Effective missionary work means finding, teaching and converting by the power of the Spirit, 75 new mission presidents and their wives were instructed June 20-23 at the annual Mission Presidents Seminar.
The new presidents left their homes and lifestyles behind to begin their three-year service, `Unto all the world.' Participating in the seminar at the Missionary Training Center here were President Ezra Taft Benson; his two counselors, President Gordon B. Hinckley and President Thomas S. Monson; 10 members of the Council of the Twelve; all seven Presidents of the Seventy; and many members of the First and Second Quorum of the Seventy. Recently called General Authorities were also in attendance, there to benefit by the training.President Ezra Taft Benson left his blessing with the new presidents, saying "God bless you. I wish I were going with you.
"You're going to the most wonderful work in this world. I know what it is, because I've been there. God bless you every one."
Elder L. Tom Perry of the Council of the Twelve and chairman of the Missionary Executive Council, conducted the seminar.
"It is a miracle of the Church before us here," he said, referring to the mission presidents and their wives. "What a miracle it is to see this great work unfold."
Speaking at the opening session June 20 were Elders M. Russell Ballard of the Council of the Twelve and Robert L. Backman of the Presidency of the Seventy. Elder Ballard is on the Missionary Executive Committee and Elder Backman is executive director of the Missionary Department. The Osmond Boys _ a quartet of preteen sons of Alan Osmond of the famous Osmond family _wearing missionary name tags, performed two musical numbers.
(Additional addresses of the General Authorities, including those of President Hinckley and President Monson, were delivered later in the week and will be covered in next week's Church News.)
Among the new mission leaders were Marco Alberto Flores and his wife, Maria, from Mexico City, who were called only four days before the seminar began. They were in Provo taking English classes at BYU when they received their call to preside over the Mexico Chihuahua Mission.
"We had such a short time to prepare," said Pres. Flores. "But we are grateful that the Lord was thinking of us."
They said the seminar "was a great opportunity to learn of our great responsibility."
Speakers throughout the week emphasized the importance of conversion through the Holy Ghost, and in having missionaries and members surround that experience with love and understanding.
In his address, Elder Ballard cited verses 17-22 in section 50 of the Doctrine and Covenants as the "underpinning doctrine" for the process of conversion:
"Therefore, why is it ye cannot understand and know, that he that receiveth the word by the Spirit of truth receiveth it as it is preached by the Spirit of truth?
"Wherefore, he that preacheth and he that receiveth, understand one another, and both are edified and rejoice together." (D&C 50:21-22.)
"That's the key process of conversion," he emphasized. "When that glorious connection occurs between the missionary and the investigator, presided over by the Spirit of the Holy Ghost, then they understand one another.
"Spiritual experiences are very, very important in the lives of people," he continued. "Missionaries must prepare investigators to have spiritual experiences, and they can do that _ they can have a spiritual experience by just praying with them."
Elder Ballard said the current increase in convert baptisms is due in part to better preparation of mission presidents, to missionaries who know how to teach by the Spirit, to the use of the media in spreading the gospel message, and to the work of stake and ward mission leaders.
He urged mission leaders to enlist both members and investigators to help find additional people for the missionaries to teach.
Many of the missionaries don't capture the vision of finding, of opening their mouths and talking with everybody that they see, he observed. "The most effective way to increase the number of investigators is to teach missionaries to boldly talk to people, wherever they are."
Elder Backman, in an overview of missionary work, complimented the leaders for accepting the calls.
"My heart is in my throat," he told the group. "I give thanks to the Lord that there are so many wonderful and great people who are willing to give so much as they respond to the call.
"I know all of you share trepidation in leaving the comfort zones of home and work, and family and finance, and in going out to live among strangers. Many of you will learn languages and cultures. And you also must hold some uneasiness about the future, about what it holds when you return from your missions. I know you share concern about being surrogate mother and father to 200 young missionaries.
"You share certainly a sense of the audacity of what you are about to do _ getting a small army of young and some not-so-young missionaries, many hardly able to speak the language, much less understand the cultures _ to ask strangers to change their lives forever."
He said that if leaders had these concerns, then they also shared the faith and courage that it requires to succeed.
And, "you share more than this. Asking people to change their lives requires a sure knowledge on your part that this new life will be a better one. You have experienced the richness and joys of lives dedicated to gospel service."
He counseled presidents to "save yourselves and your families, save the missionaries, increase the number of converts, and to retain the converts as active members.
"We are thrilled with the increase in baptisms, but we know we've only scratched the surface of what we are capable of doing."