PROVO, Utah — A missionary’s success “is doing well those things over which you have control,” taught Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf to missionaries of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints training worldwide.
“Take solace in knowing that God will work through you — even when you do not see evidence of Him doing it,” said the member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in a Tuesday, Sept. 6, devotional at the Provo Missionary Training Center. “And He will bless the work worldwide in ways you cannot know.”
He and his wife, Sister Harriet Uchtdorf, spoke not only to the 1,200 new missionaries at the Provo MTC but to hundreds more, as the devotional was broadcast to the Church’s nine other MTCs and to those missionaries in at-home training. And after the hourlong devotional, the Uchtdorfs walked the aisles, greeting, gesturing, waving and acknowledging the attending missionaries and MTC leaders.
A missionary’s success isn’t measured by baptisms, Elder Uchtdorf said. “The number of people you baptize is something over which you may have limited control. Therefore, if you place that as the indicator of whether you are successful, it could lead to frustration, disappointment or false pride.”
One repeatedly expressed gratitude for the “almost” — a missed appointment where “we ‘almost’ taught him that day,” conversations with a family where “they ‘almost’ came to church today,” and a street contact where “we ‘almost’ got an appointment.”
Of his grandson’s great faith in God and trust in Him and His angels to work their miracles, Elder Uchtdorf said: “While he continually searched for those who would accept the gospel message and be baptized, he understood that his success was not dependent upon that number alone. His success depended on the things he can control: his thoughts, feelings and actions.”
He invited his listeners to accept the reality that they will stumble at times. “You, too, will fall. But you will rise again. And the sacrifice you are making as missionaries will be more sacred to your Heavenly Father than your increase.
He reminded the missionaries about the importance of repentance — not just for “big things” but also for “little things.” For him, repentance is to activate the Atonement of Jesus Christ and have transgressions not only forgiven but “remembered no more” (Doctrine and Covenants 58:42).
The ability to repent can be aided by people one admires and trusts, he added. “Be humble. Learn from others who seem to have mastered what you haven’t as yet,” said Elder Uchtdorf, adding: “Most of all, approach your Father in Heaven and ask for His assistance. He will lead you, line upon line, until you have overcome your difficulties.”
Telling the new missionaries their influence “will extend far beyond what you see and will ever know,” Elder Uchtdorf shared a story of a friend receiving an unexpected email, not recognizing the sender’s name and nearly deleting it.
Opening the email, he saw a photograph of himself as a missionary serving in a faraway country 46 years earlier. The email text — written in Spanish — asked: “I would like to know if this is you in this photograph?”
Mindful of the Savior’s teachings in Matthew 25, the two missionaries got the warden’s approval to visit the prisoners. But rather than meeting a few men in a small room, the two missionaries faced a large, bare, concrete-and-brick room with 200-plus prisoners standing silently, staring and waiting.
“My friend was not expecting this at all, and he nearly panicked wondering what he could say,” Elder Uchtdorf said. “He spoke a few words of encouragement and hope. He testified of Jesus Christ. He told them that God loved them and that if they drew near to God, God would draw near to them.”
“It began to grow upon this young elder that he had made a mistake — he could feel the hate and hostility coming from some of the men,” said Elder Uchtdorf, explaining that some in the country believed the rumor that missionaries from the United States were CIA agents and partly responsible for the political upheaval.
He did, developing his own testimony, becoming an active member and then serving a mission himself. After returning, he attended a ward in his hometown and met a young woman who also was a convert to the Church; they fell in love and married.
Years later, as the couple talked about how each had learned about the Church, the wife pulled out a photograph of the missionary who had taught her family. Her husband could not believe it — the image on the photograph was the same missionary who had come to the prison and spoke to the inmates.
Wrote the man who had been imprisoned: “You don’t know how many years I have wanted to find you, so that I could tell you how beautiful my life has been since I was baptized. … I am sure that you never thought your mission would bring such great happiness to a family so far from your country. … Can you see the beauty of this work? … I am eternally grateful.”
“I bless you with faith, gratitude, grace, humility and boldness. I pray that you will joyfully go about your days inviting others to come unto Christ. I bless you with wisdom and peace, knowing that your sacrifice is acknowledged and accepted and that, as you go about doing well those things over which you have control, the good Lord will be with you and direct your paths.”