Sunday, March 31, 2013

Growth with Elder Grow

November 9, 2007

Our chapel in Xalapa. At almost every zone conference, the mission takes a group photo and sends copies to all the missionaries. Due to time constraints, no photo was taken at my first conference, so I have nothing to post here, sorry.

Our first week of work was interrupted by my first zone conference. Zone conferences are when the entire zone of missionaries, corresponding to a region of the mission, get together for training, instruction, food, and sometimes other amusements as well. The mission president, his assistants, and others conduct the conference. It’s a chance for missionaries to get together for a day where they don’t have to face the usual struggles: the heat, the walking, the rejection, etc. In the Mexico Veracruz Mission, at the time, we held “multi-zone” conferences, so our zone, covering the whole city of Xalapa, was joined by the Teziutlán (teh-zyoot-LAN) zone, which came to Xalapa by bus for the day.

We met in my area’s chapel. We got there in the morning and said hi to the other missionaries. This was my first time meeting most of them. I also saw Elder Bowen, who was in the Xalapa zone with me, as well as two other American missionaries from the Teziutlán zone that had started at the same time with me. Then Pres. Johnson and the assistants arrived. Pres. Johnson seemed like he was in a hurry. This was probably because we had an important guest coming to the conference, Elder Grow. Elder Grow was a senior church leader and one of three people in charge of the entire church in Mexico. Among other things, he oversaw all the mission presidents, so it was no wonder that Pres. Johnson would want things to be just right. Elder Grow arrived and we started the conference.

The zone conference started out with a hymn, a prayer, some announcements, and then they played the arriving and departing missionary videos. Apparently this was a thing in the mission. Every six weeks, when new missionaries arrived and others went home, the missionaries in the offices would put together a brief video about them set to music and interspersed with pictures of the mission and other church stuff. The arrival video was first. Unbeknownst to me, one of the assistants must have had a video camera when they picked us up from the airport earlier that week, because there I was on the screen, giving that funky handshake-hug to Pres. Johnson with a nervous smile on my face. The departure video was somewhat more impressive. It consisted of a series of mission photos submitted by each of the missionaries going home in the next six weeks. Lots of the photos were of the missionaries in interesting locales and people they had taught all dressed in white for their baptisms. Included was Elder Guerra’s segment, as he was going home next month. It was cool; it made me want to have photos like those at the end of my own mission.

After the videos, we started the instruction. Elder Grow stood up and started explaining a few changes that needed to be made in the mission. Before I explain the changes, let me go through a little bit of what mission expectations were like. Missionaries are generally under a good deal of pressure to regularly find, teach, and ultimately baptize new converts to the church. While we recognize that a person’s choice to join the church is a very personal one, we also believe that it’s among the most important choices to make. Thus missionaries are expected to both accommodate the needs of the people they teach, including giving them spiritual enrichment and respecting their personal decisions, and also to produce results for the mission.

Since we consider helping people come to God to be so important, we want to make sure that our missionaries are working as hard as they can be toward that goal. Each week, missionary pairs report numbers to their leaders about how many lessons they taught and how many people they’re teaching that are preparing to join the church. The process of reporting these numbers allows missionaries to gauge how hard they’re working and make plans to have more success.

The only problem with reporting numbers is that sometimes it’s easy to get caught up in them, rather than think about the real people they represent. That was the main thrust of what Elder Grow taught us that day. When we arrived to the mission, the assistants had taught all of us that the Mexico Veracruz Mission had a set of “Standards of Excellence” which were given as a base set of goals to achieve each week. I remember being surprised by how high their expectations were. I also wondered if having such standards actually motivated missionaries to work effectively.

In his presentation, Elder Grow talked about how much work and planning on the part of the missionaries goes into preparing an investigator to become a church member. He said that we often underestimate what it takes, and that’s why we don’t accomplish it as often as we should. He also reminded us that focusing too much on reaching certain number thresholds isn’t really what matters; the only number that really matters is the number of new converts. Everything else is just to help missionaries work towards that end.

As I sat and listened to Elder Grow, I wondered how Pres. Johnson would react. Elder Grow was essentially contradicting Pres. Johnson’s policies in front of all his missionaries. It would have been easy for Pres. Johnson to feel frustrated or even humiliated. But when Elder Grow sat down again, Pres. Johnson stood up and immediately announced to the missionaries that the Standards of Excellence would be done away with. He said that the mission would begin to work the way Elder Grow had described. I was impressed with Pres. Johnson’s willingness to obey his leader and change policies on the spot, even when he probably thought he was doing just fine before. It reminded me of when Pres. Johnson told me to put a part in my hair, and instead of arguing, I just did it. My opinion of Pres. Johnson grew significantly that day. From then on, I saw him less as just an enforcer of strict rules, and more as a person trying to do his best and set a good example for the people he led.

1 comment:

  1. I would have loved to have seen that entrance video. I bet it was a sight to be seen. :)

    I'm glad you're home.