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New converts progress, grow toward full Church activity

Dan Black stood in sacrament meeting Feb. 1 and bore his testimony for the first time in his life.

He recalled his journey into full Church activity, which began Nov. 26, 1996, when he was baptized. It included a loving and supportive family at home and dozens of supportive Church members in the Platte City Missouri Stake who enthusiastically welcomed him into their ward and life.It also included visits with stake missionaries to Church sites and family history centers, and a trip to the temple to do baptisms for the dead. It concluded when he received his endowment and was sealed to his wife, Glenda, and three children in the St. Louis Temple Dec. 27 - a little more than a year after his baptism.

There in the temple with them were Charles and Joan Hitchborn, stake missionaries. Brother Hitchborn had answered Brother Black's questions, been there the first time he offered a prayer during a Church meeting, and finally served as his escort through the temple.

The Hitchborn's calling enables them to help new and less-active members in the Platte City Missouri Stake enjoy all the blessings of full Church activity. As part of the effort, stake missionaries are assigned to help new members learn about the Church heritage, family history, and temple work. (Please see related article on this page.)

Brother and Sister Hitchborn, recent converts to the Church themselves, could not be happier with their calling as stake missionaries. Helping new members develop and grow in the Church is a process, Brother Hitchborn said. "We are sort of like helpful traffic cops, showing them the way to go and helping them over bumps and obstacles that they may have."

The Hitchborns wish stake missionaries would have been available to help them when they joined the Church two years ago. They, like many new converts, had a lot of questions that went unanswered. "Even though we had been through the discussions and been baptized, we still had a lot of questions to ask," Brother Hitchborn said. "I remember feeling bad about asking questions, like why are we doing these things and how are they done? This gives Joan and me an opportunity to answer these questions for new members and help them find their way."

The Hitchborns, and other stake missionaries, attend all adult baptisms. They give new members a family group sheet and talk to them about the importance of family history work. They attend the gospel principles class with new members on Sunday and keep them informed of any temple preparation classes that are offered in the stake. They also invite new members to join them at the temple to perform baptisms for the dead.

The Hitchborns have been asked to work at least three days a month in the St. Louis Temple - which is about a four-hour drive from their home. To make it easier for the couples to travel to St. Louis from the Kansas City area (a distance of about 225 miles), the stake has rented an apartment near the temple.

But fellowship doesn't stop after visits to the temple, said Brother Hitchborn. New members have questions about why, how and where to receive a patriarchal blessing. They need to know where to find a tithing slip and how to subscribe to the Church News and other publications "that will help them be aware of the Church, its growth and messages from its leaders." They introduce them to the ward clerk and other members, socialize with them, and offer support when they talk or pray in Church.

"New converts are very hungry to learn all that they can about the Church," Sister Hitchborn said. "We can help them with their questions."

The Hitchborns say serving as missionaries has its own rewards. They returned to the temple with the Blacks just a few weeks after Brother Black had been through for the first time. As he left the temple, Brother Black said, "I just feel like I am on fire."

"When you hear comments like that," said Sister Hitchborn, "and you can see it in their face and you can feel it in your heart, then it is all worth it."

Ronald B. Stapley, president of the Platte City Missouri Stake, said he is already seeing positive results from the stake's fellowshipping effort - which was implemented last June in response to President Hinckley's plea to support new members.

"The key," Pres. Stapley said, "is that these [stake missionaries] are set apart to work in the name of the Lord to assure that they bring the less active and new members to the point where they have the full blessings of the gospel in their homes."

In addition to the effort, he said, he also encourages all members of his stake to give of themselves. "The idea," Pres. Stapley emphasized, "is that if you walk into Church and there is someone you don't know, that is the person you go to first. You literally go out of your way to make sure that new families feel like they are loved and that they are needed."

Pres. Stapley also makes sure that he interviews all the adult converts in his stake shortly after they join the Church.

Brother Black said he considers the stake president to be a personal friend. "I wouldn't hesitate to call him anytime," he said.

He was happy Pres. Stapley was able to hear him bear his recent testimony in Church. The full-time missionaries, Brother Black explained, made him feel "like he has a place in God's plan." Church leaders, stake missionaries, and dozens of friendly members "showed me where I fit."

"It doesn't get any better than this," he said.