At an hour-long devotional on Tuesday, November 5, 2019, Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and Sister Harriet Uchtdorf addressed 1,647 missionaries at the Provo Missionary Training Center.
Their talks were broadcast live to half of the other 10 MTCs worldwide and on a tape-delayed basis to the others.
Be Grateful for “Almosts”
Elder Uchtdorf shared a simple formula on how missionaries can be successful: “Success means doing well those things over which you have control.”
Mentioning his missionary grandson serving in a European area with few baptisms and difficult work, Elder Uchtdorf said his weekly correspondence is filled with gratitude for every experience, including the “almosts.” Some examples: an earnest and seeking young man who wasn’t home for a teaching appointment resulted in “we almost taught him that day;” conversations with a seemingly “golden” family led to “they almost came to church today;” and speaking with a friendly individual on the street became “we almost got an appointment.”
His grandson is not overly optimistic or unrealistic but rather understands the challenges of his mission. Elder Uchtdorf explains: “He chooses to look at the blessings God is bestowing upon him instead of the difficulties he is enduring. He chooses to be grateful instead of hateful. Given the choice between being malcontent or content, he chooses the latter. He is grateful for the ‘almosts.’”
He repeated a theme from his recent general conference address: “Remember that discipleship is not about doing things perfectly; it is about doing things intentionally” (“Your Great Adventure,” Ensign, Nov. 2019, 43).
Grow and Learn as Jesus Did
Elder Uchtdorf cited the theme for the new Children and Youth program starting in 2020: “And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man” (Luke 2:52). He underscored the word “increased” as meaning growing and learning. He explained that “the growth process for us is similar,” and he encouraged the missionaries to use the scripture as a template for personal growth.
“How will you grow closer to God? How will you serve others better? How will you improve yourself mentally and physically?” he asked. “Will you give some thought to that? If these areas were important in how the Savior became the person He became, surely we can benefit from the same.”
Unseen, Unknown Influences
A missionary’s influence extends far beyond what he or she sees or even knows, like ripples through eternity, Elder Uchtdorf explained. He shared a friend’s recent story to illustrate his point.
The friend opened an unexpected email from a sender he didn’t recognize, discovering a photo of himself four and a half decades earlier as a Church missionary serving in a far-away land. The photo was accompanied by a brief message written in Spanish: “I would like to know if this is you in this photograph?”
The friend responded affirmatively and asked if the sender could explain how he had obtained it.
As a missionary, Elder Uchtdorf’s friend and his then-companion had taught a young family—parents and two daughters—that joined the Church. At the same time, political tensions divided that country, with a subsequent military coup resulting in dissenters arrested and detained.
Remembering the Savior’s teachings, the missionary friend decided he and his companion should attempt to visit those in prison. Allowed by the warden, the prison visit wasn’t just a small, intimate interaction with a handful of prisoners but rather a meeting with the two visitors facing some 200 standing and glaring inmates in a large, barren room with no seating.
Panicked by the unexpected setting, the missionary friend offered a few words of encouragement and testified of the Savior, then with the warden’s permission went down the line of prisoners to shake their hands. Feeling a sense of hate and hostility from some and mindful of local misperceptions of missionaries being CIA agents, the two missionaries wondered if they would be attacked, hurt, or taken hostage.
“My friend chalked the whole experience up as a poor decision on his part,” Elder Uchtdorf said, “and he felt extremely blessed that God had protected him and his companion.”
The friend had forgotten about the experience until the emailer’s response resulted in him learning the rest of the story 46 years later.
The Spirit touched one of the young inmates that day. He felt something and committed to find the faith those young men had represented. He found the Church, was baptized, and then served a mission himself. Returning afterward to a hometown ward, he met a young woman—also a convert; they fell in love and married.
Later the couple were discussing how they had learned of the Church. She showed a photo of the missionary who had taught her and her family. To his surprise, it was the same missionary who had visited the prison and spoke to the inmates.
The couple continued to be a local pillar of strength for the Church: he serving as branch and district president, bishop, and stake president. Four sons served missions. Meanwhile, Elder Uchtdorf’s friend never knew what had happened after he left the area and then his mission. He had no idea that anything ever came from his prison visit.
“He told me that this had nothing to do with him or anything he said,” Elder Uchdtdorf stated. “It was an example of our Heavenly Father using our imperfect efforts to bring about His own purposes.”
But the couple’s account to the friend told how their lives had been influenced for good because of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
“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,” the man wrote, adding “I am sure that you never thought your mission would bring such happiness to a family so far from your country. … Can you see the beauty of this work? … I am eternally grateful.”
An Apostolic Blessing and Expressions of Love
Elder Uchtdorf left an apostolic blessing with the missionaries and missionary leaders: “I bless you with faith, gratitude, grace, dignity, humility, and boldness—a humble countenance and a love for those you serve with and those in your countries. 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 with those things over which you have control, the good Lord will be with you and direct your paths.”
In her brief message, Sister Uchtdorf spoke of the conversion of both her family and her husband’s family to the Church. “All members across the world love missionaries,” she said. “You are their heroes.”
The love she spoke of was evident after the conclusion of the devotional, radiated by the glances, smiles, and waves from the Uchtdorfs to the missionaries, followed by her repeatedly blowing kisses with broad gestures and him using his hands to outline a heart to the attendees.