Mar 9, 2009

The Missionary Puzzle

by Stephanie Abney

Saturday night I spoke in the adult session of Stake Conference. Here’s a VERY condensed version of my talk:

I teach 2nd grade and my students love to do puzzles. It’s more fun to do them with someone and as each person places their piece in the correct spot and a picture unfolds, it can be very gratifying.

When I was told the topic was “Missionary Work” because they had heard great things about me, I was quite surprised and wondered if I had ever really been very successful as a missionary.

Then the Lord showed me my kids doing puzzles and that I’m a piece of the puzzle. Just like the kids, you might not see the results with those early pieces… but as each one adds their piece to the table it’s easy to see that more than one person has a piece to offer. And even more importantly, sometimes it’s almost impossible to fit a particular piece in until some of the surrounding pieces are in place. Missionary work is a puzzle.

[I then went on to tell about Sun Wei’s visit from China and taking her to church, the visitor’s center, home teaching, and how she used her pocket translator to read the Ensign, etc.]. As part of her “American Experience” I was allowed to “expose” her to our religion, and so I “exposed” her! She didn’t want to leave. She wanted to stay with us and enjoy “typical American life.” It was the spirit that she was feeling.

[I also told about experiences I had when I was a “Stake Missionary” WAY BACK WHEN. I had a sister companion in the ward. Our calling was to the less active sisters ~ there were 11 of them in our ward and they became our visiting teaching beat – YES, 11 sisters].

As we got to know these sisters I came to realize that they were the hidden treasures of the ward. They were wonderful and talented women. We began to lay down our puzzle pieces.

One sister loved old Westerns so out of the blue I suggested a slumber party. The three of us spent the night at her house, stayed up watching old Westerns, eating junk food and had a wonderful time. We kidnapped her for breakfast on her birthday, gave her a “year supply” box for a gift. (Turned out to be 12 bags of black jelly beans, her favorite, each bag labeled by month). She got a kick out of that.

We “heart-attacked” the front yard of another sister on her birthday and hid in the bushes to see her surprise until the automatic sprinklers turned on! So much fun!!

[I spoke of other experiences with other women and some neighbors - too detailed to share here]. Little by little, as we added our puzzle pieces and got to know these sisters it became easier to see where another piece might fit. And for many of these sisters we may never know if their puzzle is yet complete. But the important thing is that we put our piece on the table.

It’s sad when wards divide and you think you will have the same amount of contact with the ward members as before (especially when no one even moved) but more often than not we get busy with our new ward and new callings and except for a quick hello at stake functions, don’t see each other very much.

But today, I see one of those sisters as our ward leaves the building and hers enters. Was I the reason she chose to return to church activity? No, but I was a piece of the puzzle. Many other people added their puzzle pieces over the years.

Another sister whose teenage sons we taught told us firmly this was their passion and she would not be participating, so we just became friends instead. She is now a baptized member with a temple recommend. She was surrounded by wonderful neighbors who also added their puzzle pieces long after the ward divided and her sons served missions, adding many pieces to the puzzle.

One day we had a knock on the door. “Hi. I’m Jesse. Do you remember me? I used to live across the street. I’m 23 now and have moved back to AZ. I always remembered your family and how it felt to be in your home and I joined the church a year ago.”

And so the puzzles go… In closing, I’d like to suggest some puzzle pieces that you don’t want to overlook: Have fun; make friends; follow the spirit and sometimes, you have to try another way to fit the piece into the puzzle. Just don’t be the piece that’s missing! Bring your piece to the table of missionary work and see a beautiful life come together… now… or sometime in the future.

I put down my puzzle pieces and forever changed and enriched my life. Got a puzzle piece? Wanna’ play?


  1. What a great analogy Stephanie. I like that. With your permission, I'll share that in my next lesson.

  2. I just served two years as a ward missionary and want to say, "Amen," to your post. Everyone has a part to play--and plays it whether they know it or not--in missionary work. The trick is to remember to be a "good" part. Just be a good friend and neighbor and, in the Lord's time, all the pieces will come together.

    Steph Anderson

  3. Loved your talk, and I feel blessed to have heard it in person!
    You were right on - we all sew seeds in the hearts of God's Children.
    I'm grateful for all the people who have contributed to building my puzzle - in the gospel of Christ. And bringing me to the truth and knowledge...thus converting to this amazing Church!
    You did a great job and were so inspirational! That's why they saved you for last!!!
    Luv ya!

  4. Very sweet, important message. Thanks!

  5. In many ways our whole life is a series of unfinished puzzles that we are constantly working on. Line upon line, precept upon recept. How wise to grasp the idea that we will never be able to 'get' the full picture, or the full puzzle all at once. Our testimonies, or friendships, efforts at church, education, family life, etc. are all puzzles that we must always add to. Thanks Steph, you ROCK!

  6. What a great Saturday for you! You served our ANWA sisters then went on to feed a stake with your wisdome. Well done Stephanie.

  7. yes, well done, Stephanie! Love your analogy...and the way you presented. I wish we had just 11 less active sisters! OUt of the approximately 250 women in the ward...less than 90 are active. I have at least 20 DNC's and about 50 who are willing to let us send a letter once a month. Your post encouraged me and gave me some ideas, however! thanks, STephanie!

  8. Hey, I think you probably captivated the audience with this talk. I wish I had been there. the way you compared the puzzle pieces to the different aspects of the gospel was engenius.


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