In our zone conferences this time around, one of the highlights was the instruction that LaDawn provided on Gossip. We don’t know if all missions struggle with this horrible habit, but we know that the Ghana Kumasi Mission has improvement in this area that needs to be made. It was eye-opening for the missionaries to see how quickly a simple message gets confused when information about other missionaries are passed along throughout the mission. In each conference, LaDawn selected a group of missionaries and had them play “Chinese Whispers”. While we have asked missionaries not to be talking to other missionaries in the mission, some cannot help themselves – and it causes pain for many. It is something we really want to curtail because we know the value of missionaries focusing on the purpose rather than on the latest juicy tidbit about another missionary (which is almost always completely false). LaDawn started by writing down a simple phrase and then having the missionaries whisper it to one another in a small elongated circle. “People who know me would say my best quality is my unwavering optimism.” In a couple of conferences, the word “people” actually made it to the end, but any similarity between the start phrase and the end phrase ended there.
We really hope that the missionaries can catch the vision of discipleship when they DON’T PASS IT ON. It is no fun for any of us to be on the receiving end of gossip, and I think it is fair to say we have all been “that” person at some point in our lives. President Uchtdorf’s counsel from his April 2012 Conference address is perfect. “When it comes to hating, gossiping, ignoring, ridiculing, holding grudges, or wanting to cause harm, please apply the following:
We have to stop judging others and replace judgmental thoughts and feelings with a heart full of love for God and His children. God is our Father. We are His children. We are all brothers and sisters.”
We had the zone leaders in each conference present 4 points on Baptizing the Elect. While all of these principles are in Preach My Gospel, we felt a special need to re-emphasize them here.
- Have the Vision to Baptize:
- Understand the worth of a soul which drives us to do everything in our power to help that precious child of God come closer to their Heavenly Father and experience the blessings of the Atonement of Jesus Christ. This is what it means to catch the vision to baptize.
- See and picture our people in white baptismal clothes. See them as God sees them.
- Encourage Church attendance:
- Treat people who come to Sacrament Meeting special. The elect will keep their commitments, so when they come to church it is evidence of their desire to know God better. We need to help them find what they are looking for and spending more time with them than others who do not come to church.
- We should do everything we can to have members welcome and make those who are coming to see for themselves feel welcomed.
- We need to talk about baptism more:
- The sooner those we are teaching understand that we are there to baptize them, the more success we will have.
- Issuing soft baptismal invitations earlier in the teaching process will result in greater success. We are proud of our missionary purpose and desire to bring the blessings of the Atonement of Jesus Christ to the people we love and serve.
- When we are teaching minors, we should meet their parents as soon as possible and try to involve them in the lessons.
- The teaching process:
- We need to teach for progression rather than to teach for lessons. We need to prayerfully consider what the people we are teaching need in order to progress to baptism.
- Daily contact is essential – whether in person or by phone/WhatsApp/Messenger
- “Missionaries must give the people the vision of remission of sins by baptism and the Holy Ghost, teach them of the blessings of redemption (forgiveness of sin) and the Holy Ghost first, and invite them to prepare to be baptized at the outset of their teaching. Give them a reason to do all of those other things; otherwise, it is just a long list of hard things to do and sacrifices to make without understanding why.” – Elder Lawrence Corbridge
I love the consistency of these messages across the mission on baptizing the elect. The Assistants did an outstanding job preparing clear and inspired outlines for each zone leader companionship.
We then had the Sister Training Leaders teach about Convert Retention using page 217 in Preach My Gospel which talks about working with the Ward Council to Strengthen New and Returning Members. At the heart of this is President Hinckley’s counsel that each convert needs three things: 1) A friend. 2) An assignment in the Church. and, 3) To be nourished by the good word of God. Each set of Sister Training Leaders did a remarkable job of teaching these principles. In Tamale, the Steinmetz covered the topic perfectly. Unfortunately I did not get a picture of the Steinmetz’s or the Techiman Sisters (Sister Freeman and Sister Annan).
After the Sisters completed their instruction, I added a few more things that we learned in the Mission Leadership Seminar in Accra a month ago. This was from a discussion led by Elder Klebingat as he asked us as Mission Leaders to get the missionaries more involved with new converts. The point is that every new convert has a lot of lifestyle changes they have deal with and unless their relationships, beliefs, and experiences in the restored church outweigh those lifestyle changes, we will lose the new converts. While there are a number of things members and missionaries can help a new convert with, of special mention by Elder Klebingat were: Priesthood ordination (males), Limited Use Recommend, Prepare a name for the temple, Receive a calling (always an opportunity for more ward and branch missionaries), and Connecting them to more members. Getting them to the temple to do baptisms for the dead is also a high priority. If more new converts experienced these things, they would stay. Right now in the mission, after one year, we have about a 60% retention rate. Something we can definitely improve upon.
The last item we talked about at zone conference was my discussion on the doctrine of Baptism. Elder Nash had presented a talk at the Mission Leader Seminar prior to our departure last year. At the time I thought it was good, but it was only in preparation for this zone conference that I realized how absolutely profound the content was. I went back and read it and re-read it to make sure I truly understood the doctrine. Here are just three of the key points:
- No matter how much a person desires to receive forgiveness and no matter how much repenting they do (as they understand repentance), there is no access to the Atonement of Jesus Christ without “Baptism for the Remission of Sins”. Elder Nash referenced Moses 6:58-65 as the doctrinal backdrop of this important principle. Knowing this changes everything for us as missionaries and gives us an extra push to help those we love receive peace from the “sins which so easily beset us”.
- One of the highlights of the discussion was this slide. I owe a huge debt of gratitude to our friend Kevin Ball who came up with the question at the bottom. We had a marvelous discussion about this and the missionaries drew so many parallels about the difference between living water and stagnant water – both at the time we were baptized and now as we live our lives.
- The third point from the discussion was this quote from Elder Nash that summed the whole subject up extremely well: “Because of Christ, His priesthood authority, and the Holy Ghost, baptism is sacred, joyous, liberating, and sanctifying. Teach them [asking Mission Leaders to teach missionaries] that ‘baptism is prominent in the doctrine of Christ’ and that living the doctrine of Christ ‘is the way; and there is none other way nor name given under heaven whereby man can be saved in the kingdom of God.’ And teach it again and again and again. If you and the missionaries you lead understand the ordinance and covenant of baptism, that understanding will forever change you, the missionaries, and those they teach. Together, you will gather Israel and prepare the world for the Second Coming of the Lord.”
That was our Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday….including a presidency meeting on Thursday night. On Friday we did a bunch of interviews for the Dichemso zone and went from 10:00 am to 3:00 pm interviewing 16 missionaries with a short break for lunch (peanut butter and jelly – my favorite!). It was a good day. Unfortunately, we only managed to take a picture of the very last two interviewees – the zone leaders, Elder Harnois and Elder Awortwi.
How we love this work! How we love the missionaries! How we love our Savior and Redeemer of the World, Jesus Christ. We are grateful to have a front row seat to this final gathering of Israel. There is rarely a dull moment and the work is extremely rewarding – even the tough days bring us joy as we reflect on the work we are doing to build the Church and establish Zion. Lots of exciting work ahead as we seek to know and do the Father’s will. The experiences we are having are “days never to be forgotten” just as Oliver Cowdery said of the days of translating the Book of Mormon with Joseph Smith. While our work is no where near as important to the restoration, it is significant in our lives and we take great joy in serving at this time and in this place, Together in Ghana.