On the final day of the 2015 Seminar for New Mission Presidents, President David L. Smith, called to preside over the New York New York North Mission, summarized a pattern of teaching that had been highlighted during the four-day event.
“It is the Spirit that is the teacher. It is the Spirit that is the converter. It is the Spirit that matters most” in teaching the gospel of Jesus Christ, he said.
During the seminar, held June 24 through June 28 at the Church’s Provo Missionary Training Center, 126 new mission presidents and their wives participated in large group interactive sessions led by members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. The couples, who will begin service in their missions this July, each came to the seminar prepared to learn from the Spirit.
Sister Cindy Foote, called to serve with her husband, Raymon Darrell Foote, as he presides over the Madagascar Antananarivo Mission, said she changed her learning style during the seminar.
“At first, I took notes like I was in a college course.” Then, instead of trying to write down everything the Brethren were saying, she said, “I printed what I learned from the Spirit.”
Now when she and her husband teach missionaries, she will ask them, “‘What did you feel? What did you hear that we didn’t say?’ ”
Instead of speaking to new mission presidents and their wives from the pulpit, as has been done in the past, members of the Quorum of the Twelve conducted interactive sessions. Elder Jeffrey R. Holland and Elder D. Todd Christofferson led discussions on “Doing the Will of the Father” and on “Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and His Atonement.” Elder Dallin H. Oaks and Elder Neil L. Andersen facilitated a conversation on “Repentance” and “Baptism and Receiving the Holy Ghost.” Elder M. Russell Ballard and Elder Quentin L. Cook shared insights on “Following the Spirit” and “The Restoration.” Elder Russell M. Nelson, chairman of the Missionary Executive Council, and Elder David A. Bednar, who serves on the executive council, summarized the learning pattern during the concluding interactive session of the seminar.
The Brethren invited participation by asking questions — encouraging responses and turning to examples in the scriptures of the principles they were teaching.
Couples also participated in discussion and review sessions conducted by members of the Presidency of the Seventy.
Quoting Doctrine and Covenants 88:122, Elder Bednar noted the Lord instructs: “Appoint among yourselves a teacher, and let not all be spokesmen at once; but let one speak at a time and let all listen unto his sayings, that when all have spoken that all may be edified of all, and that every man may have an equal privilege.”
The teacher, Elder Bednar noted, can be a person, but “the true teacher is the Holy Ghost.”
In addition to participating in sessions led by members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and Presidency of the Seventy, couples had two opportunities to interact with and teach missionaries at the MTC. During the sessions, which focused on helping others pray and on using the Book of Mormon, mission presidents emphasized a three-part pattern:
1. Prepare to learn.
2. Interact to edify.
3. Invite to act.
President Allen Alexander and his wife, Sister Denise Alexander — who will serve in the North Carolina Charlotte Mission — said the learning process began long before the seminar started. “We were reading and studying and praying before we ever got to the session,” he said. Revelation came, he added, “because we prepared to learn.”
“The Spirit is teaching us what we need to know and teaching others what they need to know, based on our needs and preparation,” he explained.
President and Sister Alexander helped missionaries understand the same principle during their interactive session with them. “Heavenly Father has given us such an important gift — our knowledge that we can receive revelation,” Sister Alexander taught the missionaries.
President Alexander asked the missionaries to then share what the Spirit had taught them since the group met together a day earlier.
“Instead of a lecture, where you just stand up and have all the answers, you ask them to come prepared, and then through the Spirit you begin to ask questions, you begin to think about things, you begin to have them respond to one another,” he explained. “It is about what are you feeling, what are you thinking, what are you learning.”
Everyone in the room must do more than listen, he explained. They must actively participate in the learning process.
“The model is one that will cause us to change the way we are doing things and to do them better,” he said.
President Kevin Clawson, who will preside over the Sierra Leone Freetown Mission, said the interactive instruction with the Brethren and others has allowed him to learn precious teaching skills.
“I’ve been impressed with the teaching patterns used here at the seminar,” he said. “It’s a pattern that we will teach our missionaries, which they can then use to teach their investigators.”
His wife, Sister Toi Clawson, added that she and others at the seminar had been allowed to engage with the Brethren and share their own feelings and experiences.
Sister Rebecca C. Smith, who will serve with her husband in the New York New York North Mission, described the pattern of teaching by the Brethren as “remarkable.”
“I had a phrase from a hymn come into my mind, ‘fresh courage take.’ ”
She said that she received an affirmation that “we can do this. What an absolute privilege it is to go and serve. With the Lord, we can do all things. This is His work.”
President George R. Donaldson, called to preside over the Scotland/Ireland Mission has served as an Area Seventy in Wales. He said that the Europe Area Presidency has an inspired plan to direct the ministry of the gospel in that part of the world. “Part of that plan is for members to invite their friends to learn of the gospel,” he said. “The members in Scotland and Ireland are committed to that. We feel we have only to help empower them, to just help them achieve what they desire. The pattern of teaching employed by members of the Quorum of the Twelve will help us do that.”
His wife, Sister Christine Donaldson, said “We did not realize what our capacities were until the Spirit taught us.”
Of a reference made to Peter not knowing he could walk on water until he jumped out of the boat, she said, “I feel like I can walk on water. I feel like I’ve been listening with my own Urim and Thummim.”
So much information and instruction could have been overwhelming, but, she said, “My head is clear.”
After participating in the sessions, President José Vianna Campos Júnior, who is from the Natal Brazil Stake and will be serving in the Brazil Porto Alegre North Mission, said that he felt that “the way of our Heavenly Father is right.”
Looking at Christ as the perfect example, he said, “I need to do all the things our Heavenly Father wants. And I need to better my connection with Heavenly Father.”
His wife, Sister Vera Lúcia de Carvalho Campos, said she felt that she is important to God, and that He loves her.
“He knows more about me than myself,” she said. “I am important to God.”
President Alan Herrington from the Surrey British Columbia Stake who will preside with his wife, Sister Janice Herrington, in the Barbados Bridgetown Mission, said he felt impressed to remember “we must do the will of the Father.”
“We must remember to love the Lord and love the missionaries,” he said. “We must have it show by ministering to the one and being cognizant of the one.”
President Kelly Johnson from Kaysville, Utah, who will preside over the Thailand Bangkok Mission accompanied by his wife, Sister Terri Johnson, said that as he listened during the seminar he felt the responsibility of his significant role as a teacher.
“I have to understand how to teach and what to teach,” he said. “I will be helping the leaders — not just the missionaries — but the leaders in the area.”
President Johnson said he liked the teaching approach of the Apostles and that he would use the approach of interactive discussions with his missionaries to share gospel teaching and learning.
President Lorenzo Castillo and Sister Jeni Castillo were called to the Dominican Republic Santiago Mission. The seminar helped the president overcome many of his fears.
“We’ve been given a teaching process that we can pass on to the elders and sisters in our mission,” he said.
The teaching methods utilized at the seminar, said Sister Castillo, “are perfect models for teaching the principles of the gospel.”
Sister Shawna Hodges said she kept having the prompting to “be calm and patient.” She and her husband, President Kirt LaMont Hodges, have left their home in Idaho Falls, Idaho, to preside over the India New Delhi Mission. Although some of the logistics have been tricky, she has constantly been reminded that “This is the Lord’s work.”
“I keep thinking, don’t stress, have faith in the Lord’s work,” she said. “Whatever happens, the Lord is in charge.”
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