Elders and Sisters of the Japan Kobe Mission
Sister McIntyre and I attended a wonderful baptism this past week. The man who was baptized commented in his testimony that when he came to church the first time, he was warmly greeted by the members and he felt a wonderful spirit. He said everyone was so kind and friendly. He said those feelings he had at that time helped him exercise the faith to commit to be baptized. He said he did not know everything about the gospel yet, but he knew it must be good. I believe that when he was baptized that day, he did not necessarily “know” the church is true. However, he certainly felt something good and had hope that it is true, and those feelings and that hope led him to exercise his faith in Christ and accept baptism.
I visited some with him at the baptism. I am confident that if he continues to study the gospel, and is properly nourished and fellowshipped by the members, he will someday have a burning testimony of the gospel and even become a leader in the church here in Japan. But for now he has simply planted the seed of the gospel in his heart, hoping it is a good seed. He is doing all this based on the good feelings he had when he listened to the missionary lessons, read, prayed, and met the members. Those good feelings are from the Spirit. And the Spirit is the KEY to conversion. This is the process or experience people have when they are converted to the gospel.
Alma taught, “Now, as I said concerning faith – that it was not a perfect knowledge-even so is it with my words. Ye cannot know of their surety at first, unto perfection, any more than faith is a perfect knowledge.” (Alma 32:26)
And so it is with our investigators. I am confident that when most people accept baptism, it is exactly as Alma describes it in Alma 32 and as the man whose baptism we attended. Our job as missionaries is to help people plant the seed. To help them exercise that particle of faith to an experiment upon the words of Christ.
Alma says “…yea even if ye can no more than desire to believe, let this desire work in you, even until ye believe in a manner that ye can give place for a portion of my words.” (Alma 32:27)
As Alma continues and compares the conversion process unto a seed he says that after planting that seed (the gospel) in your heart “…if it be a true seed, or a good seed…behold, it will begin to swell within your breast; and when you feel these swelling motions, ye will begin to say within yourselves, it must needs be that this is a good seed, or that the word is good, for it beginneth to enlarge my soul; yea it beginneth to enlighten my understanding, yea it beginneth to be delicious unto me.” (Alma 32:28) Finally in verse 29 Alma says these feelings will cause your faith to grow, but he continues that even with increased faith, you will not have a perfect knowledge.
As missionaries we must understand the Doctrine of Conversion. Likewise we must understand the Experience of Conversion. When we teach we must help our investigators know when the Spirit is giving them an answer to their humble prayer about the gospel and baptism. Time and time again, I hear about investigators who are “waiting” to get an answer. In many cases, after talking with them directly or the missionaries teaching them, it usually becomes apparent to me that they have probably already received an answer. The problem is they have failed to recognize it or acknowledge it and we, as missionaries, have failed to help them realize this.
Helping People Become Converted:
For people to be converted to the gospel and receive baptism they need to understand the doctrines of Christ (as we teach in our lessons) and they need to feel the Spirit. The understanding of true doctrine and the feeling of the Spirit will build faith and help people make and keep commitments that lead them to baptism. President Boyd K. Packer has taught that true doctrine, understood, changes attitudes and behavior. When people understand the teachings and then feel in their heart through the Spirit that these teachings are good, they will then begin to have the courage and will to change. For an investigator or new convert, it is probably better to say that they feel the gospel is true, rather than they know the gospel is true.
The Doctrine and Experience of Conversion:
The Spirit is the Key to conversion. Elder M. Russell Ballard has taught: “True conversion comes through the power of the Spirit. When the Spirit touches the heart, hearts are changed. When individuals…feel the Spirit working with them, or when they see evidence of the Lord’s love and mercy in their lives, they are edified and strengthened spiritually and their faith in Him increases. These experiences with the Spirit follow naturally when a person is willing to experiment upon the word. This is how we come to FEEL the gospel is true.” (PMG p.93) We must help our investigators feel the Spirit and experiment upon the word. This means helping them make and keep commitments, including the commitment to be baptized.
As missionaries, we must teach with the Spirit and be worthy of the Spirit to facilitate the conversion experience. “And the Spirit shall be given unto you by the prayer of faith, and if ye receive not the Spirit, ye shall not teach.” (D&C 42:14) As we teach with the Spirit, He will carry the words “unto the hearts of the children of men.” (2 Nephi 33;1) If the recipient of the word truly has a desire to know the truth, he will open his heart and give place for a portion of those words. And the Spirit will enter his heart and he will FEEL the message is good or true. We must not shy away from testifying at that moment. We must acknowledge and tell people when the Spirit is present in a lesson. We should let people know those good feelings they are having when they read, pray or attend church are from the Spirit and the answer they are looking for.
The conversion experience requires people to change. People will usually not change unless they are invited to do so. Our purpose is to invite others to come unto Christ. People come unto Christ through baptism. People prepare for baptism by making and keeping commitments that help them repent and prepare to receive that saving ordinance. “As people choose to keep commitments, they will feel the power of the Holy Ghost more strongly and will develop the faith to obey Christ. Thus you should help the people you work with grow in faith by inviting them to repent and to make and keep commitments.” (PMG P. 93)
Preach My Gospel Missionaries are bold, but not overbearing. They are not afraid to ask people, through the Spirit, to repent. This means talking about baptism often and inviting people to come unto Christ by receiving that saving ordinance. It is my prayer that we will go forward with boldness, declaring the doctrines of Christ through the power of the Spirit. We should never be afraid to invite someone to keep a commitment or be baptized. This is what we have been called to do. It is our purpose and how people come unto Christ. Further, we should not hesitate to invite people to change and be baptized because we worry that they may not be able to endure to the end. While we must do all we can to help them stay on the path after baptism, enduring to the end is ultimately their choice. Likewise, we should not hesitate to baptize people when they “feel” the gospel is true, but think they need to wait until they “know” everything. When people have a desire to change and feel what we are teaching is good, and they understand the basic doctrines taught in the missionary lessons, they are ready for baptism. Of course they will need to be interviewed, and commit to follow the commandments. They will also need continued support and to be nourished by the members with the good word of God. But we should do all within our power to help them enter that gate and begin their journey on the path to eternal life and exaltation. That gate is baptism.
I pray each you can come to better understand the Doctrine and Experience of Conversion. To do so, I challenge each of you this next week to prayerfully read Alma 32 again. Spend some time during your personal and companion study in Chapter 4 of Preach My Gospel. Then boldly go out with the power of the Spirit and invite people to come unto Christ! For that is our purpose and it is the Gospel of Jesus Christ!
“…My Father sent me that I might be lifted up upon the cross; and after that I had been lifted up upon the cross, that I might draw all men unto me…” (3 Nephi 27:14)
May the great missionaries of the Japan Kobe Mission never shy away from or shrink in their duty to assist the Savior in this glorious purpose!
In this mission we find, teach, baptize, and confirm people and establish the church by helping them endure to the end!
We love you. You are the greatest!
President and Sister McIntyre