By Maureen Olson
Sharing the Book of Mormon
I recently served in the Texas Houston South Mission, and the months I spent there were some of the happiest of my life.
I only served three months before coming home for medical reasons. Nonetheless, during that time I experienced the miracle of sharing the Book of Mormon with about 120 incredible people who wanted to read it, and gave me legitimate names, addresses and phone numbers so other missionaries could follow up. This is how it happened.
My first Sunday in the mission field was General Conference Sunday, October 2011. Among many powerful and inspiring messages, one stood out to me. In it, Elder Yamashita speaks directly to missionaries, and uses the words “love” and “loved” fourteen times.
He says that when he first met the missionaries, “I felt their deep and abiding love.” Later he says, “I truly knew through the Holy Ghost that the missionaries loved me and that God loved me.” And again, “their many acts of kindness taught me important lessons. Your message is a message of love . . . What I want to convey to you is that through your love, you are imparting the love of God.” [i]
The apostle John tells us, “God is love . . . and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God” (I John 4:8,7). I soon discovered that when I had God”s love with me, people could feel that I knew God and that He was with me. They trusted me and wanted to be around me more.
I am naturally very afraid of approaching people in public. Yet I am also aware of this scripture in D&C 60:2: “But with some I am not well pleased, for they will not open their mouths, but they hide the talent which I have given unto them, because of the fear of man. Wo unto such, for mine anger is kindled against them.”
I found myself pleading with the Lord several times a day, often before every person I approached, that He would take this fear away and help me to talk with my brothers and sisters in love so that I could share His love with them. I had sacrificed far too much for this mission to waste any moment of it.
The Lord heard my plea. My way of approaching people was imperfect, but if I made the initial effort to talk with someone, the fear left me. I commited to the Lord that I would follow every prompting to talk with someone about the Gospel. The Lord knew I meant it, and I felt many promptings every day, and talked with just about everyone.
I was able to share the Gospel in such a simple and powerful way that the results were far beyond what I had ever imagined was possible.
How the Lord Helped Me Do It
My way of approaching people is not meant as a prescription for missionaries. I share my story as a narrative simply because this is the miracle I truly experienced. Each missionary must prayerfully find a way to talk with people that is natural and genuine for him or her. Hopefully my story can encourage us all to think beyond our imagined limitations in doing the Lord’s work.
Often when I was in public, I would tap a person on the shoulder and say, a bit shyly and with a smile, “Excuse me, um, could I ask if you believe in God and Jesus Christ?” Of course, they were surprised, so I smiled very big, picked up my missionary tag and said, “I’m a missionary, and we love to share our faith with everyone! Would you be a believer in God and Christ?”
I was in Texas, so most people said, “you bet I am!” And I responded, “that’s fantastic! Thank you for your faith!” It is not easy to show sincere respect and appreciation in just a few seconds on the street. But if I had said my prayer to be filled with love, they could tell this sincere expression was genuine.
What I said next had three essential elements: first, I was brief, second, I gave a simple, sincere testimony of Jesus Christ, and third, I introduced the Book of Mormon as a witness of Christ.
People we meet in public are almost always on their way somewhere else. Keeping my approach brief showed respect for their time.
Here is how I proceeded. I asked, “Do you like to read the Bible?” And if they said “yes” I would say “That’s great!” and I asked “Have you ever heard of the Book of Mormon?” They usually said “yes.”
When I asked, “what have you heard about it?” they admitted they didn’t know much, so I would say, “Well let me tell you briefly what it is: it’s a second witness of Jesus Christ along with the Bible. It testifies that Jesus Christ lives, that He is the Son of God and the Savior of the world, and that the Bible is true!”
The overwhelming majority of people I talked to felt the power of this testimony. They couldn’t help but listen a little more. As Elder Perry said in General Conference, “First, we must be bold in our declaration of Jesus Christ. We want others to know that we believe He is the central figure in all human history.” [ii]
Describing the Book of Mormon
I continued “This book was written about 2,000 years ago by prophets who lived in the Americas. They testified of Christ before His birth, and after His resurrection He came to visit them because they believed in Him. Their testimonies of Him are in this book. Do you think you might like to read a little bit of it? I can give you one as a gift if you’d like to.”
The overwhelming majority of people I asked this question to said “yes” without reservation.
I quickly showed them mine and my companion’s testimonies glued inside the front cover with the fulltime missionaries’ phone number, (also a small slip of paper with a list of spiritual questions on it and where those are answered in the Book of Mormon with pg. no.s), and finally the page marker (Christ coming from the tomb passalong card) I had put in the book at 3 Nephi 11.
This section, I told them, is my favorite part where Christ comes to visit the people after his resurrection. At Christmas time I showed them the page marker with Helaman 14:1-9 (p. 400) and 3 Nephi 1:4-23 (p. 407) typed on it. This way they could read what happened in America when Christ was born in Jerusalem.
All this took just a few seconds.
Then I gave them the book: “Here you go! Enjoy!” I asked, “Please read it prayerfully, like you would read the Bible.”
I added, “If it would be OK, and only if you feel very comfortable about it, we’d love to check back in a couple weeks or so to find out your impressions of the book.
Is that something you would feel comfortable with?”
Over 80% of the people who accepted a Book of Mormon gave me their names, addresses and telephone numbers and said it would be fine to contact them again (we also asked for best days of the week and best times of day to reach them). They said it was also OK if another set of missionaries dropped by and not us.
Of all the addresses and phone numbers I took down within a 2 month period, only one person gave us a false address, and only two phone numbers were false phone numbers. The overwhelming majority of people were sincerely interested in the Book of Mormon, wanted to read some, and felt comfortable talking to us again about what they’d read.
I was completely floored by how many people the Lord put in my path every day that wanted to read the Book of Mormon. It was about 75% of all the people I approached. I couldn’t believe it.
There was a running joke at the mission office where, every time I called, they asked, “Have you run out of Books of Mormon again, Sister Olson?” Who would have thought so many people would want to learn about this miraculous book, this miracle of miracles?
We know from what happened in Africa, where tens of thousands of people were converted by the Book of Mormon up to twenty years before the Church was officially established there, that this book has a converting power all its own. Could there possibly be a better time than now to get this incredible book into the hands of as many people as possible?
Most of the people who received Books of Mormon I have not kept up with, since I gave well over 100 referrals to over 15 sets of full-time missionaries all over Houston.
But one couple, the Bravos, were baptized less than a month after I gave them the book. I was asked to speak at their baptism just three days before I had to leave the mission field.
Insert Baptism Photo. From left to right: Sister Palmer (Sister Olson’s fantastic companion), Hermana Green, Alejandro Bravo, granddaughter Diana, Angelica Bravo, Hermana Van Tienderen, and Sister Olson.
I recently received a letter from Hermano Bravo in which he expressed his deep gratitude to Heavenly Father for sending me into his family members’ lives. He also expressed his ultimate desire to be in the celestial kingdom someday with his children and grandchildren. Last I heard, his adult children were progressing toward baptism.
The Lord has told us, “For behold, I am God: and am a God of miracles; and I will show unto the world that I am the same yesterday, today, and forever; and I work not among the children of men save it be according to their faith” (2 Nephi 27:23).
This work is not my work. It is not your work. It is God’s work, and it is a miraculous work. You, like I, will find yourself sharing the Gospel in a way so powerful that it is beyond what you have ever imagined.
Faith is a principle of action. It is my prayer that you and I can put our love, God’s love, into action, for “there is no fear in love, but perfect love casteth out all fear” (I John 4:18). In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.
Genuine Respect: Love’s Essential Element
In the mission field, I found people would only talk to me if they felt genuinely respected by me. They had to feel my genuine esteem and appreciation for them. They had to feel I saw them as an equal.
In life, as in missionary work, if a person does not feel respected, esteemed, appreciated and regarded as an equal by me, I lose my relationship with that person. I lose the chance for any influence I could have had in that person’s life. I lose all the blessings, growth and insights that person could have brought me.
As a missionary I sometimes found myself thinking that other people lacked something I had. People could feel that attitude. They sensed I saw them as lacking, and were not open to my sharing. To them, it felt like I thought they were not as good as I was.
I had to pray very hard to replace that attitude with a deep sense, a knowing, that I have as many gifts to receive from them as they have to receive from me.
Now I am not talking about giving up my testimony of the restoration of the Savior’s priesthood power and His Church. I am not talking about giving up my testimony of the restoration of vital plain and precious truths through true modern prophets of God. Those things constitute the remarkable, essential gift we have to share with the world.
Yet the Lord works with all people of sincere faith to bring his many gifts to the earth. Let me refer to an article called “Respect for Diversity of Faiths” from the newsroom on lds.org, published on April 18, 2008:[iii]
Said Orson F. Whitney, “God is using more than one people for the accomplishment of his great and marvelous work. The Latter-day Saints cannot do it all. It is too vast, too arduous, for any one people.”
Every one of us despite our many differences is being tutored by the Lord “precept upon precept; line upon line” (Isaiah 28:10). Everyone is a child of God. Each of us has so much to learn from others, and we all rely totally on the Lord’s mercy.
As we respect and value the gifts all people can bring, they will naturally want to get to know us and will feel safe in doing so.
A Note on Discouragement
I served my first mission at age 21 in France where not many people were interested in hearing my message. Of course, I battled discouragement just like missionaries do today in Europe and in many parts of the world. And all missionaries face rejection.
On my recent mission to Houston, I learned to respond to rejection by showing appreciation and esteem for the person. Often I would leave them with something like, “I know you do a lot to make the world a better place.
Thank you,” or “thanks for being so kind even though you don’t agree with us” or “I know you give a lot to the people in your life. Thanks for all the good you do.”
My Heavenly Father knows them as He knows me. He knows all of the great things about them. He can help me and you sense those things.
In every interaction, remind yourself that you are “laying the foundation of a great work [italics added].” Yes, the foundation is what everything else is built on: “Wherefore, be not weary in well-doing, for ye are laying the foundation of a great work. And out of small things proceedeth that which is great” (D+C 64:33).
You, like the prophet Ether, can “not be restrained” (Ether 12:2) from giving people a glimpse of what this “great work” is really about, and that is love: “God is love . . . and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God” (I John 4:8,7). When you show love, people feel that you know God. They feel that you are true messengers and they will want to be around you a little more, even if they are not ready to be formally taught.
The Book of Mormon tells us about the missionaries Aaron, Omner and Himni who went among the Lamanites with their brother Ammon: “And, as it happened, it was their lot to have fallen into the hands of a more hardened and a more stiff-necked people; therefore they would not hearken unto their words, and they had cast them out” (Alma 20:30). Your lot may be similar to that of Aaron, Omner, and Himni.
Have no fear and do not be discouraged. The Lord is “laying the foundation of a great work” where you are. Your love is desperately needed everywhere you go, or you would not have been called to serve in that place.
Remember Joseph Smith’s words to a small gathering of Zion’s Camp priesthood brethren near Kirtland in 1834: “it is only a little handful of Priesthood you see here tonight, but this church will fill North and South America-it will fill the world.”
There is simply a lot more groundwork to be done in many parts of the world. Many people desperately need others to see good in them in order to progress toward an emotional and mental state where they can hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Many people in the world cannot even imagine what faith, love and hope are. Your short interactions with them in which you show your esteem and appreciation for them are often all they have to get a glimpse of those things. And showing faith in a person is not usually a matter of saying “I believe in you” but of genuinely noticing their specific strengths and goodness, and thanking them for those.
Kneel with your companion in mighty prayer and beg the Lord to inspire you with words and actions that show genuine appreciation and esteem for those who reject you, and for any investigator, member or other person (your companion, for example). Then brainstorm ideas together. The Lord will make you a powerful force of love in any part of the world.
The Book of Mormon Recipient: Tips for Continuing Missionary Work
After you give someone a Book of Mormon, only contact them after two weeks as you told them you would.
The evening after you get the referral, flip forward two weeks in your planner and write down the person’s name. Then, on a separate 4 x 6 card write down their name, contact information and a couple details about them to help you remember who they are and some of your conversation. Keep the card filed alphabetically.
When you reach that day on your planner, pull out the card to take with you when you drop by their residence once. Only once. If you call them, only call or text once and leave a message.
This is important. People easily become afraid or annoyed if we try to contact them too much, and missionaries have a reputation for this because we are anxious to get in contact. People can either get the impression “these missionaries really want to convert me,” or they can get the much better impression that “these people want to bless and enrich my life.”
Remember you told them you wanted their impressions of the Book of Mormon. Most of them will not be ready to sit down with you. So if you meet, ask if they’ve read a little.
It they have, listen to their thoughts and feelings. Listen to truly understand, not to respond. Listen for what you might have in common. Add some of your testimony as you feel inspired to share, but mostly, find lots of ways to allow them to share and ask you questions.
As Elder Perry said in General Conference: “They may or may not be interested in the Church, but they are interested in getting to know us at a deeper level.”[vi] And we need to genuinely be interested in getting to know them.
Come prepared with verses to share. Since often people are not home, have these verses written on cards to leave on their door. I shared Book of Mormon verses which testify of Christ, so people could again feel what a powerful witness it is of Christ. I always gave a corresponding scripture in the Bible, because these books work together (see examples at end).
Then, and this is very important, do not contact them for at least another week or two (unless they ask you to come back earlier). Flip forward at least a week in your planner and put their name down there again. In another week or two, you can leave another scripture/note with them if you feel inspired to do so. People can easily feel scared or crowded, even stalked, by missionaries, so use discretion.
If someone invites you inside their home, make sure to take only the amount of time they say they can give you, and no more. One of the best ways to show respect is to respect a person’s time.
On my mission I prayed to run into people again so they could feel Heavenly Father’s love again through us. I prayed that we could listen to their thoughts and feelings. I prayed that we could uplift them.
Many people I ran into again in my apartment complex told me they were reading the Book of Mormon. Some were not ready to sit down with the missionaries but others did.
I have no doubt that some day, possibly sooner than I think, most of them will do just that.
Scriptures to Share
I gave verses which testify of Christ, so people could again feel the powerful witness the Book of Mormon is of Christ. I always gave a corresponding scripture in the Bible because these books work together.
Scripture Combinations About Christ:
Helaman 5:12 (or 9-12) (pg. 378) and Matthew 7: 24-27 (or 21-29)
I Nephi 11:25-28 (or 13-33) (pg. 21) and John 4:14 (or 5-15) and Exodus 17:6
2 Nephi 9:4-9 (or 4-12) (pg. 72) and John 11:25-26
2 Nephi 25:23-26 (or 12-29) (pg. 99) and Galatians 3:22-29
Jacob 4:4 (pg. 124) and Luke 24:25-27 (and 13-32, can summarize story)
Mosiah 3:5-8 (or 1-8) (pg. 151) and Isaiah 53:1-5 (or whole chapter)
Mosiah 15:4-7 (or1-9) (pg. 176) and Isaiah 53:6-10 (or whole chapter)
Moroni 10:32 (pg. 531) and 1 John 2:3-6
Alma 12:33-34 (pg. 240) and Matthew 9:11-13 and Acts 2:37-38
Alma 33:18-22 (or 11-23) (pg. 292) and John 3:14-17 and Numbers 21:6-9
Alma 34:8-9 (or 8-17) (pg. 293) and Romans 5:8-12
3 Nephi 18:1-12 (pg. 442) sacrament and Matthew 26:26-28
3 Nephi 16:1-3 (pg. 438) other sheep and John 10:15-16
3 Nephi 20:23 (or 23-26) (pg. 448) and Acts 3:22-23 (or 18-25) and Deuteronomy 18:15,18-19
3 Nephi 26:13-31 (pg. 457) and Acts 2:38-47
3 Nephi 9:14-22 (pg. 425) and Matthew 11:28-30 and Matthew 18:3-4 (or1-5)
Mormon 7:5-7 (pg. 480) and 1 Corinthians 15:12-17
[iii] The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Newsroom: Headquarters Edition. 2008. Respect for Diversity of Faiths. April 18, 2008. http://www.mormonnewsroom.org/article/respect-for-diversity-of-faiths (accessed 2/25/2012).
[iv] The article also quotes “Krister Stendahl, emeritus Lutheran Bishop of Stockholm and professor emeritus of Harvard Divinity School.” One of his suggestions for understanding other faiths is to find “elements in other faiths to emulate” (elements that are in harmony with true Gospel principles, or course).
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Newsroom: Headquarters Edition. 2008. Respect for Diversity of Faiths. April 18, 2008. http://www.mormonnewsroom.org/article/respect-for-diversity-of-faiths (accessed 2/25/2012).