When President Baird came to visit us in Nakatsugawa in September, Elder Sanderson and I learned a lot from him about being effective missionaries – particularly about being effective finders. In Nakatsugawa, we have a small branch. We do our best to work with the members, but there is still plenty of opportunity for us to do finding on our own. The day that President Baird worked with us, we tried to contact a former investigator who was not home. Since there was no one home, we followed the counsel of Preach My Gospel and began to talk to the neighbors! We did a full 10x session (visiting ten people and talking to them) with President Baird in the foothills above Nakatsugawa. (See the enclosed pictures of the neighborhood where we worked.) President Baird started teaching us by example, but then encouraged us to apply the principles we saw him use by ourselves. These principles have helped us become much more effective at finding, especially in door-to-door tracting situations.The first principle we learned was concerning goals and accountability. Of course we had been setting goals before President Baird came to visit us - we wouldn't be effective missionaries at all without any goals. But we adopted the practice of setting short-term goals for every block of time that we are using for finding. (We set goals for the number of people to talk to, the number of pamphlets or Book of Mormon copies to give out, and the number of investigators and potential investigators we think we can find.) We say a prayer before we begin, explaining our goals to the Lord and asking for His help. Then, we work hard to achieve those goals. We don't always meet every goal that we set, but we always see success, and often it's from stretching ourselves to reach the goals that we set! Finally, we always account to the Lord (again, through prayer) before we move on to our next appointment or activity, and I feel that because we have that duty to account for our time, we have been able to use it more effectively. By applying these principles of effective planning and accounting, we have been able to find more investigators than ever before, and we have gained more confidence in speaking to people when we meet them for the first time.
That brings me to the next point. Meaningful conversation is very, very important. Missionaries are not salesmen; we are not here to persuade people to buy a product or even to “get them to listen to us”. As Preach My Gospel says, we shouldn't come to peoples' doors saying, “We're sharing a message with people.” We should simply share our message with love and respect! We are here to invite others to come unto Christ, and we can only do that if we truly love those that we serve. And so, when we meet someone for the first time, it really helps to talk to them sincerely about their life, their family, their interests, or whatever else comes naturally to mind. We have found that not only does this help us gain a greater love and understanding for those we meet, but it helps them see that love when they talk to us, and they are more interested in our message. Plenty of people decide that they aren't interested, but they still have a great experience talking to us about their family or their life. That gives them an opportunity to feel the Spirit and a reason to talk to the missionaries the next time they knock on the door. And sometimes, they do listen; we gained an investigator, whom we are still teaching, because we started to speak with him in a natural, confident way with President Baird as our example.
Finally, President Baird was a living example of how to apply the oft-quoted missionary admonition to "open your mouth". President Baird spoke to everyone in our path (everyone that Elder Sanderson and I passed by, that is)! He was bold and loving, and didn't hesitate to explain who we are, what we do, and why we want to talk to them. Once, he had no time except to give a flyer for free English class to a student walking by and say, “Free English class. Every Thursday. Please come!” But he never let an opportunity pass by. As missionaries, we should do the same. We can also set specific goals for how we will speak to those around us – that was something we did with President Baird, and I know it helps us to better see how we can fulfill our purpose. But the most important thing I learned from watching President Baird talk with everyone is that there is no reason to be afraid or hesitant. We often say “open your mouth” as missionaries, but the actual scripture is “open your mouth and it shall be filled!” I have seen the fulfillment of this promise many times on my mission already.
I may never get another chance to work so closely with my mission president again, but I am so grateful for the opportunity that Elder Sanderson and I had to work with him. I have only listed a few of the things that we learned for time's sake, but those were the most valuable principles that I saw from working with President Baird. I know that as we've applied these principles, I've seen greater success in our missionary efforts, and I know that we have become more effective servants of Jesus Christ. And I encourage everyone who reads this to do the same, because I can promise you that there's nothing more satisfying to a missionary than that!