What Parents Can Do
Church leaders are continually emphasizing the important role parents have in aiding their children to prepare to serve missions. You’ve been raising your son or daughter for about two decades, and suddenly, they’re looking to you for guidance and advice. What can you do to assure your child will be the best missionary he or she can be? Here are four suggestions that will give you an idea of where to start.
Remind them who they (really) are.
While on his mission, your brave son will be representing Jesus Christ and His gospel. Make sure he knows that he, too, is a son of God, and all of the people he will be meeting are also children of God.
During family home evening or a special moment alone with your teen, discuss the premortal life. Explain that Heavenly Father reserved your child for 6,000 before He sent him to earth. As President Benson remarked, “There has never been more expected of the faithful in such a short period of time than there is of us (Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson, 1988).” As a representative of the Church, your missionary needs to know who she is and where she comes from. In order to teach others these truths, your teen must have a strong confidence in her divine nature.
Encourage your child to develop his talents during his school years. Whether he’s interested in playing chess, soccer, or the cello, support his decision and skill. He’s going to need to support himself in college or on a mission, so teach your son how to plan a budget and the difference between the fabric softener and bleach. Allow your kids to take part in family nights, by assigning lessons and scriptures. By developing skills and talents talents and observing their progress over time, your mini-missionaries will see the divine potential they have as children of God. Children and teenagers learn to discipline themselves, persevere, and reach their goals. These are all habits future missionaries should adopt at a young age.
Share Your Testimony
Children learn how to talk, walk, laugh, smile, eat, dance, and kiss by imitating their parents. They adopt your accent and your idiosyncrasies. They drive like you, they curl their hair like you do, and they drink out of the milk carton when no one’s looking (like you do). Certainly, parents could abuse their right as trend-setters, or they could enhance their purpose as nurturers by setting an example and sharing your testimony.
Your example doesn’t stop after testimony meeting, either. Take advantage of teaching moments throughout the day. Did you receive an answer to a prayer? Tell your kids about it. Has a certain scripture impacted your life? Grab a red pencil and mark it in his or her set. The earlier you start testifying to your children, during family home evening or at family gatherings, the more comfortable they will feel when expressing their feelings to you—and to others.
Be a Missionary Yourself
Now, I’m not suggesting that you wake up at 6:30 a.m. Saturday morning to don your white shirt and tie for your trip to the beach, but there are a few missionary habits that are completely appropriate for parents to adopt. Create a gospel-sharing home, as Elder Ballard advised in the April 2006 general conference.
Elder Ballard said, “Creating a gospel-sharing home is the easiest and most effective way that we can share the gospel with others....A gospel-sharing home is not a program. It is a way of life. Creating a gospel-sharing home means inviting our friends and neighbors into the ongoing flow of family and Church activities. As we invite our friends to join us for these activities, they will also feel the Spirit.”
Invite the missionaries and non-member friends over for dinner to demonstrate your belief and conviction in the conversion process. Missionaries love home-cooked meals, and children love learning from cool, fun, spiritually strong, older-brother-like guys. Take your children home or visiting teaching (when appropriate) and encourage them to share Church videos, magazines, and copies of the Book of Mormon with their friends (if they fell prompted to do so). Set goals as a family to give out pass-along cards and use Preach My Gospel as a regular resource for planning family home evening lessons.
Create a Plan
Don’t wait until your son’s nineteenth birthday to ask, “Hey, have you ever thought about serving a mission?” If the answer is yes, you will both be scrambling to schedule health appointments, find affordable suits, and send in that passport information. Once you’ve tackled those tasks, you’ll realize that in order to finance the mission, you might need hold a yard sale every weekend for about two years.
It’s simpler to start early, like when your kids are still in Primary. Start a missionary fund—you know, those cute piggy banks with a section for tithing and a section for mission money? That’s the idea. Decide which chores will reap what amount of mission money, and ask your neighbors if they need their lawns mowed or bushes clipped. Part-time jobs (or full-time in the summer) are great for high school and college students. Like Grandpa used to say, work builds character. Start while you’re ahead and those nickels will add up.
What Church Leaders Can Do
Whether you’re a youth leader, bishop, or stake president, you can do something to help the teenagers in your ward to begin to switch over to missionary mode. Make a goal now to encourage every worthy young man in your ward to serve a mission. Hold missionary firesides as a youth group, ward, or stake for prospective missionaries, and share experiences from your own mission.
The Duty to God and Scout programs are excellent preparatory tools for young men. The Personal Progress program is essential for the growth and development of young women. Implement these programs in your lessons and activities. Ask your youth to lead invigorating gospel discussions during Sunday School, Mutual activities, devotionals, seminary, etc. Assign responsibilities such as taking care of the meetinghouse, home teaching, visiting the elderly and less-active members, going on splits with the full-time missionaries, and doing service projects.
If you’re a seminary teacher, you have a large impact on the lives of your students. Wake the youth up and aid them in memorizing the scripture mastery selections. These scriptures come in very handy for future missionaries. Supply the kids with the doctrinal knowledge they need to know in order to gain their own testimonies, and encourage them to pray about the truthfulness of the gospel to find out for themselves.
What Teens Can Do
This is your time—take advantage of the relatively few years you have to prepare and get on your feet! Missionary work is the gospel in action. The best thing you can do as a teenager is to start living a missionary life now. Talk to your friends about the gospel; better yet, invite them to church or a youth activity. Go on splits with your ward missionaries, and talk to them about how to prepare. Make a mission plan with your church leaders and parents. And don’t be a seminary sleeper—be a seminary scholar. It’s your time to shine. Getting your hands dirty during service projects now will pay off later. Approach the Lord knowing that you are a worthy young man or woman.
Here are some ways Earl C. Tingey suggested that young men prepare for a mission (“Missionary Service,” Ensign, May 1998):
Secure an individual testimony of Jesus Christ. Study the Book of Mormon to receive a witness of the Restoration and Joseph Smith. Be clean and pure—talk to your bishop if you need help. Pay tithes and offerings and save money for your mission. Learn how to work hard. Fulfill your duties as a home teacher.
The best thing you can do, whether you’re a parent, leader, or teenager, is to start preparing now. The impact of your efforts could lead to a successful mission and an addition of converts to the Church. So, pull yourself on top of that raising bar, take a look around, imagine for a moment your potential as well prepared missionary.