Missionary work infuses vitality into the Church, President Gordon B. Hinckley, first counselor in the First Presidency, told the largest-ever group of new mission presidents June 22.
"Missionary work . . . keeps this Church so vigorous and alive and forward moving," he said. When young men and women devote themselves totally to missionary work "something happens that is electrifying and wonderful. It brings with it an infusion into the Church of the majesty and the miracle of the large number of converts who come in every year from a vast selection of cultures and religious backgrounds."Speaking at the annual Mission Presidents' Seminar at the Missionary Training Center here, President Hinckley delivered the first address to the 136 mission presidents and their wives in the administration building.
Following his address, President Hinckley walked to the new auditorium of the Missionary Training Center and addressed some 2,100 missionaries gathered there.
The Mission Presidents' Seminar was conducted by Elder David B. Haight of the Council of the Twelve, chairman of the Missionary Executive Council. In his welcoming comments, Elder Haight described the group:
"They come from 22 different countries and will serve in 46 countries. Ninety-eight are from the United States and Canada, and 26 are from Latin American countries, while 12 are from other countries. They will become part of 295 missions with 49,000 missionaries."
In attendance at the opening session were nine members of the Council of the Twelve, the seven members of the Presidency of the Seventy, and many members of the Seventy. President Thomas S. Monson, second counselor in the First Presidency, addressed the seminar June 23, and members of the Council of the Twelve were scheduled to speak during the weeklong seminar.
In his remarks to the mission presidents, President Hinckley said: "This is a tremendous responsibility to speak to a group like this. I don't know when there have been so many presidents assembled in one small room."
He said President Ezra Taft Benson sent his love and greetings.
"He gets up each morning and his smile is bright and his countenance is ruddy. He has difficulty walking, and he has some difficulty speaking, but he is our prophet, and he will be for so long as the Lord keeps him there. And when it is time for him to go, there will be another who will take his place and we will never be without a prophet so long as we are worthy of a prophet."
Missionaries today, he said, are "going out in the best time of the world. I think it is going to get better, but you are going to help it get better. . . . By and large, there never was a time when this Church was as highly respected and as well-regarded as it is today. There never was a time when it was as strong as it is today. There never was a time when it was doing better than it is today. Things are getting better and better and better."
He thanked the mission presidents and their wives for accepting the calling to serve. "There is much of sacrifice represented in this room," he observed. "Sacrifice is an important part of the gospel. The Father gave His Son, and the Son gave His life. Unless there is some sacrifice there is no true worship - I believe that.
"But the marvelous and interesting thing is that it isn't a sacrifice because you get more than you give. Sacrifice becomes an investment rather than a cost because the returns begin to flow quickly, and they flow continuously.
"I don't hesitate to say that you'll shed more tears when you leave to come home in three years from now than you have shed or will shed when you leave home to go where you are going. It is the very nature of the work of the Lord."
He encouraged the mission presidents and their wives to bless the lives of others through their ministry. "Teach them from the scriptures, from those precious and marvelous books which are of the very essence of what the Lord has given us through generations of time. They are the word of the Lord to this generation."
Speaking to the overflow congregation of missionaries in the auditorium, he told them they made quite a picture, and added, "even you older ones."
"There is a vitality about this work that is wonderful and just keeps growing and strengthening, and you are part of it - an important part of it. You are what makes it grow. You have been called by the Lord to strengthen His Church - what a wonderful call that is."
"You are the greatest missionary tracts we have - your very appearance."
He reminded the missionaries that each day members pray for at least two things: the prophet and the missionaries. "Don't you ever forget that each night, there are hundreds of thousands of people praying for you."
In his remarks, Elder Haight counseled mission presidents that the purpose of missionary work is "to help others enter the gate leading to eternal life."
"We rejoice today in the continuing growth of the Church - there are many new members, more missionaries, more temples, and more ward and stake meetinghouses. We are growing and we will continue to grow as we take the message of the Restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ to those who seek and hope for eternal salvation. . . .
"This is the message that you mission presidents will effectively take out to all the world."