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Duce’s Wild: Missionary preparation: Shepherds leading others back to the fold

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Missionaries are like a trusted shepherd who helps guide God's children back to the fold, including some who have wandered farther than others.

Missionaries are like a trusted shepherd who helps guide God’s children back to the fold, including some who have wandered farther than others.

Sue Horton, MCT

A new-age challenge has developed for those teaching Book of Mormon classes to today’s teens.

It’s hard to introduce something new.

Most in my Sunday School class have read the Book of Mormon from cover to cover several times, a goal many adults would be hard-pressed to accomplish as fast.

Today’s teens have been raised with animated Book of Mormon movies and coloring books, historical fiction reads about Book of Mormon civilizations and have played with muscle-bulging Lamanite and Nephite action figures.

They know the faith-promoting stories; they know the catchy-chorused Primary songs and their biggest challenge is to live according to what they know.

Last Sunday, as we talked about witnesses of Book of Mormon truths, I held up gospel art pictures like flash cards and tested their ability to identify prophets in images created by Arnold Friberg and other master painters. To them, it was child’s play. Even artistic renditions that are not used often, like one of the three Nephite apostles, didn’t stump anyone.

So I will always cherish one moment a few weeks ago when I taught a combined class of every teen in our ward. They were divided into groups to make presentations on sections of the lesson, but for a singular moment I caught the attention of almost everyone with wide eyes that told me what I was teaching was something new, something they hadn’t considered before.

We were talking of Alma and King Mosiah and their efforts to establish the church as well as peace in the kingdom. At the time, their teenage sons were causing much of the havoc in town and leading people in mutiny — both against their country and their God.

On page 196 of the Book of Mormon, many were brought to the king to be judged for their actions that really fell under the umbrella of spiritual iniquities rather than civic crimes. King Mosiah met with the prophet leader, Alma, telling him he’d need to judge the cases, which proved to be a heavy burden.

Alma was troubled and prayed mightily for divine guidance and wisdom when helping people redirect their course. Revelation to him was recorded and now reminds us “as often as my people repent will I forgive them their trespasses against me” (Mosiah 26: 30).

During the course of Alma’s counseling, it was necessary for him to “blot out” names from the records of the church of those who would not forsake their serious sins. And so spurred a conversation in our class about modern-day excommunication from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

My words were simple but caught their attention. Today, excommunication is part of the repentance process for those who have violated God’s most serious laws but want to change their life and, in a circular path, actually come back into full activity. The LDS Church does not send missionaries out to find those who aren’t living up to their baptismal covenants, although they certainly meet plenty of those. Missionaries, like a trusted shepherd, bring God’s children back to the fold — some on a direct course of conversion and others on a longer path to reclaim the blessings they’d already been promised through faithfulness.

It seemed my students learned a new method of mercy by the Lord in special circumstances. Together, we were even more grateful for Jesus Christ’s Atonement that extends a gift to all who will receive, no matter how far they have wandered.

I am grateful to be a Sunday School teacher to those who already know so much. I’m grateful to help them become spiritual shepherds, who may also wear a black missionary name tag someday and share the gospel message with knowledge, yes, but even more importantly, with charity and love.

Stacie Lloyd Duce is a columnist and magazine editor featured regularly in several Montana and Utah publications. Her columns appear Thursdays on desnews.com. Email: duceswild7@gmail.com