The Mormon missionary experience has always been described as a rite of passage. It is a growing experience for most who serve. I learned that being a junior companion does not always mean submissive support. Our full participation and thoughtful contributions are needed for the success of the work of the Lord.
I shared the following as a comment on Dr. B’s missionary website, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, but felt it deserved a place on my own blog as well. It describes a life-changing moment for me that occurred early on my mission. The Lord blesses his missionaries when they try to do things the way he has asked, with full purpose of heart.
A missionary in Honduras
La Colonia Kennedy in Tegucigalpa had been worked over for many, many years before we got there in 1976. It was a world of dirt roads an no cars back then. Yet the field was still white and ready to harvest. My first companion, Elder DJ Webb had lined up a half dozen baptisms the first few weeks I was there.
We taught at least three or four discussions on my very first day and every day thereafter. I think we baptized a dozen or more in the six short weeks we were together. Obviously Elder Webb was a hard worker and trying to do what the Lord wanted. Being a senior companion can be hard, but I didn’t know anything about that.
Tracting builds character
One day we were tracting and came to a corner, wondering what to do next. Elder Webb looked at me and asked, “What do you think we should do, Elder Malone?” Up until that moment my focus had been on memorizing the discussions and conjugating verbs.
It was all I could do to keep up with Elder Webb, especially since he seemed so fluent in Spanish and I was still struggling with the language so much. I said, “I don’t know. You’re the senior companion. You tell me.”
Leaders make decisions
I don’t think I could have hurt him more if I had cut him with a knife. Poor guy! He was exercising so much faith and working so hard to make sure that I had a good start to my mission and I couldn’t see that he could have used a friend at that moment.
Patiently, but with some emotion betrayed in his voice, Elder Webb chastised me for not responding favorably to his request to share the burden of leadership. I was surprised by his lecture and listened closely, apologizing when he was through.
The Lord can teach us
“No problem,” he said and shrugged it off. He smiled and we went on our way, down the next row of close-packed houses that I remember so well in the Kennedy. But I continued to think about what he said and just for a moment, as I did, the spirit touched the eyes of my understanding and I saw Elder Webb in a different light.
From then on I did everything I could to be his friend and show him that we were on the same team. He seemed to mellow a bit after that and I noticed an increase in the spirit of our teaching and the tenor of our prayers. He was asking for help in his duty to lead the work in our area.
A great missionary companion
I later learned to appreciate what a great companion Elder Webb was as I gained experience in the mission and was able to compare him to other companions who didn’t work as hard and to a junior companion who gave me the same treatment once that I gave to him.
I can say without a doubt that Elder Webb was the hardest working companion I had and exactly the kind of first senior comp I needed to get my mission started off right. He taught me to think straight with one simple question, “What do you think we should do, Elder Malone?” I have been forever grateful.
Think for ourselves
He taught me to think straight and not be just a mindless, yet submissive missionary. I have been able to use this lesson many times over the years as I served in similar situations with bishops who were called because of their faithfulness and humility but could use some straight thinking from their counselors.
“What do you think?” might be the smartest words a bishop can ask of those who are called to assist him. It takes a humble man to solicit and accept counsel. And it is a wise counselor who has done some thinking and can offer sage advice in a spirit of love and encouragement.