Is there a young child in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints today who is not familiar with the story of Ammon confronting the Lamanites who come to scatter King Lamoni’s sheep?
Truth be told, the story has it all. Intrigue, suspense, blood and gore! For good measure, throw in a hero who saves the day and is grandly rewarded for his efforts, in this case the conversion of King Lamoni, his queen and many throughout the kingdom.
I love the story in the Book of Mormon. And I can be certain when I ask my young grandsons what Book of Mormon story they would like to hear they will ask me to tell the story of Ammon (Nephi returning to Jerusalem for the plates is a close second). Ammon’s exploits are the stuff of legends.
The story begins a bit before Ammon confronts the robbers.
His father, Mosiah, is understandably leery when his sons seek his permission to proselyte among the Lamanites — avowed and bitter enemies of the Nephites with no greater desire than to kill them. I would be worried as well. Mosiah, great prophet that he is, takes the matter to God who promises to preserve his sons’ lives. Mosiah gives his blessing.
A bit into the story that starts in Alma 17, Ammon accompanies the servants of King Lamoni, choosing to be a servant himself rather than marry a princess, and they encounter Lamanites who scatter the king’s sheep. The servants are certain the king will kill them for failing to guard his flocks. Ammon is thrilled with the event, seeing an opportunity to display God’s power.
Now, the part that appeals to young boys. After re-gathering the flocks, the Lamanites come again. Defending the sheep, Ammon kills some attackers and cuts off a number of arms. He is impervious to stones launched from slings, to their clubs and group attempts to kill him. It is clear Ammon is being protected by a divine power. Widespread Lamanite conversion eventually follows.
The story also holds sway over the minds of youths as they prepare to go and serve missions. Here is a missionary who is wildly successful — and what eager young missionary doesn’t anticipate going into the mission field to convert thousands.
Yet perhaps there is an additional story to be read as young men and young women prepare to go and serve the Lord. It is the story that follows in Alma 21, the story of Aaron. That story was particularly meaningful to me this time around in my Book of Mormon reading as my son recently submitted his papers and anxiously awaits his mission call.
I suggested he read the story of Aaron. It is quite different and perhaps, in its own way as, or more, compelling for young people intent on serving as witnesses of Jesus Christ.
When Ammon and his brothers separate, Aaron goes to teach the Amalekites of the Savior, of his Atonement and of the plan of salvation. They not only reject his message but are angry with him and he leaves, having had no success. He goes next to the land of Middoni. There he reunites with two brothers and other missionaries. Again they are rejected. Few believe their testimony of Christ and this time, for their efforts, they are imprisoned and “suffer many things” (see Alma 21:14).
After being mistreated and languishing in prison they are released, due to the intervention of King Lamoni and Ammon. Clothed and fed, they take up the work again, being “led by the Spirit of the Lord. And it came to pass that the Lord began to bless them, insomuch that they brought many to the knowledge of the truth” (see Alma 21:17).
I do not anticipate my son being imprisoned or suffering (and if he does, best not to include that in letters home to a mother who is already uber-concerned about her son’s welfare). Yet there is a powerful message in Aaron’s experiences.
Missions are hard work. There may be periods with few or no conversions. Missions will be filled with moments of sublime joy as well as difficult and discouraging times. Yet through all those moments, as we see with Aaron and Ammon, great and good missionaries persevere.
They continue to do what they have been called to do: to call individuals to repentance, to preach the Atonement of Jesus Christ, and to serve others. And regardless of the “number” of baptisms Ammon or Aaron chalked up, they succeeded — because they met their duty to share the message of Christ’s gospel as they were called to do.
More broadly, what it means to serve the Lord as a missionary is perfectly captured in Doctrine and Covenants 4:
Missionaries become part of a “marvelous work among the children of men.”
They fulfill their commission by serving with all their “heart, might, mind and strength.”
They succeed, regardless of their number of baptisms, when “they thrust in their sickles with (all their) might” — when they work hard and persevere in the task to which they have been called.
Both Ammon and Aaron’s stories are compelling. Their missionary efforts serve well as models for missionaries today.
Best wishes, dear Matthew, and all men and women called to serve full-time missions who dedicate themselves to teaching others of Christ, for "the field is white and already to harvest.”
Kristine Frederickson is the author of "Extraordinary Courage: Woman Empowered by the Gospel of Jesus Christ" and teaches part-time at Brigham Young University. Her views do not necessarily represent those of BYU.