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Amilestone of 40,000 full-time missionaries has been reached, reported Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Council of the Twelve and a member of the Missionary Executive Council.

As of Dec. 19, 40,180 missionaries were serving in 226 missions. They work in 88 nations and 22 territories around the globe, sharing their message with people on the street to the leaders of nations. They serve in big cities and small, remote villages. They work on the desert and in the mountains, in the Arctic and tropics.Where the first missionary hunted for words to explain his message about a book concerning the inhabitants of ancient America, missionaries today share a unified message inviting people to come to Christ and receive blessings through the ordinances, including baptism.

And where the first missionary had a hastily printed book without chapter and verse headings, today's missionaries have books and materials in 160 languages with LDS study guides, and modern media available for use.

"In the past three years, 90,000 full-time missionaries have been set apart and sent into the world to proclaim the glad tidings of the restoration," said Elder Ballard. "The Book of Mormon is being distributed and read as never before in our history."

Elder Ballard referred to a prophecy by Joseph Smith made in a priesthood gathering in 1834 in which he said, "It is only a little handful of Priesthood you see here tonight, but this Church will fill North and South America - it will fill the world."

"You will detect in this statement by Joseph Smith no element of cautious forecasting," said Elder Ballard. "He certainly did not predict future growth based on past trends. He gave a bold statement, a prophecy - given by the Spirit of the Lord to a Prophet of the Lord."

Opposition has dogged the feet of missionaries since the very beginning, Elder Ballard noted. Yet despite the ordeals of the saints at the hands of the persecutors during the 1840s and 1850s, more than 2,000 missionaries were set apart, and they visited such far-away areas as Australia, India, Chile, Hong Kong, Burma, South Africa, and West Indies, and missions were opened to such countries as Germany, Denmark, Norway and Sweden, France, Italy, and Switzerland. During that 20-year period, missionaries in Great Britain baptized more than 15,000 converts.

While the difficulties of colonization and fierce opposition slowed work for the next several decades, renewed efforts brought continued success. During the 40 years between 1890 to 1930, 31,449 missionaries were set apart. The number of stakes and membership tripled. One significant event occurred Christmas Day in 1925, when Elder Ballard's grandfather, Elder Melvin J. Ballard, dedicated South America for the preaching of the gospel. At that time, he prophesied:

"The work of the Lord will grow slowly for a time here just as an oak grows slowly from an acorn. It will not shoot up in a day as does the sunflower that grows quickly and then dies. But thousands will join the Church here...The day will come when the Lamanites in this land will be given a chance. The South American Mission will be a power in the Church."

Since that time, Elder M. Russell Ballard said, a single South American Mission has grown to 38 missions, and some 900,000 members now live in more than 200 stakes.

Elder Ballard continued, "During the four decades from 1930 to 1970, 106,799 full-time missionaries were set apart. Worldwide Church membership increased four-fold from 663,000 to 2,807,456 members."

From 1970 to 1985, 230,000 missionaries were set apart to serve, more than double the number set apart in the preceding 40 years. In addition, doors into many other nations have become unlocked for the preaching of the gospel he concluded.

One example of work beginning in a nation is in the newly opened Liberia Monrovia Mission, where missionaries are finding a spiritually receptive people, said Mission Pres. Miles Cunningham.

"We have been concentrating on finding educated people. We're getting a good reputation, and as we acquire new buildings, it gives us a little higher visibility," he said.

Serving in the mission are a handful of newly converted young men who have been trained locally. Each pair has 25 to 30 investigators.

"Our missionaries are very sharp, with good minds," he explained. "They speak six or seven local languages, and many speak English and French. They are hard workers.

"We are very enthusiastic; we have great members who are anxiously engaged in a great mission."