Missionary Monday: Advice for the Younger Missionary Me: We Aren’t God’s Only People

by Samuel B. Hislop  
Original article printed HERE.Pride didn’t seem to be my problem. I was a 19-year-old missionary in the mental throes of learning Russian. My mind was weary from language study, my body exhausted from walking everywhere, my spirit stretched uncomfortably thin from my new life in the former Soviet Union. And yet looking back, I now see Easter Sunday, 2004, as a pride-revealing moment.

That was the day a cheerful 50-something woman in the eastern Ukraine city of Makiivka greeted me and others with the words, “Dear brothers and sisters, Christ is risen!” She said this with joyful and serious conviction, and the group responded, almost in unison, “Indeed, He is risen!”

These Ukrainian Latter-day Saints were exchanging a Paschal greeting, an Easter custom they carried over from their Eastern Orthodox faith tradition. That night I wrote in my journal:

“On Easter, the people here say ‘Иисус Воскрес’ [Jesus is risen] … in greetings, in testimonies, in talks, in lessons, saying goodbye. A little annoying.”

I now cringe when I read that phrase, “a little annoying,” because it reflects an immaturity and pride born of an ignorance too common for me and other missionaries I knew when it came to thinking about other religions. Most missionaries with whom I served were ablaze with the trademark spirit and fire of missionary work—but that fire can sometimes consume our humility and blind us to the goodness and richness present in other faiths.

Cultivating “Holy Envy” for Other Faiths

Perhaps this is a subconscious reaction to the familiar words of the canonized account of the First Vision, when the Savior told Joseph Smith to not join any of the other creeds of his day because they “were an abomination in his sight,” whose “professors were all corrupt” (Joseph Smith—History 1:19).

Of course we should own and proclaim our distinctive Latter-day Saint truths. But sometimes we hear this verse—especially the words “wrong,” “abomination,” and “corrupt”—and we unthinkingly assign those labels to every church, preacher, and teaching that isn’t exclusively Mormon. We should remember other choice teachings from Joseph’s life, including these words he wrote in 1842:

“When we see virtuous qualities in men, we should always acknowledge them, let their understanding be what it may in relation to creeds and doctrine; for all men are, or ought to be free. … This doctrine I do most heartily subscribe to and practice” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith [2007], 345–46).

Indeed, belonging to the “only true and living church” does not mean we are the only people doing good or that we’re the only group blessed with spiritual insights from God. Our Church’s interfaith and humanitarian efforts prove we can’t do God’s work alone—we are, after all, a church of only 15 million in a world of 7 billion.

My life’s journey has directed my gaze outward to learn from the leaders and followers of other faiths. I’ve come to appreciate what Swedish theologian Krister Stendahl (1921–2008) called “holy envy”—the ability to admire elements and teachings in other faiths. Our fellow believers see things differently and don’t express their views in the same way we do, and I often find great value in this.

Here are three favorite insights from notable authors of other faiths.

The Christian Who Makes Me a Better-Thinking Christian

I listen to podcasts from Christian author and apologist Ravi Zacharias. In one episode, he tells the story of the man who asks Jesus whether it’s appropriate to pay taxes. The well-known line comes from Jesus: “Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s” (Matthew 22:21).

Ravi then adds this perceptive commentary:

“The disingenuousness of the questioner is noticed in the fact that he did not come back with a second question. He should have said, “What belongs to God?” And Jesus would have said, “Whose image is on you?” Give to Caesar that which belongs to Caesar; give to God that which belongs to God. God’s image is on you.”

From listening to this and many other hours of his sermons, I’ve developed a deep admiration for Ravi’s firm Christian convictions. Simply put, he inspires me to be a better-thinking Christian.

An Orthodox Christian Explains the Why of Sabbath Observance

Earlier this year, Orthodox Christian and conservative author Rod Dreher of The American Conservative wrote this about the importance of the Sabbath:

“If we no longer keep going to church as at the center of Sabbath observance, we unavoidably deny that there’s anything sacred about time. Or, to be precise, we affirm, whether we want to or not, that we, not the God of the Bible, are the sovereigns of our own lives, and have the right to pick and choose what it means to be faithful. Sabbath worship is absolutely integral to Christianity.

“Whether you want it to or not, this habit—or lack of a habit—will erase the memory of Christianity from yourself and your family. This is the risk you take by making Sabbath churchgoing optional.”

Not only does Rod’s insight give me greater appreciation for the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles’ heavy focus on the Sabbath day, it also makes me want to always be better at making Sunday a special day.

A Rabbi Explains the Expansive Nature of Divine Love

My mind often returns to a passage of Rabbi Jonathan Sacks. It’s a succinct sermon about the infinite nature of divine love:

“We are each blessed by God, each precious in his sight, each with our role in his story, each with our own song in the music of humankind. To be a child of Abraham is to learn to respect the other children of Abraham even if their way is not ours. We know that we are loved. That must be enough. To insist that being loved entails that others be unloved is to fail to understand love itself.”

Perhaps his message continues to resonate with me because I spend too much of my life insecure in the favor God shows to others, thus blinding myself to the eternally expansive nature of His love—and to the reality that there’s enough of it for me and everyone else.

These three insights remind me of the New Testament account of John saying to the Master, “We saw one casting out devils in thy name; and we forbad him, because he followeth not with us. And Jesus said unto him, Forbid him not: for he that is not against us is for us” (Luke 9:49–50).

No, they aren’t members of our Church, but that’s OK. In the words of Elder 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” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1928, 59).

Samuel B. Hislop is a communication professional, originally from Logan, Utah. He writes often, reads widely, and plays frequently with his three precious daughters. He serves in his ward’s Young Men organization.

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