I had the opportunity over my Christmas Break to visit my parents, who are now living at the very Northeastern edge of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. I was there for nearly 3 weeks, so I was able to attend church with them twice during my visit. On the second week, I was privileged to have the chance to speak in Sacrament meeting in their branch.
The Branch President knew that I was waiting on a mission call, and he asked me to speak about preparing to serve as a Sister Missionary. Initially, I wasn’t that excited about the topic–I had been hoping for something related more to the start of a new year, or a gospel principle I could expand upon–but as I really delved into my preparation (knowing I was the last speaker and I would need to be prepared to fill either a lot of time, or only a short amount), I found that there was no better topic I could have possibly been assigned.
I don’t say that because of my current situation, having been called to serve a mission in the Philippines. I say that because the more I researched missionary preparation and pondered on the things that had motivated and inspired me to serve, the more I realized that the principles I wanted to discuss were principles that each and every member of the Church, each and every disciple of Jesus Christ, could benefit from.
I came up with a list of 6 things that we all need to learn. Because my talk was quite lengthy, though, I’ve decided to post each section separately. So here goes:
#1 We Must Learn To Be An Example
Romans 1:16 is a seminary “scripture mastery” verse. I memorized it years ago, and yet in recent months it has become so much more profound in my eyes. It reads:
“For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.”
I truly believe a perspective like this is critical not only to effective missionary work and discipleship, but also to true happiness in our lives. Before we can share it, we need to learn to love the Gospel, and not be afraid to live it.
I grew up in a town where mine was one of the only Mormon families. At any given time during high school, I was one of two LDS students in attendance. It wasn’t especially hard for me though, and I appreciate that the Lord knew my circumstances and never gave me a challenge I couldn’t handle. It never bothered me that none of my friends and classmates were LDS. I saw it as an opportunity for me to try to be an example to them, and that helped me to uphold my standards when perhaps I otherwise wouldn’t have.
After spending my Freshman year of college in situations similar to my high school experience, I decided to change my major, and consequently transfer to BYU for the remainder of my undergraduate education.
I had no idea what was in store for me when I arrived.
I absolutely love BYU, and being surrounded by so many incredible people who are striving to live the same commandments that I am is completely wonderful. Along with that, though, there were two things that surprised me.
First, I discovered how blessed I had been to grow up where I was one of the only members of the Church. Resisting peer pressure had been relatively easy for me, since I knew that my standards were different because of my different religious beliefs. At BYU, though, I found that my standards sometimes differed from those around me (whether more strict or less so), and that I could no longer attribute that difference merely to being LDS.
Secondly, I learned that we can be examples even to those who share our same beliefs. Over the summer, I went with a group of friends to a dance party on a Friday night. There were lots of people, black lights, and loud music. One friend, uncomfortable with the atmosphere we were in, realized that it didn’t match his standards and chose to remove himself from the scene. He and one of his roommates left to “go for a jog around the block,” during which time the rest of us met up together and decided we would prefer to leave as well, and find something more uplifting to do as a group. We ended up meeting them on campus, taking a ton of crazy random pictures, and having one of the most wholesomely entertaining evenings I had all summer.
That experience has affected me more than my friend will ever realize. He taught me that standing up for what you believe in is essential not only when you are acting as an example to those with different beliefs, but even when you are surrounded by righteous men and women with your same beliefs. Though I was uncomfortable at the party as well, I doubt if I would have had the courage that he did, and made the choice to leave even though it was a risky decision, not knowing whether the rest of the group would follow.
Elder Russell M. Nelson, in the October 2010 General Conference, gave a talk entitled “Be Thou An Example of the Believers.” In it, he quotes 1 Timothy 4:12.
Let no man despise thy youth; but be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity.
That counsel is just as valid for us now as it was then. It applies to our full-time missionaries; it applies equally to each member of the Church. Whether full-time missionaries or members, we should all be good examples of the believers in Jesus Christ.
Elder Nelson continues to discuss the responsibility of Member Missionaries:
Each member can be an example of the believers. Brethren, as followers of Jesus Christ, each of you can live in accord with His teachings. You can have “a pure heart and clean hands”; you can have the image of God engraven upon your [countenance].“ Your good works will be evident to others. The light of the Lord can beam from your eyes. With that radiance, you had better prepare for questions. The Apostle Peter so counseled, “Be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you.”
When we are living the Gospel and have the Spirit with us, others will notice, and may even ask us questions about what makes us so happy, or different, etc. When we answer (remembering that we are not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ), it should be with love and sincerity.
When those opportunities do arise, we also need to know when to move beyond merely being an example and when to, as Elder Nelson says, “take the next step.”
He suggests we might invite them to Church, invite them to read the Book of Mormon, or invite them to meet with the full-time missionaries in our own home.
Sharing beliefs with others can be a sensitive subject, and we should listen to the guidance of the Spirit for help. It isn’t easy, but like everything, it gets easier with practice, and it starts with the way we live our own life.