[At least once a month, and sometimes more often, President George D. Durrant of the Kentucky Tennessee Mission from 1972 to 1975 would write a message to all of the missionaries. He called such messages 'Newsletters'. This is one of them.]
I'm a full-time missionary who is really getting discouraged because baptisms aren't coming. What is "success" when I'm not bringing people into the Church?
Your very question has the ring of success. Your words show that you have such an intense desire to succeed that when it isn't met, it brings sadness to your soul.
We do, and indeed should, measure the success of a mission by the quality and quantity of converts the missionary helps bring into the Church. But that same standard is only a part of the way we measure the success of a man. With this in mind, let us first attempt to measure the success of your mission and then to measure your success as a man. (And of course, when I say man I mean woman too.)
If you or I ever decide that the success of a mission doesn't necessarily correlate with the quantity and quality of new converts, then neither of us would make a good missionary. A successful business renders a service or produces something worthwhile, but its overriding success is determined by its profits. An athletic team is successful when it wins. And a mission is a success if it is the means of bringing people into the Church, and that is the real and rather hard truth.
When we keep this idea of success in our minds and work and act and pray accordingly, we are real missionaries. Some say: "We can't make converts here. Not with these people; not now." And thus, through their excuses they begin to feel comfortable. To have such comfort, they pay the price of lowering their goals. Their enthusiasm wanes, and they lose the great edge that is described as the missionary spirit.
Such excuses and decreased aspirations soothe a pain that ought not to be soothed. Instead, all during your mission and throughout your life you should feel disappointed as you recall that your mission was not as successful as you had so deeply desired it would be. Such feelings won't hurt you; as a matter of fact, if properly viewed, they can help you. On the other hand, lower expectations will forever be a stumbling block and will, if repeated in other situations, almost guarantee a life of mediocrity.
Now, let's talk about your success as a man. Be disappointed, my brother, but don't be discouraged. There is a difference, you know. To be discouraged means you are losing courage, and that isn't the case with you. To be disappointed means your goals are not being met, and that's what you are experiencing.
I recall a missionary with whom I talked on a cold winter's day in Kentucky—just he and I alone in a little office. His eyes moistened as he said, "I get the feeling that Mom and Dad wonder why we aren't baptizing anyone." Tears fell as he tried to continue. "They had such high hopes for me, and I'm letting them down. I try, President, I really try; but I just can't seem to do it." I sat silently as he softly cried. Oh, how I loved him! How I hoped that I'd have a son who'd care as much as he cared! You see, I knew him. I knew that when he said he had tried, he really had.
I found myself wishing I could look into his father's eyes and ask: "How did you raise such a son? How did you infuse in him such honor and integrity? How did you teach him to love so completely? How did he come to be so totally responsible?" I could learn many things from the father of such a noble son.
The Spirit of the Lord filled my soul as I sat with him. I knew I was in the presence of a man of God. I told him of my love and respect for him. I told him many things. Then he spoke again: "President, my companion and I will work even harder. I know there's a family waiting for us. We're going to find them and bring them into the Church. You just watch." Days came and went and his full-time mission ended, and he hadn't found the family. But, oh, how he had searched and prayed and worked!
Some time has passed since I last saw him, and I long to see him again. He was one of my most successful missionaries, for he was a real man. As the years roll on, we will meet someday and talk. He will say: "President, I wanted to find a family so much. It broke my heart then and it still does." And then after a thoughtful pause he'll say, "But I sure did try."
I'll look at him with pride and say, "You surely did, you tried with all your heart." And then I'll think, "I hope my own sons will try that hard and be that successful."
Keep being disappointed in your mission until baptisms come. And if some do come, then be disappointed if more don't come. And through all your mission disappointments, conduct yourself in such a way that you'll never be disappointed in yourself. And if that is your lot, then you, my dear friend, will have been and will forever be a successful man.