Chapter 8: Taking the Gospel to All the World
What is the first thing that normally comes to our mind when we think of missionary work?
For most of us, we equate it with young men in suits, knocking on doors and teaching pre-prescribed lessons about the Restoration, atonement and life of Jesus Christ. Or, perhaps we think about handing out a certain number of copies of the Book of Mormon to friends and acquaintances with offers to hear the discussions from the full-time missionaries. But what do we think of when we think of Christ’s mortal ministry? Service, healing, teaching.
What would happen if we thought of missionary work less in terms of telling people about our beliefs and more in terms of ministering to others?
As we look to Christ as our exemplar, we see very few formal lessons. Outside of the Sermon on the Mount, most of the teachings we have record of are in moments of wrestling with questions and hard situations. We see the Savior reach out to individuals and teach as he healed and blessed them, rather than teaching with the expectation that the messages themselves would heal the afflicted and downtrodden.
One of my favourite stories that illustrates the Savior’s pattern of ministry is the account of the woman caught in adultery. Most of the time, we focus on the final call to “go and sin no more” but forget that Jesus first saved her. He did not ask her to commit to a particular code of ethics or pronounce belief in him, he cared for her immediate need for safety and compassion. Then, and only then, when the need had been fulfilled, did he teach her and call her to repentance.
As we move through the lesson, I hope that we can consider ways we can minister and fellowship those who do not share the same beliefs as we do.
1. The restored gospel is for all people, based on the conviction that all are children of the same God
From the manual:
In this gospel view there is no room for a contracted, narrow, or prejudicial view. The Prophet Joseph Smith said: “Love is one of the chief characteristics of Deity, and ought to be manifested by those who aspire to be the sons of God. A man filled with the love of God, is not content with blessing his family alone, but ranges through the whole world, anxious to bless the whole human race.”
How does understanding Diety as a God of Love affect how we interact with those around us, including (and most especially) those who may be different than us?
One of the things that I have learned in marriage and motherhood is that while showing love is important, if our love is not expressed in a way that it can be received by the other person, we may feel as if we are spinning our wheels and unable to make connections and deepen our attachments. As I have observed and spoken with my loved ones, I have learned how to best help them to feel loved, wanted and connected to me. For my daughter, cuddles and kisses help her to feel secure and loved, for my husband it is service and quality time together, for my son it is a listening ear and my undivided attention.
If this is true of those we are closest to, who by virtue of our familial relationship know that I love and care for them, how much truer is this with those we are coming to know and hoping to serve!
One of the key aspects of successful ministry is being able to put aside what we believe the person needs and instead tune in to what the other person is expressing is needed through conversation and through the promptings of the Spirit.
2. The Church has a mission to teach the gospel to all nations
From the manual:
As members of the Lord’s church, we need to lift our vision beyond personal prejudices. We need to discover the supreme truth that indeed our Father is no respecter of persons. Sometimes we unduly offend brothers and sisters of other nations by assigning exclusiveness to one nationality of people over another. …
I believe one of the most prevalent mistakes we make in missionary and ministerial work is to elevate our personal beliefs and cultures over another’s. We assume that, in order to best show our love of the Savior, we remove ourselves from situations that are contrary to the way we conventionally practice our religion, whether this be daily lifestyle differences or difference of religion.
I love how Chieko Okazaki teaches us about finding common ground while remaining true to her religious beliefs. As youlisten to the story, can you think of scenarios in your own life where you were asked to participate in something that, on the surface, was outside of your convictions but were able to find common ground?
Both the New Testament and the Doctrine and Covenants talk about the importance of Church members being “of one heart and of one soul” or of “one mind” (see Acts 4:32; see also D&C 45:65–66). Sometimes we think that this means that we have to look alike, sound alike, talk alike, dress alike, and have the same number of children. I think what it means, above all, is that we need to love the Savior with all our hearts. At that point, we will have the “mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:16) to unite us in soul with others. As we think about situations and problems, the answers to frustratingly complex ethical and moral dilemmas will become clearer and simpler because we will know what Jesus would do in that case. Then we can do what He would do, just as He was able to do what the Father would have done in His place. Ithink rules confuse; principles clarify.
What does this mean for us? Let me use an example from my own life. My family is Buddhist. My mother and my brothers are still Buddhist. I am the only Christian and the only Latter-day Saint among my family. My mother respects my religious beliefs. Because I have the fullness of the gospel, does this mean that I should not respect her religious beliefs? No. As you probably know, much of the practice of Buddhism takes place in the home with daily prayers and small offerings of food and flowers before a household shrine. It is a time to acknowledge the existence of God and to feel a connection and concern for the dead in the family. Do I acknowledge the existence of God in my life? I certainly do. Do I feel a connection with and a concern for the dead? I certainly do. Do I believe in prayer? Absolutely. Am I thankful for the bounties of the earth with which the Lord has blessed us? No question about it. So can I pray with my mother at her household shrine when I visit her? Of course I can. My prayers are addressed to my Father in Heaven, not to Buddha. I also understand that the sealing ordinances of the temple link families together eternally, but it seems to me that both rituals turn the hearts of the children toward their parents in a beautiful way. Ibelieve that God has found a way to teach this principle in three different cultures: in the Old Testament culture of Malachi, the prophet who tells us about turning the hearts; in the culture of Buddhism; and in the culture of modern Mormonism.
3. Those who have experienced the blessings of the Atonement of Jesus Christ are under obligation to bear testimony of Him
From the manual:
We are to stand as witnesses of God at all times [and] in all places, even until death. We renew that covenant during the sacrament when we covenant to take the name of Christ upon us.
As we feel called to minister to God’s children, we may feel to share with them our beliefs and principles. We should be careful as we stand as witnesses to avoid self-righteousness. In her lesson for the Young Women, Suzette reminds us:
It is import to “stand up” for the Lord’s standards and be true to the principles that we believe in. Sometimes “standing up” makes us feel superior. Discuss with the Young Women the spiritual dangers of being self-righteous. Not only does this limit our ability to be humble and teachable, but it is not good for relationships with friends and family. People like empathy and understanding from others. Adding empathy and understanding to our convictions can help relationship grow rather than tear them down.
The story of Esther also shows understanding for other people’s traditions and beliefs. Esther lives her religion through fasting and prayer, but approaches the King in a way that is familiar to him. Esther Chapter 4-5.
Can you think of stories in your own life or others where you stood up for your principles while ministering to others through love, empathy and an understanding of another’s principles and beliefs? Or perhaps a time when someone has respected your beliefs while also standing up for something that was important to them?
4. With the Lord’s help, we can overcome all obstacles to sharing the gospel
From the manual:
To satisfy the new demands being made upon us in this great missionary work of the last days, perhaps some of us (particularly the older generation whose families are raised) need to take stock to determine whether “walls” that we have built in our own minds need to come down.
For example, how about the “comfort wall” that seems to prevent many couples and singles from going on a mission? How about the “financial wall” of debt that interferes with some members’ ability to go, or the “grandchildren wall,” or the “health wall,” or the “lack of self-confidence wall,” or the “self-satisfied wall,” or the “transgression wall,” or the walls of fear, doubt, or complacency? Does anyone really doubt for a minute that with the help of the Lord he or she could bring those walls crashing down?
Since many sisters in the Relief Society may not be in a place to serve a full-time mission, as we focus on ministering to those around us, what are some of the “walls” that may prevent us from ministering fully to those outside of our LDS congregations?
Perhaps we have a “misunderstanding wall” of feeling that people are too different to us, or “lack of empathy wall” that prevents us from seeing the needs of those around us. How about a “self-righteousness wall” that leads us to believe we cannot find common ground or minister to those who we find less-worthy or sinful?
With the sisters, consider other things that get in the way of ministering to those both in and outside of our LDS congregations and how we can rely on our faith and testimony of the Savior to help us in overcoming these obstacles.
At the end of the lesson, remind the sisters of the story of the woman in adultery, that the Savior had a chance to administer to her spiritual needs only after caring for her physically and emotionally. I would bear testimony that our Heavenly Father recognizes us as whole human beings in need of temporal, mental, emotional, social and spiritual welfare.
Artwork is “Mother and Lambs” by Summer Myers