For eighteen months, I was a service missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. My mission has flown by quickly. Service provides opportunities and experiences to understand the gospel more fully, develop yourself better, and invite or help people come unto Christ.
In total, there have been 13 young service missionaries in my mission district since I started. My mission collectively covers the areas from Taber, Lethbridge, Raymond, Magrath, and Cardston, Alberta. Some of the assignments that we have had over the course of my mission were: helping at local senior homes, food banks, English Second Language (ESL) classes, community soup kitchens, the Taber stake Vegetable Garden, the Magrath stake campgrounds, the Church’s Lethbridge Alberta Canada Employment Resource Center, the Bishops’ Storehouse, and groundskeeping at the Cardston Alberta Temple.
Extending Two Arms of Missionary Work
Both inside and outside of the Church, people have become accustomed to the idea of a mission consisting of things such as: travelling to and living in a foreign part of the world, learning a foreign language, being with a companion all the time, teaching lessons about the restored Church of Jesus Christ, and inviting investigators to repent and be baptized. However, this concept of missionary work is only part of what missionary work can be. As the Lord declared in February 1829, “'Therefore, if ye have desires to serve God ye are called to the work' (Doctrine and Covenants 4:3).
Missionary work is still expanding. Recently, leaders of the Church were instructed by the First Presidency, “All missionaries represent the Lord and carry out His work” (The First Presidency Letter [Nov. 16, 2018], with enclosure “Service Missions for Young Missionaries,” ChurchofJesusChrist.org/Service-Missionary-Announcement). Teaching is just one arm of God's work. The other arm is service.
Jesus used both arms. Now that His work is being done with both arms, we are experiencing rapid changes in the Church. A lot of things are easier with both arms. With both arms, we are able to gather more of God's children and do so at an accelerated pace. With both arms, we should hug His children better and in a more loving and caring way. With both arms, we can truly lift the burdens of others.
As President Marion G. Romney taught: 'Service is the very fiber of which an exalted life in the celestial kingdom is made. …Therefore, each of us should strive to help others in areas where we have strengths. At the same time, pride should not prevent us from graciously accepting the helping hand of another when we have a real need. To do so denies another person the opportunity to participate in a sanctifying experience.' (“The Celestial Nature of Self-reliance,” Ensign, Nov. 1982).
The purpose of a service missionary is: 'To help others come unto Christ by serving them as the Savior would. We serve voluntarily in charitable organizations, Church functions, and within the community. We will minister… to the one, just as He did, expressing His loving-kindness' (“More Opportunities to Serve,” ChurchofJesusChrist.org/a-service-mission).
Striving to Minister with Loving-kindness
This new branch of missionary work follows directly from the teachings of President Russell M. Nelson: 'A hallmark of the Lord's true and living Church will always be an organized, directed effort to minister to individual children of God and their families. Because it is His Church, we as His servants will minister to the one, just as He did. We will minister in His name, with His power and authority, and with His loving-kindness” (“Ministering with the Power and Authority of God,” Ensign, May 2018).
As a service missionary, I am grateful for the prophet’s inspired words. They prompted me to ponder questions such as: How do we minister to the one? How did the Savior serve others? How do we express His loving-kindness?
I think that the answers to most of these questions are in the small and simple things. Over the course of my mission, I had this principle reaffirmed to me. My mission leaders would remind my district and me that the people we serve won't remember what service we provided to them, but rather our attitude and actions while we served them. As Sister Jean B. Bingham explained: “[Jesus] also smiled at, talked with, walked with, listened to, made time for, encouraged, taught, fed, and forgave. He served family and friends… alike, and He invited acquaintances and loved ones to enjoy the rich blessings of His gospel. Those 'simple' acts of service and love provide a template for our ministering today” (“Ministering as the Savior Does,” Ensign, May 2018).
Christlike service can be demonstrated through the way we speak about and speak to the people around us. The words we use and the way we use them can have a powerful impact. While we were helping at a community soup kitchen, the manager explained to us: 'Our mandate is to restore and enhance the dignity of the people who come here. Other places would refer to these individuals as clients. Here, at the soup kitchen, we call them guests.' I think this simple change in word choice reflects care, understanding, and respect for others. By referring to them as guests, I am reminded of the significance and potential of my special calling as a service missionary.
An elder in my district told us about an experience he had while volunteering at the soup kitchen. He was going around to different tables and talking to the guests and asking how their day had been. After saying, 'Hi' to one guest, this man asked how this missionary's day was. The elder replied, 'Good. How has your day been?'
Then, with tears in his eyes, this gentleman choked up and explained that he had not spoken to anyone all day—and that day was his birthday. Despite all the physical hardships of needing food and possibly lacking a home, what this guest most urgently needed was a friend.
I wonder: how many people’s needs go unnoticed because too many of us expect our service to be some grand or heroic deed? Do we recognize the daily opportunities we have to assist a family member, neighbour, friend, or acquaintance? How many of us realize that many of the challenges in life are made of small and simple trials?
Learning to Feed Christ’s Sheep
In John 21:15-17, there's the account of Jesus asking Simon Peter to “Feed my sheep.” I think we all know that when Jesus said this to Peter, He wasn't only asking him to physically feed God's children but to care for and minister to them. This is not only the focus of a service mission but also what the Lord asks all of us to do.
I would like to bear my testimony in the language from my mission—continuing service. I know that we are all children of God. I know that our Father in Heaven hears and answers prayers. The Church of Jesus Christ has been restored because Joseph Smith prayed. I know that prayer has power if we have faith in Christ. I know that the Church is true and that the Book of Mormon was translated by the power of God. I am thankful for the gospel in my life. I am grateful for my call as a service missionary and the experiences that I have had as I have served the Lord by serving others.