Your success as a missionary is measured primarily by your commitment to find, teach, baptize, and confirm people and to help them become faithful members of the Church who enjoy the presence of the Holy Ghost. (Preach My Gospel)
Despite the fact that Preach my Gospel spends an entire section trying to drill into a missionary’s head the fact that baptisms!= success, I’ve spent much of my mission rejecting that concept. After all, they only put that in there to make missionaries in places like Europe feel better about themselves, right? If you aren’t finding, teaching, and baptizing, it just means you aren’t working hard enough.
Without even addressing the reasons why this line of thinking is incorrect, let me tell you how destructive that mode of thinking has been throughout my mission. It’s hard to count the number of days I came home feeling like I had failed because all of our investigators had decided to stop learning, or because we had worked hard all day to talk to people, and nothing came of it. “Nobody will listen, why even try?” That thought has gone through my mind many times, and through my lips more than once.
I’m accustomed to doing work in which my success is determined only by the effort I put into it. It’s been extremely frustrating to do work in which my results seemingly have no correlation with my efforts. As a result, it’s easy to fall into the trap of believing that it’s all up to chance: knock on enough doors, talk to enough strangers, and eventually you’ll find at least one person who will hear your message.
Perhaps if this were my own work, if I were selling pest control or frozen meats, that would be the case. But this isn’t my work. This is the Lord’s work. He, more than anyone, wants it to go well, and He is willing to help us to “find them that will receive [us]” (D&C 42:8). The purpose of spreading the Gospel is not merely to bring people into the Church and increase its numbers. The Lord has said, “ye are called to bring to pass the gathering of mine elect; for mine elect hear my voice and harden not their hearts” (D&C 29:7).
We are searching for specific people — people whom the Lord knows. I found this to be true this week on two separate occasions.
Recently, our Ward Mission Leader had recommended that we go and tract a specific street in Harwinton, saying he knew some good people who lived there. On Sunday night, we decided to do some personal contacting before nightfall. I prayed to know where to go, and I was reminded of the Ward Mission Leader’s recommendation. As we drove there, I saw many expensive houses, and started to panic a little bit. As we came to our destination, I really didn’t want to stay, but Elder Phillipsen said, “let’s just try one house.” We said a prayer again: “Heavenly Father, we really don’t want to do this because we are scared, but we are going to do it anyway. Please send an angel to go with us to help us.” Immediately after we got out of the car, we met AJ and his wife Lily (names have been changed), long-time friends of several members of the ward. They told us that they had heard our message before, and invited us to come visit them this week.
On the second occasion, Elder Phillipsen and I were trying to decide where to tract, so I asked God, in prayer, where He wanted us to go. I saw clearly in my mind the image of a local grocery store, as well as the home of a family in our ward. As we drove to the grocery store, I saw a road that stood out to me, as if that were the place. I looked at the ward directory, and found that it was the road on which the family I saw in my head lived. We went there, and only 3 doors in, we found Richard, a former investigator who invited us to come back to teach. Sadly, when we called a few days later, he was mildly aggressive in telling us he wasn’t interested.
It was so interesting to see the contrast between our first conversation and our last. He was at first quite interested, but at last, quite the opposite. Because Richard did not decide to learn, one might be tempted to doubt the veracity of the divine direction we received that lead us to his house. I do not. God needs somebody to reach out to His children. Just because we don’t see the result we expect does not diminish the importance of the visit. Richard needed to be given the opportunity to receive the Gospel again, even though he chose not to.
This brings me back to success. Did I spend every hour of every day knocking on doors? No. In fact, I would say I probably wasn’t as “diligent” as I had been in the past. However, we also had much more proselyting success than we had in the past. Why? I believe it is because we sought God’s will. Recognizing that this is His work and that He knows his elect, we asked Him to show us where to go and what to do, on several occasions, in addition to the ones I shared. In the end, I felt successful not because I had worked myself to the bone, but because I had done my best to hear and heed the Holy Ghost’s direction.
I’m no longer so concerned about proselyting success, because I know that that is God’s job. My job is simply to listen and obey. I can do that every day, and come home feeling like a successful missionary.