Ten years ago I served a mission, seeking to share the gospel of Jesus Christ to any who would hear. Some people were genuinely relieved to have us turn up on their doorstep. Some of them were disinterested, but turned us away kindly. Some of them quickly shut off the television and pretended that no one was home. Some, however, felt deeply offended that we had come calling at their house, and before we could say a thing shouted at us until we left.

And, to be fair, I get why people don’t like to talk to missionaries. First there is the matter of repetition. Many religious sects will frequently change the missionaries that they have in an area. Thus you can tell the first set “no, thank you,” but then a next pair arrives and they don’t know that you’ve already expressed your disinterest. You keep having to say “no, thank you” over and over, and eventually the “thank you” gets replaced with stronger verbiage.

Another reason is that some missionaries are simply insufferable. Obviously every one of them should be driven by a genuine love for those they teach. Their great, motivating desire should be to help all people however they can. But I have been a missionary, and I can attest that this is not true for all of them. Many of them truly do have sincere and good intentions, but there are also those that you can practically feel the holier-than-thou dripping off of.

And the last reason that comes to mind is that each of us have areas of life that we know we can improve on. We feel guilty, but many of us are in denial of that guilt. In this case even a heartfelt, loving invitation to a better life might feel like a judgment of how sinful we are right now. A salesman might come and point out dirt on our house and try to sell us a cleaning solution. We might be disinterested in the product, but not offended. But a missionary reminding us of the dirt in our soul? That is a much more touchy matter.

Thus I see work to be done on both sides so that proselyting efforts can be given with care and can be received with the same spirit by which it was given. In a perfect world missionaries would all establish a caring relationship first, then seek to share their light as a friend instead of a stranger. And in a perfect world each of us would be honest to ourselves about our own guilt and would be open to those who can help us become the sons and daughters we were born to be.

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