As a young missionary, finding a good Gospel Essentials or Gospel Doctrine leader to bring an investigator to was gold. I wanted to bring folks into a lesson that was engaging, on point, and Christ-centered, and that was sometimes — I thought — hard to find. After my mission, there were temptations to find “good missionaries” that I thought were engaging enough to talk to certain friends or associates about the gospel, and I would wait through transfers until I thought certain personalities would fit.
After my mission and into my adult life, I have had experiences and feelings of embarrassment for my attitude, perception, and lack of an eternal view in looking back on those moments when I (or someone else) would bring investigators to church while dreading a possibly lack-luster teaching experience. I have since worked hard to abandon this perception in every possible way, as I know that the feelings I once felt were not from a place of humility but from pride.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the Lord’s restored Church, and he loves all of his children. He knows the teacher, and he knows the student. He knows what each of them needs, he knows what they want in life, he knows what they think they’re looking for and what they’re actually looking for. He knows each of his children personally, and his entire existence is invested into the lives of His children.
Over the years I have since learned what should have been blatantly obvious, that who the Gospel Essential or Gospel Doctrine leader(s) are, or who the particular missionaries are, is irrelevant. My prideful bias that I brought to the table in those moments when I thought a Sunday School teacher or missionary was less-than was what did more harm than any possible good. I have often questioned whether my attitude would have changed the outcome of many of those moments that, in my pride, I placed accountability on someone else’s shoulders.
As I recently read over the story of Lehi’s sons returning a second time to Ishmael’s house, I was struck with curiosity at the power of persuasion that they seemingly had over Ismael. As a side-note, I have always laughed that the only time that Laman and Lemuel do not complain at something that the Lord required of them was to go back and get Ishmael and his family. Why? Ishmael had daughters.
Yet, I’ve always wondered how the sons of Lehi so easily persuaded Ishmael to join them on the arguably crazy jaunt into the desert. Were the sons of Lehi those savvy Gospel Essential/Gospel Doctrine/Missionaries that were smooth talkers and created engaging, on-point presentations? Seventeen verses are given in 1 Nephi 4 about Zoram (just one man), but only two verses are given of Ishmael and of the process that it took to convince him to leave all of their possessions and everything he and his family had ever known behind and to follow Lehi into the desert in 1 Nephi 7.
And it came to pass that we went up unto the house of Ishmael, and we did gain favor in the sight of Ishmael, insomuch that we did speak unto him the words of the Lord.
And it came to pass that the Lord did soften the heart of Ishmael, and also his household, insomuch that they took their journey with us down into the wilderness to the tent of our father (1 Ne 7:4–5).
If the Lord really knows and loves each of us so personally (and I know that he does), then I have to accept that regardless of who teaches what class or what missionary visits what friend or acquaintance, the Lord is in the process and outcome regardless of what it is. Sure, Nephi and his brothers may have seemingly obtained favor with Ishmael, but it wasn’t their savvy and engaging demeanor or teaching style that persuaded Ishmael — it was the Lord.
Not a lot has to be said about Ishmael, as Nephi really said it all. It was the Lord that softened his heart, as it is the Lord that will soften the hearts of all who are brought to a knowledge of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. We are all imperfect tools in the Lord’s hands, and we all have a part to play. Our accountability, however, is to ourselves and the Lord in simply letting him use us how he will for the benefit and salvation of his children.