Overcoming Concerns

The topic of this week’s blog actually has reference to instruction that the Assistants have been providing first at our Mission Leadership Council and then at each of our Zone Conferences. Overcoming Concerns of someone we are teaching is paramount in the conversion process. Teaching 19-25 year olds how to help someone overcome a concern is important, and it takes repetition and effort. I know that when I was on my mission as a 19 year old, I was pretty sure that I was humble and teachable and certainly I knew how to teach people. The experience and perspective of 40 years has taught me otherwise. We have been working on teaching missionaries how to overcome concerns using inspired questions, to connect the person we are teaching with the Spirit. A missionary’s first reaction when someone has an objection or concern, is to prove to them that they (the missionary is right) and the person being taught is wrong. They pull out their scriptures and begin to read, for example, scriptures that teach that the God the Father has a body of flesh and bones. If we are talking about baptism, we pull out our scriptures and read all of the scriptures that prove Christ was immersed in water. If that doesn’t work, then we explain how their baptism was not valid because they were not baptized with proper priesthood authority. We are really, really good at this game of cat and mouse, where our goal is to prove the investigator wrong. And if that doesn’t work, we just bear our testimony and then wonder why the person struggles with keeping a commitment to come to church. Don’t get me wrong, some of these methods are appropriate and helpful, but that would be the exception and not the rule. Learning to ask inspired questions is the key to being a successful teacher. Christ did it constantly. I found a list of the questions Jesus asked, if you are interested, you can find it here on the BYU Studies website.

I will give you an example, when a set of missionaries visits with someone they are teaching with the intent to invite them to be baptized, the conversation often goes something like this. “Today we would like to talk to you about baptism.” The missionary then proceeds to invite the person to follow Jesus Christ and be baptized. Often, the response is, “But I have already been baptized.” The missionary will then begin to share scriptures on priesthood authority and the manner in which Christ was baptized. Often they will bring up, “But did you receive the Holy Ghost?” Again, in the right situation, these scriptures might be helpful. However, before going there, there are some inspired questions the missionary needs to ask. “How did you feel when you were baptized in your church?” Did it bring a lasting change to your life?” “What do you believe is the purpose of baptism?” (It is often said to be a way to join a church). This provides an opportunity to teach about the remission of sins. More questions follow. “Do you feel your sins have been forgiven”? This is a difficult question for many. They want to say “Yes”, but all, if honest in heart, will know they are still laboring under the burden of sin and will recognize they are not clean. Some will need time to digest this question. “Do you believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and paid the price for the sins of all men?” Almost all will say, “Yes”. “Do you believe He paid the price for your sins?” This is a more difficult question for many, but ultimately they will conclude the answer is “Yes”. This is a good place to re-introduce the Book of Mormon, ask how they have felt as they have read from it, and then turn to 2 Nephi 31:17 and have them read that powerful verse on the Doctrine of Christ. “Would you like to follow the example of our Savior Jesus Christ and be baptized for the remission of your sins by one having authority from God?” The use of inspired questions removes the need to “prove” who is right and who is wrong. This is what it means to allow the Spirit of the Lord to teach and testify of the truth of the message.

This is what we have been doing in our zone conferences through role plays. We invite the missionaries in the “audience” to help those who are doing the role play (I am the person being taught), to provide ideas for inspired questions when they start trying to “prove” they are right. It has been a marvelous experience to see how the understanding of the missionaries grows like the light increasing on a beautiful clear morning as the sun rises above the horizon.

Overcoming concerns is not just a topic for missionaries, it is a life-skill that can help us in our family life, our career, and our church assignments. It can take many forms in its application. However, one thing that will also be a constant is the use of inspired questions. An inspired question will inevitably be more powerful than statements of fact. An inspired question will stay with the person to whom the question is directed, and the spirit will continue to teach and inspire the individual for days and weeks and perhaps even months into the future.

Although we had three marvelous zone conferences last week, it was a very difficult week for us. Due to the poor choices of a missionary, there were consequences and fallout that consumed every spare moment that we had (and even moments we did not have). It caused us to be late to the conference held on Wednesday, and kept us up late at night. It added stress and concern that we had not heretofore experienced as mission leaders. We will forever be grateful for the help of Elder and Sister Moomey, as well our our area medical team, for their assistance, wisdom, and inspired counsel during the week. There was additional fallout from the issues that arose at the end of the week that we worked through and we are grateful that the concerns have now been overcome and we are back on track. It would be inappropriate to say anything more than that, but to not give mention to it here would also be incomplete. We are grateful for the hand of the Lord that we saw in the decisions and the actions taken throughout the week. We testify that this is indeed His work and not our own.

The other messages at the zone conference included Sister Kunz talking about the wise man and the foolish man. She had a great discussion with the missionaries as what defines a wise man and what defines a foolish man. She used the example of our poly tank (water tank) foundation that on the outside looked like it was strong, but with time, the weight of the tank caused the foundation to crack. You can read about that story here. When we have sand in our foundation instead of cement, we will be in trouble.

We asked each companionship of zone leaders to choose their own topic and deliver it within a 30 minute timeframe. Each of them did an outstanding job with their topic. Some of the topics that have been discussed thus far: “Going All In”, “Becoming Champions of Christ”, “How to Keep the Fire Burning”, “Receiving Revelation”, “Unlocking the Powers of Heaven”, “Quick to Observe and Learn”. My instruction was focused on the Good Shepherd and sharing some of the inspired questions I came up with during my own personal study. Some of the questions we discussed: Why does the Good Shepherd number his sheep? How does He number them? What are the requirements to be part of his fold? What does it mean to find pasture? What does it mean to find high pasture? How do we know if our hearts are hardened? Why does hardening our hearts provoke him to anger? Who are the false shepherds? What does it mean to come ye out from the wicked? What are the wicked’s unclean things? These are just some of the questions that I considered while reading 1 Nephi 22:25; Mosiah 26:21; Alma 5:38,57; and Helaman 7:18.

I followed this up with a discussion on true charity. We talked about John 10:15 “As the father knoweth me, even so know I the father: and I lay down my life for the sheep” and John 15:12-14 ““This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you.  Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you.” The point of the discussion was that even though Christ willingly laid down His life for us, often we are afraid of what someone might say if we speak up about a missionary who has hardened his/her heart and are no longer keeping the mission rules. Many are afraid they will be labeled a “snitch” or someone who “reports” other missionaries to the mission president. We are trying to help the missionaries understand we are focused on their eternal salvation, and if a missionary needs help to change, then we can help them do that. But the fear of negative peer pressure is overwhelming to some. We hope it will do some good. We love these missionaries and we know that if they are to have healthy, righteous, prosperous families, they need to start now with being firm to the commitments they have made. Time will tell.

On Tuesday we were with the University and Konongo Zones, Wednesday we were with Asouyeboa and Bantama zones, and Thursday we were with the Suame and Dichemso zones.

In the health and safety section, Elder and Sister Moomey put on a great display of a seven minute workout. Well, Sister Moomey did most of the work, but Elder Moomey was an excellent coach and “trainer”. All of the missionaries enjoyed their high energy presentation and now have a laminated card for their apartment with all of the exercises. No more excuses for not exercising!

Below: Konongo and University, Asouyeboa and Bantama, Dichemso and Suame

Here are some pictures of the various zone conferences

After a very full week, we arose early on Saturday morning and left for the Sunyani District Conference by 6:10 am. It took us almost exactly 2 hours and 20 minutes to arrive. President Obeng (my first counselor) and I met with the District Presidency starting about 8:45 am. We went over the program for each of the two days, talked about some of the needs of the district and then adjourned at 9:45 am to prepare for the Saturday Adult Session. Because of the distance of the some of branches, we streamed the conference to the outlying buildings, but there were less than 20 watching the stream. We had just over 50 in attendance at the district center. LaDawn used some of the concepts from her zone conference discussion focused on building a firm foundation. I spoke about the importance of reading the scriptures every single day, and especially the Book of Mormon. Using 1 Nephi 13:40-41, I talked about how these verses teach us that the only way we can come unto Christ is by living according to the words established by the mouth of the Lamb. Verse 41 goes on to say that these words can be found in the record of Nephi’s seed (the Book of Mormon) and the record of the Twelve Apostles of the Lamb (the New Testament).

In the afternoon session, which was a priesthood leadership session, we had 29 in attendance. There should have been 70. I spent the entire time following the intermediate hymn talking about repentance. Using the slides from our last zone conference titled, “Turning Unto the Lord”, I taught the principle of repentance in a clear manner. This is a principle that is not well understood here. Not that people do not know what repentance is, but that there is not a clear understanding about what constitutes a serious sin and what the consequences need to be so that the person can truly repent. The discussion was extremely well received and I was so happy with the way the topic was received that I have decided to do the same thing at the other conferences were I preside and have the time to do so.

We stayed in the Tyco Hotel Saturday, Sunday and Monday nights. Probably the best 2 star hotel we stay in. We are grateful for the friendly staff and the delicious food (usually) served in the restaurant. It was actually nice to get away from Kumasi and focus on the Sunyani District. Having a non-hectic Sunday morning was especially joyful, providing me an opportunity to get caught up on last week’s blog post and missionary letters given the struggle with time we had had the previous week.

We arrived back at the district center at 9:40 am for the final session that began at 10:00 am. We were pleased to learn that we had a total of 504 members and friends in attendance. Certainly an all-time record for the Sunyani District. The conference was spirit filled and everyone pretty much kept to their time (which is always an added bonus). It is always especially rewarding for us to be with the missionaries who serve in the Sunyani District. There are 20 of them. LaDawn spoke about integrity, a topic that can never be spoken of enough. When it was my turn, I asked for a young couple recently sealed in the temple to come and bear their testimony. It was so sweet. The husband bore his testimony about the joy they had had in the temple and they began to walk away from the pulpit when I jumped up and asked the wife to share her testimony as well. When they finished, I kept them at the microphone for another moment so they could share with us how they felt being in the sealing room when they brought their little boy in, dressed in white, to be sealed to them. The wife said it best “It was like heaven”. Every single person in that congregation felt the power of her statement. It was a very special moment. I went on to talk about how we can all have a piece of heaven in our lives as we progress towards being born again. Using some of the notes from the devotional that Kevin Ball shared with the mission a few months back, I taught them the importance of laying our wills upon the altar of God and allowing Him to prevail in our lives.

Sunyani District Conference during the intermediate hymn. We were surprised how many of the children got up and went to the washrooms

After the conference, President Obeng and I again met with the District Presidency and discussed the way forward for the next six months. It is obvious this presidency is working well together and doing some great work. Two weeks earlier they had taken 53 people to the temple, many for their own endowments and quite a few families to be sealed. The progress of the district in a short time is remarkable. We asked them to work on one thing in addition to their own agenda of bringing back the less active. We need more member referrals. Only 23% of the baptisms in the district come from member referrals. This is the lowest in the entire mission. The mission average is 34%. So reactivation and member missionary work will be their main focus until the next conference early in 2023. With that meeting complete, I interviewed 10 of the missionaries and then returned to the hotel by 5:30 pm. It was a good day. Because our zone conference will be in Sunyani on Tuesday and Tamale on Thursday, we decided just to stay in Sunyani rather than make the trip back and forth to Kumasi. It was a good decision and gave us some time to catch our breaths.

We absolutely love this work. We love the missionaries. We love the members and their leaders. We rejoice with all who are trying to live a life filled with the blessings of the restored gospel and the joy that comes from doing so. As we have stated before, we appreciate the good times, and we appreciate the bad times (although to be clear we prefer the good ones). We testify that this work is led by our Savior and Redeemer. We see His hand in everything that we do. We rejoice in His goodness and the great gift of the Holy Ghost which provides both comfort and strength. We stand as witnesses of Him, whose Church this is, Together in Ghana.

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