I remember being called into the bishop’s office with my wife a few years ago. I was very happy in my calling working with really great youth and leaders in the Young Men’s program and was hoping the meeting was for my wife. The bishop delivered the news that I was being called to be the Ward Mission Leader. To be honest, I was disappointed because I was leaving a call I loved and because I didn’t have a clue about being a Ward Mission Leader and feared failure.
I dove into the calling and immediately had a meeting with the full-time missionaries. They were enthusiastic because they enjoyed coming over to our house to eat and listen to my funnier mission stories and learn obscure Spanish slang. It didn’t take long for me to realize what a great blessing the calling was for me as I recalled back to my mission to come up with a useful plan for our area. Of course I had a clue about being a Ward Mission Leader, it had just been so long since I’d used my tools!
Within a month of the call, I was made aware of a mix-up with the return home date of one of the Elders. He was scheduled to go home a week early with some other missionaries before the new Elders from the MTC were to arrive in our mission. For a week, his companion would be…companion-less. I volunteered to be his companion full-time that week. Once again, I was placed out of my comfort zone. I had attended lessons frequently with the missionaries, but I hadn’t knocked doors in more than a decade.
I testify the Lord consecrates us and gives us the gifts we need to build His kingdom if we earnestly seek them. The very first door we knocked that week, everything came flooding back to my memory. Things I hadn’t said or remembered in a long time were coming out of my mouth freely. But I learned something very valuable: I was asking questions of people that I rarely, if ever did, as a 19-year-old bachelor. I was able to offer an adult perspective to the conversation. “Wow, I see you have 2 little girls, what are their names? Where do they go to school? Would they be interested in going to Primary?”
During our coordination meetings with the missionaries, we would spend time talking about their teaching pool and their needs. We would often brainstorm people in the ward who would be a good match to attend lessons with them. However, most of the time was spent teaching the Elders how to have adult conversations. I told them I didn’t ever want them to come back to me with a list of people without a last name. If they did, I knew right away they hadn’t asked enough questions to get to know them. Way too often I’d ask missionaries if their investigators were married, had kids, what they did for work, what their work hours were – and get shrugs. So my first challenge to them was to get a last name for each investigator and go from there. During our next Ward Council, when the missionaries gave a progress record to the bishop, the first thing he said was, “wow, I’ve never seen missionaries give me last names before!” I was smiling wide inside.
Recently we went over our ward mission plan in ward council and challenged each member to have their own personal or family mission plan, no matter how simple. I heard the natural push back: “not everyone is comfortable opening their mouths, not everyone knows a non-member.” My response is: everyone has something to offer. The church is open more than just Sundays. Do not assume the Elders have asked the new investigator about their families, or that they’ve invited them to the next Young Men’s or Young Women’s activity, or Relief Society dinner, or Ward potluck, or Achievement Days, or Early Morning Seminary, etc. 18-year-old Elders are typically focused on getting them there on Sunday, and don’t even think to invite them to other church events. Anytime we can bring a soul inside our church – whether it be on Sunday or Wednesday – it is a victory.
I am no longer the Ward Mission Leader, but the spirit of missionary work lives inside of me because of that wonderful opportunity. I attended a talent show for the Young Women recently and noticed that more than half the performers were converts or had come from convert families during the time I served. How gratifying that was! (D&C 18:15-16) Multiple people have received patriarchal blessings, serve faithfully in callings, made temple covenants, and have been sealed as families out of the convert baptisms achieved during that year and a half. Zion can be built anywhere and we all have something to offer. The Spirit of Missionary Work starts with a personal plan, even one as simple as: “What’s your last name?”
“Missionary Work: Sharing What is in Your Heart” -Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf, April 2019
“Sharing the Restored Gospel” -Elder Dallin H. Oaks, October 2016
Dustin Turner is a life long member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He served a mission in Monterrey, Mexico (2002-04). He has been married 15 years to his wife, Paola and together they have five boys. You can follow him @dmturner1232