Progress, with Understandably Limited Powers

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what powers we have – and what powers we don’t have – on the mission. Perhaps one of the most beautiful yet brief passages on the power that missionaries have is given in Doctrine and Covenants Section 121:

41 No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned;
42 By kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile—
43 Reproving betimes with sharpness, when moved upon by the Holy Ghost; and then showing forth afterwards an increase of love toward him whom thou hast reproved, lest he esteem thee to be his enemy;

Perhaps one of the most distinct aspects of this passage of scripture is the lack of some forms of persuasion – insistence, manipulation, coercion… It seems that all the tools we have to change lives are tools that are rather slow but ultimately effective. The changes that happen with every person we teach need to come from within. We simply plant the idea and do everything we can to make it grow. Perhaps the most accurate and powerful analogy of missionary work is that given by the Savior – the analogy of the seed. One cannot force a seed to grow, pulling from the top, or the plant will loose its roots and all hope of future growth. Nor can we abandon the seed and hope that it grows by itself. A fertilized and watered plant, with pre-planned sunlight hours and protection from the outside elements will doubtless grow faster than its wild and unkempt counterpart.

It is so important that we understand that we do have influence over other people, and that this influence can be one of the most powerful forces for good. I’m so grateful for the way we do missionary work, teaching individualized lessons for each of our investigators. Sometimes I’ve gotten frustrated on the mission thinking that, given that seeds must grow by themselves, there was no way to accelerate the work. But I’ve come to understand that the better we know the seeds we care for, the more effective our care becomes. As we work more carefully, with more and more planning and preparation, we can help not just one, or two, but many seeds to grow and sprout and blossom.

seedling

Franciane went to church with Wesley another time this week. She loved the experience. The ward ran its primary program and Wesley, Franciane’s 10-year old son gave the longest discourse of all the other kids – and he’s not even baptized! Franciane said, at one point, “I think I’m more Mormon than Catholic now…”. So, that night, we passed by her house and invited her to get baptized. She was excited about the idea, but feels that she still isn’t prepared. We explained that practically nobody feels ready to get baptized before descending into the waters of baptism. Just as almost all copilots will complain they are unready before taking the steering wheel, almost all people feel they need to know more or understand more or feel more before being baptized. But after a year and a couple months on the mission, I explained to her that without a doubt, she was prepared. She said she’ll think on the idea.

She said something sweet to Elder Withers and I. She said, “You missionaries, you carry a certain presence with you. I know that the most important part of your work is the message you carry, but I don’t think anybody would convert if it wasn’t for you two. You two represent something bigger…the Gospel… the Church… You embody what the Church teaches. You’re the heart of the Church.” I felt all warm and fuzzy inside. I was so grateful to hear that our work, at least to some extent, was effective. At the end of the day, people will only accept our message when they see us as true representatives of Jesus Christ. All of our rules, our obedience, our language study, our schedule, shaving every day, smiling, and more than anything else the way we show others that they are important and that we love them – it all contributes to just how well we serve as representatives of Jesus Christ. I’m nowhere close to where I ought to be. But I hope to become more and more the image of Him, our Savior and example. That we all might do everything within our means so that His image shines in our countenances. That we might walk the path He walked and let His mighty hands guide ours.

I hope that, at the end of two years, my heart will have changed permanently. I’ve come to love every second of proselyting time. Sometimes I get the urge to go out on P-Days and just keep going. But I know I have to write emails 🙂 I love dearly hearing all of your whereabouts and doings, comings and goings.

Christ lives, and His Gospel has the power to change lives.

I testify of him.

-Elder Fleming-

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