I got a message just the other day from a dear friend of mine who is currently serving a church mission.
She’s a wonderful missionary, I can tell. I knew she would be. But as I was reading the note that she left in my inbox, I could also tell her heart was breaking. She asked for my advice–telling me that those she’s teaching aren’t following through or keeping commitments. In essence, the people she’s on her knees for every night aren’t seeming to latch on to the only reason she’s out there.
“What did your first missionaries do that helped you when you were learning about the gospel–and when did you know it was true?” she asked me. I could almost hear the desperation in her voice. And that’s because her heart is filled with love.
No matter what religion you are, no matter what culture–you’ve most likely been there. You want to save a suffering soul. You want to push them to God or whatever it is that you believe in with all your heart and open their eyes and celebrate the fact that they accepted the same Savior that accepted you long ago.
I struggled writing back to my friend because the answer didn’t seem nice. But it was true. “Sister,” I wrote, “You won’t save a single soul.”
With those words, it all came back to me. Memories I haven’t even thought about in years, rushing into focus.
It was 2008. It was around midnight and I had class in the morning. My family had been asleep for a few hours, but there I was in the quiet of my bedroom, scriptures open, tears drip-dropping on the open pages. The missionaries had left hours before, the buzz of conversation and lessons and questions had died. It was just me, the Word of God, and a prayer in my heart that I’d know what’s right. That without anyone else around me, I would know for a fact. And sure enough, with a Heavenly hug that brought peace and with tears that wouldn’t stop, the answer was whispered to my heart. Just like that. The spirit brought me truth. Christ saved my soul.
There are times, just like with my sweet missionary friend, that I forget about that night. I sometimes forget that my missionaries, my friends even, were merely the ones who urged me to look for truth. They were the ones set apart to supply me with the “textbook” in a manner of speaking that I’d have to crack open myself. They were the ones who brought the calm, sweet spirit that would linger long after they left my home–the same spirit that would remind me that this is MY journey. My time to come to the Savior and learn. They were the ones to hand over the compass and remind me of which direction I’d find my destination. They were my examples.
All too often I see people from all religions fight to win souls. I see comments under pictures or videos that say things like, “Read the Bible! I urge you to know Jesus while you have time!” or “Well, so and so, that kind of thinking isn’t what Jesus would do. Read this verse, this verse, and this verse and repent.”
And it goes on and on and on. Even outside of online interaction, some of the most heated arguments, even within families, are wrestling matches over souls. Most of the time it’s not because of the need to “be right”. It’s because everyone feels the weight of responsibility to show others the way. And that’s a noble desire, but it’s not exactly how it works.
You’re called to simply open the door. To hold the hand of the one who is blindfolded and be the voice they can trust. Elder Holland, a leader in my church, once said: “With all that there is to do along the path to eternal life, we need a lot more missionaries opening that gate and helping people through it.”
Every day I am converted to truth. I’m converted when people from my church visit hospital rooms, make dinners for a sick member, or crochet socks for a new baby. I’m converted when a friend from work offers a hug because they just “feel” like I needed it. I’m converted when I open my scriptures to a verse I’ve read a million times but it suddenly teaches me something completely different. I’m converted when I see young missionaries trek through the rain with their heads down, stopping nonetheless to talk to the woman sitting alone on a bus stop bench. The spirit–shining through people, through words, through average every day things–is the only one that converts.
That’s why missions are served– So beacons of light can fill the world. That’s why we’re responsible to be good friends– so at any moment, God can say what he needs to say through us.
Sister, Brother, Elder–whoever you may be. It’s easy to get frustrated or hurt or sad when your message isn’t received. I know it is. But you’re called to open the door. You’re called to be an example of faith. No matter who you are, live what you believe and turn your face toward the direction others should walk. You’re called to be on your knees in the dark of night for God’s children and then arise and stand tall for God’s children to see and look up to.
I know there were prayers for me that night when the spirit whispered truth to me. I know there were missionaries staring at a dark ceiling, asking God to help me know. I know that there were spiritual warriors who influenced my heart in ways I can’t even remember now.
And I know that none of them saved my soul that night when the world was asleep. But they were there all along to quietly remind me who can.