Upon my agnostic brother Dooby’s second marriage—this time to a non-Mormon—my dad dutifully sent their address to the missionaries. I understood why my dad sent the missionaries, but I failed to share his optimism that my sister-in-law, Kato, was a golden contact. As I pondered Dad’s actions, I saw no chance of Dooby suddenly deciding that Mormons who had failed him during his youth had the only true gospel. Joining the church her husband had abandoned would create unnecessary conflict in Kato’s life.
And what benefit could either Dooby or Kato receive from church activity? They are both truly compassionate people, the kind their neighbors don’t hesitate to call on for help. As far as I can see, they don’t need to sit through lessons and talks about service and being a good neighbor because that’s the kind of people they are. They have a great many friends, so the social contact of a ward family is not something they miss. Their meditation practice gives them grateful hearts and peace in dealing with adversity—they don’t long for assurance of life with family members beyond this one.
I not only failed to think of any way Dooby and Kato’s lives would be enriched by Church membership, I could think of some ways their lives might be negatively impacted. Becoming active Mormons would add financial stress to their lives if they felt compelled to donate a prescribed amount of their income. Church callings would take time from worthwhile activities which they currently enjoy.
While I failed to recognize any benefit to Dooby and Kato from joining the church, I did recognize that it would have benefited my dad. Dad carried guilt from not protecting young Dooby from unpleasant situations. He may have blamed himself for Dooby leaving the church and for his subsequent divorce. Seeing Dooby and Kato as active members of the church would have assuaged guilt and given Dad peace of mind.
But Dooby and Kato could not be expected to change their religious beliefs only to benefit our dad. People change religions because they believe the change will improve their lives—or because of an experience which provided a spiritual resonance.
Emotional experiences often work for a time, but have the downside of being easily misinterpreted. “How will it benefit me?” is a logical question to ask before making any change in life. And asking how my church will benefit a person is a legitimate question to ask before attempting to share religious convictions.
George and I served as ward missionaries in Cedar City about five years ago. We were assigned to visit an apartment complex with a transient population each week to check if new arrivals were members and to invite non-members to church. We were not expected to teach—our bishop was no fool.
We called ourselves the ward locaters. It was probably the only ward calling we would have accepted at that time and we enjoyed it. We met nice people, told themwhere to find their own churches, and provided other community information. One day we met a couple of unmarried 18-year-olds. They froze when we asked if they were Church members–probably wondering if their parents had tracked them down. We tactfully left without suggesting having their Church records sent.
The only down side to this calling was attending ward missionary meetings where everyone was pressured to find somebody— anybody—for the fulltime missionaries to teach. The idea that nonmember neighbors might be perfectly happy without being Mormons was beyond the ken of devout committee members.
One family was continually mentioned—an inactive single dad with a teenage son. The unbaptized boy was about 14, a good student, involved with sports and school activities. He had friends outside the Church. But every month, our committee lamented the fact that this boy was not a Boy Scout attending Mormon services and preparing for a mission. How could we help this father see the need his happy, well-adjusted son had to be part of our group?
We finally asked for a release from our calling because we couldn’t handle the committee meetings. The members were nice people, but their focus on finding investigators to teach seemed self-serving—a way to magnify their ward standing rather than to benefit others.
The current Sugar Beet “news story” reveals a new Church policy to send missionaries to “way cooler locales” rather than to developing countries. Places like Monte Carlo where missionaries can seek out wealthy investigators who have the potential to become huge tithing contributors.
Fifteen years ago our daughter actually had the opportunity to serve in the France Marseilles Mission—a way cooler missionary field than Guatemala or Boise, Idaho. Unfortunately, Jaycee didn’t convert or even meet any millionaires. Even along the Riviera, it’s mostly the young and the poor who take time to listen to Mormon missionaries. P-days were a lot of fun for the missionaries though—bicycling along the Mediterranean once a week compensated for six days of rejection.
A curious thing about Jaycee’s mission was the number of devoutly religious people who nodded as she and her companion explained about praying to receive a confirmation of the truths they were teaching. Then these contacts bore enthusiastic testimony of the spiritual witness they had already received in answer to fervent prayer—affirmation that the church they had previously joined was true.
Nothing at the MTC had prepared Jaycee to refute heartfelt testimonies that a non-LDS church was God’s plan for a sincerely religious person. These people had studied, thought, prayed and received a witness. Was she supposed to tell them their feelings of peace and happiness came from a source other than God?