and penitence, a stronger testimony of the Book of Mormon, a firm understanding of the importance of obedience to the commandments and to the mission rules, deeper gospel knowledge, a stronger testimony of the Church and of the atonement of Jesus Christ, greater sensitivity to the Spirit, greater trust in the Lord, and joy and happiness that worldly things cannot bring.

At the conclusion of my MTC experience, I wrote in my journal, I knew I had had a life altering experience, even if I never set foot in the mission field.  While that is certainly true, oh how little I realized how much I would learn and grow once I got into the mission field. And believe me, I was anxious to get to Argentina and start real missionary work. I was in the MTC for 9 weeks, and as much as I enjoyed everything there, by about the halfway mark, me and the other missionaries in my were getting stir crazy. I remember feeling like I might burst if I didn’t get out of the MTC and start tracting and teaching people. As it turns out, once I did get the Argentina, on my first day, I wished I had made better use of that time and learned the Spanish language and the missionary techniques better. But the Lord blessed me, as he will all of you.

Here’s a video I made a few years ago about my experience in the MTC: