Alma 17-22 Keys to Missionary Success
These chapters relate the missionary experiences of the sons of Mosiah and others among the Lamanites, and we can glean numerous helps for ourselves as we seek to share the gospel. Note that “success” in missionary work is not defined by numbers of converts nor any other statistic. Preach My Gospel states, “Your success as a missionary is measured primarily by your commitment…. Remember that people have agency to choose whether to accept your message…. You can know you have been a successful missionary when you feel the Spirit testify to people through you, love people and desire their salvation [and] go about doing good and serving people…. You can feel certain that the Lord is pleased when you feel the Spirit working through you” (pp. 10-11).
Search these references for some of the qualities (attributes, attitudes, behaviors, experiences) of successful missionaries:
- Alma 17:2-3, 5, 9-13, 22-25, 29-31
- Alma 18:10, 16-17, 22-28, 33-36, 39
- Alma 21:7-16
- Alma 22:5-16
Alma 17:5, 11-16, 26-28; 20:8-14, 28-30; 21:3-13 “They Did Suffer Much”
These verses abundantly attest to the truth that striving to live the gospel (and to share it with others) often brings afflictions into our lives. Peter said, “Think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you” (1 Peter 4:12).
Alma 18:1-5 The “Great Spirit”
King Lamoni is so impressed by Ammon’s abilities and character that he assumes Ammon is a god, known by the apostate Lamanites as the Great Spirit (see also verses 11, 18; 19:25-27). It is interesting that our most important and foundational truths—those regarding the Godhead and Their identities and attributes—seem to be the first doctrines to become lost or corrupted when people go into apostasy (see also Alma 31:15-17). Fourteen year-old Joseph Smith innocently shared the account of his vision of the Father and the Son, but was rebuffed by many, including a preacher who claimed that God no longer gave visions or revelations (see Joseph Smith—History 1:21-22). Thus, as the first great event of the latter-day Restoration, the First Vision re-established many lost truths about the Godhead.
This doctrinal primacy cannot be overstated. Remember, the focus of the first four of the Ten Commandments deals with our relationship to God (see Exodus 20:3-11). So crucial are these truths that our doctrines of Deity are found throughout the scriptures and the teachings of modern prophets and apostles. And they are clearly stated in the following key locations:
- In our first Article of Faith: “We believe in God, the Eternal Father, and in His Son, Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost” (Articles of Faith 1:1).
- As the first principle of the gospel: “Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ” (Articles of Faith 1:4).
- As the focus of the first two temple recommend interview questions: “Do you have faith in and a testimony of God, the Eternal Father; His Son, Jesus Christ; and the Holy Ghost?” and “Do you have a testimony of the Atonement of Jesus Christ and of His role as your Savior and Redeemer?” (see Russell M. Nelson, “Closing Remarks,” October 2019 general conference).
- As the first concept of Lesson One, as taught by full-time missionaries to their investigators: “God is our Heavenly Father. We are His children. He has a body of flesh and bone that is glorified and perfected. He loves us…. He wants to communicate with us, and we can communicate with Him through sincere prayer” (Preach My Gospel, p. 31).
- As the first two baptismal interview questions: “Do you believe that God is our Eternal Father?” and “Do you believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and the Savior and Redeemer of the World?” (Preach My Gospel, p. 31).
The adversary constantly seeks to distort or hide these precious truths, but we must always retain in our hearts and minds the true doctrine of the Godhead—who They are, Their perfect character, Their love for us, Their Plan of Redemption for all mankind, and our personal relationship with Them.
Alma 18:22-39; 21:7-9; 22:7-16 Salvational Truths
Take note of the things Ammon and Aaron taught, including the sequence (note also the similarities to today’s missionary lessons in chapter 3 of Preach My Gospel):
- As highlighted above, their first priority is to establish the truth about God, His works, and our relationship with Him (see 18:24-33; 21:7; 22:7-8). Note their opening lines, in the form of questions: “Believest thou that there is a God?” (in both 18:24 and 22:7), and, “Believest thou that the Son of God shall come to redeem mankind from their sins?” (21:7). We cannot properly teach the gospel until the hearer has an understanding of and belief in God.
- Then, Ammon and Aaron proceeded to teach and testify regarding the plan of salvation, including the Creation, the Fall, and the Atonement (see 18:34-39; 21:9; 22:10-14).
- Also, in two of these instances there was an invitation: “Wilt thou hearken unto my words?” (18:22) and “If thou wilt bow down before God, yea, if thou wilt repent of all thy sins, and will bow down before God, and call on his name in faith, believing that ye shall receive, then shalt thou receive the hope which thou desirest” (22:16). In chapter 21 there was no invitation, because Aaron was immediately rejected: “They were angry with him, and began to mock him; and they would not hear the words which he spake” (21:10).
Alma 20:29-30 “It Was Their Lot”
Ammon’s mission began with the teaching and conversion of King Lamoni, all his household, and many others (see Alma 19:29-36), yet his brother Aaron and two other missionaries (Muloki and Ammah) had been rejected and cast into prison, suffering greatly (see Alma 19:2; 21:10-13). This does not necessarily indicate that Ammon was a superior missionary, for Alma 20:30 states, “As it happened, it was their lot to have fallen into the hands of a more hardened and a more stiffnecked people.” We must strive to become excellent missionaries but then accept the results, whatever they may be. The harvest is the Lord’s, and learner readiness may matter even more than missionary excellence. Why do we continue to send missionaries to places that do not seem to yield much fruit? Because our duty is to proclaim the gospel to all God’s children.
Alma 22:15-18 What the King was Willing to Give Up
As he heard Aaron’s teachings, the father of King Lamoni was moved upon by the Holy Ghost and he desired eternal life, to be born of God, and to receive His spirit (verse 15). He expressed his willingness to give up all that he possessed, including his kingdom, to “receive this great joy” (verse 15). He accepted Aaron’s invitation to bow down in prayer and repent of all his sins (verse 16). At first, he “did bow down before the Lord, upon his knees,” but then—perhaps not yet feeling humble enough before God—"he did prostrate himself upon the earth, and cried mightily” (verse 17; prostrate means to lie down in submission, with one’s face toward the ground).
In humble prayer, the king came to understand that the Lord was not asking him to give up his kingdom and possessions, but rather to do what all of us must do. In his “mighty cry,” he said: “Wilt thou make thyself known unto me, and I will give away all my sins to know thee, and that I may be raised from the dead, and be saved at the last day” (verse 18; emphasis added). The Prophet Joseph Smith counseled, “Search your hearts, and see if you are like God. I have searched mine, and feel to repent of all my sins” (History of the Church, 4:588.)