Tom Smart, Deseret News
Missionaries walk by a bronze sculpture on missionaries on bikes on the week of the commemoration of 50 years of language training at the Missionary Training Center in Provo in January earlier this year.

After recent realignments of our ward boundaries, I received a calling to teach Sunday School to the older teenagers. With the changes, I knew I’d have more youths than ever before, but I was surprised at the anomaly of five senior boys in my class. I couldn’t remember the last time we had five priesthood holders graduate together from our local high school and immediately realized my Book of Mormon lessons needed to blend with missionary preparation.

The first week, I introduced the idea and didn’t catch a single eye roll, so I knew I was on to something. Instead, students responded by sitting a little taller, making eye contact and reaching for their scriptures.

Since then, whatever the topic of the lesson, we incorporate role-play teaching moments using “Preach my Gospel” as well as quotes and inspirational stories from past missionaries. We also set a weekly group goal and ask for strength from above when we pray together to close our class.

As a former sister missionary, I make no distinction between my expectations of the young men and young women. I don’t say, “Serve if you wish, ladies,” instead I let them know they’ll all have missionary opportunities whether they wear a black name tag or not, so they better be prepared.

With this new emphasis, the Book of Mormon prophet Nephi has come to life for me and my students in a new and exciting way. He has always been the perfect example of obedience, but as we’ve read his words together, we see that his teenage commitment came after intense struggle to overcome his personal weaknesses, resist the negative influence of his older brothers and develop a relationship with his parents that was built on trust, respect and faith.

Reading Nephi’s ancient writings, we’ve had great discussions and shared insights on the chains of sin and Satan’s desire to bind us from our potential with illusions and misconceptions. We’ve talked about Adam and Eve and the necessity of opposition in this life if we want to pump up our spiritual strength. We’ve learned to appreciate Isaiah and his literal prophecies of our day. We repeatedly talk of the Atonement of Jesus Christ and the importance of sharing his hopeful message with all people — that’s right, all.

Our most lively discussions have come when we practice teaching about the importance of baptism by those who have authority, like John the Baptist and my room full of priest-age boys. We’ve talked about turning their spiritual moments into sharable stories and their life experiences with service or sports into lessons of symbolism.

With their permission, I hope to occassionaly share about these lessons that may help other youths who are also preparing to serve missions and be missionary-minded.

This week’s goal comes from Jacob, Nephi’s younger brother, who also made the commitment as a teenager to follow his faith and unleash his potential.

Jacob spent his entire young life traveling with his family to the New World. What he lacked in stability of a peaceful home, he made up for in obedience and developing strong relationships. I can only imagine how his heart broke when his older brothers split from the group, taking their children who were most likely Jacob’s friends and playmates. As a young man, he became a prophet and leader, and his admitted anxieties about his family were transformed from debilitating worries to impassioned service where he pled with others to fight against the temptations of love of money, pride and immorality.

And so we will listen as well.

Our class goal for this week specifically focuses on avoiding the temptations of sexual sin. We discussed President Ezra Taft Benson’s sage advice on the topic:

Flee from people or places that encourage sexual situations.

• Not just pray but plead for the power to overcome temptations.

• Develop bonds with priesthood leaders like our new bishop so that we feel comfortable going to his office when needed.

• Find positive sources of power through sports, studies and service.

• And distinguish proper repentance that truly helps us not repeat past mistakes.

As a class, we agreed to be ready for not if, but when Satan tempts with sexual enticements. We recognize his efforts will intensify as we come closer to missionary service because that’s one sure way to be disqualified from the privilege of serving.

Missionary preparation is a lot more than gathering suits and shining shoes. It’s more than learning a language and teaching with power. Ultimately, it’s becoming an instrument in the hands of God to go wherever he needs and do whatever he needs to help bring more of his children closer to the truth.

Stacie Lloyd Duce is a columnist and magazine editor featured regularly in several Montana and Utah publications. Her columns appear Thursdays on Email: [email protected]