The Calling

By: Stephen Carter
July 24, 2011

Toronto: prepare to be converted!

(The following is adapted from a chapter in my book of personal essays What of the Night?, published by Zarahemla Books.)

And Stephen, full of faith and power, did many mighty works among the children of men.

—Acts 6:8

But for my mother’s insistence, the above bit of scripture would have been engraved upon my missionary plaque and hung in our ward building’s foyer for all passersby to admire. It seemed appropriate to me. My name is Stephen, after all, and I was going on a mission where, if all went well, I too would be doing mighty works.

In a rare nod to humility, I let something less than memorable accompany my plaque’s picture and golden map of the Canada Toronto Mission. Still, I was off to a good start. It all began with a mission call signed by none other than the one and only President Ezra Taft Benson. Well, by a signature machine, as I found out later, but that wasn’t important. What mattered was that I had been called on my mission by God.

And when God calls, he ain’t just whistling Dixie.

Out of my MTC district, Elder C., Sister R., and I were the three going to Toronto, which had the distinction of being in a foreign country. But that kind of made us the outsiders, as the rest of the district was on its way to California. I admit, I wondered more than once whether the people of Toronto would provide us with enough “humble seekers” to compete with the Latin American folks in California, who were famous for being the most “open to the Spirit.”

Our aspirations were summed up by a picture someone had cut out of a church magazine and tacked to the wall. At any given time, you could find a group of missionaries crowded around it with their tongues hanging out. No, it wasn’t Pamela Anderson in a wet shirt; it was a missionary in a wet shirt. He was standing in the middle of an African jungle pond baptizing someone while another fifty grateful souls waited their turn.

Lo, the gates of paradise.

As the plane circled downtown Toronto, I watched the looming concrete apartment buildings go by, thinking that the city’s high-density housing was probably designed on the premise that in 1994, a nineteen-year-old kid from Spanish Fork, Utah, could perform his mighty works more efficiently.

After we landed, the mission president and his assistants took us into a meeting room in the president’s home and laid out the glorious plan by which Toronto would be redeemed. I was stunned to learn that here, north of the border—in the land of the Mounties, hockey, and the flag with a maple leaf on it—we were going to baptize weekly.

Take that, you Californians!

Elder G. laid out the plan in the indisputable language of statistics:

• Talk with three hundred people each week, and

• Twenty will listen to a first lesson, of whom

• Five will listen to the second, leading to

• Four who will commit to baptism

• Three of whom will drop out by the end of the six-lesson cycle, leaving us with

• One baptism each week!

This was truly the Lord’s work. Let’s see, two years at a clip of one baptism each week equals . . . 104 baptisms! I was filled with a sense of humility. No doubt I would be tested, but I was up to the task. “If you are obedient,” my mission president declared in his resonant voice, “I promise you will baptize weekly.”

And Stephen, full of faith and power!

(Hey, got $1.99 on ya? That’s how much the Kindle edition of What of the Night costs. Buy it and find out what happens to Elder Carter! Or, if you’ve been hit too hard by the rising cost of 3-D superhero movies, you can read the essay for free here. ) </shamelessselfpromotion>

11 Responses to The Calling

  1. Troth Everyman on July 24, 2011 at 8:09 AM

    I like your tongue in cheek approach! Very nice Stephen.

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  2. Course Correction on July 24, 2011 at 5:33 PM

    I’m impressed with your 104 baptisms on your mission–you were obedient, weren’t you?

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  3. Mike S on July 24, 2011 at 6:15 PM

    Nothing profound to say, but I really like these. Especially the zeal with which missionaries are promised success if they work hard and obedient.

    We heard similar things on my mission. For the entire country and nearly 100 missionaries, we had 52 baptisms my first year there and 63 the second. So, just over 100 baptisms TOTAL for 2 years for the entire country.

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  4. FireTag on July 24, 2011 at 9:34 PM

    The Community of Christ had something like 800 baptisms for the whole country last year — but the country was the United States. :D

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  5. Geoff - A on July 25, 2011 at 1:25 AM

    I went to the Irish mission 2 baptisms in 2 years. There was a war about religion at the time.

    Mike s sounds like you were in a similar mission.

    I do think there is a relationship between the hardness of your mission and your attitude to life and the church in general.

    My greatest stastic was 80 hours tracting in a week.

    Do sometimes wonder about the use of manpower.

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  6. Mike S on July 25, 2011 at 2:22 AM

    Geoff: Just wondering – what do you think the relationship is?

    Regarding the 80 hour week – we had a set of zone conferences when I was in a small town of 20,000 up in the mountains. There were no members. ALL of our hours were tracting. We knocked on doors from 9:30am – 9:30pm with 2 hour break for meals = 10 hours / day. We didn’t have church in the area, so couldn’t count that. With P-day, we were therefore stretching it to get 60-65 hours per week and still be in on time, etc. And there were times where we didn’t a single discussion for 2 weeks.

    So in this set of zone conferences, the APs told us they worked 111 hours the prior week (which they obviously counted differently). And they said if we worked harder, the mission would have more success. Needless to say, this didn’t go over well throughout the mission.

    There wasn’t a baptism in the ENTIRE COUNTRY for 2 MONTHS after that set of zone conferences.

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  7. Mike S on July 25, 2011 at 2:28 AM

    Also, when you wonder about the “use of manpower”.

    I served my mission around 23-25 years ago. There were nearly 100 missionaries there then – it has been pared back some. So estimate an average of 75 missionaries x 25 years = 1875 man-years. With 60 hour weeks x 52 weeks = 3120 hours per year. This gives roughly 5.85 MILLION hours spent doing missionary work in the country since I served.

    Results: There are approximately the same number of members there now as when I served, for essentially zero net growth.

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  8. Stephen M (Ethesis) on July 25, 2011 at 7:19 AM

    Well, for what it was worth, my mission averaged about three discussions a week per set of elders.

    In a bad area, I got a companion who was willing to work, we averaged over twenty a week.

    As for the area, well, the members reported no baptisms for five years. I was there for nine months, we had two baptisms.

    For what it is worth, we also had the first dinner invitations in the area in years.

    I’m a believer in hard work.

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  9. Bouc on July 25, 2011 at 3:31 PM

    Ah, but Ethesis, though working “harder” may be an euphemism for working smarter, you’d be hard pressed to argue that tracting 80+ hours a week is anywhere near as successful as other methods.

    The problem I had on my mission is that everyone equated “hours tracting” with success. Much the same way our world defines success in terms of monetary holdings, missionaries thought the hardest workers were the most successful.

    There are ways of working “hard” (i.e. lots of quantifiable measures) and ways of working “smart” (i.e. hard workers define this as “lazy”, typically). Smart can mean any number of things, but telling missionaries to work in strictly gentile terms (i.e. if you talk to 300+ people a day, blah blah blah) is hardly the same thing as allowing them to craft a schedule conducive to the Spirit. The Spirit may tell them to work 80+ hours some week, but it may also tell them to spend an entire day with 1 person, then guide them to spend the day thoughtfully pondering where to go, which necessarily torpedoes their numbers.

    The problem is, many people equate those “pondering” moments as laziness. If your boots aren’t to the ground, you’re not working hard enough.

    If you have to submit quotas for baptisms, contacts and discussions taught, then fellow-shipping is merely done to fill quotas. Whether it’s for a certain goal of x amount of members at Church on Sunday, x amount of lessons, etc., the natural man tendency is to work to fill those stat sheets in the easiest way possible. Rare is the missionary who takes a step back and focuses more on the individuals than the stat sheets you call into your District and Zone leaders on a weekly basis.

    The shepherds are hungry for numbers, while very few are brothers in Christ. One could rightfully argue that the method of missionary work experienced by many a missionary, myself included, is such that it appears that we are more interested in quantity than in quality…

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  10. Geoff - A on July 26, 2011 at 1:18 AM

    Mike S

    I do think that if you go to a mission where success does not flow, you question authority, you have a certain strength of character, perhaps you are tougher for the experience. You don’t expect things to fall into your lap, and you don’t expect your prayers to be answered.

    I also questioned because I was initially called to a different mission, but my family (who worked for the church building programe) had been moved to the mission I was called to. My father and I went and talked with the mission pres and agreed we should try for a different mission. Someone’s right hand didn’t know what their left hand was doing.

    I tracted in one area for 3 months and only got in one door, my companion sold the lady a BOM, but when we asked her to read we found she couldn’t, neither could anyone else in the household so we gave her back her money and left.

    She had let us in because she thought we were catholic priests. We were required to wear dark hats and dark coats (mission rules and cold), so we did look a lot like priests.

    We were not allowed to visit members, not that there were any in our area, so we were very isolated from reality, but one of my companions had an extensive music collection (we all had reel to reel tape players to play the church tapes that went with the discussions)

    I never made it to DL but was companion to one whose girlfriend visited from California. They took off for a week together and I traded off with another companionship. The benifits of leadership?

    Why am I a bit skeptical and don’t accept everything my leaders tell me without questioning?

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  11. riyaj on September 30, 2012 at 8:26 PM


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