Friday, September 13, 2013

It's all about service, right?

For anyone that has grown up as a member of the LDS church, one of the most popular stories in the Book of Mormon is that of Ammon serving as a missionary to the Lamanites. And for those who aren't familiar with it, here's part of the account found in Alma 17

19 And Ammon went to the land of Ishmael, the land being called after the sons of Ishmael, who also became Lamanites.
 20 And as Ammon entered the land of Ishmael, the Lamanites took him and bound him, as was their custom to bind all the Nephites who fell into their hands, and carry them before the king; and thus it was left to the pleasure of the king to slay them, or to retain them in captivity, or to cast them into prison, or to cast them out of his land, according to his will and pleasure.
 21 And thus Ammon was carried before the king who was over the land of Ishmael; and his name was Lamoni; and he was a descendant of Ishmael.
 22 And the king inquired of Ammon if it were his desire to dwell in the land among the Lamanites, or among his people.
 23 And Ammon said unto him: Yea, I desire to dwell among this people for a time; yea, and perhaps until the day I die.
 24 And it came to pass that king Lamoni was much pleased with Ammon, and caused that his bands should be loosed; and he would that Ammon should take one of his daughters to wife.
 25 But Ammon said unto him: Nay, but I will be thy servant. Therefore Ammon became a servant to king Lamoni. And it came to pass that he was set among other servants to watch the flocks of Lamoni, according to the custom of the Lamanites.

One of the key parts of this story that is taught in almost every missionary prep/primary/sunday school/seminary/Relief Society/Priesthood class in the church is that even though Ammon had gone to the land of the Lamanites in order to teach them the gospel (as a missionary) his first response was to offer himself up as a servant before he started teaching them. And as the story goes on, Ammon is able to earn the trust of the Lamanites (and King Lamoni in particular) and has great success in converting them to the gospel. It's a great story, and is a great example of how effective service can be.

Unfortunately, I think too often we only pick up on this one lesson-that service is the way to earn trust and open doors to being able to teach the gospel. While service can be a very effective tool, we learn something else as we continue reading in Alma. Ammon eventually meets up with his brothers that were serving in another part of the land of the Lamanites. They were in prison at the time, and Ammon is able to get them out through the influence of King Lamoni.

It's not specifically mentioned in the scriptures, but I can imagine that the brothers started swapping stories at this point. I picture a conversation going something like this:

Aaron: So Ammon, how did the work go for you? It was rough for us. We tried to teach some of the people but they rejected us and beat us and threw us in prison. I don't know if this really was such a great idea. We haven't had a single convert yet and I don't know if we ever will here. These people are crazy.
Ammon: Really? I've had a great mission so far. I got right in to see the King, and even though he offered to let me marry one of his daughters, I said "Hey, I just want to be your servant." I started watching some of his flocks, had this one fight with some bad guys were I cut off a bunch of their arms (that'll teach them to mess with a missionary!), and when the king heard about that he started asking me some questions about God and I was able to teach him, his family, and a lot of his people. It was awesome-I'm so glad we decided to come serve here.
 Aaron: Oh, that's the secret. We just need to offer to be servants and we'll have the same success you did. Cool!

And in Chapter 22 we read how Aaron and his brother follow up with what they learned from Ammon (check out the first part of verse 3 in particular):

 Now, as Ammon was thus teaching the people of Lamoni continually, we will return to the account of Aaron and his brethren; for after he departed from the land of Middoni he was led by the Spirit to the land of Nephi, even to the house of the king which was over all the land save it were the land of Ishmael; and he was the father of Lamoni.
 And it came to pass that he went in unto him into the king’s palace, with his brethren, and bowed himself before the king, and said unto him: Behold, O king, we are the brethren of Ammon, whom thou hast delivered out of prison.
 And now, O king, if thou wilt spare our lives, we will be thy servants. And the king said unto them: Arise, for I will grant unto you your lives, and I will not suffer that ye shall be my servants; but I will insist that ye shall administer unto me; for I have been somewhat troubled in mind because of the generosity and the greatness of the words of thy brother Ammon; and I desire to know the cause why he has not come up out of Middoni with thee.

Only one problem with this strategy-it's not what the king needed. He didn't need someone to serve him first-he was ready to be taught. And when Aaron realized that he had a great missionary experience and was able to convert the King and all his family

So, what's the point? For missionaries and the rest of us, we need to be careful not to get trapped into thinking that there is a one-size-fits-all approach to teaching. We need to be open to the influence of the spirit so that we can be inspired to know exactly what a particular person needs at the moment. This applies to missionary work, but also to anyone else we may interact with. It's especially important in whatever area of stewardship we have. Husbands and wives, fathers and mothers, stake presidents and bishops, priesthood and auxiliary leaders, sunday school and primary teachers, young men and young women advisers, etc. can all receive revelation and inspiration regarding those in their care and how best to teach and guide them. I think that's one of the things I love most about serving with the young men in our ward and using the new "Come, Follow Me" youth curriculum. It allows mandates that we consider each member of the class individually when preparing lessons so that we can teach them in the way that they need. Just something to ponder...

You can read the entire account of Ammon and his brethren in Alma 17: 17-27 (start HERE)

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