Considering the fact that I have a major propensity to ramble, I've decided to compile a list of the top 5 things I think a missionary should know about their investigators and about the community they'll be working with.
1. I AM A CHILD OF GOD, DANG IT
Nine out of ten times, you're going to be somewhere where there's not a huge LDS population. Not only will you be teaching people who aren't members, but you'll be interacting with them every day. The guy you buy your food from, your neighbors, your landlord-- they're everywhere! Not only does that give you a huge demographic to work with, but you'll have the opportunity to learn so much. Just remember one thing: we are all children of our Heavenly Father, no matter what. One of my favorite hymns is Now Let Us Rejoice, mostly because of the verse "no longer as strangers on earth need we roam." Remember that in preexistence, we all knew each other and one day we'll all know each other again. And from that day forward, there will never again be a moment where we feel like we don't belong or like we're completely alone. Now imagine how excited your neighbors and friends are going to be when they realized they had the gospel in the life all along! You're, like, famous in the next life-- it's gonna be big.
2. BACK OFF... AND BE PATIENT
Some missionaries like to jump the gun and ask an individual to commit to a baptismal date after the first lesson. If the spirit prompts you to do so, then great-- but otherwise, hold your horses, cowboy. I can see why Come, Follow Me recommends being pretty bold about setting baptism dates-- otherwise you get people who think they can be two religions at once without ever getting "dunked" (cough cough). I had an institute teacher who used to emphasize that "the Lord cannot guide idle feet," but sometimes it's a little hard to get moving in the first place. I had a friend once who was investigating the church (later baptized). She called me once to meet up after only a few lessons with the missionaries. She said she had called to ask about how I had handled the big baptism issue. The missionaries she had been working with had encouraged her to set a baptismal date and she had refused. She was worried, though, because she thought that meant they wouldn't be able to come and teach her anymore. Make sure to emphasize to your investigators that you understand their hesitation and make a next appointment right then and there. They want to learn just as a much as you want to teach.
3. I'M GOING TO SCREW UP
When it comes to getting baptized, sometimes people have to make a lot of big life changes. Some have to move out of an apartment they share with a significant other that they are not married to. Although the blessings that follow this sacrifice are immeasurable, it can oftentimes be a trial that is financially and emotionally strenuous. Others might have to give up an addictive substance-- whether it be something as simple as tea or as complex as hard drugs. One woman who was baptized several decades ago says she always thinks about the missionaries who taught her whenever she "doesn't have her morning coffee." For me, I had a major problem with swearing. That's certainly not the biggest thing to overcome, but it was definitely something I needed to correct. Well, it took me much longer than expected to fix it and there were times that I got caught in the presence of the missionaries (awkward). However, the missionaries I had the privilege to be taught by were so patient with me. They understood that my intentions were pure and they were able to share with me messages-- either in person or via text message-- about the blessings that would follow once I cleaned up my language. And they were so right! Just remember that unlike your dog, "investigator-shaming" is not only ineffective, it's also un-Christlike. There's a Brené Brown TED talk about the difference between guilt and shame as well as the power of empathy. I would encourage all missionaries (and really all humans in general) to watch it. It'll prepare you for when your investigators are on the journey to becoming closer to Heavenly Father.
4. A BACKGROUND CHECK NEVER HURT
Probably the most influential action you can take as a missionary is knowing where your investigator is coming from. It can make all the difference in the way you teach and the way you introduce Christ back into their lives. Know if they have a previous religious background, especially. Teaching someone with a previous religious background can make things a lot easier when it comes to teaching basic gospel principles, but it can also be a soft spot. I once had a missionary tell me that the Catholic church was the "whore of the earth." Take a wild guess how well that went over. In Alma 18, Ammon is teaching King Lamoni about Creation, God's dealings with men, and Christ's Atonement. As you can imagine, all this is pretty overwhelming and King Lamoni is having a little trouble understanding-- he already has his own faith tradition. After several attempts to teach him, Ammon finally uses King Lamoni's background to his advantage. Verse 24-28 read "And Ammon began to speak unto [King Lamoni] with boldness, and said unto him: Believest thou that there is a God? And he answered, and said unto him: I do not know what that meaneth. And then Ammon said, Believest though that is is a Great Spirit? And he said, Yea. And Ammon said: This is God." After making this small connection, the revelation begins to flow within King Lamoni, and a few short passages later he and his household and fully converted. I'm am fully convinced that if you EVER have to put someone else's religion down to prove your own, you doing the whole mission thing WAY wrong. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is an overwhelmingly powerful thing-- with the right guidance and promptings, just like with King Lamoni, it'll prove itself.
5. YOU ARE SUPER INTIMIDATING
Whereas #4 is the most important thing you can do for your investigators, this is the most important thing to remember as a missionary. You think knocking on someone's door to share the gospel is scary? Imagine letting some cow-eyed 19-year-old into your home to exhibit how much more he/she knows about life than you do. There were days after I'd met with the missionaries that I would sit in my car in the parking lot of Rancherito's with my head against the steering wheel because, like King Lamoni, I felt super overwhelmed. How the heck was I supposed to know all the things the missionaries were trying to teach me? I couldn't even remember the order of the Ten Commandments, let alone quote obscure verses from Isaiah like my missionaries could. And so, in retaliation, I tried to come across as indifferent and distant. I knew this was concerning to the missionaries, but I did it anyway. Just remember one thing when you're dealing with prideful little stinks like me: they want you there. If they keep inviting you back, it's because you have something they desperately need and want. A lot of times you'll be teaching people twice, maybe three times your age who don't know half the things that make all the difference in this life. You have the fullness of the gospel, the answers to life's hardest questions at the tips of your fingers-- who wouldn't want that?