I was baptized when I was eight, in Palmerston North. My mother, Shirley, was baptized just before me. We travelled three hours by car from Hawera. We were new converts and unbeknown to us, we were helping grow the Church. President Kimball stated, “If there were no converts, the Church would shrivel and die on the vine.” (Spencer W. Kimball, Oct 1974). Consequently, increasing the number of new converts is an integral part of the work of salvation. There are other parts too. The first of these is “member missionary work” which involves increasing the number of convert baptisms. Although there is one purpose, each part must be strong, joined, and work in harmony with the next part. For example, we try not to think about convert baptisms without also focusing on ordinances of the sacrament, and those received in the temple. A missionary companionship doesn’t teach the first lesson, then ‘high five’ each other exclaiming, “Our work is done!” They teach the first lesson, while also planning to teach the second lesson and so on, focusing their entire efforts on helping people receive the full blessings of the restored gospel. Listed below are simple and practical principles that may assist in increasing the number of converts who remain:
- A sacred work requiring unity, effort and enthusiasm - In all stakes, districts, and missions in the Pacific Area, it is our goal to achieve 15,000 new converts in 2014. President Hinckley felt we could double the number of new converts with concerted effort and with greater enthusiasm. Are you witnessing this in your stake? In your personal efforts? One aspect in addressing ‘concerted effort’ and ‘greater enthusiasm’ is when members and missionaries work together in a partnering relationship. Missionaries may do much of the teaching, but members and missionaries can all participate in finding, inviting, friend-shipping, and nurturing those gaining, or regaining an interest in the truth. This is not an ineffectual, short-term, effort or experience. Increasing the number of converts means just that – we must increase the number converted. “And so were the churches established in the faith, and increased in number daily” (Acts 16:5). This sacred work is about saving souls, requiring our best efforts, and involving the Holy Ghost. We must never use force, guilt, panic, or over-bearance to “get the job done” just to achieve a goal. Missionaries and members are sensitive to how they approach this work, and encourage one another. Leaders inform the missionaries of the ward plan and all align their efforts to it.
- The Lord knows His people, we are to open our mouths - A few years ago, my wife Julie met a lady at a gym in Melbourne. They talked as they walked together on adjacent treadmills. To insert the gospel into the conversation, Julie would ask, “How was your weekend?” hoping that the question would be reciprocated. When the time came for Julie to talk about her weekend activities, the richness of the gospel, including the blessings of Church attendance experienced by her family were shared. Numerous invitations were extended, and although this new friend attended various Church meetings, there seemed to be a reluctance to progress further. However, as I looked at this friendship developing I could tell it was far deeper than merely getting another convert. As a consequence, and after three years of that lengthy association and two worn out treadmills, Lyn finally embraced the gospel. Seven years later Lyn remains strong in the faith, and a builder of the Kingdom. Others may accept the truth more readily. I recall a Chinese man knocking on the front door of the meetinghouse. He seemed flustered. When the door was unlocked, he told us he was moving back to China in two days time and wanted to be baptized right now! The missionaries seemed stunned and looked at me as if to say, “We’ve never had anyone come running up to us and ask to be baptized right now, can we do this?” We found that he had been an investigator in another location and had attended Church many times before. This man had been taught all the lessons, and was keeping the commandments, but needed the first ordinances. He was interviewed, baptized and confirmed, and then returned to China saying, “I’m now a happy man”.
- By small and simple ways - Our son-in-law Steve showed us how easy it is to assist in this work. He married our third daughter and they live in Melbourne. They visited us in Auckland in early 2014 along with other family members. There were 19 staying at our house. On their first Sunday here Steve asked his mother-in-law (Julie, my wife) if he could invite another two people to dinner that night – along with the 19 already there. What was he thinking? Didn’t he understand that as the son-in-law, he had limited rights and privileges - something akin to being on probation!? While asking my wife, he added, “And I won’t eat anything so we’ll have enough for the visitors”. Julie immediately responded, “Of course we can have another two people for dinner.” When we arrived home, we were blessed to meet Jonathon and his son. They were being taught by the missionaries, and had attended Church for the first time that day. Steve had befriended him and invited him to “our” house for dinner. We had great gospel discussions and got to know Jonathon and his son. We shared with him what the gospel means to us and answered questions. Jonathon subsequently accepted the gospel. As for Steve, well, he is now off probation!! One person, looking for opportunities and opening his mouth, was able to strengthen these investigators, and our family. Looking back, it seemed so simple; there just needed to be focus and a willingness to reach out to rescue. When I was called as stake president in Sydney, one ward was consistently baptising new members at a rapid pace. Upon inquiry, the bishop advised that one of the major reasons for their success could be attributed to the ward leadership inviting investigators and new members to dinner every week. Again, this is such an easy thing to do, and highly effective.
- We can all participate – We may be able to trade off with the full-time missionaries. Some may prepare themselves and then serve as missionaries. Most who earn an income can donate to the ward missionary fund. We can invite someone to dinner or to an activity, and even have a lesson taught by the missionaries in our home. Some may provide transport or friendship. Most of us can attend convert baptismal services, and all of us can learn what the ward mission plan is, and be willing and excited to participate and support in our own way in the salvation of souls. All can help improve the missionary-work culture of their stake by bringing a new spirit with more enthusiasm that will be contagious to others. All can pray for opportunities, and share experiences. Countenances and smiles can radiate the joy of gospel blessings. All can sing the hymns of Zion with much more reverent zeal, evidencing the love and testimony for the Saviour. We can all live our religion with more openness and determination. Participating is not something else ‘we have to do,’ but is a privilege inherent in our covenant-keeping responsibilities that we are ‘blessed to do’. Like many things in life, missionary work may come naturally to a few, but to others it may seem like a big challenge. A powerful spirit attends those who even begin to show an interest and desire. Wait to see the hand of the Lord as you do so. As President Eyring has taught, “God will put prepared people in the way of His prepared servants who want to share the gospel” (Henry B. Eyring, Sept 2012).
- Not just numbers, but converts - Leaders, members, and missionaries must also have a longer term focus and purpose, rather than having a baptism just to achieve a goal. Whilst serving as mission president, zone leaders reported that the sister missionaries in their zone had found a large family and they were starting to teach them. Each week during the following months, zone leaders would report that this family had been taught the lessons many times, were friendly, had attended Church, but wouldn’t commit to being baptized. The Sisters had tried everything. Finally, out of frustration I told the zone leaders to inform the sister missionaries that I would personally come and perform the baptism of Mr AhFua, if they would set a date for baptism. Three weeks later, to our great joy, members of the AhFua family were baptized and confirmed. About nine years later, I was assigned to preside at the Narre Warren stake conference in Melbourne. I inquired after the AhFua family who long ago had meant so much to me and our missionaries. Below is a photo of their family. Needless to say, for them to experience deep spiritual conversion unto the Lord, to be sealed in the temple, to have children serve missions, and to remain strong members, required much more than the one who performed the baptism ordinance; it required more than the teaching and perseverance of those valiant sister missionaries. It demanded attentive and loving leaders and missionaries, Church friends who were real, teachers who would teach by the Spirit. It required an assignment, and much nurturing. They had to experience for themselves through study, prayer, service, ordinances, and keeping covenants, the power of Godliness in their lives. To greet and embrace them after all these years and to witness their faithfulness to the new and everlasting covenant brought an indescribable joy to my soul. Said President Hinckley, “…it will do no good for you to baptize someone and have that individual fall away from the Church shortly thereafter. What have you accomplished? ...The whole process counts for nothing. Any investigator worthy of baptism becomes a convert worthy of saving.” (Gordon B. Hinckley, May 1999)
Finally, as a capstone, President Thomas S Monson has recently taught, “Now is the time for members and missionaries to come together, to work together, to labour in the Lord’s vineyard to bring souls unto Him. He has prepared the means for us to share the gospel in a multitude of ways, and He will assist us in our labours if we will act in faith to fulfil His work.”