"What advice would you give to someone who is preparing to serve a mission?"
I made a mental note to mention Sarah to the Sisters serving in our branch. They'll want to know about her to invite her to go teaching. This is truly one of the most valuable things you can do to prepare--make yourself available to go out teaching regularly with the missionaries in your area. But I remember when I was in her shoes not so long ago, asking the recently returned missionaries in my ward what I should do.
So I told her what I wish someone would have told me to do almost two years ago when I was finally putting in mission papers, because it has been about that long now.
"Sit down with yourself and make a personal inventory of your weaknesses and your strengths. Then make plans on how you will turn your weaknesses into strengths, and how your strengths will help you be an effective missionary."
She has a slightly shocked expression on her face. This isn't what she expected.
"Everyone is going to tell you to study Preach My Gospel, especially chapter 3 with all of the lesson material in it so you can teach effectively," I responded. "And that is important. But that's what you have the MTC for. They are going to be extremely effective on helping you with what to teach and how to teach it.
"If I could go back and do my preparation again, knowing what I know now about being a missionary, I wouldn't focus on how or what to teach. You just do the best you can with that and the Spirit makes up the difference. I botched so many lessons when I first started out, and that's when I could even speak at all in Portuguese! But the thing that made the biggest difference in my service wasn't what I knew. It was how Christ-like I genuinely was at any given moment. It doesn't make a difference what you know until you become the sort of person you should be as a missionary. So if I were you, I would focus primarily, if not completely on the Christ-like attributes for right now."
"Oh," she said. "Where are those?"
"In Preach My Gospel. It's chapter 6."
Every person's journey on the mission is totally personal. The cross to bear is unique to each of us, and is the heaviest thing that each of us will ever know. When I was struggling on my mission, chapter 6 and the Christ-like attributes were the first place of guidance I always sought out. My Portuguese copy looks like an NFL playbook--the page on Patience has absolutely no place left to write anything else in it. Studying them daily helped me to focus on what was really stopping the Book of Mormon and the principles from Preach My Gospel from leaping off the page and into the lives of the people in my area.
"When a man makes war on his own weaknesses he engages in the holiest war that mortals ever wage. The reward that comes from victory in this struggle is the most enduring, most satisfying, and the most exquisite that man ever experiences. … The power to do what we ought to do is the greatest freedom."
Bryant S. Hinckley
When we truly believe that change is possible for ourselves as we apply the Atonement of Jesus Christ in our lives, we can't help but believe that the same thing is possible for the entire human race. We are filled with love and desire to go out and find those people, to teach them, and to help them prepare to be baptized into the true Church of Jesus Christ. We are led by the Spirit. Our mouths are filled with the words we need to say. We have greater peace in our lives, an assurance that our service has made a difference, and that we have accomplished our purpose as missionaries.
When in doubt, always remember: Real problem exists between study table and chair. Had I understood that then as well as I do now, I would have prepared for my mission very differently.
But the mission doesn't end--it just changes shape. What we do with our missions afterwards is more important than what we do with it during the 18 months of wearing the badge. How that translates into our day-to-day lives depends entirely on what we do with the Christ-like attributes. My commitment to the person I become each day is the biggest responsibility I have in time, for the sake of eternity.
I know that God lives, and I know that His missionaries are called of Him by divine revelation. I know we are called by a living prophet and real apostles who possess restored priesthood authority from God. I know that my missionary service taught me everything I need to know to receive eternal life--it's up to me now to practice it, apply it, and receive the promised blessings which always come when we are faithful. I leave that testimony in the sacred name of Jesus Christ. Amen
(For more on mission preparation, especially for all of the extraordinary women who have stepped up and answered the call to serve, see this and this from the Church's website)