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Addison Blair served in Brazil as a missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints when he first met Korine and Everton. The couple lived out of wedlock in poor conditions. Korine was searching for the truth. Soon she and her partner were meeting with the missionaries.
Over the next two transfers, Korine never missed attending church services. She and Everton legally married and were baptized as members of the church. “You could not ask for a better investigator. Everything was awesome,” Blair said.
Six months later Blair returned home from his mission and is now a BYU student. The Spanish Fork native is a sophomore majoring in history.
Curious about his converts, Blair emailed a fellow missionary who was still serving in Brazil. With much disappointment, he learned they were no longer were active.
BYU students return home from their missions hoping to find an eternal companion, graduate with a good degree and find work in their field. BYU returned missionaries, or RMs, hope their converts will do the same and live the rest of their lives as active members of the church. Unfortunately many RMs experience the tragedy of their converts going inactive or leaving the church.
Missionaries leave the Missionary Training Center hoping to baptize as many people possible. They experience joy finding, teaching and baptizing new people into the church. This joy increases when their converts, in a spiritual sense, partake of the fruit described in Lehi’s dream.
Other times a convert will “cast their eyes round about as if they were ashamed,” as described in Lehi’s dream. After serving the Lord with all their heart, might and strength it can sometimes be hard for an RM to reconcile his or her service to the Lord and deal with converts falling away.
General Authorities have delivered addresses directed to parents whose children have left the church. However, It is difficult to find talks directed at RMs whose converts have left the church.
Jacob Chronister, a junior from Arizona, had a similar experience while serving in the New Hampshire Manchester Mission.
“It is disappointing, but people always have their choices,” Chronister said. “We hope that our faith does something. It’s all up to them, joining and leaving.”
Sometimes RMs blame themselves for their converts’ inactivity.
“It’s not your fault,” Blair said. “Missionaries have a horrible habit, that if something goes wrong, you don’t have enough faith. That’s a completely false notion, in my opinion. The faithfulness of the missionary isn’t the biggest factor if a convert is going to stay or not. It’s really on them.”
Brian Crane, a junior from Kimberly, Idaho, studying accounting, knows the difficulty of losing a convert. He advised, “Don’t lose your testimony over one of your converts leaving. If we did that there would be no members of the Church. Every member has one family member who is inactive.”
Crane also pointed out that people should remember that God lost Satan and Jesus lost Judas. Crane said people should pray to God for comfort, since He loves an RM’s converts more than they do.
Crane said RMs need to recognize that everyone has their agency. Missionaries can try everything after their missions, but in the end their converts’ actions are dependent on personal agency. He acknowledged that it can be hard for new members, since living the gospel is not popular.
“I always emphasized the fact that you just don’t know what’s going to happen in the future,” Gary Baughman, who presided as mission president over the Hungary Budapest Mission, said. He told his missionaries, “Often people go through periods of time when they are discouraged, or lose faith, or have challenges in their life, that make it difficult for them to feel the Spirit. You can’t write people off, even if they’re excommunicated.”
Baughman explained that the missionary is seeking two forms of comfort. The RM first seeks comfort in what he or she did. RMs should recognize that they did the right thing. The missionary gave converts the opportunity to exercise their agency.
Second, RMs seek comfort in the person they have grown to love. They should recognize that people come back, even if they drift away for a period of time.
“As time goes by, as they mature, as they get older and start thinking about important eternal things more and more, they could well be drawn back to what they were taught,” Baughman said. “As people get older and mature they start thinking different things.”
Marilyn Baughman, who was with her husband while he presided over the mission in Hungary, explained that missionaries can only do so much. Returned missionaries should recognize that they cannot physically be with their converts through the rest of their their spiritual journey.
Jake Nelson, a psychology major from Salem, Oregon, is part of a social media pilot program the Church is starting to try to retain recent converts and share the gospel online. The 2nd and 18th Young Single Adult stakes at BYU have implemented a “reach back and create good” initiative through sharing the gospel online.
“If all returned missionaries contacted one former investigator online, and that one person got baptized, the Church would grow exponentially,” Nelson said.
The idea of this pilot program is for returned missionaries to reach back out to those investigators that were being taught and to encourage them to meet with the missionaries again. The stakes are using Nuvi, which allows them to search social media for specific gospel topics and join in conversations around the world where people are talking about the Church. One of the people Nelson reached out to on Facebook was just recently baptized after Nelson suggested he meet with the missionaries again.
“If this program works out, it will affect the way that we measure success in missionary work,” Nelson said.
Gary Baughman explained that when trying to help converts who have fallen away, it boils down to four basic principles:
1. Maintain a loving, caring contact with the convert.
2. Pray for them. Recognize that the Lord answers prayers and that people can seek His intervention.
3. Recruit others in converts’ lives to be involved, like a current bishop, members or former missionaries.
4. Send inspirational material. Refer converts to church websites, and send them things from time to time. RMs do not need to preach at them, but can send a Christmas card.
Davey Runnells, who teaches Hungarian in the Missionary Training Center, explained that God will take into account that these people have experienced things that members who have grown up in the Church have not. Many times converts experienced worldly lives before deciding to be baptized. Runnels, a senior from Orem, said he has full confidence that his converts who have fallen away will be active, strong members in time.
When speaking about his converts, Blair said, “They are on the Church records. There are people who know who they are. If they want to come back, it won’t be hard for them to come back. They have so many friends, which is why I have hope for them.”