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You May Not Be Interested in God, But He is Interested in You
In the mid-90’s when I served my mission in Germany, we would often listen to cassette tapes where people would re-enact, or role play, various scenarios that we were likely to encounter. The actors on the tape would share a “less effective” and then “more effective” examples of how to teach missionary lessons, approach people, find people to teach, etc. We would always strive to use the more effective approach.
One day I was trying to use a “more effective” approach to finding new people to teach by going through our Area Book to find the names of people who prior missionaries had taught. As I scanned the notes, nothing special was standing out to me until I came across a name and an address. All it read was “Hr Neuhaus” and an address. There were not the typical notes or comments left by missionaries on what they had taught, the person’s reaction to the lessons, how many lessons they had taught, etc. It was simply “Hr Neuhaus.” Although there wasn’t much to go on, I knew we needed to stop by that particular house, so we mapped out the address and full of faith and confidence got on our bikes and pedaled to the address.
When we knocked on the door, a gruff old man shouted angrily at us from inside, “Keine Intresse,” meaning “not interested.” Usually I would walk on down the street to the next house, but this time was different. I felt moved upon to keep on trying. I called back and said the first thing that entered my mind, “You might not be interested in God right now, but God is interested in you!” That comment immediately sparked the gentleman’s curiosity and he came to the door and let us in.
The room we entered was filled with the haze of smoke from countless cigarettes Mr. Neuhaus would chain smoke. I could almost feel the smoke wrap around my skin like a blanket. I had never baptized anyone in Germany and I was confident that this gentleman would soon become another of our “one-teach-wonders,” where we taught one lesson and then never got invited back again.
Before we had a chance to get introduced, Mr. Neuhaus blunted stated, “I hate God.” I had never started a conversation this way before, but I could sense that he was in great pain, so I asked him questions about why he felt that way.
Mr. Neuhaus went on to describe how he had lived a great life with his wife for many years but suddenly she had taken ill and had recently passed away. The loss of his wife was too much for him to bear, so he had turned to alcohol and cigarettes to help numb the pain and loneliness.
Germans are bold so I boldly told him that if he listened to our message and did what we asked him to do, he would soon find God and his heart would be healed. That resonated with him ever so slightly and so after praying and reading, he agreed to have us return for another visit.
Our next discussion was much better than the first one. He had read several scriptures and had even started to pray. Although he was still very lonely and sad, his demeanor was much lighter as we taught him about the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Days turned into weeks and weeks into months and Mr. Neuhaus made slight spiritual progress with every visit.
As missionaries, one of our responsibilities is to teach people about the “Word of Wisdom,” which is the law that distinguishes Mormons in that they cannot drink, smoke, use drugs, etc. The day finally came where we were to teach Mr. Neuhaus about the Word of Wisdom. I was sure he was going to quit having us over when we asked him to stop smoking. However, to our pleasant surprise, he not only wanted to quit smoking and drinking, but he also wanted to get baptized as well.
In order to help Mr. Neuhaus stop smoking and drinking, we bought him some candy and also told him if he was ever tempted, he could contact us via telephone no matter what time it was. I didn’t realize that Mr. Neuhaus would keep me so honest with my offer. He called about every other night so he could talk with us when he was tempted to smoke cigarettes, or drink alcohol. I would help strengthen his resolve by him by telling him scripture stories and praying for him over the phone.
This pattern went on for several weeks. I noticed that gradually I grew to love the gruff man who initially had told us to leave him alone and never come back. Like a young flower gradually opens its petals, this was a miracle slowly unfolding before our eyes as Mr. Neuhaus’ testimony started to blossom. I also noticed that I had gradually grown to love Hr Neuhaus with a deep love that can only come from the grace of God. I had learned to see him as God saw him: a son of God most valuable and precious in His eyes.
On May 11th, 1997, I felt humbled as Hans Peter Neuhaus and I stepped into the baptismal font together and I offered the baptismal prayer. We went down into the water together and I lifted him back out. Immediately there was a change in his countenance and I felt a deep love sweep over me as I knew that God had approved of Peter’s baptism.
This experience happened about 8 months into my two-year mission to Frankfurt, Germany. Although I met many people during my mission who appeared they would be good candidates for baptism, none of them took the necessary steps that Peter Neuhaus did. At the time of Peter’s baptism, I did not know that it would be the only time in my entire mission that I would have the opportunity to baptize someone I had found and taught.
I learned that God looks on the heart and even though someone may not appear “ready” to hear the gospel, it is up to God and the individual to receive guidance and promptings from the spirit which leads eventually to baptism. As a missionary, it was my privilege to be allowed to participate as the Spirit bore witness to a “gruff old man,” who embraced the gospel, which in turn changed his life and mine forever.
I have the great opportunity to work as a Ward Mission Leader in my Mormon Church congregation. It is great going out with the missionaries and sharing the gospel with friends and neighbors who may not have a relationship with God. I have seen some amazing things in the past few months as the Holy Spirit has worked miracles to ignite faith in people as they pray and study the scriptures.
One of the things I look forward to nearly ever day, are the stories that the missionaries tell me of their daily adventures as they meet with people from all walks of life. My favorite ones are ones that involve members of our congregation as they help people in the community. The missionaries shared an example of this the other day.
In our neck of the woods (the Seattle area) it tends to rain in waves this time of year. For example, it will be sunny for 20 minutes then a cloud will roll in and pour rain and it goes on like that throughout the day.
One of the ladies that our missionaries have been teaching decided to walk to the store with her little child while it was sunny and on her way back a cloud rolled in and started pouring rain on her and the young child. She was very concerned about her child’s health and wondered if she would be able to make it home.
Just then, a van pulled up to her and the door slid open. A large Samoan man looked at her and said “Get in the Van”! She said at first it was startling, but she had a good feeling so she got in the van. There were a few kids in the van along with the gentleman’s wife. They asked her where she lived and told her they didn’t feel right about having her left out in the rain. She told them where to go and she arrived safely at home.
The next evening, the missionaries invited her to come to a woman’s activity at the church. She went and had a great time meeting members of the congregation. When she entered one of the rooms she looked up and noticed the same lady who had been in the van. They both did a double take and then got excited and hugged each other and started talking.
I was so impressed with this Samoan family. Their actions were an example of the pure love of Christ that we preach about when we are out in the community with people. It is one thing to talk about helping others, but it is another thing to quietly go about doing good as Jesus did without recognition, which is exactly what our Samoan friends did. This left a greater impression on our friend who is investigating the Mormon Church than any sermon could have done.
When I heard this story, the words of President Hinckley come to mind. When asked why no Mormon Churches have crosses on their buildings, he stated:
…The lives of our people must become the most meaningful expression of our faith and, in fact, therefore, the symbol of our worship. (Ensign, 2005)
I am very grateful for the opportunity I have to work with these great members in our congregation along with the great missionaries and people they teach. I have witnessed the hand of God working through all of us who give of our time and try to live as Jesus would have us live. When we do this, miracles happen and lives are changed.
I’ve been very busy working with our full-time Mormon missionaries in our ward the past couple months and have been very impressed with all the work and effort they put in. It has been a while since I have been this heavily involved in missionary service. Some days can be very awesome and others can be very trying.
I am reminded of experiences on my mission when I meet or speak with the sister missionaries in our ward (congregation) nearly every day. There are many, many people out there who have little or no concept of who God is and who Jesus Christ is. Many people when asked say they are Christian, but when speaking more in depth they rarely pray and have little or no concept of what the Atonement of Jesus Christ is and how it applies to our lives. I have been re-ignited in my faith as to the importance of this message by actively going out and meeting people in my community and seeing the challenges they face and the struggles they have trying to rely on their own strength rather than Gods.
This week was particularly difficult for us. We had been working with a great family the past few weeks who had begun to embrace reading scripture together, coming to church, and praying as a family. The father of the home even made the comment of how different his kids were (in a good way) since coming to church. However, things changed pretty quickly when his ex-wife heard about her kids going to the Mormon church and meeting with the Mormon missionaries. Although she hasn’t ever gone to church (according to her kids and ex-husband), she was very passionate that they quit going to the Mormon church and start going to the Catholic church she was raised in. Needless to say, when the sister missionaries went to visit Rick and his kids and found out about their mother’s concerns and also that the kids and Rick wouldn’t continue on with lessons, we were pretty discouraged.
It was during times like this when I was on my mission that I reflected on the inspiring times in my life so I could stay positive. With this in mind, I thought I’d share an inspiring story from my Mormon mission in Frankfurt, Germany during the mid ’90s.
Inspiring Mormon Missionary Story
The most inspiring moment on my mission was working with a man named Herr Neuhaus. Hr. Neuhaus was an older gentleman who had lived a very rough life. When we came across him, he was very angry at God. His wife had recently passed away and he was very depressed. Life for him when we met him was drinking and smoking and staring at the TV.
I learned on my mission in Germany to be very direct and bold. That was their style over there. So when we first met him and he bellowed out that he didn’t have any interest (they all said that initially), I told him that he might not have interest, but God had interest in him.
He replied that “God doesn’t love me…” which gave me a window into his tortured soul. I immediately felt compassion for him and I feel that by the grace of God I was able to feel for Hr Neuhaus a small amount of love that God has for each of us as sinners.
I engaged him in conversation on why he thought God didn’t love him. This is when he shared with us his story of his wife dying despite all the prayers he had offered in her behalf that she would live.
That first day, we just listened mainly and I really felt so awful for him. However, I knew that through the power of the Atonement, he could be made whole again and Jesus could fill him up with love once more.
I testified of this and challenged him to read the Book of Mormon, especially the parts on the Atonement of Christ and faith. I promised him if he did this that he would feel God’s love once more.
To make a long story short, God was true to His promise to those who show faith in Him. Not only was Hr Neuhaus healed from his suffering, but he was also healed from his addictions of smoking and drinking. I felt honored when he asked me if he would baptize him, which I did on May 11, 1997.
This was the only person I baptized while I was on my mission.
When I reflect on this experience, I am once again reminded of the importance of being a witness for Jesus Christ. I have seen personally and many times have witnessed other people such as Hr Neuhaus who chose to embrace the teachings and gospel of Jesus. Their lives are renewed and the cares and struggles of this world are swallowed up in hope and deliverance.
Please take a moment and share your favorite missionary experience either as a missionary, or a pastor, or just in your daily walk with God. I think it would be very beneficial for other readers of this blog.
A couple of weeks ago we had Stake Conference (this happens twice/year and is a regional meeting when Mormon congregations gather together within a geographical region to listen to various speakers). One speaker who stood out to me was a young lady named Kayla. What stood out to me was her funny and enthusiastic attitude as well as her fresh approach to the Gospel. She described having grown up as a Christian and then leaving the faith for a while and then recently having an experience that led her to the Mormon faith, and having a relationship with the Lord once again. As she told her story, I witnessed the Holy Spirit come over her and it touched my heart deeply and I wanted readers of this blog to hear her story as well.
After the conference, I asked her if she minded if I asked her a few questions for readers and she was kind enough to answer a few questions for me. The rest of this post includes my questions and her answers.
Why did you decide to join the Mormon church rather than the church you were raised in?
As I read the article highlighting Brandon Flowers (lead singer for the Killers) and watched the video of him defending his Mormon faith on national TV, a few things came to mind.
First, I think it is awesome that he pursues his dream of being in a rock band but still living his religion so to speak. As I watched him defend his faith while he was in leather and looking like a rock star I thought about many of the people in the Mormon faith that I have seen who think being a Mormon means you have to dress and look a certain way. Our religion teaches us that God is no respector of persons, which means no matter our race or what our appearance is, God is there for us.
Next, how much easier would it be for him to decline opportunities to get up and share his faith and just say “I’m a Mormon, but I don’t do interviews”? Or even go so far as denouncing the religion altogether, which many stars do. This is a great example of what Jesus said about letting our light shine for the world.
Finally, I thought about the members of his band who are not Mormons. Obviously they respect him enough to allow him to do these interviews and as he says in this interview, he wants to promote the band professionally, but the Mormon question inevitably comes up frequently. This is a great example of people of other faiths working together.
For those of you who may have missed the interview, I’ve included it below:
In sales a bait and switch is when the salesman promises a potential customer one thing and then after the sale is made the customer finds out it is different than the expectations and promises given by the salesman. This is something Mormons have also been accused of.
The “basic” doctrines of faith, repentance, baptism, prayer, salvation through Christ, etc. are found in both the Bible and the Book of Mormon. From my experience, people who are searching for true doctrine are very attracted to these concepts. They are found throughout the Bible, but in the Book of Mormon these doctrines are more clearly defined.
In addition to these doctrines, I think investigators are also attracted to the family values, moral living standards, and the structure and organization of the LDS Church.
Mormon missionaries are taught to teach these doctrines and concepts and then invite the people to pray to God about being baptized as soon as possible. The theory behind that is that the Spirit will give them a witness of the truth and then all other things taught after that witness will then be considered true. Many people then join the church based on this.
After people join the church though, I think on some occasions people feel that things aren’t the way they were described and/or portrayed while they were investigators. I have heard quite a few people say that they thought they were getting one thing with joining the Mormon Church, but then after joining the church felt that things were very different.
Since I have always been familiar with the Mormon church, I’m not the best person to bring up what people think are different than what they were told while investigating. I would be interested though in hearing from other people who are either former LDS people or Mormon converts and if they thought there was a “bait and switch” after they joined. Also, what can LDS members and missionaries do to avoid “bait and switch” tactics?
Years after I returned from my mission in Frankfurt, Germany, I found myself sitting across from the Director of Sales over a company in Seattle. I was fresh out of college and probably was on the lowest rung of the pool of candidates applying for the position with my Bachelors degree in German vs. all the other Business degree applicants along with their work experience.
In fact, the only relevant experience I had was my experience as a Mormon missionary. I had hesitated to include that on my resume, but since it was the only thing close to sales, I included it. Little did I know that would be what set me apart from the crowd and got me hired.
The hiring manager asked me a series of in depth questions about my mission. He asked me about how I handled my daily routine, how I organized my days. He asked me how I measured success and reported. I matter of factly told him about getting up early around 5:30 a.m. and working out, studying scriptures and the language and culture and then planning on areas to “market” to through door knocking, street contacting, and providing service.
When he asked me about my success, I paused. While I was on my mission, many missionaries thought success was only measured by how many people they baptized. In Germany, baptisms were few and far between. In fact, I only actually baptized one person personally and taught about 5 others who eventually were baptized after I left. I had learned on my mission that while baptism was a goal, I had learned that there are many factors out of my control. I learned to do my best and good things will happen. If it is a baptism, then great! However, if a person is only ready to commit to praying, or reading scriptures, then it is important to celebrate that as well. Even if no one listens at all, the personal relationship with God gained by sacrificing is priceless.
I knew that if I shared with him all of that, he probably wouldn’t hire me, but I did share with him how I felt that never losing sight of the goal was most important. I shared with him one occasion when I was the leader of a group of 10 missionaries, or a District. All of the missionaries were very discouraged, and it was up to me to lead them towards a positive attitude again. I did this through never slacking, listening to their needs, and working hard to stay positive. Over time, they all decided to change their attitudes and while baptisms didn’t flow, there were other smaller miracles that occured.
I went on to discuss how I kept track of “numbers” such as how many lessons I taught, areas we had visited, people who were interested, etc. I also shared with him how we worked with each person individually to help them overcome self-doubt and concerns to find God.
After our conversation was over, he reached out his hand to me and shook it saying “Congratulations, Elder! You’re hired!”
Little did I know that my experience as a Mormon missionary laid the ground work for a very successful career so far in sales. At that job over the course of a few years, I became recognized in the region and nation for my success and even became a national sales trainer for newly hired salespeople from around the country.
My next job in B2B sales was structured even more like my mission in that I had to create business from a brand new territory with corporate clients. Once again, I used the skills learned on my mission and became the top sales person in the nation for 3 years in a row.
Although being a salesman is difficult and there is definitely quite a bit of rejection, I can definitely say that it is nothing compared to being a Mormon Missionary in Germany. Although I didn’t know it at the time, my experience as a Mormon missionary not only shaped me spiritually, but in my career as well.
To all missionaries who may be struggling, or who will struggle out there, my advice is this: Hang in there. Good things will happen as you keep praying and relying on the Lord. Forget about the number of baptisms and just focus on the small things each day. Keep in mind that you are probably doing the hardest sales job in the world, but with the Lord’s help all things are possible. Who knows? It may turn into a career for you down the road!
In a recent article about the current political race with 2 Mormon business leaders (Romney and Huntsman), a Harvard Business School professor, Clayton Christenson stated “I don’t think there’s any more demanding profession than being a Mormon missionary…” The article goes on to state that the Missionary Training Center (MTC), which is the place where Mormon missionaries are trained, has graduated nearly 1 million missionaries, most of which are highly sought after and successful in the business world.
From personal experience with going through the MTC and serving a 2 year mission in Germany, I whole heartedly agree with these statements. One of the most difficult things I’ve done so far has been serving as a Mormon missionary. The whole time I was out there (2 years), I knocked on thousands of doors, talked with thousands of people, and had one baptism. Not very good odds.
However, while I was out there something happened within me. First, I realized that I loved working with people and helping them improve their lives. Even though only one person “bought” what I was “selling” completely, I was able to bring many, many people to have a relationship with God through prayer and other ways. Next, I learned how to network and market, which is what I do in my current profession. In fact, upon being hired to my first job in the industry I’m in, when my first hiring manager found out I had been a Mormon missionary he put down the papers and hired me immediately on the spot.
For those of you who have gone on missions, have you seen benefits in your life such as the ones I’ve outlined? If so, please share!
In a recent article in The National Catholic Weekly magazine, a writer brought up the great marketing the LDS church is doing in New York City. His article highlights the Mormon.org billboards that are all over as well as on the taxis, etc. and how great of a missionary tool it is. Something he wrote about in his article stood out to me about his perspective on the traditional Mormon missionary strategy. He writes:
The ”I’m a Mormon” campaign, showcases video and print portraits of young, diverse and energetic Mormons — and steers clear of images of missionaries in white shirts and black pants or talk of theology –
“Steering clear of images of missionaries in white shirts and black pants…” is the line that stood out to me.
What is the image that most people who aren’t LDS think of when they see the Mormon missionaries knocking on doors like they have done the same way for probably close to 100 years now? Is that still an effective marketing tool, or should the church shake it up and allow missionaries to wear clothes that match the culture where they are?
I know from personal experience that I felt much more at ease being a missionary without my white shirt and nametag than when I was wearing it. I was a Mormon missionary in Germany for two years and I also lived in Switzerland and worked for awhile after my mission as well. When I was a mormon missionary, people would bar the windows and lock the doors and bring the kids out of the streets the moment we walked into the neighborhood. The white shirt and black nametag turned them off.
However, when I was dressed in my normal clothes as a “regular” person after my mission, I had many more missionary discussions with people who opened up to me because they perceived that I was a “normal” person.
On the other hand, the Mormon missionaries have been branded by the white shirt and nametag and for people who are searching for them, they are easy to identify.
What are your thoughts on changing the Mormon missionary strategy and having Mormon missionaries wear “normal” clothes while proselyting?