I recently joined Toastmaster’s International, a public speaking and leadership development club in my community. I had the opportunity this last week to give my first speech for the club — my icebreaker speech. In it I was to introduce myself to the club — in less than 6 minutes. What do you think?
In Mission Impossible, Ethan Hunt steps into a phone booth and receives a call, he LISTENS, “Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to . . . ” and the mission is given.
My mission call, as it read on the 4th of October 2000, as a 19-year-old, read slightly
“Dear Elder Baker: You are hereby called to serve as a missionary of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. You are assigned to labor . . . .”
Can I tell you the story about when I received my mission call? In LDS or Mormon Culture, opening a mission call is almost ritualistic or a right-of-passage. People make guesses on where you will be called to serve. Often the opening of the call is done at a large family gathering. It’s kind of a big deal.
I was attending BYU in Provo, Utah on Oct. 4th 2000. My mission call had come to my apartment in Provo, but the plan was to open it with my family after we’d all attended the BYU football game that night. After the game, I ran back to my apartment at the dorms to grab the unopened letter. The plan was to meet on the corner across from the dorms and from there go to my cousin’s house to open the letter and read aloud to my parents and brothers and sisters where I would be serving for the next 2 years. I waited for a while on the corner of this busy street as post-BYU game traffic backed up and moved slowly. I was pumped and excited to open that letter. I remembered that my parents had just got a new gold minivan. I patted myself on the back for remembering that as I tried to spot their car. Then I saw it. They were heading south down 900 East. Traffic was slow and they were right in front of me just on the other side of the center line. I ran toward the center lane, grabbed the sliding door of the van, slid it open, jumped in before traffic started to move, and. . . . I didn’t recognize a person in the car.
I’d had a big ol’ smile on my face.. . . The father yelled, “GET OUT!” The mom was shocked, and my expression morphed in to this:
I think I apologized and from there I don’t remember closing the door or walking back
across the street. I was traumatized. It was the worst.
When I did open that mission call later that night, this is what it read:
“You are assigned to labor in the Washington D.C. North Mission. It is
anticipated that you will serve for a period of 24 months….You will prepare
to preach the gospel in the Spanish language.”
That was almost 20 years ago now, and I’ll share some of the major lessons that I
learned as a missionary later. But first, a little bit more about me.
I am the husband of a super hot babe . . . and because of that we’ve now got 5 kids. 🙂
And for those of you with no kids or who have less than 5, I like how Jim Gaffigan
says it, “You want to know what it’s like to have 5 kids? Imagine that you’re drowning
and someone hands you a baby.”
I enjoy “interesting hobbies” – keeping chickens and bees. As a graduate student I trained monkeys to make individual finger movements cued by a computer screen and recorded muscle and brain signals and wrote algorithms to decode those movements –all for a Luke Skywalker-esque prosthetic arm research project. I now work in medical devices doing a mix of product and business development for a start-up company near the Cleveland Clinic.
So what can I give you as a take home message for this speech – what can I share from what I learned as a missionary in two years –and do so in less than 6 minutes? Well, here’s an ultra-abbreviated Readers Digest Version:
#1) I learned that the people we serve we come to love. Missionaries work to serve and share a gospel message about Jesus Christ from 6:30 a.m. to 10 pm every day for 2 years. I came to love the Spanish speaking people of Washington D.C.–Rafael Cubria, an educated Mexican doctor who came to work because the fishing village where he was from was too poor for him to make a living, Luis Paredes from Venezuela who came to work and send money back home–who missed his wife and kids so much he would often just start to cry as he talked about them. Rolando and Maribel Castro, a young Bolivian couple whom we helped to marry on Valentines Day. After serving these people for 2 years, Washington D.C., became sacred ground for me. When we lose ourselves in service, its easier to find who we truly are, as D. Todd Cristofferson said, “the more we serve our fellowmen in appropriate ways, the more substance there is to our souls. . . . indeed, it is easier to ‘find’ ourselves because there is so much more of us to find!”
#2) We can have access to all the information in the world, but unless we are TEACHABLE it values us nothing. As Derek Sivers put it, “If more info were the answer, we’d all be billionaires with perfect abs.”
#3) Things that don’t change remain the same. That seems overly simple, but in application our actions often belie the truth–that we don’t understand this principle. As Einstein said, “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.”
#4) I knew this before I served my mission, but after my mission I KNEW, KNEW THIS: that the message I shared–and every one of the 70,000 missionaries serving worldwide shares–is true.
So, this is your mission, should you choose to accept it, the next time a Mormon missionary knocks on your door or approaches offering to share a message with you, choose to LISTEN.