The scriptures, both old and new, speak to the innermost yearnings within us. They talk of the search for God and how one comes to learn spiritual truths. They give comfort to those who mourn and are in need of solace. They provide hope of peace in this world and peace in the world to come. They establish a blueprint for how to conduct one’s life. They address the seemingly unanswerable questions that many cannot help but asking themselves and that are at the core of our human experience: what is the purpose of this life; is there life after death; is there a God in the heavens and, if so, is He mindful of men. They talk of man’s relationship to God--how does one approach God and does He answer prayers and petitions. Missionaries, like all others, look to the scriptures for guidance to answer, or at least to find comfort about, these and other similar soul searching questions.
As Carole and I have worked together, I have identified a number of key scriptural themes that give context to what we are doing here in Malawi. Let me share a few of these themes, knowing full well how easy it would be to replace and/or supplement these themes with others from the scriptures.
Not surprisingly, one of the initial questions I had was “what should we do” when we got to Malawi—how would we work with the people and what lessons would we try to impart. What should we focus on, knowing one can’t do everything? In this respect, I was curious as to how much guidance we would receive from Church leaders. Would we receive specific and detailed instructions or be left largely on our own to figure out how best to serve. Now eight months into my mission, I have a better sense on how to answer this question, at least for myself, partly informed by a scripture I read before leaving Seattle, and partly informed by the scriptures I have since read.
Shortly before we left for Malawi, I came across what is an intriguing exchange, occurring sometime prior to his death, between Christ and his disciples, an account with which I was partially familiar but not wholly. Christ told his disciples that they should not be troubled, even though He would shortly leave them. He was going to prepare a place for them in His Father’s house—for in that place there were many mansions. This is the part of the story I remembered from before. He then said: “And whither I go ye know, and the way ye know.” John 14:4. Thomas, puzzled by what the Savior said, answered, saying “Lord, we know not whither thou goest; and how can we know the way?” John 14:5. This latter part of the account I cannot remember reading before, or if I did, paying it the least attention. But now I recognized that Thomas’ feelings were really in line with my own thoughts. How would Carole and I know what to do—how could we know the way? Would the Church provide us with la list of recommended activities or would we be expected to study the scriptures, handbooks, general conference talks, and other Church materials to come up with our own syllabus. On the one hand, we know the Church can, and does on occasion, provide quite detailed guidance, evidenced by “Preach My Gospel,” the basic handbook of instructions for modern day missionaries, and the two Handbooks of Instructions. On the other hand, the principle of self-reliance, thinking for ourselves and acting upon our own plans, is firmly entrenched within the Mormon psychology.
With time I have come to discover that Christ’s answer to Thomas is actually a good template for Carole and myself. Christ answered Thomas, saying “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” John 14:6. As the scripture indicates there are really two keys: first, the Savior’s life is the consummate example—showing us the path we should follow if we are to bring others to Christ or, for that matter, are to bring ourselves back to our Heavenly Father; and second, it is only through the Savior that men can be saved. These keys alone provide sufficient guidance. In one sense, the greatest challenge is not in figuring out what to do, but it is in doing it. As a companion thought, it is also about learning to seek and rely upon the Spirit to guide our activities, something easy to say, but much harder to do. For me, it is the difference between trying to do good and being inspired in doing good.
Second, I have learned that this question—“what should we do”—is amply addressed in the scriptures, particularly in those given in the latter days. For there is one way in which scriptures speak to one serving a mission that is quite unique--they provide historical context for what the missionary is doing, because the scriptures are replete with specific guidance for those called to be on the Lord’s errand. For example, virtually all of Chapter 10 of Matthew applies to anyone being asked to serve on a mission. Indeed, the last three verses of Matthew are directed to those commissioned to carry the news of the gospel to the world. “And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying. All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen.” Matt: 28:18-20.
It is for this same reason that many of the scriptures of the Doctrine and Covenants (“D&C”) are so compelling, containing as they do instructions given to various missionaries (elders) who were ordained to go forth in the last days carrying the restoration’s message of hope and peace. Missionaries when they read the D&C are constantly finding scriptures applicable to themselves. This is true of many passages in the first section of the D&C, several of which are cited below. “And the voice of warning shall be unto all people, by the mouths of my disciples, whom I have chosen in these last days. And they shall go forth and one shall stay them, for I the Lord have commanded them.” D&C 1: 4-5. “The weak things of the world shall come forth and break down the mighty and strong ones, that man should not counsel his fellow man, neither trust in the arm of the flesh.” D&C 1: 19 “And also those to whom these commandments were given, might have power to lay the foundation of this church, and to bring it forth out of obscurity and out of darkness, the only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth, with which I, the Lord, am well pleased, speaking unto the church collectively and individually.” D&C 1: 30. “What I the Lord have spoken, I have spoken, and I excuse not myself; and though the heavens and the earth pass away, my word shall not pass away, but shall all be fulfilled, whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same.” D&C 1: 38.
Virtually every section in the D&C can be analyzed in the same way—pulling out scripture after scripture directly applicable to those doing missionary work, then teasing out of them how they apply to the everyday life of the modern missionary. In many respects the D&C is an early handbook of instructions for latter-day missionaries. It includes specific instructions for missionaries, speaks to their historic, and monumental, role in bringing forth the restored gospel in the last days, contains the messages the missionaries are to share, and reaffirms that it is the Lord’s work to be accomplished in the Lord’s way and at the Lord’s time. See D&C 64: 28-34.
 “The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God. They are corrupt, they have done abominable works, there is none that doeth good. The Lord looked down from heaven upon the children of men to see if there were any that did understand, and seek God. They are all gone aside, they are all together become filthy: there is none that doeth good, no, not one. Have all the workers of inquiry no knowledge? Who eat up my people as they eat bread, and call not upon the Lord.” Psalms 14: 1-4. See, e.g., Isa: 59; John 7: 17; D&C 50:24.
 See, e.g., Isa: 61: 1-2; Matt: 5: 4.
 “But learn that he who doeth the works of righteousness shall receive his reward, even peace in this world, and eternal life in the world to come.” D&C 59: 23.
 “When I consider the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained; What is man, that thou art mindful of him? And the son of man, that thou visitest him? For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honour. Thou madest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands; thou hast put all things under his feet.” Psalms 8: 3-6.
 See, e.g., Matt. 21: 22; John 14: 13; D&C 19: 38.
 See, e.g., D&C 56: 26-27. “For behold, it is not meet that I should command in all things; for he that is compelled in all things, the same is a slothful and not a wise servant; wherefore he receiveth no reward. Verily I say, men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness. For the power is in them, wherein they are agents unto themselves. And inasmuch as men do good they shall in nowise lose their reward.”
 See the discussion below under “XI. Have We Done Any Good?—M. Why Is It So Hard.”