Home-Based Missionary Training Centers During the COVID Crisis

By Robert Y. Cornilles

Author, Preparing Tomorrow’s Missionaries Today: Teaching Skills for Disciples of Christ

You’re sheltered in place. With your kids. Even the pets. The whole family is working to keep peace, stay productive, and feel the Spirit. Perhaps your missionary has been temporarily sent home, awaiting the call to go back out when the “field is white, ready to harvest.” Latter-day Saint homes have never been tried more to become Christ-centered.

This unprecedented time makes clearer the prophetic teaching of Elder David A. Bednar just one year ago:

“We should not expect the Church as an organization to teach or tell us everything we need to know and do to become devoted disciples…. Rather, our personal responsibility is to learn what we should learn …. And our homes are the ultimate setting for learning, living, and becoming.”1

What, then, should our priority be as we spend newfound time as a family? President Nelson declared, “The gathering of Israel is the most important thing taking place on the earth today.”2 And how can families participate in missionary efforts if they’re home-bound? Act on the counsel of Elder Bednar who taught that homes are “the ultimate missionary training center.”

This unusual time of self-isolation can actually become a MTC-like preparatory period until that day when members of the Church are allowed to go back “into the field” and associate with others and engage in conversations on topics the world is now finding increasingly important: family, truth, the purpose of life, and our relationship to God to name a few. Could this pandemic be preparing the earth to see the gospel differently?

Immorality has always been prevalent in such public places as bars and casinos. But more and more people are discovering that true meaning is found in home-centered subjects like love, relationships, and togetherness. This suggests the Church’s missionary force is entering an historic period where we can more boldly teach the gospel of Jesus Christ and the joyous results that come from it.

How shall we prepare for that eventuality while cloistered in our personal MTC’s? Despite the motivation to be missionary-minded, too often our attempts to speak with nonmembers about the gospel have led to disappointment because while knowing what to say, we may not know how to say it.

But take heart. Even well-intentioned missionaries sometimes fall short. Aaron, the eager brother of Ammon, ventured into the Lamanite lands of Jerusalem and Middoni (see Alma 21) and immediately got to work talking about what he found important. The result? Contention and imprisonment. In contrast, wise brother Ammon traveled to the land of Ishmael and told King Lamoni that he had come to serve him by achieving the outcomes important to the king. What transpired? Ammon was quickly invited to share the gospel—not only to the king but to the entire kingdom.

After April’s inspirational general conference, member missionaries might be given to enthusiastic discussions with neighbors about the Restoration. That seems right. But fair-minded members agree that a vision received by an upstate New York farm boy 200 years ago isn’t the primary thing on most neighbors’ minds in this pandemic season of 2020.

Within your home-based missionary training center, prepare to make sharing the gospel easier by considering this simple question:

What is my neighbor likely trying to achieve, obtain, or accomplish today—2020? Is it information about a nineteenth century boy’s claim? Or, might my neighbor be trying to accomplish something more personal to them—such as peace, calm, acceptance, reassurance, love, and security? If so, how can I follow the prophet’s counsel to share the gospel—especially in this bicentennial year of the Restoration—and still address my neighbor’s priorities? The answer is: do both!

What daily results might your neighbor be seeking that can actually be achieved because of the Restoration? In other words, if, in 2020, they understood the significance of the Restoration of Christ’s true gospel, wouldn’t that help provide them the very results they desire—such as peace, calm, acceptance, reassurance, love, and security? [Learn more in Preparing Tomorrow’s Missionaries Today: Teaching Skills for Disciples of Christ.]

President Dallin H. Oaks pointed out that “what we are interested in … isn’t usually what others are interested in.”3 More than programs like family home evening, products such as FamilySearch, or processes like the Word of Wisdom—all of which are good!—our nonmember friends are more interested in how the results such offerings will enhance their lives. Said another way, more than the fact that Joseph Smith received a vision, nonmembers are interested in the results that event can bring them. Namely, knowledge that: God lives today; He knows His children; He hears and answers sincere prayers; He has power over evil; He is in control; and He has a plan for us and this world.

Before proclaiming the gospel, soon-to-be full-time as well as lifetime missionaries should consider all the results their nonmember neighbors, colleagues, and classmates desire in life—irrespective of the Church. Then, ask: Are these results achievable through the Church and the gospel of Jesus Christ? When the answer is yes, a natural missionary moment awaits.

Prepared with helpful concepts like this, missionaries in home-based missionary training centers can realize Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf’s vision of “talking with others about your faith normal(ly) and natural(ly).”4

Since the Book of Mormon is the keystone of our religion and the subject of many missionary efforts, we may be inclined to exclaim to our neighbor, “I want to tell you about a book you should read that will improve your family’s situation.” Such a desire to share is “normal and natural,” but that introduction is off-putting and awkward. I don’t have time to read…and who says our family needs improvement?!

A more thoughtful approach might be: “Ever since this social distancing started, our family has been thinking about and praying for your family. We’ve had this feeling that we should share something that’s brought a lot of peace and happiness into our home to see if it couldn’t do the same for you during this crisis.” A simple and welcome approach to the Book of Mormon.

Elder D. Todd Christofferson said, “We study so that we may better teach.”5 COVID-19’s blessing in disguise is that it gives families of prospective and lifetime missionaries, studying together in the ultimate missionary training center, a unique and wonderful chance to enhance their abilities to more naturally introduce the gospel to those around them. Doing so will make our eventual time “in the field” more productive and blessed.

1 “Prepared to Obtain Every Needful Thing,” Ensign, May 2019

2 “Hope of Israel” Worldwide Youth Devotional, June 3, 2018

3 “Sharing the Restored Gospel,” Ensign, November 2016

4 “Missionary Work: Sharing What is in Your Heart,” Ensign, November 2019

5 “The Priesthood Quorum,” Ensign, November 1998