Changing Focus as Mission Progresses

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Randy Bott (from the book "Serve With Honor")

Your first day in the mission will probably be overwhelming. There is much to do, much to learn, and many things that demand your time and attention. Your first reaction may be to throw up your hands in total frustration. The Lord gave some very good advice to the young Prophet Joseph Smith, who must have been having similar feelings: "Do not run faster or labor more than you have strength and means" (D&C 10:4). This is good advice for missionaries too. There will be people to contact, members to strengthen, talks to prepare, scriptures to memorize, lessons to master long after you have completed your mission.

Don't try to master everything at once. Take it one step at a time. You will discover soon enough that there is a necessary sequence for you to accomplish your goals. If you must learn a foreign language, you will become painfully aware that the language is a huge barrier. In frustration you may ask, "How am I to teach if I can't even speak the language?" Obviously much of your personal and companion study time should be devoted to language study. Learning a language requires relying upon the Lord so that we can become proficient enough to teach the gospel effectively.

As you begin your mission, you will need to balance lesson preparation and language study. Even if you were able to speak the language perfectly, if you don't have anything to teach, you'll have problems. The lessons provide the most concise presentation of the gospel that is available.

In the MTC you got a good start at learning the first couple of discussions. You need to practice all the discussions constantly. The initial reaction of new missionaries is to spend their entire study time on the language. That will not bear the fruits you want as a missionary. The Spirit comes more readily when you are studying the gospel than when you are studying the language.

After the language and the discussions become less like obstacles and more like tools of the missionary trade, you will want to broaden your focus to include scripture study. But you need to continue to study the language and the discussions. Once the scriptures start to become sweet to you, the natural tendency is to forget everything else and focus on the scriptures. A miracle has taken place. That which you may have resisted before your mission—really getting involved in scripture study—becomes almost your top priority. Resist the temptation to focus entirely on the scriptures.

Near the midpoint of your mission, you will discover that you are now thinking in the foreign language—probably even dreaming in it. Expressing yourself fluently is rather easy. The discussions have become so familiar that you may have even been accused of giving the discussions in your sleep. At this point it would be easy to sit back and take it a little slower. Some missionaries start to "slump" in their intensity, study and focus. However, the truly great missionaries seize the opportunity to continue to broaden their focus. They continue to study the language, lessons, and scriptures, but in addition they are now developing Christlike characteristics, studying conference addresses, and studying the gospel by topics. Discussions with these missionaries are thrilling experiences. Mere reference to a scripture, a quote, or a gospel topic elicits excitement and marvelous insights. It was always an edifying experience to be invited to participate in a district study session with the missionaries. Every- one came prepared, and we had wonderful sharing sessions; learning together, we were all edified. Those who were not as well prepared as they could have been always regretted having taken the easy way out.

Not until the very end of your mission should you begin to make plans for after your mission. Most major universities or Church schools require that you submit applications months in advance. Find out when the deadlines are and spend a single P day taking care of the details, then get back to focusing on your mission. If you have trouble with admissions to school, contact your mission president for the fastest, least distracting way to eliminate the problem. Those missionaries who talk endlessly about school, jobs, girls or guys, recreation, family, and friends lose the focus of their mission and end up wasting countless hours. Many missionaries were sorely disappointed when they reached the end of their missions and discovered they had cheated themselves of the soul-satisfying experience of looking back without regret on their service to the Lord.

Randy Bott is a former mission president (Fresno, Calif.) and teaches missionary preparation classes at BYU.