After returning from the South Africa Cape Town Mission in 1991, I was called to be mission leader of my ward at Brigham Young University. Since I was living in the dorms, the ward featured lots of freshmen planning to serve missions at the end of the school year and only one nonmember. So my chief function was to teach the missionary preparation class.
During my two years in Africa, I had vowed that if I ever had the opportunity to work with prospective missionaries, I would let them know what it was really like out in the mission field.
Sure, I wanted my class members to know about the thrill associated with finding that “golden” family. But I also wanted them to know about some of the other adventures — challenges like serving with a companion who doesn’t follow every rule, having three bikes stolen in your zone within 72 hours, and not being transferred for more than eight months.
I wanted my class members to write to me during their missions, so at the end of the school year I typed up a short note of thanks to them and included my home address. As an afterthought, I decided to add a few short pieces of advice, many of which had surfaced during the class. When I ran out of room on the page, I had recorded 65 reminders. Later on, I thought of many, many more.
Whether the assignment is to serve in Africa, Europe or the United States, here are a few of the things on my list (out of more than 400 on the list total) that I think missionaries should remember:
- Get in the habit of exercising regularly prior to starting your mission.
- Take a durable, inexpensive watch.
- Take copies of your mission call, patriarchal blessing and, for elders, priesthood line of authority with you.
- Make sure your haircut is short enough to get you through the entire Missionary Training Center experience. MTC barbers don’t use scissors — they only have razors!
- When you’re a “greenie,” you may think your trainer is the worst missionary in the church. Be sure you write and thank him/her a few months later when you realize how good he/she was.
- Stand every time you greet the mission president’s wife.
- The preferred plural form is “copies of the Book of Mormon,” not “Books of Mormon” or “Book of Mormons.”
- Take a copy of an old sacrament meeting talk; if the bishop calls on you to speak without warning, you’ll be prepared.
- Read the Book of Mormon every day of your mission.
- Buy and use Super Sticky Post-It Notes as they adhere to investigator’s doors much better than regular Post-It Notes.
- Make scripture bookmarks for investigators by writing a favorite verse, thought or hymn on a card.
- When you have one year left, serve like you have only one month left. When you have one month left, act as though you still have a year to go.
- Let your junior companion be senior once in a while for practice.
- Make use of every restroom opportunity. You never know when you’ll find another one.
- Don’t fast longer than 24 hours — even for special investigators or challenges.
- Remember: One golden investigator is worth 100 door slams.
- Don’t have a specific “door approach” in mind when a person answers the door. Be spontaneous and open to the Spirit.
- Always try “one more door.”
- Have food on hand for Sundays in case your dinner appointment cancels.
- Look forward to your interview with the mission president. Have a question or two in mind to ask him.
- When it gets to the point that you’re annoyed with your companion’s breathing, it’s time to identify his/her many great qualities.
- Carry a toy with you. Pull it out when young children start disrupting a lesson.
- Don’t linger after dinner appointments.
- Don’t aspire to leadership. Once you get it, you’ll regret it.
- Don’t make fun of local dialects.
- Don’t confess or discuss past sins with investigators or members.
- Don’t cross off days on your calendar.
- Before entering a yard, shake the gate to check for dogs.
- Don’t call or visit church members on Monday evenings unless you have been specifically invited by them to do so.
- If you bear your testimony in sacrament meeting, keep it short, simple and basic. This meeting is for the members. You can bear your testimony at the next zone or district meeting.
Mark W. Newman is the author of “A Little Book of Missionary Reminders.”