PROVO — Ann Christensen was an undergraduate student at Duke University when she decided to give copies of the Book of Mormon to each of the 12 people in her close circle of friends. None seemed interested in the LDS faith, though, and she was given nothing more than a basic "thank you."
Years later, she received a letter from one of these 12 friends, explaining that he had explored the Book of Mormon extensively and had been meeting with the missionaries.
"Of the 12 people I shared the Book of Mormon with, one eventually accepted my invitation. It took him years," Christensen said during a BYU Women's Conference address. "But until I had that letter in my hand, I'd have thought of him as one of the last people on earth who would be interested in the gospel. My success was actually just making the invitation in the first place."
Ann Christensen spoke with her father, Elder Clayton M. Christensen, about "Missionary Opportunities: The Courage to Open Our Mouths" at the Marriott Center on Thursday afternoon. They taught that we never know who will want to learn more about the gospel, so we just have to keep trying.
Elder Christensen, who served as an area seventy in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and is the Kim B. Clark professor of business administration at the Harvard Business School, said he tries to make it known wherever he goes that he is a member of the LDS Church. This was especially important for a family who grew up in the Northeastern states, where Latter-day Saints are in the religious minority.
"We cannot predict who is going to be interested in our gospel," said Elder Christensen, who wrote the book "The Power of Everyday Missionaries." "We can't predict. Therefore we have to engage in a lot of conversation with a lot of people. In my everyday conversation, I try to use Mormon words."
Elder Christensen shared several examples of how he has reached out to friends, coworkers, neighbors and acquaintances — always giving them the chance to learn more about the gospel if they choose. He believes one of the best missionary tools is getting to know someone and his unanswered, religious questions.
Elder Christensen says he often found himself among people who claimed to have given up on religion entirely. When these people were willing to meet with the missionaries, however, they found their questions answered.
"We really are surrounded by a lot of people who have questions who haven't been able to get good answers," he said. "We are surrounded by people who have rejected falsehood."
The father and daughter discussed how, many times, the Christensens as a family brainstorm and create new ways to share the gospel with others. They knew that just speaking up would not always be enough, and they wanted to share with as many people as possible.
Elder Christensen explained the importance of members teaching investigators how to pray and how to study the scriptures. Once investigators have asked their questions, they will need to be taught how to seek further answers. Teaching potential members how to use gospel tools is essential to keeping them strong in the gospel.
The speakers also stressed the importance of inviting investigators and those not of the LDS faith to serve alongside church members.
"When they serve with us, they have the opportunity to feel the Spirit of God," Ann Christensen said. "We need them; it's not just that they need us."
Throughout their remarks, the Christensens expressed the importance of speaking up now and not waiting until some imaginary date or later event to share the gospel.
"It turns out there are not deadlines for sharing the gospel, and as a consequence, the vast majority of members of the church plan to be good missionaries 'next week,'" Elder Christensen said.Comment on this story
However, he described himself as someone who loves to postpone things, adding he found the greatest missionary success when he was humble and willing enough to accept time limits for talking to people. He expressed frustrations as he fasted and prayed, week after week, with no success. He humorously described how, as time goes on and your deadline approaches, you become more and more desperate to find someone to share the gospel with.
"If it's too much time, you're too relaxed, (then) God can't trust you. When you're desperate, God can trust you," Elder Christensen said.
The father and daughter assured Women's Conference participants that sharing the gospel can be enjoyable and uplifting.
"It is my testimony that sharing the gospel doesn't have to be a scary, difficult experience," Ann Christensen said.