High‐tech companies sometimes have to operate for a long time without profits and sometimes even without sales. But occasionally, along comes a company or organization that changes the world with its new expertise and abundant use of technology. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints falls in that category, but many are unaware that this is even happening, much less its magnitude.
But technology alone will fall short. That’s when the Lord steps in. The following article includes an interview with a recently returned missionary, and how she used technology to further the work.
Walter Penning: Where did you serve?
Walter Penning: Can you tell us about the diverse proselyting experiences?
For purposes of this article, I know you are interested in the technologies we used to proselyte the gospel, but we’re also involved in guided tours, tracting, special events, and visitor center proceedings. We had success proselyting through online media, as well.
Walter Penning: What technologies did you employ to help you do missionary work?
While I was working with the Mormon.org website, I was actually able to teach a few people who were eventually baptized. How it worked was when people visited the Mormon.org site there was an option for them to chat live with someone. Once they clicked that, the request was sent to one of the sisters in my mission or to other missions that were participating. There were a few missions across the world so that someone could chat anytime of the day or night and there was someone always available to answer questions.
Walter Penning: How did you personally use these technologies to preach the gospel?
One of my first investigators was a young girl from Ireland. She was 17 years old but lived on her own. When she first came onto chat she had a few questions. We were able to talk with her for a little bit and then set up a time to meet with her again in another chat room that we set up for teaching appointments. After we taught her a few times, and it was evident she was interested, we asked her if we could send her information to the missionaries in her area. She was a little shy about meeting with people, but she eventually said yes. Sometimes those referrals get lost in the shuffle, and after a couple weeks no missionaries had shown up yet. We found her local church building, and asked her to go on her own, but she was too shy. At that point my companion and I were just praying that there would be a way to get her to church, and the Lord stepped in. A couple missionaries were out in the area tracting and knocked on her door. They must have been surprised to find someone ready to be baptized. Once the missionaries found her, we had to say goodbye to her and pray for the best. She later wrote my companion and I to let us know she had been baptized and sent us a picture of her with some of the young women in her ward.
Walter Penning: How long did it take to teach the gospel using technology?
The length of time that we taught people always varied with the situation. A different companion and I were able to talk with a girl from Australia that lived next to a temple. She had gone to the grounds and walked around and felt the spirit and had so many questions. We answered a few of her questions through the Mormon.org chat room and then set up another time to meet with her on our other (teaching) chat room. We taught her once, and she was ready for the missionaries! We sent her information off right away and told her we would speak with her again the next day. Most of the time in foreign missions, the referrals took a long time to get there. When we talked to her the next day she said the missionaries had already visited her and taught her the first lesson and that she was so excited to learn more. My companion and I couldn’t believe it. That was truly a miracle for someone that was ready to hear the gospel right away.
Walter Penning: Can you tell about your fondest missionary experience using technology?
I believe my favorite experience is the story of a man in Montenegro. If there is one investigator through my whole mission that I will never forget, this man was it for me. He had an incredible story and such faith and determination. I taught him for 14 weeks and went through 3 companions while I did. I had never wanted the gospel so much for one individual or loved one family more without ever meeting them. He came on first to Mormon.org to ask us a few general questions. We set up a time to meet with him again, but instead of the chat room we called him all the way in Montenegro.
He told us his story about how he had found the church when he was younger and had read the Book of Mormon and had felt something about its teachings, but because of peer pressure, he had thrown the book away and walked away from it. Now later in his life, with a wife and two children, he was searching for that feeling again. He often talked about needing peace in his life and how the world was dark. He was searching for Christ and that peace and had remembered the Book of Mormon.
We began to teach him and were amazed at the things that he recalled. At times it was hard to teach because of the long distance call and a slight language barrier (although he spoke English pretty well), but his desire to have the gospel for himself and his family never diminished. While we continued to teach him and read scriptures to him we worked to find missionaries in his country.
We soon discovered that there were no longer missionaries in Montenegro and that this was going to be a little harder than we first thought. We then looked for church buildings to see if there was a Bishop or branch president we could call, but no buildings existed in official terms. Our closest option for him was the next country over. If I remember correctly, that was Croatia. We called the building there and were able to get in contact with a couple missionaries. They told us that there were no missionaries down in Montenegro. We continued to teach him and keep his hopes up about us finding someone for him, but the chances were looking pretty bleak. By this time I had switched companions. We went to our mission president with our concerns and a plea for help for this man and his family. We were given permission to email the Area Seventy for that region and ask for guidance on what to do. A reply was sent with encouragement and the hope that they could find someone.
At this point I knew we needed to do something a little more for our friend. He had been trying to read in English, but we knew that he would understand better if he could read in his own language. Our mission president gave us permission to go to the Deseret Store and purchase a Book of Mormon in his own language and send it to him. We did that with the hope it would reach him but knowing there was a chance it might not. It never did. My only hope is that somewhere it touched someone else’s life. By the end of my third transfer and companion with him I have to admit that I had lost a little bit of hope in the situation. I could tell that he had become frustrated as well, but his desire for the gospel had not lessened.
Then what I feared would happen did. I found out I was being transferred out of that zone, and we were asked to drop him as an investigator because we could do nothing else for him. I don’t think that I had ever felt so crushed or dreaded a conversation more. I had no idea what I was going to say to him, but I can tell you that I had been humbled by the whole experience. Something that I had taken for granted my whole life I could not give to a man who truly needed it and had a desire to have it for himself and his family. As I sat there with my third companion listening to the phone ring, I couldn’t figure out what I was going to say to him without letting him down.
I don’t remember how the conversation started or the exact words that were said, but it is a conversation that I won’t forget. It became a testament to me that God knows us and loves us and desires for His children to have the gospel. As he answered the phone he was so excited. He explained to us that he had met with someone from the Church and that they had held a Sunday service for him and his family in their home, and they were able to partake of the Sacrament. I could not hold back the tears at this point. But what followed was amazing. He told us that they had given him some scriptures, and he read to us his favorite scripture from the Book of Mormon. It was 2 Nephi 1:23. This scripture described perfectly what he was trying to do. As he read this to us I had such an overwhelming feeling of relief and joy. After 14 weeks of pleading with Heavenly Father and doing all we could, this family would have the gospel in their home in a country where the gospel was still starting to bloom. Their future was bright. Through our whole conversation I could not stop crying I was so happy and relieved. As we said goodbye to him for the last time, I could not help but wonder what would become of him and his family but knew that no matter what comes their way, they will have the gospel with them.
Awake, my sons; put on the armor of righteousness. Shake off the chains with which ye are bound, and come forth out of obscurity, and arise from the dust. 2 Nephi 1:23
In 1989, Walter Penning formed a consultancy based in Salt Lake City and empowered his clients by streamlining processes and building a loyal, lifetime customer base with great customer service. His true passion is found in his family. He says the best decision he ever made was to marry his sweetheart and have children. The wonderful family she has given him and her constant love, support, and patience amid life's challenges is his panacea.