While serving as Mission President in the Spain Barcelona Mission, one of my favorite times was each six weeks on a Tuesday morning when we would go to the airport and pick up our new missionaries. They had made the short one hour flight from the Madrid Missionary Training Center (MTC) and were anxious to enter the life of a real missionary.
It was always a thrill to see the mixture of emotions in their eyes as they would walk through those sliding black doors. You could see excitement, anxiousness, helplessness, confidence, trust, fear and a hundred other emotions and feelings. But in spite of all this, they were there to serve the Lord. They were missionaries.
After loading their bags filled with the modest necessities for the next two years, we would drive them directly to Monjuic.
Monjuic is a beautiful hill that looks out over the city of Barcelona, an ancient port city on the East Coast of Spain.
A large 17th century stone castle sits on top of this hill, and looks out over the beautiful deep blue Mediterranean Sea on two sides. Facing north another beautiful mount called Tibidabo nestles the city between the mountains and the sea.
We would enter the old castle crossing an ancient draw bridge that spanned a dry mote. It was then a fairly steep climb on an inclined path that would get us to the top of the Castle grounds that allowed a breathtaking panoramic view of the city of Barcelona. Before going to the scenic outlook, we would stop at an old stone well. I would have the missionaries sit on the stone benches surrounding the well.
There I would tell them that I loved this old well because it was a perfect object lesson for the chapter of life that they had recently entered. We would talk about the importance of having water in the well. If you ever want to draw water from the well, there has to be water in the well. There is no way to draw water out of an empty well.
In a similar fashion as missionaries your minds are the wells. The scriptures teach that we need to treasure up constantly words of wisdom, or in other words fill the well. As missionaries you need to fill your wells with the scriptures, the discussions, the language, with virtuous thoughts and prayer, so that in the very moment, the Holy Ghost can draw out what He desires in order to convert a receptive soul. If your well is empty the Holy Ghost won’t be able to draw out anything.
We would then move to the edge of the hill where we would stand near the old walls of the castle. From this most fantastic vantage point we would take a picture of each individual missionary with Sister Bowen and me. We would send an e-mail message with that picture to the families who were so anxious to know that their son or daughter had arrived safely to their field of labor. The note would usually read something like this:
Dear Brother and Sister Gonzalez,
Just a note to let you know that you son Elder Gonzalez arrived safely today. His companion is Elder Rojas and they are serving in Elche. Your son’s trainer has been prayerfully selected and is one of our best missionaries. We already love your son.
President and Sister Bowen
After we had taken the individual pictures, I would tell the missionaries that while they enjoyed the view and took personal pictures, I wanted to have a short individual interview with each one of them. I would move away from the group and invite one missionary at a time to come over to where I was standing.
When they came over I would shake their hand and say, “Elder Gonzalez, welcome to Spain. We have been praying for your safe arrival. We love you. Now Elder I am going to ask you just two questions. First, is there anything spiritually, physically or emotionally that would keep you from being the very best missionary that has ever come to Spain?” After waiting for their response their answer usually was, “No.” If they had concerns we would address them. Then I would say, “the second question is; can I trust you? But Elder, before you answer that question, let me explain what it means. This is a wonderful mission. We are seeing miracles every day. We can’t do this work alone. We need the help of the Lord. This is a large mission. From one end to the other it is about 10 and one half hours. We have eight missionaries out on the Island of Mallorca; Sister Bowen and I are here to serve with you, not to baby sit. We can’t, it’s too big.
I need to know that whether it is your first day in the mission, or whether it is your last day in the mission, whether you are a junior companion, senior companion, or assistant to the President, that I can trust you to do the right thing.
Even if your companion is doing wrong things, even if your whole district is doing wrong things, even if your whole zone is doing wrong things, which by the way won’t happen because all of our missionaries are outstanding, but I need to know that wherever you are or whenever it is that I can trust you to do the right thing. Elder Gonzalez, can I trust you?”
The missionary would look me in the eye and I would look him in the eye and he would say, “President you can trust me.” I would take the missionary in my arms and give him a missionary hug and a handshake and say, “Elder, I give you my trust and that is the most sacred thing that I can give you. You can trust me and Sister Bowen too.”
After all of the interviews were concluded, as we went back to the vans to go to the mission home for lunch, orientation and the first meeting of our new missionaries with their new trainers, we would stop again at the well and I would have them sit down one more time.
Once again, seated around the well in one of the most beautiful places in this world, I would ask, Elders how many of you received a mission call letter from the Prophet?” All would answer that they had. I would then say, “and Sisters how many of you received a mission call letter from the Prophet?” Again the answer was unanimous. “And Elders did your letter say that you had been called for 24 months?” All would shake their heads in the affirmative. “And sisters did your letter say 18 months?” Again all the Sisters heads would acknowledge, yes.
I would then say, “Sister Bowen and I also received a letter from the Prophet, but our letter said that we were called for 36 months. Elders and Sister, I promise you that Sister Bowen and I will be here for 36 months. And Elders I promise you that you will be here for 24 months, and Sisters I promise you that you will be here for 18 months. We would never let you go home. We love you too much. So Elders and Sisters we never need to talk about going home again until the end of your mission.” We would then load into the vans and begin a marvelous life changing adventure.
I often wonder if each of us didn’t have a similar interview with Our Father in Heaven before this marvelous adventure in mortality began.
I can hear Him say, my son I have provided a plan of happiness for you which allows you to have joy during your time on earth and which will allow you to have the same kind of life that I live when you have finished your mission.
I have provided every needful thing to allow you to return to me. I have provided my only begotten son Jesus Christ to show the perfect example and to atone for your sins through the miracle of repentance. I have provided the scriptures, prophets, and the Holy Ghost to testify of me and Jesus Christ. I am always available through prayer. By the power of the Holy Ghost you have the right to receive personal revelation and know the truth of all things. Through the restoration of the Priesthood, I have restored all ordinances and covenants and the power to seal on earth and in heaven. Please fill your well with a knowledge of these things, and then by the power of the Holy Ghost act upon them.
I often think about those special occasions standing on Monjuic interviewing those choice missionaries, and those two questions. Then and now, and many times in between; each time that I have personally faced trials, adversity and temptations. I have thought about two similar questions that our loving Father in Heaven must be asking: Is there anything spiritually, physically or emotionally in your life that would keep you from returning to my presence? I love you, can I trust you?