Hello brothers and sisters, my name is about to be Elder Watts and I’ve been called to serve in the Tonga Nuku’alofa Mission for 24 months. Almost everyone I tell has no idea where that is so I’ll give you a little background. When I received my call letter, it included a map of the area I’d be serving in. Strangely enough it looks like Utah, except the land is flipped with the water, so my mission is about 95% ocean. The other 5% is the main island Tongatapu and various other islands, all of which is located in the South Pacific Islands, a bit east of Fiji and a bit south of Samoa. The church has had an official presence in Tonga since 1891, and now the country has the highest number of Mormons per capita in the world. One of the best schools in Tonga, the Liahona High School, was opened by the Church in 1952 and the Nuku’alofa Temple was dedicated in 1983.
The assigned topic for my talk today is “why the Lord calls us to serve missions”. Recently my family visited various Church restoration sites in New York and Pennsylvania, and when I received my topic I thought back on this trip and how the early Saints must have asked the same question: “Why does the Lord call us to serve missions?” I did some research on the first missionaries of the latter days and found an article by Ryan Carr in the September 2004 edition of the New Era, which I’ll paraphrase:
At the age of 22, Samuel Smith was called by his older brother Joseph Smith to be the first official missionary. Just two months after the church was organized, Samuel left home with only a knapsack full of copies of the Book of Mormon. Sometime that year he met a Methodist preacher named Phineas Young. Samuel bore his testimony of the Book of Mormon and of his brother’s calling as a prophet. Phineas promised to read the book, and in two weeks he read it twice. He was so convinced of its truthfulness that when his congregation asked for his opinion of the book, he defended it for ten minutes, then was filled with the Spirit so strongly he continued preaching its importance and closed by telling the congregation he believed all of it. Phineas Young shared the book with his family including his brother Brigham and another family, the Kimballs. Samuel Smith baptized no one and shared only a few copies of the Book of Mormon, but his work led to the conversion of the prophet Brigham Young and the Apostle Heber C. Kimball, both instrumental in the foundation of the church.
This story is evidence that missionary work is the key to building up the Church. Converts to the Church become parents, triggering generations of faithful members to come; they become ward and stake leaders, helping others strengthen their faith in the gospel; they even become missionaries, offering a special conversion story that can touch the lives of those in a familiar circumstance. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is built on conversion; without it the gospel would not spread to the four corners of the Earth. Speaking on the sons of Mosiah who had previously persecuted the Church, Mosiah 27: 35-37 reads:
35 And they traveled throughout all the land of Zarahemla, and among all the people who were under the reign of king Mosiah, zealously striving to repair all the injuries which they had done to the church, confessing all their sins, and publishing all the things which they had seen, and explaining the prophecies and the scriptures to all who desired to hear them.
From these verses we learn that God uses us as His instruments to bring others the knowledge of the truth. That is why we are called on missions, to give all people around the world the opportunity to hear the gospel, feel the Spirit and come unto Christ.
I always knew why we are called to serve missions, but for a long time I myself did not want to go. Before I left for school last semester, I met with the stake president to talk about my progress, and we both decided I wasn’t ready. President Harding didn’t lose hope though; among other counsel he challenged me to read the scriptures daily while I was at school. He even told me he knew that ultimately I would decide to serve. At the time my heart was completely against it, and it seemed very unlikely. However, I decided if I would ever know if I should serve, this would be the best time to find out, so I followed his challenge. As I progressed in my scripture study, I didn’t really pay attention to how I felt about serving a mission, but very gradually I grew less opposed to the idea. Since I returned to school halfway through the year, almost all of the roommates on my hall were RM’s, and they definitely had a huge influence on me as well. I don’t even remember making a clear decision to serve, but at some point my fears and doubts disappeared and I just knew I would serve a mission.
Given how I feel now about it, sometimes I regret having put it off for another year, but I’ve realized my journey to deciding to serve a mission is an important stage of my conversion. Not everyone is ready to go right when they turn 18. I believe my story will help some young man in my mission who is still struggling with the decision to serve. Had I gone after my first year of school it would have been mostly to avoid feeling left out after all of my friends left on their missions and to avoid disappointing my family and church leaders. But now, those pressures aren’t even present when I think about why I’ve decided to serve. Now I am going out of a sense of duty to the Church, my future descendants, and God; I’m going to foster spiritual development in myself and a stronger conversion to the gospel; and most of all I’m going because I already feel a sense of love for the Tongan people and want to help bring them closer to Christ. I am absolutely sure I will be more effective because my motivations are more righteous than they were a year ago, when I would have gone out of fear. The question of how old you are is unimportant compared to the question of why you want to serve.
That explains why I chose to serve a mission, but my talk is on why the Lord calls us to serve missions. But the great thing is, if you align yourself with Christ, there is no difference. He wants you to serve for the same reasons you want to serve. The missionary purpose given in Preach My Gospel is to invite other to come unto Christ by helping them receive the restored gospel. This should be not only our purpose, but our reason for serving. We should serve missions because we want to invite others to come unto Christ. When we align our will with Christ’s and obey His commandments, we gain a stronger connection with the Holy Ghost and more personal revelation, therefore becoming better teachers.
There is a significant difference between simply obeying the commandments and submitting to the Lord’s will. There’s a story in Luke that exemplifies this. It reads:
18 And a certain ruler asked him, saying, Good Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?
The rich man followed all the commandments likely because they are all good rules to adhere to if you want to be successful. Likewise, following the mission rules will keep you disciplined, safe, and presentable, even if you don’t like them. But then Jesus challenged the rich man’s will to follow Him by instructing him to sell everything he had. There is no commandment that you must be poor, but Jesus proved that the man valued riches more than his salvation. Similarly, missionary service is a Priesthood duty for men, but not a commandment required for salvation. But leaving your family, education or career for two years requires sacrifice, commitment, and humility. I imagine Jesus telling all young men, “Yet lackest thou one thing: leave your family, your school, your work and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, follow me and serve a mission.” Matthew 18:3-4 says:
3 And said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.
Serving a mission is a test of our child-like humility and obedience to God. We put aside 18 or 24 months of our lives to dedicate ourselves to God’s will. On the law of sacrifice, Joseph Smith said:
“Let us here observe, that a religion that does not require the sacrifice of all things never has power sufficient to produce the faith necessary unto life and salvation; … it is through the medium of the sacrifice of all earthly things that men do actually know that they are doing the things that are well pleasing in the sight of God. When a man has offered in sacrifice all that he has for the truth’s sake, not even withholding his life, and believing before God that he has been called to make this sacrifice because he seeks to do his will, he does know, most assuredly, that God does and will accept his sacrifice and offering, and that he has not, nor will not seek his face in vain. Under these circumstances, then, he can obtain the faith necessary for him to lay hold on eternal life.”
From the Prophet Joseph Smith’s words we learn that sacrifice leads directly to an increase in knowledge and faith. I believe the Lord calls us on missions specifically so we can experience this connection of sacrifice and faith for ourselves.
I am extremely excited to serve the people of Tonga and the Lord for two years, and I’m thankful for my parents, friends, leaders and everyone in the ward for helping me reach this point. I would like to close my talk by bearing my testimony.