As disciples of Jesus Christ, we promise to stand as His witness in all times and places, to carry His name as our standard for all to see. Sometimes this is a simple matter of living up to our beliefs on a daily basis and being examples of His ways among our fellowmen. Often it requires something more.
Perhaps one of the scariest things about discipleship is the fact that it requires us to open our mouths and testify of Jesus Christ to our friends and family, sometimes even to a complete stranger. Why is this such a daunting task? It might have something to do with the fears and inadequacies Satan whispers into our hearts. We do not want to offend, we do not want to be rejected, we do not want to create an awkward situation with someone we see every day.
On the flip side, our testimony of Jesus Christ, the power and peace that we feel from living His gospel is the greatest blessing we can have in this life. It is the greatest gift we can share with those we love. Christ has commanded those who love Him to feed His sheep. So why do we hesitate?
I am just as guilty as many in this department. I’m a very quiet and shy person. I value and cultivate my ability to love and accept those around me as Christ would. Sometimes, it feels like sharing my testimony of Christ and the joy I have found within The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is placing a judgment on those that I love; like I am somehow saying I am better than them or cannot appreciate where they are on their own spiritual path. I often hold back because I don’t want my friends to feel I do not love and accept them for who they are without requiring them to believe just as I do.
It becomes uncomfortable for me to share the belief that I belong to the one true church, Christ’s church, on the earth today. It feels a little like saying, I live in a better house than you do, and since you don’t live here with me you are somehow of less value than I. If I invite you to live with me, and you don’t, what becomes of the relationship then?
As a disciple of Jesus Christ, this is something I need to learn to overcome. I need more practice showing people that I love them first, then that I love them enough to offer them the best path to happiness that can be found on this earth.
This is a lesson I once learned from a neighbor of the Jehovah’s Witness faith. When my family moved into his neighborhood, he was one of the first to greet us. Not with a bunt cake and a smile, but with empty hands ready to be put to work. He saw our moving van pull in and immediately changed into his grubbies and came to lend a hand.
He did not start a conversation with “What religion are you?” or even an invitation to join his faith. He simply introduced himself and asked what he could do to help. We saw him again a few days later. He stopped by on his way home from work to make sure we were settling in and fill in any questions we had about the house and neighborhood — trash days, school bus routes, anything he thought we might need to know. Still no mention of an ulterior motive, he simply extended his hand in friendship.
The next time I saw him, I looked out the window to find he was quietly shoveling our driveway, clearing it of the snow that had fallen during the day. The following week, he brought over a small gift: a popular children’s Bible for my children and expressed his firm belief that families and children were happier with Christ in their lives. He then extended the invitation that if we had not yet found a congregation in the area to call home, or if we were searching for a religion, to worship with him and learn more about his faith.
I appreciated his thoughtfulness and tactful approach. I was not offended in the least. I’d known him first as a friend, not a stranger at my door telling me his house was better than my own. I told him I was honored that he would share his beliefs with me, then assured him that my family was very active in a different religion, the LDS Church. We had found our truth and weren’t looking to change. He was just as accepting of my declaration as I was of his. He ended with a simple offer that if we ever did want to know more or simply had questions about his beliefs, that he would find it a privilege to share these things with us. I shyly extended the same offer and the conversation stopped there.
It was not, however, the end of our friendship. He continued to first be our friend, and second a missionary for his beliefs in Jesus Christ. I have tried to follow his example since then.
When I open my heart to share my beliefs with someone close to me, I try to see them and myself, first in terms of our relationship and second our spiritual journeys. There is good to be found in every religion. Faith in Jesus Christ will always lead a person to a better, happier life, no matter where this introduction to Him begins. If I share my beliefs, it is because there is a specific need or question that the truth that I have can help them with.
I have a dear friend in my neighborhood now that is of a different religion. What church we attend on Sunday does not enter into the relationship, it only matters that we each share a deep love for our Savior Jesus Christ and a desire to be like Him. We discuss matters of faith openly between us, sometimes from her perspective, sometimes from mine, but always with Christ at the center.
Still, when I began to feel the Spirit nudging me to give her a Book of Mormon I hesitated. Would that one simple act put a strain on our friendship? Satan would certainly have me believe so.
It took me weeks to work up the courage to approach her with that precious book in hand. I tried to devise the perfect way to present it. I prayed for strength and a clear path of what I should do. Then one day we were together having a good time, enjoying each other’s company when it finally occurred to me: it didn’t need to be anything grand, it shouldn’t be anything out of the ordinary for our friendship. Like every other religious discussion we have, it was simply about two friends connecting on a spiritual level. It was about me and her, a shared love of Christ, and a book of truth that I wanted to share with her.
How did I finally present the book that day? With love and friendship.
I shared with her the promptings I’d felt from the Spirit to give her the Book of Mormon. I told her how nervous it made me to think she might feel I didn’t love and accept her for who she currently was or what congregation she worshiped in. But I also confessed that part of the reason my love for the Savior was so strong was because of the peace and joy I find each time I open my scriptures.
I admitted I was human, but also that I loved her and wanted her to have a copy of the Book of Mormon, not to pressure her to join my spiritual path, but to add to her own. I knew she had been accessing the Church’s website and felt comfortable asking me occasional questions when our beliefs differed. She openly defended my beliefs to others she knew who had misconceptions about the LDS Church, but I felt I had neglected to give her access to the best knowledge of all: another testament of Jesus Christ.
I asked if she would accept this book from me, not because I felt she needed to be different than she was, but that I wanted her to understand that if she ever did want to know more or investigate my church more in depth I would be honored to share those things with her.
It was a sweet moment for both of us. She didn’t feel pressured, and I didn’t feel I had to magically transform into the world’s greatest missionary. I simply had to be who I was: a friend.
Did she take the Book of Mormon I offered her? Yes.
Did it put a strain on our relationship? Not at all.
Did she immediately join the church? No.
But now she knows, when she’s ready to know more, I want her to learn it from me.
That’s the lesson I learned from my Jehovah’s Witness friend. Christ loved everyone during His mortal ministry. He accepted them for where their life was at the moment. He called them friend and opened the door for them to learn more. Friend first, missionary second is the gospel sharing method I’m most comfortable with. Friends share things from their heart.