Part 4: Impactful Missionary Work
While I had done my share of baptizing on my mission, the experience of baptizing people didn't mean much to me compared to the other great things I experienced on my mission.
After I returned home, I became a part-time missionary in a local Korean branch. I ended up becoming good friends with a really awesome guy. He wasn't a member of our church, but eventually he got baptized. And his baptism was a thing that happened that was neat, but it was really just a passing moment and didn't define our relationship in any significant way.
After realizing this--that baptisms aren't some sort of stopping point, but just another point along the way--I looked back on my mission and reflected a bit. I realized that while I was lucky enough to see a lot of baptisms, I wasn't in it for the baptisms. And the things I was most happy about weren't baptismal statistics, but my relationships with people. And what really shocked me was that the relationships that were most important to me were the relationships I shared with my various companions.
How could a baptism of someone I loved, yet wasn't super close to, compare to my transformative relationshop with Elder Quince? The one who had stolen dog food as a child, to keep himself and his sister alive? The one who had such a hard time, and gave everyone else a hard time, and mostly gave ME a hard time, but in the end gave up, put his cards on the table, and opened up to me? That friendship was forged in fire like a strong sword. When I meet Elder Quince again, I know I'll have tears welling up in my eyes. And I know we're going to get along just great. I love Elder Quince. I love the other elders I served with. I might complain about them a bit in retrospective mode, but mainly I just love them.
I made Elder Quince laugh pretty hard once. I could whistle a perfect version of the audible "walk" cue for people to cross the street. You know, the sound effect that they play to assist the blind? We were sitting at this intersection waiting to cross, along with about ten other people. The last car passes, and out of nowhere I suddenly decided to whistle the sound. This guy lurches forward and starts to cross the street, then looked up at the sign, confused--do not cross! He hurriedly jumped back on the sidewalk, embarrassed. It was pretty inconsiderate of me, but I will forever treasure the fact that I made Elder Quince quietly snort and then laugh for a bit as we rode our bikes around. There was this bigger issue of trust-building that was continually there in front of us. How do you persuade someone to like you and let you into their circle of trust? Maybe it's making them laugh from time to time, maybe it's some other thing.
I worked so hard at buiding relationships with people who were important to me that it feels insulting to me to talk about baptisms as if they're this trophy-case goal. Heck with baptisms, man. There is a bigger picture here. Baptisms are ONE step, not THE step. Of course I still tried to do everything I could to maximize my chances of teaching and baptizing people, but if I went back to my mission today, I would give much less of a care about how many people I "needed" to baptize.
Baptisms are usually discussed in the form of the "Effective Missionary Work" topic. So I want to share what I call "Impactful Missionary Work". The principles are:
- It doesn't matter who, but you work to impact lives for the better. It can be a random guy on the street, it can be your companion, it can be your brother at home. You get the same number of points whether a baptism will be held or not.
- It doesn't matter how, but you work to impact lives for the better. It can be through service, or through time spent listening to your companion telling you funny stories. There is no method that is more holy than any other.
- It doesn't matter when, but you work to impact lives for the better. Your mission will be over very soon. You may think you have a lot of time as a full-timer, but you don't. And the amazing thing is, you will be able to work with some of your companions for the rest of your life. You understand that? You will see these people again. Be honest in your relationships with them. Be ready for them to change your life. Don't ignore them or put their needs aside because they aren't an "investigator" or a "prospective investigator."
- Jesus Christ would accept all and teach all. He was all-impactful. That is your task, to become more like him. There is no real boundary that delineates "teaching pool" people and "already know everything" people like your companions. But there are people who need help, everywhere.
Happiness on my mission was, for me, building close relationships. It was easiest to do that with other missionaries, since I was around them 24/7. And so to this day, the most fulfilling part of my mission has been my relationships with other elders.
After my mission I had a roommate who confided in me that he hadn't seen a single baptism in his two-year mission. As much as I tried to reassure him that he was still a good missionary, he couldn't be convinced. I found this really sad. He wasn't just some salesman who failed to meet quotas. I'm sure Heavenly Father looked on his sacrifices and hard work with as much love and appreciate as any other missionary. And, based on his listening skills alone, I know this roommate must have been a very impactful missionary. It makes me sad to think he doesn't think of himself that way.
The baptize-baptize-baptize talk is great right up until it starts to wear missionaries down and affect their feelings of self-worth. That's why I don't think that baptisms should be celebrated like trophies. Each baptism is a unique experience. It's a part of the process of reaching people and bringing the impact of Christ-centered living into their lives. It's freeing people from untruths, from addictions, from misunderstandings by introducing them to the atonement of Jesus Christ.