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September 3, 2009
In The Village
Referrals only go to the select
by Orson Scott Card

One of the most important things that fulltime missionaries do is build relationships with Church members in their area.

We all know the statistic that says that investigators are more likely to join the Church if they're taught the gospel in the home of a member.

But just as cold medicine doesn't cure a cold, it only blocks an obnoxious symptom, so we've found that merely teaching lessons in a member's home is not the key.

The key is that when an investigator already has good friends inside the Church, he is much more likely to join the Church and remain active for life.

Maybe it would be better if people joined the Church on the basis of their testimony alone, and remained converted whether they are welcomed into a ward or not.

But we're human beings, and we hunger for company, for acceptance. A new convert often -- no, usually -- gives up old habits, old groups of friends. It's like the house Jesus talked about, swept clean of evil spirits, but ready to be reoccupied by worse ones if the Spirit of God does not come to dwell there.

When someone changes his life enough to accept the gospel, that is when he most needs to have the company of good friends who share the faith and can reassure him that he has done the right thing.

From a fulltime missionary's point of view, it can sometimes seem that ward members are lazy or forgetful -- that we don't care about the missionary work. If we cared, we'd keep the missionaries well-supplied with referrals.

But it's not that simple. To us members, these aren't "referrals." Nor are they "first discussions" or "baptismal commitments," statistical fodder for your weekly reports to the mission president.

They're our friends.

Whether they join the Church or not, we intend to keep them as friends. So we are very careful about when and how we introduce them to the gospel.

They already know we're Mormons; they already know much of what we believe. But when we bring the missionaries into the picture, we're raising everything to a new level. We're asking our friends to consider changing their lives.

So the last thing we want to do is turn these friends over to missionaries who function -- to use Stephen R. Covey's term from Spiritual Roots of Human Relationships -- "gospel salesmen."

If we detect even a hint that the missionaries serving in our ward are working toward numerical goals, competing with other missionaries for baptisms, dropping investigators who aren't instantly ready for the water, pushing for commitments the investigators are not yet willing to make, and ignorant of the gospel they are supposed to teach, you can be sure we will not waste what may be our only opportunity with dear friends by showing them that kind of missionary!

We will wait for the missionaries who love the gospel and the people, who care nothing for stats, goals, and other motivational devices. We will wait for missionaries who know the gospel and are excited about what it means for Saints to take upon them the name of Christ. Missionaries who will be patient and sensitive with our friends and not try to bring them along faster than they are willing to go.

You know what I mean: Missionaries who have read section 121 of the Doctrine and Covenants and realize that it applies to missionary work from beginning to end: No aspiration to the honors of men, no compulsory means, no guile, no hypocrisy.

Instead, gentleness, meekness, unpretended love, patience (that's what "long-suffering" means). And, of course, pure knowledge that comes from the Holy Ghost.

So whenever missionaries come into our homes, whenever they speak in sacrament meeting, whenever they talk to us in priesthood meeting or at baptismal services, they are auditioning.

We may not say so openly, or even think it consciously. But when we decide whether now is the time to to invite certain friends to receive the discussions, what we have seen and heard from you will be a major part of our decision.

This past week in sacrament meeting, a young man who was about to leave on his mission spoke to us. He and his family were refugees from a country where their lives were in danger, and he was forced to leave just before completing his college degree. Now he cannot get his transcripts and will have to start college all over again.

At the age of 21, he is taking two years to serve the Lord before starting his formal education over again.

He stood before us and spoke very little about himself, though he did tell us how much he honored his father for having the courage to take the kind of stand that led to their having to flee their native country.

Instead he taught core principles of the gospel. He had prepared his talk. It was memorized -- he never took his eyes from us. He spoke naturally and from the heart. His ideas were well thought out. He did not try to manipulate us emotionally -- he told us the plain truth as he understood it.

And after he spoke, I heard more than one person say, "I wish he were going to serve in our ward -- he's the kind of missionary I want to bring my friends to."

I've heard the other kind of missionary talk, too. Unprepared, the missionary thinks he can "wing it," and so rambles on, never quite making a point.

He talks about the missionary life and the sacrifices he's making -- forgetting (or never realizing) that even here, far outside of Utah, most of the men and many of the women in the congregation served missions themselves, and are not terribly impressed with a missionary who thinks he's making a great sacrifice.

The careless missionary rebukes us for not giving them enough names, or implies that we're lazy -- guaranteeing that we'll certainly wait until he's transferred before suggesting to our friends that they take the missionary lessons.

How many missionaries of this sort have gone home complaining about the "lazy members" in the areas where they served?

My dear young friends, we aren't lazy. On the contrary, we are good husbandmen in the Lord's orchard, and we are going to make sure that when we transplant a new tree into the grove, we put it in the best soil, and keep it free of weeds, and water it and fertilize it well.

We love our service in the Lord's orchard. Every tree is precious to us.

Show us you feel the same way, and we will invite you to help us in our work.

But if you dig a shallow hole, toss in a sapling, splash a little water on it, and walk away, we aren't going to regard you as fellow workers in the Lord's garden.

We're going to regard you as trees that need a bit of weeding before they're ready to bear any fruit.

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