At the Last Supper, Jesus taught his disciples, to prepare them for his imminent sacrifice. And he told Peter “I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren” (Luke 22:32).
Peter was offended. He insisted that his faith was strong enough that he’d happily follow Christ anywhere, even to the grave. Yet, not many hours later, when faced with accusations from the murderous mob, Peter denied any association with Jesus Christ. His faith wasn’t as strong as he thought it was, but this experience gave him the push he needed to allow his faith to grow, until he was ready to live as an example of Christ.
As a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, I’ve been taught over and over again to share the gospel of Jesus Christ with friends and family members who haven’t yet heard the good news, or those who may have wandered away from the truth. In fact, David O. McKay, the 9th president of the church, declared “Every member a missionary!” Nearly every week at church, I’ve heard my teachers, leaders and friends talk about the importance of missionary work. And over the course of a lifetime, that’s a lot of weeks!
To be honest, for many years I was more than a little bit uncomfortable with this charge.
Did I believe wholeheartedly that the Gospel of Jesus Christ would bring peace and joy to the hearts of all who embrace His teachings?
Yes, without a doubt.
Did I want my friends and family members to be happy?
Of course I did.
So I should be out in the world, preaching the Gospel to everyone who would listen, calling friends and family members to repentance, right?
When Jesus Christ was on the earth, He taught His followers that unconditional love was always the answer. He invited all to come follow him, but He didn’t pressure anyone or condemn those that didn’t immediately jump at His invitation. As a follower of Christ, I wanted to emulate his example of unconditional love for everyone, and I took the charge, found in Matthew 7:1 to “Judge not, that ye be not judged” very seriously.
Here is where my problem with the “every member a missionary” charge arose. If I pointed out the truths my friends and family were missing in their lives, wouldn’t that mean I was judging them? How could I reconcile the need to share the Gospel with the charge to love unconditionally, without judging?
I told myself that I didn’t have to “be a missionary,” because loving others was the most important thing, and if my friends were ready to hear the Gospel, they’d remember my example and seek Him without any prodding from me.
But then, several years ago, I attended a scrapbooking party with a friend. As I talked and laughed with the other ladies at the party, one of the ladies I didn’t yet know asked a question about what Mormons believe.
I honestly don’t remember what her question was, but I remember the uncomfortable silence that filled the room, as all of the Mormons in the group waited for someone else, maybe someone who knew her better, or someone who had served a mission and was more qualified, to answer her question. We’d been having so much fun, and no one wanted to turn the focus to our potential differences. We didn’t want to risk alienating this woman, if she didn’t understand our perspective or didn’t agree with the doctrine.
Finally, I found the courage to speak up and answer her question. That led to more questions, and we talked until well-past two in the morning. That first conversation led to many others. And soon, Tracy was one of my closest friends.
A few years later, when both of us had moved from the military base where we initially met, Tracy and I met up again at a conference in Salt Lake City, Utah. The location of the conference naturally led to more “What do Mormons believe?” conversations, and when Tracy introduced me to her group of friends, she informed them, “Veronica isn’t afraid to answer your questions, so feel free to ask her anything you need to know about Mormons.”
And she was right. I wasn’t afraid anymore. Because the more I learned about the love Jesus has for me, the more I wanted everyone around me to feel that same love and peace.
Like Peter, I had to be truly converted before I understood how to strengthen those around me.
The thought of “being a missionary” still terrifies me. Yet, when a conversation with a friend reveals that they’re struggling with an issue for which I’ve found an answer in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, it’s easy for me to assure them that the answer is there for them as well. When the Lord advised Peter to strengthen those around him “when thou art converted,” He wasn’t questioning Peter’s loyalty or faith. He was reminding Peter that it’s easy to share the love of Christ with others, when we feel that love within ourselves.
I’m still painfully shy in large groups, and I’m not likely to be the one to go knocking on doors, offering to share God’s message with total strangers, but I’m no longer afraid to share my faith with others. (Seriously. If you have questions about Mormons, please ask me. I’d love to answer your questions for you!) And when a Gospel principle that I’ve been struggling with clicks in my mind and I finally understand, I’m excited to tell my friends about the new and exciting truth I’ve discovered. Because I love them and want them to feel the joy and peace I feel.
That is what “being a missionary” is all about.