This week was a bit of a whirlwind.
On Monday, the bishop of our Recife ward, who works as the head engineer of the Recife Temple, invited us to take a backstage tour of the Recife Temple. We started out at the control room, where all of the heating, lighting, and everything else that could possibly be controlled by a computer are brought together. It was incredible to see the complexity and meticulous nature of the systems in the Temple. We saw the basement, the air conditioning units, we climbed up the ladders to the point where we could basically see the feet of the Angel Moroni (and the lightning rods that run from his feet to the ground so as to protect the building itself from any electrical discharge and damage). Throughout the whole process I was taken aback by just how much care is taken to ensure that everything runs smoothly without anybody seeing or hearing just how much work is being taken to ensure it runs smoothly. Back-up systems have back-up systems and a manual override in just about every mechanical aspect of Temple function. Many shopping malls and theaters have engineering teams and hardware that look like Little Peewee next to Big Jim in comparison to the expertise and meticulous care taken by the Temple Maintenance Team. It was an experience for the memory books.
We had put together a training in my first week as AP in how to change the form and impact of the first visit. Most missionaries know that it’s hard enough to find someone to teach, much less mark another visit. In Brasil, we have the advantage of being able to knock doors, and those we meet in the street and at home are generally accustomed to letting in Missionaries from a wide variety of religions to share a little message. We are not alone, here in Brazil. Jehovah’s Witness, “Assembleia de Deus”, “A Igreja Brasil para Cristo”, and a host of others are also in the streets doing proselyting work, particularly on Sundays. That can be a good thing and a bad thing. It is a good thing and a bad thing. It’s a good thing because, as I said, the people are already accustomed to the process. It’s a bad thing because any negative experience that the people we meet have had with other missionaries, be it with missionaries from other churches or our own, can “poison the well” and make a person less likely to let us in and share our message.
What’s worse, we saw that one of the biggest problems with our missionaries is that generally the first visit they have with investigators is a little too preachy, impersonal, tiresome and monotonous. So we’ve been trying to make a change in the way that our missionaries treat the first visit and first contact to leave a lasting positive impression with those we meet and make them want to accept another visit.
We studied the way that Jesus Christ treated those among whom he ministered and studied one section from more recent revelation in Doctrine and Covenants Section 75 that gives instruction to missionaries in the early history of the church who were having trouble making their message understood among those they taught and wanted to learn more of their “immediate duties”. There was one passage that caught our eye, which was one of the directions given by the Lord to all of the missionaries present. The direction says, “And in whatsoever house ye enter, and they receive you, leave your blessing upon that house” (D&C 75:19). We were also led to verse 14 of section 42 of Doctrine and Covenants, a similar revelation to a group of Elders that reads, “The Spirit shall be given unto you by the prayer of faith, and if you receive not the Spirit ye shall not teach (D&C 42:14).
We pondered on how we could help the other missionaries include these principles in their teachings, and we realized that our missionaries needed to change the nature and power of their prayers with those they taught, principally in their first visit. We came to question, “Could it be that our missionaries are simply praying in the houses of those they teach? Or are they literally blessing the family, the home, and individuals that they encounter?” We came to understand that the initial prayer – or in this case – blessing that we leave in the investigators’ houses could be one of the sweetest, most peaceful and memorable spiritual experience that the investigator had ever had. It is a way of not just telling those we teach about the blessings of a life filled with the spirit, but showing them, helping them experience, what the Spirit feels like so they can understand just how important it is.
We expanded on the idea and passed the training to the entire mission in a series of multi-zone conferences, doing practices and divisions with the missionaries daily to help them better understand how to incorporate the “Prayer of Faith” in their teaching.
The difference has been remarkable. On Tuesday, I did a division with Elder dos Anjos (translated “Elder of the Angels” – a good companion to have by your side), a young buck with energy and spiritual force who is serving simultaneously as Trainer and District Leader. We were both relatively new to the idea of starting our first visit with the blessing/ “Prayer of Faith”, so we went ironing out the details together.
At one point, we called a member to visit the house of a less-active and several non-member friends with us. When we entered into the house, we explained that, as representatives of Jesus Christ, we wanted to leave a simple blessing with them, blessing the lives of each of those in attendance and their families. We asked them, if Jesus Christ himself was in their home, what they would ask of him. One woman said she would ask to see her daughter again, for she had passed away recently. The other said she would ask for conditions to buy her own house, because the rent was making buying food and household supplies difficult. We all knelt and began to pray, and an indescribable peace and warmth descended over the house. As I opened my eyes at the end of the prayer, I realized that everyone was crying. We explained that those feelings of peace and completeness, a proximity to God that they had undeniably felt, was a witness of the Holy Ghost, and that they could have these feelings to an even greater extent throughout their life as they repented and prepared themselves to become spiritually clean through baptism.
Thursday I did a similar division with a missionary who has been in the field for some time (a year and nine months). He has served as a Zone Leader and has been through a handful of different areas and companions. Needless to say, I think he was a little skeptical of the new way of doing the first visit. But after we scheduled the baptisms of two people we met for the first time knocking doors that same day, I think his perspective started to change.
Of course, not every blessing has been quite so powerful as the one I explained. For not every heart is completely ready to accept or help grow the spiritual seed that we are trying to plant. But it’s been an interesting change here on the mission.
The office experience is certainly different.