Hi, my name is Melanie Latham, and I am preparing to serve as a missionary in the Chile Osorno Mission. I am standing up here to speak today, and not two years from now, because of one fateful Saturday morning last October. My roommate was out of town, so I was in my BYU dorm room alone. I sat down on my bed with my laptop to watch the first session of General Conference. It seemed really normal at first...but as President Monson’s talk progressed, I became more & more shocked and excited. At 18 years old, I wasn’t anticipating leaving on a mission anytime soon. When President Monson announced that worthy 19 year old young women with a desire to serve could be recommended to become missionaries, I just started crying. And I sat there, crying, for the entire two-hour session. It seemed that all of the talks were about missionary work! I cried a lot during Elder Nelson’s talk about missionary work, and I cried even more when the choir sang, “I Will Follow God’s Plan for Me.” As the session went on, the more sure I became that I needed to serve a mission as soon as possible after I turned 19--that serving a mission was His plan for me. So here I am, two weeks after I turned 19, giving my missionary farewell talk.
I have wanted to serve a mission for as long as I can remember. When I was little, 21 was my favorite number because I knew that when I was 21 I would be able to serve a mission. I just love missionaries! We have had missionaries in our home regularly for all of my life. I remember being small and telling my parents about how I loved it when the missionaries came over for dinner because they brought a special spirit with them. One sister missionary gave a homecoming address in our ward, and as she spoke of the Atonement, she seemed to have an aura of light surrounding her...she just glowed with the light of Christ. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve had these kinds of experiences time and time again--watching a sister missionary and seeing a beautiful glow about her. I wanted to have that glow and share it with someone who needed it. I wanted to be a missionary.
I was asked to prepare a talk about “examples and how they prepared me for a mission.” I have had so many role models of missionaries throughout my life, in Young Women leaders, BYU religion teachers, and especially sister missionaries who have served in our ward throughout the years. Now, I read the letters from my friends who are already serving as full-time missionaries, and I am touched by their faith, humility, and example as they share their light with the people they serve. But my most powerful examples of missionary work have come from the stories in the scriptures as well as modern-day prophets. These stories have taught me the attributes I will need to be a successful missionary.
Ammon showed patience, diligence, and obedience in missionary work. When he began to serve the people of King Lamoni, he worked only as a servant, without teaching the gospel of Christ. He fulfilled his responsibilities as a servant to the fullest extent, patiently hoping for King Lamoni’s heart to soften so that he would be willing to listen. Ammon’s obedience earned him the respect of King Lamoni, and caused King Lamoni to become interested in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Obedience as a missionary is so imperative. Although we will most likely not be servants to kings, we are servants to the Heavenly King, and we must follow His rules for us as we serve. Obedience will invite the Spirit to be with us, and when teaching the gospel, the true teacher is the Spirit, as it says in D&C 42:14-- “And the Spirit shall be given unto you by the prayer of faith; and if ye receive not the Spirit ye shall not teach.” Ammon’s obedience invited the Spirit into King Lamoni’s heart, and our obedience as missionaries will invite the Spirit to be with us as we teach and as we live.
One amazing missionary duo was Alma and Amulek. From their stories, we can learn so many important principles of missionary work. Amulek listened to the Spirit on the night that Alma was seeking food and shelter, and he let Alma into his home. One of Alma & Amulek’s first encounters with the people of Ammonihah teaches us the importance of a companion set of missionaries--to establish more than one witness to the truth. But the most striking principles I learn from Alma and Amulek are faith and humility. As Alma and Amulek worked to share the gospel of Jesus Christ, they were mocked, tortured, and even imprisoned. They were forced to watch the burning of people who they loved. And they suffered it all. It must have been so hard for them not to cry out in agony while they watched the pain of their loved ones. They submitted to the Lord’s will and they had faith in His divine plan, even when it was impossible for them to understand. When they served as missionaries, they truly gave themselves over to the Lord, as we are invited to do in Mosiah 3:19-- “becom[ing] a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becom[ing] as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father.” Humility is central to our success as missionaries, and as it states in Preach My Gospel-- “Humility is not a sign of weakness; it is a sign of spiritual strength.” I would hope that on my mission I can show humility like Alma and Amulek.
In New Testament seminary and Sunday school, I learned to LOVE Paul. Paul was an incredible missionary. He shared the gospel in many cities throughout Europe and Asia. Today’s missionaries serve in a similar way to Paul, sharing in multiple different areas before they return home. Paul is a great example because of his remarkable gift to love. 13 of the books in the New Testament were written by Paul, and they were all letters to the people whom he served. Paul was a missionary who taught with love, and even after he had left a city, he continued to write to the people there. He thought of those that he had served often and he expressed his deepest love through his letters. The letters he wrote taught the importance of loving others, and also the importance of loving God. Missionary work is a work of love, and that love doesn’t stop with the investigators. It encompasses everyone we touch, including companions, ward members, family and friends at home, yourself, and the especially the Lord. As we strive to emulate Christ through missionary work, we must remember that Christ’s love is endless, and we should work to have His endless love.
One of my favorite missionary stories was shared by Gordon B. Hinckley. The President Hinckley that we all know and love seemed to be flawlessly loving and giving...but as a young missionary, he faced similar struggles to those that missionaries face today, such as homesickness and frustration with missionary work. I love the simple and straightforward words of encouragement President Hinckley got from his father: “Forget yourself and go to work.” This simple statement planted a seed for President Hinckley to become a shining example of selflessness. When facing trials, it can be all too easy to become self-centered and self-focused. But focusing our energies outward to selfless service will enable us to find joy and become more effective missionaries. After all, missionary work is chiefly about those we serve (more so than it is about us).
While all of these stories serve as incredible examples of missionary attributes, the greatest example of missionary work that could ever be was our Savior, Jesus Christ. He shows all of the attributes we seek as missionaries--patience, diligence, obedience, faith, humility, and most importantly, charity. One of the best known scriptures about charity is in Moroni 7. In my Book of Mormon class at BYU, we substituted Christ’s name in for the word charity, because He is charity: “And [Christ] suffereth long, and is kind, and envieth not, and is not puffed up, seeketh not [His] own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil, and rejoiceth not in iniquity but rejoiceth in the truth, beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.” Christ’s love is perfect...and although we may not be able to love as perfectly as He does today, we can always work toward perfect charity by loving everyone we touch. The single most important facet of missionary work is Christlike love. Missionary work is the work of Christ, and we are doing the work that He can’t be on earth to do...so to be the best missionaries we can be, we must strive to become like Him.
I feel Christ’s love for me every single day of my life. I can see His love for others by the way that He touches their lives. When I stop to consider all of the things that He has blessed me with, I am simply in awe. As I sat in my dorm room during General Conference, overwhelmed by the Spirit, crying as I pondered serving a mission, a flood of memories of all the blessings that He has given me rushed into my mind. I thought, “he has given me so much...and the least I can do is to give Him 18 months of my time so I might help Him to bless His children.” My favorite hymn, and my mantra for missionary work, goes like this: “Because I have been given much, I too must give....Because of Thy great bounty, Lord, each day I live...I shall divide my gifts from Thee with every brother that I see who has the need of help from me.” I want to share the gifts that I have been given as a missionary for the Lord--especially the gifts of the gospel and of the Savior Jesus Christ. Of all of the gifts we have ever been given, the greatest gift is the Savior Jesus Christ. I love what Paul says in 2 Corinthians 9:15, “Thanks be to God for his unspeakable gift.” Jesus Christ is the greatest friend, example, and brother that we will ever have.
I pray that as I serve in southern Chile, I will be able to share the gift of Christ and help others to find peace and joy through His gospel. I feel so blessed for the opportunity to serve my Savior and my Heavenly Father in the Chile Osorno Mission. I know that as I serve, I will be a part of a companionship of three people: myself, my companion, and our Savior. He loves each and every one of us. He atoned for our sins, pains, and sorrows, and He never wants a single one of us to feel alone. As missionaries, He sends us to be His shepherds, searching every corner of the earth to find the lost souls and bring them into His fold and His light. I know that missionary work is His work. I love the Lord. I know that this is His gospel, and that as we live it, we are paving the road to live with Him again someday. I say these things in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
Jacob 5:72, Romans 1:16
the Atlanta Temple
me and my parents at the temple