Raising Ourselves to the Bar
Brad Wilcox, Russell Wilcox
Deseret Book, 2007
The title of this book, Raising Ourselves to the Bar: Practical Advice and Encouragement For The Next Generation of Missionaries and Their Parents pretty well sums up the authors’ purpose in writing this book, but two statements from the Forward are also worth mentioning. They state:
“In October general conference in 2002, Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve said, ‘What we need now is the greatest generation of missionaries in the history of the Church.’ In April conference of 2005, Elder Ballard also said, ‘What we are asking leaders in every unit to do is to counsel together with parents and pray to find at least one more young man, above those already committed, who can be called to serve....[God] will bless all of us in our efforts to inspire and motivate more of our youth and couples to serve a full-time mission.’ In an effort to help, my son Russell and I have produced ‘one more’ book on missionary service. …
“In each chapter we share our combined insights and experiences on themes selected from Preach My Gospel. Then I share what my wife and I tried to do to prepare Russell before his mission. Next, Russell shares his response. Finally, we have prepared keys for action - specific suggested tasks that can be completed for, with, and by young people as they prepare. We hope the ideas and experiences offered will provide positive affirmation for most, instruction for some, and motivation for all.”
I must admit I had some trepidation after reading their first statement. I thought, is “one more book on missionary work” really necessary, after all there have been so many. But the title and the explanation of the format of the book caught my attention. As the father of a new-born son, who I hope will someday serve a mission, the idea of “Practical Advice”, and specific steps that had worked for someone else, along with candid response from the son, intrigued me.
The book is divided into five parts and each part is divided into two chapters. The five parts are: 1. Purpose 2. Study 3. Resources 4. Attributes and 5. Skills. Each chapter begins with stories and experiences by Brad Wilcox that help to explain the idea or doctrine he is teaching. For example Chapter Five “Our Sickle: The Book of Mormon” starts with the story of a visit to the Chile Santiago East Mission by Elder D Todd Christofferson of the Seventy who taught the missionaries that their "sickle" is the Book of Mormon. He then explains the symbolism behind the sickle imagery, shares a variety of stories, scriptures, and quotes about using the Book of Mormon in missionary work, and gives answers to common objections brought up by non-Mormons and anti-Mormons against the Book of Mormon.
Next is the section where he explains what he and his wife did to try and prepare their children to serve missions. This is followed by a “Russell's Response.” Russell, a recently returned missionary and instructor at the Provo Missionary Training Center, shares his own ideas and experiences, and talks about what things his parents did that he felt were more helpful and which were less helpful. For instance at one point he says, "Maybe it would have been helpful to hear fewer happy-ending missionary stories and a little more about the prejudice and rudeness I would encounter (as a missionary)." (p. 68)
Each chapter ends with a section called “Keys to Action.” This section is broken down into subsections called “What can we do for young people,” “What can we do with young people,” and “What can young people do for themselves.”
I was impressed by the number and variety of subjects, both doctrinal and practical, that are discussed in this book. For example, on page 69, possible answers are given to some tough questions that missionaries are often asked, some of these are: “Why didn't the blacks get the priesthood until 1978?... We don't know why, but perhaps we are too quick to assume it was for something the blacks did or did not do. Perhaps God had to wait until the minds and hearts of whites across the world were changed and softened so the work could move forward. What about polygamy? It is not practiced by Mormons today and anyone who lives in such a way is not a member of the Church, regardless of what he or she may claim. The restoration of the gospel was a restoration of all things. When polygamy's purpose was completed, God revealed that it was no longer necessary.” (This last sentence was one of the few points where I thought he was way off base.)
The practical advice included ideas on being sincere, being yourself rather than a cookie cutter idea of what you think a missionary should be, smiling, listening with love, how to ask questions, and many others. He also spends time on controlling unworthy thoughts, nocturnal emissions (he would tell his missionaries when they asked that “such dreams are normal and nothing to be ashamed of…They are the body’s natural way of providing a release when it is needed…they should…thank Heavenly Father that their bodies were functioning normally” ( p 116-117), avoiding pornography, avoiding masturbation, and why he didn't allow his children to have sleepovers.
I enjoyed this book and found many ideas I considered to be helpful to me as a parent. I liked the format and the candid responses from the son. The one major draw back that I feel this book has is that, to me at least, Brad Wilcox's style and tone in this book will appeal largely to those young men and parents who are already sold on the idea of serving a mission. I don't think that it will win over the “unconverted.” That being said, I really liked this book and think that, for the most part, the authors achieved their stated objectives. I feel that it will offer help, insight, and encouragement to parents and youth who are at least marginally interested in serving missions.