The Inadequacy of Our Missionaries

With all the talk about missionaries around here lately, I have again pondered on something that concerned me both while a missionary and afterwards, teaching in the MTC and more generally as a non-full-time-missionary member of the Church. It is about the sheer inadequacy of our missionaries.

Two anecdotes from my own missionary experience illustrate the patently obvious inadequacy of the young men and women who perform full-time missionary service.

First, after having been on my mission for close to eighteen months, my companion and I found ourselves working with a number of alcoholics who were genuinely interested in the Gospel. We were experiencing an exhiliarating wave of teaching and even baptizing (somewhat rare for northeastern Germany). SZ was one of the best friends of someone who was baptized at that time. SZ was a seemingly hopeless (although young) alcoholic. We taught him the discussions and encouraged him to enter a clinic to help him break his addiction, which he did. Cleaning himself up from alcoholism was a pre-requisite for being baptized. He did clean himself up and he got baptized. I confirmed him a member and conferred on him the Gift of the Holy Ghost. It was wonderful — until SZ relapsed a few weeks later.

Through SZ we met DR, another alcoholic also enrolled in the clinic. We taught him the discussions. He was having appreciably more difficulty breaking his addiction and keeping with the clinic’s detox program than had SZ. We visited him often at the clinic (where I was surprised to see that a number of the individuals in rehab for their alcohol addiction, including unfortunately DR, would pass the time nursing their other addiction of hard-core, disgusting pornography) and tried to encourage him by getting him to read the Book of Mormon instead of his pornography (at least while we were there). We nervously had to accept a complete break with him as part of the heightened program for detox that the clinic wanted him to undergo. We wouldn’t have contact for three weeks (if I remember correctly).

Near the end of this period, SZ told us that DR had left the clinic and that noone knew where he had gone. Soon thereafter, we were awakened one morning around 2:00 a.m. with a phone call. I answered the phone call trying to get oriented at that early hour. It was DR. He was talking to me but not making any sense at all. It sounded like he was saying a prayer or maybe trying to repeat what he had heard from us in the first few missionary discussions. His speech was slurred and I could tell that he was drunk. My main concern was trying to find out where he was, so I basically ignored the content of what he was saying and kept asking him that. He finally abruptly said “Im Namen Jesu Christi, Amen” (in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen) and hung up on me. We never heard from nor saw DR again. Neither did SZ.

As a 20-year-old boy, I had no idea that DR was literally begging for help in that phone call. All I cared about was finding him so that I didn’t lose a baptismal prospect. I didn’t have the wisdom or the spiritual or intellectual resources to talk him off the proverbial ledge he was on during that phone call. I was simply inadequate for that task, as I suspect 99.9% of the other missionaries of that age in the world are as well.

Second, I think of something that I know numerous missionaries in my mission lamented about. It was our lack of real, effective faith. I discussed this with several of the other missionaries in Berlin at that time because we had all had a common experience, albeit at different times. I experienced it one P-Day walking down the Ku’Damm with my companion right across the street from the Gedächtniskirche in downtown West Berlin. There, against a wall on the sidewalk, lay the most ghastly creature I had ever seen in my life (to this day I do not think I have seen a human being in such a condition). It was a young boy or girl (impossible to tell) with no legs (if I remember correctly) and emaciated to an incredible degree. Covered with flies and sores, this young person was sitting/leaning on a blanket with the wall as support begging for money. The scene shook me to the very core like a bolt of lightening and I felt such despair that for a moment I thought I might cease to exist. There were numerous spectres begging around Berlin at that time, including a skeletal woman who haunted the U2 subway line. Seeing such beggars was always tragic but this was wrenching to the point of being unbearable to see.

As the shock and dismay continued to unsettle me, a certain scripture distinctly coursed through my mind:

1 NOW Peter and John went up together into the temple at the hour of prayer, being the ninth hour.

2 And a certain man lame from his mother’s womb was carried, whom they laid daily at the gate of the temple which is called Beautiful, to ask alms of them that entered into the temple;

3 Who seeing Peter and John about to go into the temple asked an alms.

4 And Peter, fastening his eyes upon him with John, said, Look on us.

5 And he gave heed unto them, expecting to receive something of them.

6 Then Peter said, Silver and gold have I none; but such as I have agive I thee: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth rise up and walk.

7 And he took him by the right hand, and lifted him up: and immediately his feet and ankle bones received strength.

8 And he leaping up stood, and walked, and entered with them into the temple, walking, and leaping, and praising God.

9 And all the people saw him walking and praising God. (Acts 3:1-9.)

Despite the stark and sudden presence of this scripture in my mind, my companion and I did little more than give a few coins and move on. In discussing this situation later with my companion, in the presence of other companionships at a conference, I found out that my companion had also experienced the same scripture and feeling. Other missionaries shared that they had seen the same individual and had almost the exact same experience. One other missionary had tears welling in his eyes and asked what I, and presumably the others, was thinking: “why didn’t any of us have the faith to simply walk up to him and say, as Peter did, In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth rise up and walk.” Each of us had the same priesthood as Peter; apparently, however, we did not have the same level of faith — not even close. Speaking for myself, I was too immature spiritually and emotionally to have the confidence to stand forth and bid him to rise and walk. That each of us was prompted to take the action that Peter took and not a single one of us did demonstrates the sheer inadequacy of our missionaries. It pains me to this day.

And yet despite this inadequacy, it is remarkable that God sees fit to send naive, sometimes arrogant, always inexperienced young men and women out into the world to carry out the mandate given to the original Twelve Apostles — “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen” (Matt. 28:19-20).

I have often pondered but still do not understand the Lord’s choice to send out such young men and women into the mission field to perform this task. Ironically, however, I am convinced it is most definitely the right thing.

48 comments for “The Inadequacy of Our Missionaries

  1. John: Wow, powerful story. When I think of mistakes like that that I have made, they still make me ache. Someone might say that I should forgive myself, but the truth is that I want that remorse, because it reminds me to do better in the next time.

    As for the inadequacy of the missionaries, it’s a source of testimony for me. For people to accept the Gospel the way I presented it…well, they must have been feeling the Spirit!

  2. While I was serving as a youth guide at the Mesa Arizona Temple Vistor’s Center, I had a missed opportunity to follow the promptings of the spirit. The incident ocurred during the annual Easter pageant, while I sat eating dinner in a restaurant adjacent to the temple grounds. While inside I happened to hear a group of “anti-mormons” openly discussing (mocking) the changes made to the endowment ceremony. I was filled with the spirit and felt prompted to stand up and rebuke them in the name of Jesus Christ. Sadly, I shrank into my seat, ignoring the prompting of the spirit.

    I related this story to my branch president in the MTC, hoping he would assuage my guilty consience and tell me I had done the right thing in avoiding confrontation. How wrong I was! He stood up and said in a loud voice, “Elder, don’t you ever ignore the promptings of the spirit again!”

  3. I believe that people are sent on missions not only to help others but to grow themselves. “I had the faith for that afterall!” is a great lesson but sometimes the lessons we learn best are the negative ones. When you fail at a task you can become all the more determined to never do so again.

    Besides, faith and life are a process. There is no magic age at which you become a perfect missionary. We all have our inadequacies.

  4. Brian Duffin: I understand him saying what he said, but why did he have to stand up and say it in a loud voice? Was that something that you needed to get the point?

  5. As much as I enjoy it, I find going to teach with the missionaries rather painful. Painful because I am reminded how naive and lacking I was as a missionary. Despite this, when Pres. Hinckley visited our mission he stood and said, paraphrasing, that this time as a missionary would is the high water mark of our spiritual lives. I am a bit reminded of Sidney Rigdon’s response to the Missionaries…that they lacked power. Joseph then was inspired to build a Temple to the Lord – to endow us with power from on high.

  6. I have spent 37 years recalling rather frequently my inadequacy as a missionary. It was a marvelously spiritual experience and I cried when I left, as many do. But my tears were mixed: tears of regret at leaving and tears of regret for the work I’d done. Perhaps that is part of the reason for the experience. When I recall my mission, it is difficult to be arrogant.

  7. Sorry, John, I think you’re wrong on this one. Experienced professionals who work with addicts fail all the time. Missionaries can’t understand and can’t fix every variation on human suffering, wrongheadedness, or bloody-mindedness on the face of the Earth. It has relatively little to do with their age or experience. As for your second example: so you didn’t restore the ability to walk to a chid with no legs. This does not mean you were inadequate. It means you’re human.

    [This rant is not directed at John] And I hate, hate, hate the notion that missionaries are just kids. They’re not. They’re as old as many people with college degrees, full-time jobs, or a second tour of Iraq behind them. They have more daily experience with the church, the gospel, the scriptures and the spirit than just about anyone else. About the same percentage of missionaries are stupid as the rest of the general population. Did I do stupid things as a missionary? I sure did. Fifteen years later, I still do stupid things that I regret afterwards; my days of doing stupid things will end when my children wise up and set me adrift on an ice floe. I hate the way missionaries get treated as scapegoats for perceived lack of [insert your favorite benchmark of progress in the church here]. Constantly badmouthing missionaries provides the justification and context for the kind of abuse that turns devout proselytizers into spiritual cripples.

    But John, you’re a bright guy, and I rather suspect you’re being clever here. Missionaries are always going to be inadequate when compared to the standard of Perfection. This is not necessarily a fatal flaw, considering that their commission is to bring the gospel to inadequate people and gather them into wards and stakes directed by inadequate leaders.

  8. Perhaps if the primary emphasis of a mission was to help people, not convert them, the church would have better success at both.

  9. I have to comment. My husband and I are currently serving as Humanitarian Aid missionaries in Russia and I am continually amazed at the maturity and spirituality of the young missionaries in our mission. Are they perfect, no, but then I am much older and I’m not perfect either. Will they have more faith etc. as they age and mature, I hope so. “Have they done any good in the world today?” YES! They try and as they try the Spirit is able to work through them and reach those who are prepared to accept the gospel. This is not a high baptizing mission but I see these young missionaries continuing to work, continuing to try, and demonstrating a love of the gospel and of the Russian people that is exemplary. When I was an investigator I was impressed that such young men had such a sure grasp of gospel principles and so much faith. I would concentrate on the faith you had and not on the fact that you didn’t have all the faith you might have had. One question? Would you now have the faith to tell that person to get up and walk? If not, are you working on it? That’s what it’s all about, learning, growing and developing more faith and hopefully bringing some others with us on the journey.

  10. I have to comment. My husband and I are currently serving as Humanitarian Aid missionaries in Russia and I am continually amazed at the maturity and spirituality of the young missionaries in our mission. Are they perfect, no, but then I am much older and I’m not perfect either. Will they have more faith etc. as they age and mature, I hope so. “Have they done any good in the world today?” YES! They try and as they try the Spirit is able to work through them and reach those who are prepared to accept the gospel. This is not a high baptizing mission but I see these young missionaries continuing to work, continuing to try, and demonstrating a love of the gospel and of the Russian people that is exemplary. When I was an investigator I was impressed that such young men had such a sure grasp of gospel principles and so much faith. I would concentrate on the faith you had and not on the fact that you didn’t have all the faith you might have had. One question? Would you now have the faith to tell that person to get up and walk? If not, are you working on it? That’s what it’s all about, learning, growing and developing more faith and hopefully bringing some others with us on the journey.

  11. I take comfort in scriptures like the following:

    1 Corinthians 1:27
    27 But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty;

    D&C 1:19
    19 The weak things of the world shall come forth and break down the mighty and strong ones, that man should not counsel his fellow man, neither trust in the arm of flesh–

    D&C 35:13
    13 Wherefore, I call upon the weak things of the world, those who are unlearned and despised, to thrash the nations by the power of my Spirit;

    D&C 133:57
    57 And for this cause, that men might be made partakers of the glories which were to be revealed, the Lord sent forth the fulness of his gospel, his everlasting covenant, reasoning in plainness and simplicity–

    D&C 133:58-59
    58 To prepare the weak for those things which are coming on the earth, and for the Lord’s errand in the day when the weak shall confound the wise, and the little one become a strong nation, and two shall put their tens of thousands to flight.
    59 And by the weak things of the earth the Lord shall thrash the nations by the power of his Spirit.

  12. Don’t sweat it, John. Chances are that the beggar wouldn’t have walked anyway. The way I read it, Peter only healed his beggar because he was broke.

  13. Missionaries are inadequate because humans are inadequate. It is by grace missionaries become powerful instruments in the hands of the Lord, not by works alone. Section 4, in my opinion, is not so much a call to perfection, or even adequacy, as an invitation to “knock;” that is, to seek grace at the hands of Christ that we may become like He is. The most powerful missionaries, then, are not really those who try the hardest, but those who give themselves most completely to the Lord. Much of the crucible of affliction that defines missionary life is meant, I believe, as a refiner’s fire to convince the Elders they can’t do the work by themselves–only the Lord, working through them, can raise the lame, heal the sick, bind up the broken heart, and change the innermost longing.

    Are missionaries adequate? No.

    Christ, however, is.

  14. Is it the inadequacy of the missionaries themselves?

    i think the missionary program is perhaps the most poorly managed program on earth. we throw tons of money at it and have hordes of young women and men who would probably walk into scalding lava if their mission presidents asked them to. is the problem really that they are young or unskilled? i think that’s a symptom. the larger problem is gross mismanagement of these resources. when we’re talking about the individual missionaries, that mismanagement probably borders physical and psychological abuse.

    there’s my two bits. and i say that as someone who was a very happy, but woefully inadequate missionary. i too spent months working with alcoholics, broken marriages, and other problems i could hardly fathom only to be battered about numbers every night.

    i love the Church, but nothing prepared me for the revelations of my mission about the way that Church leadership sometimes–and hopefully only sometimes–works.

  15. One more comment.

    I only checked in occasionally on the mega-conversation that recently ensued from Nate’s post about why his mission was hard. I got the impression, however, that much bashing was going on: of presidents, missions, MTCs, and the missionary program in general. I do not want to reopen that can of worms. In response to Norm’s comment, however, please rest assured that the bad presidents etc. do, in fact, only come along sometimes. For my part, my President was kind, compassionate, deeply spiritual, eminently knowledgable, funny, humble, and powerful. He was my friend, and he came from a two-room home in Chihuahua, Mexico. He served faithfully and taught me a great deal about Christianity. Similarly, I knew many, many missionaries (even APs–gasp!) who did the best they knew how, giving themselves to the Lord and acting faithfully on the amount of light and knowledge they had been given.

  16. One small voice here: we are all inadequate- that is why we need Christ. My husband and I are both converts (within the last three years) and we had some incredibly inspired, faithful and gospelly mature elders serve our family. We’ve also had some doozies- but maybe they were perfect for someone else’s needs…

    We ALL fall short, and we all know it. That’s why we are here.

  17. 11.
    Elder Nelson obliquely included some of those verses as part of his talk in the leadership session of 4/1985 GenCon:

    Those who oppose the Church attack this root of truth. They generally focus most cunningly at the target of priesthood authority simply because leaders are human and imperfect. The Master chose to administer his affairs by giving authority to ordinary men [including missionaries]. He identified them as “the weak things of the earth.” Yet he empowered them to thrash the nations by his Spirit. (D&C 35:13, 133:59).”

    Pres. Hinckley jestingly commented to missionaries, in a clip played during his 4/1996 interview on “60 Minutesâ€?, You all look alike–white shirts, some of them a little wrinkled, ties. I look at you, I look at your faces, and think of your age, and I’m inclined to say, “Well, you’re not much to look at, but you’re all the Lord has.â€?

    J. Golden Kimball observed, The Church must be true; if it wasn’t, ignoramus missionaries would have destroyed it long ago.

    Why? By the end of my mission, I’d heard the objections and had prepared answers ready to recite. And my time ended. Reflecting upon it, I wondered whether it isn’t better to have some green kid that has nothing but a testimony upon which to rely than someone ready to pontificate. Although raising the bar for missionary service seems to be delivering well-prepared young people who still teach from the heart by the Spirit instead of their own ability to cross swords.

  18. Hi Brian! (Duffin.) Several years ago now was my first experience of “internet catharsis” re the Church after being a lapsed member for under twenty years (before I recently came here to Times & Seasons, that is) was at ex-Mo sites. And while I felt some kind of shock — risidual from my once, over twenty years of Church activity — at some of the mocking there, still I could understand it and some of it even made me laugh: PARTICULARLY the starkly overdrawn caricatures of individual church leaders all too overwrought sensing themselves to be judges in Israel over some minor issue or another. And such tales there are ubiquitous.

    In light of the above I don’t know exactly how a person interupting a private conversation to deliver a religiously motivated rebuke in the name of God would have gone over; I’m not saying it would or would not go over “good,” just trying to envision it. Do you think your spiritual impression was to approach them pre-emptively with a rebuke? Or rather that if such behavior had been directed towards you in particular or were voiced in the literal physical presence of the Savior it would have been deserving of such an immediate and almost pre-emptive rebuke?

  19. KH: I found the “recovery” sites early too. My take is that they are not looking for resolution. They’ve taken the shortcut conclusion that the church can’t be true, and then claim all evidence must support that conclusion. They are definitely _not_ open to alternative explanations that allow the church to still be true.

    Tracy’s right. It’s not just the missionaries. Everyone, including long time members and leaders, fall short too. A lot of us forget that.

    Perhaps that’s why callings seem to keep people on the edge of their inadequacy, sort of a spiritual Peter Principle. I forget where I read it, but it’s the straddling the edge with one foot in unfamiliar territory that keeps us growing.

    Discoveries are never made by those who only do what they have been trained by others to do; those folks are copy-cats, plodders. God bless them, because that’s what 99% of everyday life is about. But discoveries are made by those who willingly go into unfamiliar territory, seek divine guidance, and are willing to try things that haven’t been done before. That kind of faith pleases God. He tends to use those people as trailblazers or to enlarge the borders. Those people see the training they received as a basis or pattern upon which to build, not as a limit.

    Those who feel they are adequate have stopped growing.

  20. Dianna H (9): “When I was an investigator I was impressed that such young men had such a sure grasp of gospel principles and so much faith. I would concentrate on the faith you had and not on the fact that you didn’t have all the faith you might have had.”

    Thank you, Dianna! It’s always refreshing and faith-promoting to hear the viewpoints of the converts themselves. They sure look at missionaries differently ! Good luck up there in Russia. You and the other missionaries are doing an amazing work.

  21. Re #7″Sorry, John, I think you’re wrong on this one.” — It wouldn’t be the first time!

    Jonathan, you make some great points. I realize my post seemed quite negative! The overall point, however, was supposed to be more along the lines you end up with in your comment. I tried to emphasize that regardless of the fact that our young missionaries aren’t professional counsellors or therapists and aren’t wielders of apostolic healing faith, it is as God wishes to have them out and about carrying his Gospel to the world. I am eternally grateful for that fact, actually. Because even if I didn’t have the faith to step into Peter’s shoes in a given moment in my mission, I was honored to follow his footsteps more generally by bringing the Gospel to those who did not have it and in the face of great adversity. I honestly believe that everyone involved (the Germans, the Church, myself, my family) benefitted greatly from the sacrifice and experience.

    If the mission did one thing, it taught me clearly and permanently that, although eager and willing, I was yet an unprofitable servant — inadequate to the calling . . . just like every Bishop, Relief Society President, their counsellors, Stake President and counsellors, Area Authorities, Seventies, General YW and RS Presidencies, and on up. (Thank you manaen # 17 for that teaching from Elder Nelson.)

    In other words, we are all unprofitable servants, which shows that adequacy by far is not the point. The point is being faithful in the face of adversity and being obedient to the will of God. If that means going on a mission at 19 or 21 despite an utter lack of qualifications to counsel recovering alcoholics, then so be it.

    Norm, I certainly did not mean any such criticism of the missionary program. As I pointed out in my post, I believe that the Lord wishes young men and women to be shouldering this task.

  22. And I should add that although I regret shying from a prompting in some instances on the mission, such as the one with the crippled beggar, I can gratefully say that I also followed some promptings and was party to some miraculous healings and other manifestations of the gifts of the Spirit.

    I am a firm believer that God is a God of miracles and that such have not, by any stretch of the imagination, ceased in our day.

  23. We have been told again and again that our missionaries are only as good as the members who work with them and send them referrals. And sometimes getting ward members to do their duty is about as easy and pleasant as pulling teeth from a rhinoceros without anesthetic. It’s a rough path to learning about humility, but is nevertheless a route for those who are willing to recognize it as such.

  24. I was also in the Berlin mission, and your story reminds me of a similar experience I had. My companion and I had occasionally seen a Chinese man named Ou Zui walking down the streets in Brandenburg, and I had the impression to talk to him every time I saw him. I don’t know why but I never did. I talked to my companion later and he said that he had the same impression. Anyway, later on we saw him as we were waiting in a government office to report our papers and he was there waiting with us. I felt I should talk to him again but I didn’t. A little time passed and he eventually started talking to us and asked us what we were doing. I explained that we were missionaries and he was very excited to hear that. He told us that he thought we were government officials but that he had a distinct impression to ask us who we were. It turns out he was a student who was in prison for two years during the tieneman square protests. We met with him for two weeks, and I was able to give him a book of mormon in chinese. He told us that he was very interested in religion and would read it. Then one day we never saw him again.

    I have thought about this experience very frequently for the last ten years since my mission. I don’t know why I didn’t follow the spirit, I never felt shy to talk to anyone on my mission. I also don’t know what happened to Ou Zui, but I always think back on that experience as proof that the spirit prompts us. I also am humbled every time I think about this because it reminds me that I didn’t follow the impressions of the spirit right away, but somehow God helped me a little.

  25. Johnathan: While I still make lots of mistakes, I am confident I would make many fewer in my mission if I went today. There’s something to be said for life experience. That said, and specific to the post at hand, that same life experience would probably stop me from trying to convert an alcoholic or heal a cripple. More succinctly, I think sometimes life experience gets in the way of faith. I think that’s a big reason missionaries are sent at 19.

  26. John, jimbob, I agree with a lot of your comments. A missionary might be foolish to attempt to convert an alcoholic, but most of us older and wiser types wouldn’t even bother to try.

    But even in the matter of expertise, the picture is not so cut and dried. As a missionary I saw and talked to and worked with alcoholics regularly. Now, not so much. In fact, never. A missionary with his eyes open can learn a lot about people and their problems, so that I’m not certain at all that the average missionary is less qualified than the average 35-year old. A few years ago I went with the missionaries to teach a discussion. The man was a crack addict, trying to break his habit. The missionaries knew about programs he could be referred to, and they knew the rules they had to operate under (if they saw any drugs, they had to leave immediately). Despite my years of post-mission experience, I knew far less than the elders did. I realize that addiction is an ugly problem best treated by professionals, and I don’t really want to comment on it specifically. But I think there’s something to be said for respecting the experience of missionaries that they gain out among the people while the rest of us are sitting all day in our offices.

  27. “But I think there’s something to be said for respecting the experience of missionaries that they gain out among the people while the rest of us are sitting all day in our offices.”

    You have to acknowledge, though, that the typical returned missionary would rather not repeat some of those experiences.

    Being young and innocent, in and of itself though, isn’t enough. Hence the “raising of the bar” (or rather, enforcement of the bar). President Hinckley said at a leadership broadcast in 2003 that problems a missionary have going in only get compounded. (That certainly happened to me.)

  28. I often wonder if the mission is for the missionary, and any conversions are just a bonus.

  29. I find it hard to know how to evaluate my mission more than a decade after it ended. It was a grueling and life-altering experience. Even while I was there, I was acutely aware of my shortcomings, and as time passes I only see them more. (It’s telling how the others’ weaknesses that so grated on me now fade into insignificance, while my own weaknesses only become more prominent.) But I loved the whole experience desperately, even the parts I hated, in some way I can’t explain or entirely understand myself. The spiritual intimacy of a life completely devoted to teaching the gospel changed me forever. I don’t tend to think about my mission very often in my daily life now, but it remains a constant in the background. I go through phases of having intense, vivid dreams of finding myself back in the MTC preparing to go back to the places where I served and see the people I loved there. Unlike my mission itself much of the time, those dreams of it are suffused with pure joy.

    Although I think missions should be about the people served, not the missionary, I inevitably end up evaluating my mission in terms of what I got out of it because it’s so hard to know if I really did do anyone any good (or at least, more good than harm). Maybe the most important thing I learned _was_ my own inadequacy. I’d spent all of my life before my mission in school, where I got a big head and the idea that I was smarter and therefore better than other people. I was a little older than the average sister when I put my papers in, a college graduate, and I assumed without even thinking about it that I’d “excel” at my mission (whatever that means!) and easily surpass everyone else–which was how I would know I was “special.” I couldn’t have been more wrong about the experience I would have. I found that having to approach strangers came harder to me than it did to many other, more gregarious missionaries. I never got very good at it. I never excelled or was special in any of the ways I had always assumed without thinking about it were important. (Before my mission I’d pretty successfully either avoided participating in activities that I was bad at, like sports, or downplayed their significance to myself–well, I’m bad at sports, but that’s actually a mark of my intellectual superiority.) On my mission, despite my best efforts, I was utterly and completely average.

    It’s embarrassing that it took me so long to learn what most people probably learn much earlier in life, but that’s probably one reason I needed to go on a mission–to find out that I am inadequate and ordinary and that I need the atonement just as much as everyone else does. To the extent that I can maintain that realization, it has been a source of great peace.

  30. Sincere question: Scriptures aside, is there even one confirmed case of any member — Prophet or otherwise — performing such a In-the-name-of-Jesus-Christ-of-Nazareth-rise-up-and-walk type miracle since the Church was restored in 1830?

    Are you saying that a current Apostle, were he with you that day, would have, could have performed such a miracle? Don’t you think the Prophet, Apostles, GA’s, Bishops, Stake Presidents, etc. come into contact with equally hopeless cases on a pretty frequent basis? Have they *ever* performed such an instantaneous miracle? (And no, I’m not talking about Priesthood blessings of sick individuals who happen to eventually get better…) You are comparing 19-20 year old boys to a (mythical?) Peter, when it seems clear that our strongest, most spiritual members don’t measure up to Peter.

  31. “When I recall my mission, it is difficult to be arrogant.”

    This is the truest thing that I have read so far in any of these missionary threads.

  32. I don’t know.

    I know of some such miracles performed by Walter Krause. But you would surely just think they are mythical.

  33. Matt T: Did you mean literally 1830 or did you mean after the 1830’s? I thought some of the stories of miraculous healings, especially during the Missouri persecutions, and Joseph’s commanding sick people in the name of the Lord to “rise up and walk” (which many immediately did) when they first got to the mosquito-infested swamp-land of Nauvoo were pretty well known.

    There’s also the oft-told story of Joseph F. Smith’s mother laying her hands on the horse (or ox?) after it had fallen on the trek West and it miraculously got up. But I don’t recall if it rose up from sickness or death. If it hadn’t been verified dead, I suppose a doubter could say that the horse was just resting until it got its energy back.

    There’s a book called “Stories from the Lives of General Authorities” by Leon Hartshorn which has accounts along those lines. I think it has a story of Apostle Matthew Cowley who blessed a child in New Zealand, at the request of the boy’s father, to receive his sight, and he did. That would have been in the 1950’s or prior.

    I knew a young man in Louisville KY in the 80’s who testified to me that while on his mission the Lord restored the sight of someone he had the privilege of blessing.

    I don’t remember any specifics, but I think Spencer Kimball’s “Faith Precedes the Miracle” might have accounts along those lines.

    I don’t know the exact thoughts that went through John Fowles’ mind when he walked past the lame child. But I think I’ve had similar experiences. I almost always get confused about the thoughts that occur to me in those situations. Were the desires to utter a blessing or a “command to be healed” my own desires, or was I being inspired/directed to make the utterance?

    The faith that is required, I believe, is not the faith to heal, per se, because we don’t actually do the healing. I know the scripture says “the faith to heal” but I think that’s a verbal shortcut because the priesthood holder doesn’t do the healing, the Lord does.

    I think “the faith to heal” or “the faith to work mighty miracles” is the faith that allows us to be so close to the Spirit that we know the mind and will of the Lord, and say what he would have us say. The priesthood holder is there merely to utter the words, and say what Jesus would say. That’s true no matter what the requested blessing is.

  34. Also, remember Peter’s earlier experience with walking on water. That kind of faith is sort of hard to maintain even if the Savior is in front of you showing it is possible.

    Once during a late night conversation on a boyscout campout in Vermont three of us discussed whether we had enough faith to walk on the lake we were dangling our feet over. Needless to say we all chickened out (though on Lake Champlain we often walked on water Dec-March).

  35. Jim F: I am not sure why the BP stood up to say what he did. But he did get the point across to me.

    Kimball: The conversation was anything but private. It [the conversation] was extremely loud and meant to be heard by the youth guides seated nearby.

  36. Bookslinger (#38): I know about the mosquito-infested swamp-land of Nauvoo period healings of various people, but it has been awhile since I read the source. What kind of documentation exists? Healings, Casting out devils, Speaking in tongues, etc. were not uncommon in the 1800s, regardless of the religion: Mormonism, Methodism, Presbyterianism, Baptist, etc. How do you account for this?

    1.) The narrow-minded TBM might say that such miracles were legitimate in Mormonism, but were false/erroneous in other religions.

    2.) The more open-minded TBM might say that such miracles were legitamate in all Religions because people in the 1800s were more spiritual/righteous/Godly than people in the 1900s/2000s, and God rewarded the faith of His children regardless of Religious affiliation.

    3.) The Secularist might say that Healings, Speaking in tongues, etc. have “natural” or “environmental” explanations, that neither *really* existed in the 1800s, that they were a product of the times.

    I’m just not sure I’ve seen evidence of “In-the-name-of-Jesus-Christ-of-Nazareth-rise-up-and-walk” type healings in Church History? After all, how many people claimed — twenty years later! — that they saw Brigham Young transfigured as Joseph Smith on August 8, 1844? The Dialogue article by Van Wagoner, Vol 28, No. 4, Winter 1995 makes a pretty strong case that this did *not* happen in the same way that sanitized LDS Church History claims:'dialogue%20van%20wagoner%20transfiguration%20of%20brigham%20young

    Can the mosquito-infested swamp-land of Nauvoo period healings hold up to the same scrutiny?

    You mention Joseph F. Smith’s mother, Matthew Cowley, etc. and I am equally skeptical. I can’t help but think of James Talmage:

    “When he was eleven year old, James Talmage accidentally blinded his younger brother Albert with a pitchfork. At age thirty-one, while writing the first draft of “The Articleds of Faith”, James asked members of the First Presidency and the Twelve to administer to his brother. They inquired if he had the faith to be healed after twenty years of blindness, and Albert said “Yes.” In the Priesthood ordinanace of healing, they promised him a complete restoration of his sight. James recorded his equally unconditional expectation for the fulfillment of this apostolic blessing. Days passed, then weeks, then months, and Albert remained blind. Years passed, and Albert received equally emphatic promises of restored sight from other apostles and prophets. He remained blind the rest of his life. Did either brother experience religions doubts as a consquence? The diaries of James E. Talmage do not say so specifically, but they do indicate his own bewilderment and ultimate resignation about the non-fulfillment of preiesthood blessings given and recieved in absolute faith.”

    D. Michael Quinn, “To Whom Shall We Go?”, Sunstone #137, May 2005.

    There are countless other examples of failed blessings. Of course, they rarely make it into the LDS historical record.

    I’m not trying to “stir the pot” here, I just have a hard time seeing any legitimate examples of the “In-the-name-of-Jesus-Christ-of-Nazareth-rise-up-and-walk” type healings John Fowles is talking about in Church History. He complains about the inadequacy of our missionaries, and yet I don’t see the kind of faith he is talking about exercised by our best and brightest Prophets and Apostles? Heaven knows they’ve had ample opportunity. If this is truly God’s “one true Church”, the same Church that existed during the time of Peter and John, why does He appear to be holding back?

  37. #31
    That’s what my MTC teacher said, and I sure as heck didn’t believe him!!!

    …until I really understood missionary work.

    Ah, humble pie is a bittersweet taste.

  38. Just look at missionary inadequacy as a metaphor for your own life as a Christian, and we’re all OK.

  39. Matt T.
    You raise an interesting point on one hand (why aren’t there more dramatic examples of healing, or perhaps, more accurately, why is there still so much sickness?). However, I will take versions of Church history that I hear in Church or see in Church movies (which include the Nauvoo healings) long before I will jump on the bandwagon of someone like Michael Quinn.

    That said, I think healings happen all of the time. Maybe we just don’t hear about them. But, actually, often we do. I know our leaders have shared stories about healings. I have experienced healing through priesthood blessings myself, so I don’t think we can simply throw the baby out with the bathwater because of some exceptions (a blessing that is not fulfilled in this life) or because we haven’t witnessed one directly.

  40. Matt T., see # 23 please.

    The post contained a bit of a rhetorical flourish. I agree with your point to the extent that very few if any people on the earth have the faith of the Apostle Peter.

  41. m&m:

    I guess I should have blind-quoted Quinn since use of his name appears to discount everything I said. No matter, the Talmage story happened whether Quinn recounts the facts or someone else. But stick to the Church History “you hear in Church or see in Church movies”… unlike Quinn, that history will have no bias.

    The “maybe we just don’t hear about them” comment works much better for the Talmage-type stories than a faith-promoting story involving a dramatic healing. If Talmage’s brother had been healed, the story would be as well-known today as Brigham’s “transfiguration”, the seaguls/crickets story, etc.

    john f.:

    I’m not even sure the apostle Peter had the faith of the “Apostle Peter”.

  42. Matt T.
    You must not be reading the same books i’ve been reading. I mentioned a few books, and there are others. There’s even a book from Signature Books called “A Book of Mormons” that recounts some “rise up and walk” types of miracles. I recently purchased “LDS Adventure Stories” which has some interesting stories.

    It should be obvious why the church doesn’t promote such things with “Lookee here!” type advertising.

    I know several converts who attest to miracles before they joined the church. I so attest, also. And in modern non-LDS Christian literature there are accounts of miracles. So I don’t believe the Lord restricts miracles and other spiritual gifts solely towards members.

    I believe that Satan can imitate gifts, and that people can be under the influence of Satan or unclean spirits when they think they are under the influence of God.

    I believe that sometimes a sincere person thinks he or she has a spiritual gift when in fact they don’t. I believe that some people have spiritual gifts or abilities wherein they don’t realize it is a gift from God.

    I believe a sincere person can sometimes be mistaken about what he or she thinks the Spirit is telling him to do. Elder Oaks recently spoke about “ginning up” revelations or promptings from our own desires, wherein we want something so bad, we create thoughts that the Spirit is telling us something about it. I’ve been there too.

    Not all miracles are flashy/showy types of rise-up-and-walk deals in front of people who knew the crippled person their whole life. Receipt of pure testimony and knowledge is a miracle, but only to the person who receives it. Most healings are another type where only the people involved can really know.

    I think a lot of the Lord’s involvement in our everyday lives appears as coincidence. I’ve had a lot of those situations. My blog documents a lot that I’ve had. The vast majority of my encounters with immigrants appear to be coincidence, but a small percentage are when I’m directed to go to a certain place, or take along a certain book.

    Have you read Kimball’s “Faith Precedes the Miracle” ?

    The extreme faith that allows people to perform rise-up-and-walk type miracles still doesn’t give us power to do what we want. It gives us power to do what the Lord wants. Even Peter, who had the faith to heal, still couldn’t heal whoever he wanted. He could only heal who the Lord wanted.

    On a mission in Italy, Lorenzo Snow was asked to bless a blind child. He did not give the blessing until he came to know the will of the Lord in the matter, and the child’s sight was restored.

    The Doctrine and Covenants, in explaining about the faith wherein whatever you ask for will be done, says that it is given the person what to ask for.

    I’ve received my miracles of testimony, ie, I’ve received testimonies through miraculous means, but totally internal. I don’t “need” rise-up-and-walk type miracles to confirm my faith in the existence of God. And I think the scriptures are clear that faith should not be based on outward miracles.

    I’ve known, via miraculous internal communication, for over 30 years that God exists. When my testimony of the Book of Mormon came to me, I already knew the voice of the Spirit and recognized it. What I’m now trying to learn through study and faith are the Lord’s attributes and how he works, and the workings of the Spirit. The wonders of those discoveries bring joy, even though the steps leading up to those discoveries can sometimes be fraught with all sorts of other emotions.

    If your point is that rise-up-and-walk type miracles don’t happen often enough among Latter-day Saints, you’re probably right. The Brethren have often said that church members as a whole aren’t living up to our potential.

    It’s easy to fall into the trap of going from “that doesn’t happen very often” to then believing “therefore that can’t happen to me.” Our western culture, even in the church, is too willing to accept middle of the road mediocrity. Even in the church most of us are more than willing to allow modesty to make us mediocre. We often fear excellence, or fear to be seen trying harder than the person next to us.

    By modesty and by the Lord’s commandment, we should speak of that which comes from above with care. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t study and prepare ourselves for them.

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