Last month at stake conference, our stake president issued an interesting and rather marvelous challenge, one I’ve not heard at church before.
He wants us to make friends with people just for the sake of making friends.
He wants us to know our neighbors — and here in Ohio, where only about one percent of the population is LDS, it goes without saying that those neighbors are not likely to be Mormon already. In fact, it’s probable that they don’t know many (or any) Mormons.
So becoming friends with them is the perfect opportunity to then introduce them to the gospel and get them to convert, right? Cause that’s what Mormons do. We’re stealthy that way.
Wrong. The SP actually said he didn’t want us to even tell them we’re Mormon unless they bring it up and have questions.
He wants us to bless people’s lives, not to get them to change or eventually come around to our One True Point of View. Just to help them and be good neighbors, colleagues, and friends to them.
Well, I was cheering. After years of discomfort with the many artificial ways Mormons evangelize, this was good news. I don’t love people in order to get them to join my religion. Who does that?
The truth is I’m a pretty crappy missionary overall. In the more than 20 years that I’ve been LDS, I have given the Book of Mormon to precisely two people, and that was because both of them practically begged me for it. And even though a number of people have told me that I’ve helped them to stay in the Church when they had one foot out the door, I don’t think I’ve ever been responsible for a single conversion.
But I think I can say that I have been a good friend, a loving daughter, and a caring neighbor. For the most part, in my flawed and very human ways, I’ve tried to live the gospel by being honest, chaste, and benevolent, even if I swear every damn day and know that it’s not the best reflection of Jesus.
I screw up. But I do love people.
Some people are naturally gifted as evangelizing missionaries, God love ’em. For example, a woman in one of my wards brought several people into the church because she was always actively praying she’d be open to those who were searching or hurt. She has one of those incredibly kind spirits where people just want to be around her and don’t quite know why. I’d bet money that tiny bluebirds braid her hair in the morning.
But I’m just not that person. As for me, I’ve taken the SP’s encouragement as a reason to redouble my efforts to love people for their own sake, not because I’m trying to change them.
As St. Francis of Assisi put it, “Preach the gospel at all times. When necessary, use words.”