Jabari Parker, Danny Ainge and LDS missions

By Travis Hansen

For the Deseret News

Published: Tuesday, June 19 2012 10:26 a.m. MDT

Boston Celtics President of Basketball Operations Danny Ainge talks with reporters during a news conference at the Celtics basketball training facility in Waltham, Mass., Friday, May 13, 2011.

Michael Dwyer, ASSOCIATED PRESS

All-time list of returned LDS missionaries in professional sports

Jabari Parker is one of the best prep high school basketball players in the world right now. He is also a Mormon. He has a big decision to make soon — what university he will play for and whether or not he will serve an LDS mission.

A friend of mine recently said that Jabari would do more missionary work by not going on a mission and by being a great basketball player and good role model.

Maybe.

But what could a mission do for Jabari personally and for any other young man out there deciding whether to go or not?

A mission is an incredible opportunity to serve, to grow and to witness many life experiences that might otherwise be difficult to experience. It should be everyone's goal to both serve a mission and to become a missionary, for the two are different in every aspect.

In a general conference address, Elder David A. Bednar, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve, said, "It is possible for a young man to go on a mission and not become a missionary, and this is not what the Lord requires or what the church needs."

Danny Ainge recently corrected a quote published in Sports Illustrated where the author wrote that Ainge said, “I don't believe every young man should serve a mission.”

Last week I spoke with Ainge about this and he told me that “I meant to say that every young man can and should prepare to serve a mission but not every young man will be able to. Due to the standards and raising of the bar, many young men and women will not be able to take part in that opportunity. But that does not make them outcasts or bad people, they missed out on an incredible privilege and opportunity.”

A mission is special, unique and for many a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. It is not a make-it-or-break-it, meaning if you do not go then you are doomed the rest of your life.

Many members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints tend to look down on those who don’t serve a mission — and that needs to change. Those that do not have the opportunity are not outcasts nor should be.

I had the privilege to serve an LDS mission to Santiago, Chile and absolutely loved it!

If you give up two years of your life to serve God and pay back what has been given to you, you will be rewarded with an education you cannot acquire in any other way. Very few people, at any other time in their lives, can live, study and teach the great truths of Jesus Christ 24/7 like missionaries can for two years.

There are a ton of helpful things a mission gives you. When you’re done, you have a master's degree in experiences. You certainly have earned a unique badge people will respect.

Here are a few examples of skills you develop in two years on a mission:

Communication: You learn to talk to people, mostly to total strangers. You grow in confidence in being able to express yourself. You also learn to take criticism from somebody besides your parents.

Fear: You learn how to overcome fear, which can be a stumbling block throughout your life in dealing with issues, challenges and setbacks. Overcoming fear allows you to move forward and avoid the paralyzing effect of being idle.

Diplomacy: You gain an understanding of what it takes to live with a total stranger, your companion. You play the give-and-take game, laughing and crying with others, and learn to handle adversity as a team. What greater training can you gain for a job, career or marriage?

Leadership: Corporations pay thousands of dollars to train employees how to lead, set goals, achieve and grow. A mission does all those things automatically every day. You are given opportunities to speak, express yourself, take charge of a meeting, plan and map out a strategy and make tough decisions. You learn how to bring an investigator from point A to point B and how to get church members involved and strengthen their faith.

Humility: One of the greatest traits to be acquired in life is to be humble. To be taught by somebody your own age who may not be as talented or as smart as you are, to get along with other personalities who may not have the same interests, to recognize there is something greater than yourself, and to appreciate the poor and destitute. I've been around sports freaks all my life, but a mission helped me find common ways to reach mutual objectives.

Accountability: The great universities of the world hand out grades and degrees. On a mission, you learn how to measure up to your goals daily and make progress. You report to yourself, your companion, your district or zone leader, your mission president and, most importantly, the Lord. Your mission president isn't there to babysit you every day. You have to push yourself to get out of bed, study, learn, teach and find.

Scripture scholarship: Schools of theology hand out degrees in religion. With extensive daily study of the scriptures for two years and memorizing verses, you obtain a reservoir of knowledge about God and principles of faith that is remarkable. You learn to train your mind and memory and touch on the phenomenon of having a photographic memory and recall. It is a wonderful feeling that helps your self-esteem. There is nothing better than to wake up in the middle of nowhere with a garden hose for a shower, a bunk bed full of fleas and study the scriptures with your companion. Until you do it, until you experience it, you can't explain it. It is a remarkable experience that changes your life.

Gratitude: Go to a third-world country and walk the streets. Have poor people give up a week's wage to feed you because they love you. That is a life-changer. You will never take for granted what you have at home again. See how happy people are who have nothing, and you find what you really need in your life as opposed to what you wanted.

Productivity: If you ever want to see time fly, days melt away, a mission is a perfect example of opening the door to accomplishing a lot in so little time. It shows you how people are successful in life by not wasting time. You have only so many hours in a day that you are awake, but only two years with a beginning and an end. You discipline yourself to make every minute count. What president of a company wouldn't want to hire somebody like that?

These are only a few of the educational rewards of mission service. The benefits of payback are priceless, if you take it seriously and apply yourself.

Jabari and every young man that is a member of the LDS Church should prepare to go on a mission. It is up to them whether they choose to do so. But no matter what, we should all support, cheer and not judge them.

I recall standing on a cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean near the small town of El Yeco in Chile. I was filled with the spirit, swallowed up in the joy and happiness of sharing the gospel. I had just seen an entire family baptized in the beautiful ocean tide. These members lives had been changed, they were converted to the gospel and blessings from heaven were poured down into their lives.

Just months before I had sat down next to the father in a bus, he was smoking, unemployed and at the verge of losing his wife and their children. I testified of the restored gospel and the plan of salvation. I looked him in the eyes and I saw a light that was ready to be lit. He invited us into his home and was overwhelmed by the message.

My entire mission experience is aptly expressed in this quote from President Heber J. Grant: "There is no other labor in all the world that brings to a human heart, judging from my own personal experience, more joy, peace and serenity than proclaiming the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ."

Travis Hansen is a former BYU, NBA (Atlanta Hawks) and Euroleague basketball player. He cofounded the Little Heroes Foundation and is married with three children.

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