Saturday, October 10, 2015

Impressions of Younger Missionaries--George's Post

A.   Impressions of Younger Missionaries

1.    Overall Impression

When thinking of the young missionaries we have met, several verses from the 3rd Chapter of 2 Corinthians come to mind:  “Ye are our epistle written in our hearts, known and read of all men: Forasmuch as ye are manifestly declared to be the epistle of Christ ministered by us, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in the fleshy tables of the heart.”  2 Cor. 3: 3-4.   We have been extraordinarily impressed by the spiritual maturity, scripture knowledge and hard work of the younger missionaries—elders and sisters.   They are powerful examples of the type of life we want all Church members in Malawi to emulate.   Often it is hard to believe that most of them are just in their late teens and early twenties, as they display wisdom, maturity, and discipline that belies their tender years.   While I have found it a bit unsettling to be instructed by missionaries so young, and often so new to the Church, the level of instruction they have given has been, across the board, excellent.   Often I have thought that neither Carole nor I could have done as well as these young missionaries—they speak with confidence, share keen insights about gospel truths, and encourage us to try harder to be good and faithful missionaries. 
But even more impressive than their knowledge is the spirit they carry with them.   When we are privileged to be in their presence, we sense their “goodness”—they are not perfect to be sure, but they try their level best to represent the Lord in a pleasing manner.    For the most part, we find them to be positive, upbeat, obedient, well-intended, committed and hardworking.   Missions are not easy—they demand much of the young missionaries—long days, little free time, constant disappointments, far from family and friends, challenged by the required self-sacrifices—often for the first time in their lives.   Yet as they are obedient and work hard, one can see the Spirit working with them.   I can’t imagine being with a finer group of young men and women anywhere in the world.   And that sentiment is precisely the same sentiment that senior missionaries throughout the world feel, as they interact with the young missionaries in their various fields of labor.   We are not blind to their shortcomings and some fall short of the mark, but all in all they are a great inspiration to members and nonmembers.

2.    Spiritual Maturity and Wisdom

How is it possible for these young missionaries to be so wise?   Most are young, inexperienced, of limited education, often from humble backgrounds—yet still they are called by the Church to carry forward what we consider to be most sacred message of all, critical to the salvation of all men and women.     What is it that bridges the gap between their natural abilities and the level of spiritual maturity they are called upon to display?   For Church members, “how” this occurs is one of the mysteries of God, but the source of the inspiration is simple—it is the Spirit that animates them, enabling them to do what they could never do on their own.   Literally hundreds of scriptures, new and old, can be cited to support this proposition.   Here are some of my favorites.   “And whoso receiveth you, there I will be also, for I will go before your face.   I will be on your right hand and on your left, and my Spirit shall be in your hearts, and mine angels round about you, to bear you up.”[1] “Wherefore, I the Lord ask you this question—unto what were ye ordained?   To preach my gospel by the Spirit, even the Comforter which was sent forth to teach the truth.”[2] “And ye shall be brought before governors and kings for my sake, for a testimony against them and the Gentiles.   But when they deliver you up, take no thought how or what ye shall speak: for it shall be given you in that same hour what ye shall speak.  For it is not ye that speak, but the Spirit of your Father which speaketh in you.”[3] “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.”[4]
Those wise in the ways of the world are easily contemptuous of these humble messengers and dismissive of what they might say.   Why should they listen to tales told by an African missionary who has been in the Church for less than two years or an Idaho farm boy still wet behind the ears or straight-laced, conservative, almost humorless, school boys or school girls who have hardly left the State of Utah?   That such contempt should be directed toward these humble missionaries has been anticipated:   “That the fulness of my gospel might be proclaimed by the weak and the simple unto the ends of the world, and before kings and rulers.”[5]  Even Joseph Smith was regarded as one of the weak ones:  “Verily, thus saith the Lord unto you, my servant Joseph Smith, I am well pleased with your offering and acknowledgments, which you have made; for unto this end have I raised you up, that I might show forth my wisdom through the weak things of the earth.”[6]  One of the wonders of the Church is that these humble missionaries are so effective in spreading the gospel.
Sometimes we get the mistaken impression that the Lord wants “simple” missionaries.   Even some may believe there is some virtue in being simple minded, ill-prepared, uneducated, naïve.   On occasion, members may seem to advance an almost anti-intellectual theme.   There is something wrong in being wise or educated or subtle in one’s thinking.   But I think the reality is quite different.  Yes, the Lord wants missionaries who are submissive, teachable, and free of guile and arrogance; the Lord wants those willing to rely upon Him rather than the arm of flesh.   But at the same, the Lord expects missionaries to be disciplined, hardworking, consecrated, willing to sacrifice, capable of tolerating pain, and tolerant of suffering.  The Lord wants missionaries to develop and use their spiritual gifts.   And to do so requires them to study diligently the scriptures, Preach My Gospel, and other Church published materials.   They are to do all within their power to learn the gospel message, master the scriptures and enhance their teaching skills.   They are to help others recognize the great power that comes in studying and understanding the word of God.   They do this in part by helping them making and keeping commitments—modern speak for “repentance.” 
One should not confuse innocence for naivety, purity for inexperience, faith for blind obedience, submissiveness for uncertainty.   “Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye wise as serpents and harmless as doves.”[7] Instead they are to work hard to become powerful instruments in the hands of the Lord—allowing God, through their trials, to mold them as He would.   They should study diligently, read the scriptures daily, and have personal prayers in morning, noon and night.   They are to ask for the guidance of the Spirit in all they do.   “Preach My Gospel” is a marvelous tool for preparing young messengers.  But at the end of the day, it is the Spirit and only the Spirit that has the power to convince men of the truthfulness of the restored gospel.   Even one as educated, and well versed in the scriptures as the Apostle Paul, understood this fundamental principle.   While a master of the Old Testament scriptures, able to show how the Old Testament pointed to the coming of the Savior, Paul still knew that conversion would come only through the power of the Holy Ghost:    “And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God.   For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified.   And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling.  And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the spirit and of power.   That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of man, but in power of God.”[8]
Modern scriptures reaffirm this basic truth—testimony must be rooted in the touching of the Spirit:
“Verily I say unto you, he that is ordained of men and sent forth to preach the word of truth by the Comforter, in the Spirit of truth, doth he preach it by the Spirit of truth or some other way?   And if it be by some other way it is not of God.   …Therefore, why is it that ye cannot understand and know, that he that receiveth the word by the Spirit of truth receiveth it as it was preached by the Spirit of truth?  Wherefore, he that preacheth and he that receiveth, understand one another, and both are edified and rejoice together.”[9]
Hence, modern missionaries are effective if and only if they have the Spirit with them.   Some may, for a time, seem to achieve success in some other way, but any fruits they bear through their own labors, and not through the promptings of the Spirit, will be short-lived. 

3.    Figurative and Symbolic Language

Some, perhaps many, will find this discussion vague and elusive, frustrating in its lack of precision.   What is the Spirit?   How could one possibly discern whether a missionary is full of the Spirit or acts under its influence?   Is it possible to discern between the effects of the Spirit and other influences that might work upon us?[10]   Is there anything concrete to which one can grab hold of?   Instead, discussions of the Spirit, and how it works, are terribly imprecise—they are cloaked in language that is often metaphorical and poetic, figurative and suggestive, loose and expressive.   How could anything related to the Spirit and its influence upon us be measured or quantified?   Is it all beyond the reach of science and its methods for testing truth, or rational explanation and analysis, and are we as a consequence left solely to the realm of feelings, emotions, conjecture, personal opinion, subjectivity, even mysticism.   Moreover, how could it ever to be thought of as capturing the actual reality of human life.   Individuals, including missionaries, are far more complex and human.   Sometimes, they may be mature, sometimes silly and childish.   Sometimes, they are good (whatever that means), sometimes bad. 
 First of all, it is helpful to remember that the word of God (the scriptures), including discussions of the Spirit, is often equally vague, suggestive, metaphorical, open-ended.   Spiritual truths are usually expressed using such terms, presumably because such terms are somehow best suited for conveying the truths in question.   There is something about the nature of spiritual (or God’s) truth that lends itself best to such descriptions.   This does not make such truths any less true, but does give us some clues as to how such truths may be apprehended.   Such truths are understood as matters of the heart; they are best expressed through metaphor; such truths may be now dimly understood, but later they will be revealed with greater clarity; they are suggestive and vague, at least in part, because they are used to capture truths far beyond our current level of comprehension.   Yet they point to “real” truths not yet visibly seen, but which will be revealed in God’s ordained time.  
Consider, for example, these familiar passages from all of the major canons of scripture regarding the Spirit and its influence:  “Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.   That which is born of flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.   Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again.  The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth so is every one that is born of the Spirit.”[11]   “And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost.   And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things.”[12] “Yea, behold,, I will tell you in your mind and in your heart, by the Holy Ghost, which shall come upon you and which shall dwell in your heart.   Now, behold, this is the spirit of revelation; behold, this is the spirit by which Moses brought the children of Israel through the Red Sea on dry ground.”[13] “That by reason of transgression cometh the fall, which fall bringeth death, and inasmuch as ye were born into the world by water, and blood, and the spirit, which I have made, and so became of dust a living soul, even so ye must be born again into the kingdom of heaven, of water and of the Spirit, and be cleansed by blood, even the blood of mine Only Begotten; that ye might be sanctified from all sin, and enjoy the words of eternal life in the world to come, even immortal glory; For by the water ye keep the commandment; by the Spirit ye are justified, and by the blood ye are sanctified.”[14]

4.    Fruits of the Spirit and Works of the Flesh

While there is much about the Spirit we do not clearly understand: we do not know how it works upon, nor do we know when it will come and go.   These matters are left to God.   But we are told how the Spirit influences us and it is through the “signs” of the Spirit that we come to recognize that it has been with us.   Jesus suggests as much when he said to Nicodemus:  “The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearst the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.”  Many scriptures speak to what the Spirit does.  The Spirit “reveals truth,” “gives comfort,” testifies that Jesus is the Christ, prompts men to pray, and helps men to discern the difference between good and evil.   When we see these effects in our own live, we can have confidence that the Spirit is with us.   Likewise, when we see similar effects in the lives of others, we know they have been blessed by the Spirit.
The Apostle Paul provides another similar litmus test for detecting the workings of the Spirit.   Again with this test we detect the Spirit indirectly—one does not see the Spirit, but instead one recognizes the Spirit through its influence upon the lives of men.  In this case, the Spirit is with men if they enjoy the “fruits of the Spirit” and, at the same time, they are not subject to the “works of the flesh.”    “This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh.   For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would.  But if ye be led of the Spirit, ye are not under the law.  Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these: Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like….But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.”[15]   There is nothing abstract about these lists.  The examples are concrete and specific.   They are based upon Paul’s dichotomy of man’s nature—man may be either of the flesh or spirit.   Grouped together are those attributes that come from man’s flesh and the temptations of the flesh; and grouped together are those attributes that come from the spiritual side of man.   

[1] D&C 84: 88.
[2] D&C 50: 13-14.
[3] Matt. 10: 18-20. 
[4] D&C 84: 85.
[5] D&C 1: 23.
[6] D&C 124: 1.
[7] Matt. 10: 16.
[8] 1 Cor. 2: 1-5.
[9] D&C 50: 17-18; 21-22.
[10] This is precisely the question that Section 50 of the Doctrine and Covenants seeks to address.
[11] John 3: 5-8.
[12] Moroni 10: 4-5.
[13] D&C 8: 2-3.
[14] Moses 6: 59.
[15] Gal.: 5: 16-23.