Questions and Answers on Missionary Preparation

Reading: “How to Prepare to Be a Good Missionary,” Elder Russell M. Ballard, New Era, March 2007

I am glad I found this talk because it gives a lot of policy statements in regard to missionary work.  It makes things clear that otherwise are unclear.

Like, for example, his statement on whether women should go on missions:

A full-time mission is totally appropriate for a young woman, if that is what she wants to do and she is worthy. Holding the priesthood comes with the obligation for young men to carry the message of the Restoration to the world. Young women are invited to participate in missionary work as it is appropriate to their circumstances. If they have prospects for marriage, that is a higher calling. But young women who are in a position to serve make great missionaries. They are good teachers, they have empathy, and they can relate particularly well to women. I don’t think that we have a mission anywhere in the world where the mission president wouldn’t be thrilled to get more sister missionaries.

He also makes it clear what is the most important preparation for a mission:

Attitude is the key. Young people need to commit themselves early in life to the idea of a mission.

Lately the church has been emphasizing spiritual preparation and not talking so much about other areas of preparation, such as practical and financial concerns.  In this talk Elder Ballard makes it clear those are still a consideration, although not as important as spiritual preparation:

Missionaries need to be self-reliant. Young people ought to learn to take care of themselves and not be so dependent on their mother or father.

They need to be able to handle the physical demands of missionary work. Young people should keep their weight under control and be physically fit. The missionary daily schedule has built into it a 30-minute-a-day exercise program. Being physically tuned up enhances mental capacity.

Prospective missionaries need to learn to work. They ought to have a job and save money for their missions. Every mission president would concur with me that the missionary who has worked and saved and helped pay for part or all of his or her mission is a better-prepared missionary. Working and saving for a mission generates enthusiasm for serving and gives a young man or a young woman a good work ethic. Whatever else missionary work is, it is work!

Working toward a mission and being accountable for their own lives helps young men and young women emotionally as well. They know within themselves that they can succeed no matter where they are sent and no matter the circumstances. They know they are tough enough to handle anything in a world that is becoming less interested in the things of God. We need missionaries with that kind of self-assurance.

Sometimes people get the idea that a mission to one’s own country is inferior to a mission to a foreign country.  Elder Ballard makes it clear that a missionary is called where he or she needs to be:

Let me assure you that calls are a matter of revelation. Missionaries serve where the Lord wants them to serve. We need good, capable missionaries in every mission. For example, let’s say there’s a young man, a leader in school, living in Virginia in the United States. He opens his mission call and is shocked to learn he is being sent to Salt Lake City. But he isn’t there long before he knows precisely why the Lord called him to serve there.

Elder Ballard stands firm on the higher requirements of missionaries:

In 2002 we raised the bar for missionary service. That means the requirements to be a worthy missionary need to be understood and lived by young people early on. They need to avoid the mischief of the world. Of course, repentance is possible and is a great blessing. But those who stumble must make their repentance true and complete, and that could take time. It may even require First Presidency clearance before they can serve. Raising the bar doesn’t exclude anyone; it just requires more thorough—and sometimes very difficult—repentance. I plead with the youth, don’t get into that! Don’t put yourself through that. Just stay worthy to serve.

But then offers some consolation to those missionaries who are maybe too hard on themselves and don’t feel worthy:

Now, there may be some young people who consider themselves unworthy or incapable of serving in spite of what they hear from their bishops or branch presidents. But here’s the reality: priesthood leaders have the keys of endorsement. If the priesthood leaders indicate that a person is worthy and he or she is called, then he or she should exercise faith in that call and serve the Lord in full confidence that he or she is worthy and able.

Elder Ballard also makes it clear that a missionaries strength and blessings comes not from the mere fact he is on a mission, but from obedience and diligence:

This empowerment comes from their obedience, dedication, hard work, and enthusiasm. If they are not obedient, if they are not working hard doing the best they know how every day, they won’t have the same impact as those who radiate the spirit of the gospel.

Nowadays the church is also more likely to emphasize the work required of the missionary, rather than emphasizing what good a mission will do for him.  Here, Elder Ballard is able to point out the blessings that come from a mission:

Dedicated missionaries who do their very best learn lessons as important or even more important than anything they can learn in university study. I’ll give you an example. Missionaries learn how to relate to people, how to talk to people, how to help people. Whether they are going to be doctors, lawyers, merchants, or something else, the ability to relate to people can be the difference between being successful or not in that career.

A second great blessing is that missionaries become doctrinally anchored to the reality of the Atonement. There comes to them a love for and devotion to the Lord Jesus Christ that will absolutely bless them and their families in mortality and on into eternity. The most powerful learning experiences we can have are when we teach someone else. And that is what missionaries do. They internalize the doctrine; they internalize the reality of the Atonement. And this will bless them in all future Church assignments.

Another great blessing is that as missionaries reach out to rescue and pull into the light of the gospel families who are wandering in the darkness, they see what they don’t want in their own lives. The experience clarifies for them the values they want to live by, the kind of family they want, the way they want to teach their children, and the goals they need in order to claim the promised blessings of the temple. A mission is the greatest education in the world.

And, lastly, Elder Ballard tells those who are not able to serve a mission for medical or some other reason that they should not feel guilty, but rather seek out ways that they can serve. I especially like how he pointed out that not all members of the twelve apostles were able to serve a mission.

Young men and young women with serious mental, emotional, or physical limitations are excused from full-time missionary service. They shouldn’t feel guilty about that. They are just as precious and important to the Church as if they were able to go into the mission field.

But while they don’t serve full-time, they can take every opportunity to find and help people join the Church. They can be member missionaries in college, at work, and in their neighborhoods. They ought to go forward, have a wonderful and full life, and help build the kingdom wherever they are. Not all of the Apostles serving today were able to serve a full-time mission in their youth, some because they were required to serve in the military. But they all did missionary work. They all brought people into the Church.

Now, usually I would not do so many quotes, but I thought it was appropriate for this talk.  It does a great job of bridging the gap between pre “raising the bar” talks on missionary preparation and post “raising the bar” talks on missionary preparation.  I thought it best to have his answers here in their entirety in case anyone wants to find this information.

At one point in this talk Elder Ballard states that men and women should read Preach My Gospel, and that women will use this kind of preparation whether they go on missions or not.  I know this is true!  That’s the main reason I’m writing this blog – becuase I know my own spiritual preparation has a huge effect on my children and I want them to have a solid foundation in the gospel.

I have not yet had a chance to look at the Preach My Gospel materials.  So, I am going to try and seek them out and then read/study them.

Were any of your questions answered by Elder Ballard’s talk?  Is there anything else that you would want to know?

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