Raising ourselves to the bar is no easy task. “Upon hearing the title of our book,” the authors said, “One friend replied, ‘You would probably sell more copies if you called it How to Sneak Under the Bar or Avoid It Completely.’”
While directing the work in Chile, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland said on several occasions, “The bar is not an obstacle to get over, but a vision to reach for.” Parents, leaders, and young people must catch that vision.
In this invaluable book for these latter days, Brad Wilcox (former mission president in Santiago, Chile) and his son, Russell (recently returned from his mission in Malaga, Spain), share their combined insights and experiences on themes selected from Preach My Gospel. Brad shares what he and his wife tried to do to prepare Russell before his mission, and Russell shares what did or didn't work for him. Finally, the authors have prepared keys for action — specific suggestions that can be completed for, with, and by young people as they prepare.
Everyday Lives, Everyday Values Interview with Brad Wilcox and Russell Wilcox, authors of Raising Ourselves to the Bar.
Program originally aired on KSL Radio on November 18, 2007.
Host: Doug Wright
Doug: And a warm welcome to the program! It’s always great to have you along on Everyday Lives, Everyday Values. We have a brand new book to talk about called Raising Ourselves to the Bar: Practical Advice and Encouragement for the Next Generation of Missionaries and their Parents. And a person that I always love to see come through the door here for our program, Brad Wilcox, is here. Brad, welcome to the program! It’s good to have you here.
Brad: Thank you, Doug. I always enjoy seeing you, too; it’s great.
Doug: You, for many, many years, have talked about your son, Russell, and talked about your family in general, of course. And Russell is here with us. Russell, welcome. You may want to just pull that microphone right over to you. It’s not fragile at all.
Russell: All right. Well, thank you very much.
Doug: It’s great to have you here. It truly is. As I mentioned, your dad has talked often about the family and it’s nice — he actually tipped me off that you two were working on a book — so it’s nice to have you both here, and have you here together. Raising the bar. When my son went on his mission I can remember that this was something that was still kind of being buzzed about within the church. “The raising of the bar.” Even if maybe we didn’t end up with this big army of missionaries out in the field, the idea was to make sure that people were truly prepared, ready to receive the inspiration, ready to teach by the spirit, and ready to go out and be a missionary. Even if, maybe, it wasn’t 60,000 and it ended up being a few less.
Brad: Well, I think we’ve seen a positive effect, because even in our mission in Chile we were able to see a decline in missionary number in our mission, but the productivity increasing, and I think other missions report the same thing. And so I think that many of the goals that were set had been reached, but they are always trying to improve.
Doug: Even though that original concept was introduced several years ago, the fact of the matter is you can tell how important it is to church leadership in that Elder Perry brought that up again in this past general conference just weeks ago.
Brad: I think the brethren are still seeing a great need for making sure that missionaries are arriving at the mission prepared. They are not going to the MTC to start to prepare, but they are preparing so that when they hit the MTC and the mission they are hitting the ground running. And that’s why Russell and I tried to do this is because we wanted to try to help with that effort.
Doug: We have such a unique combination here, and that’s why this is such a unique book. Brad, just a little background — I always assume everybody, because we’ve had you on the show before, knows somewhat something about you. I mean, we have talked about books, we have talked about talks on tape and all kinds of things. CD’s now would be the proper term. Last we talked a lot about your mission in Chile and just the resurgence down there in Santiago, in the east mission. And then, also, Russell has served in Spain and was there very recently, 2004 to 2006, and teaches at the Missionary Training Center. So we have an interesting perspective from someone who has been a mission president, someone who has been a missionary and, of course, you were a missionary before that. But a very interesting perspective. The way the book is structured, I’d like to talk a little bit about this. And Russell, maybe you can address this, because you will be going along reading and all of a sudden there is Russell’s response in here. Tell us a little bit about how the book actually worked.
Russell: Well, it was fun to be able to write with my dad and we went through and we took things from Preach My Gospel and we were able to write some of our thoughts and experiences on each of those things, and then my dad wrote a response and a section where he said things that he and my mom tried to do. . .
Russell: . . . to help prepare me as a missionary, and then I wrote a response on things that worked, and maybe sometimes on what didn’t work so good.
Doug: Exactly. You know, Dee and I, I cannot tell you how many times we have had this conversation. You know, what worked. Did we hinder, did we help, what did we do? You know, I wish this book had been available for us. The introduction says Missions: Hard on the Shoes but Good for the Soul. I have yet to find a missionary, and I’ve had some who have been in some tough missions — friends, and friends’ sons now — that have been in some tough, tough areas. I have yet to have one who has come back and said that it didn’t enrich their lives and that it wasn’t a learning experience and an expansive experience. What it is about a mission that is so good for the soul?
Brad: I think Russell and I were in a unique position to do this because we were on missions at the same time. And I think sometimes when you get home from a mission you tend to look back with rose-colored glasses. You remember only the good times. But because were both so fresh from our missions — and, I mean, we served at the same time. In fact, Russell got home a few days before we did. He actually welcomed us home at the airport.
Doug: Boy, that is an unusual thing, isn’t it? Usually the parents are standing there weeping, little signs and everything. Was anybody there for you?
Russell: My sister; but I dropped them off and then picked them up.
Doug: Got ripped off.
Brad: I think because we were both on missions so recently we were able to kind of keep each other honest and we were able to approach the mission from a very honest perspective in that we do point out that there were some hard times and that there are some challenges, and that young people have to be prepared for that, but we were also able to point out that during that mission they gain so much as far as their ability to prepare for their future lives, as far as self-esteem, as far as work ethic, as far as study skills, as far as being able to interact with people and being able to care about people. I think these are the things — and a lot of humor along the way, being able to laugh when you don’t think you can ever laugh at it. But you just are able to sit down and there is nothing to do but laugh. I think that by pulling all of that together you start realizing that on the scale you definitely are getting more out of it than you realize.
Doug: Listening to you describe that I remember the old Woody Allen formula for comedy. It’s “Tragedy plus time equals comedy.” Sometimes, you know, that tragedy, it isn’t so funny when it happens, or that hard knock when it happens. But time does seem to modify, and it is amazing, the more time the funnier it starts looking.
Brad: I remember when I was doing an interview with one of the sister missionaries and she was a Spanish speaker. She asked me if I thought she was “fea,” which means ugly. But I heard, I understood “fiel,” which means faithful. And so the poor sister, I looked straight at her and I said, “Yes, very.”
Doug: Oh no!
Brad: And that was a moment that was not funny at the time, but in retrospect it has become really a funny story.
Doug: Oh, yeah. When you look back on your mission experience, Russell, you were in Spain…
Doug: What are some of the things that pop to mind for you that was soul expansive?
Russell: Uh, just the people. More than anything I think I just love thinking about the people that I was able to work with and just watching them start to change their lives and just understanding how it doesn’t have to be about us all the time, and how when we focus on other people and focus on helping them how much more enriching that is to ourselves. And I think that was one of the things that — still to this day I love calling them and talking to them and writing them and just seeing how happy it makes them.
Doug: Right. You know, I was interested, in the book, very early in the book you talk about God and how he loves me, Satan, he loves me not. But, I want to fast-forward a little bit. We are not going to be able to, obviously, talk about every single chapter and part, but – God Parted the Red Sea and He Will Help You. There is just something so stark in that comment that is so true. And so many of us think, “Why and how would God help me out of this situation?” And then when somebody, like you, to put it in perspective like that. I mean, for heaven’s sake, he can free an entire nation. He can part a sea. He can swallow up the Egyptians in the wake. Why in the world wouldn’t he be able to help me out of my miniscule problem if he chooses to do so.
Brad: Yeah, and he’s there to help. That’s what the missionaries have to realize, and these young people have to realize, is that, although it is frightening to take these steps they are not alone. There is always support there. Not just support from friends and companions and family, but support from God. There were two missionaries who were on their way home on their mission and they were getting so close to their apartment and they were so tired, and they saw a man pushing a car. And they thought, “Oh, we should go help him, but we want to just go home to our apartment.&rdqou; And they tried to talk themselves out of it, and they tried to say, “Well, we better hurry home so that we are home on time.&rdqou; And finally they looked at each other and said, “We’ve just got to go help this guy.” So they went and helped push this car into a gas station, and the little boy who was steering, while the father was pushing, steered it into the gas station. The man said to them, he said, “I’m not a member of your church, but my wife is, and my son here was just made a deacon, and when the car broke down I said ‘I better push, you better steer.’&rdqou; And he said, “I don’t think I can do it alone.” And the boy said, “Don’t worry dad, I just prayed and I asked Heavenly Father to send the missionaries.”
Doug: Oh, goodness.
Brad: You know, when you look at an experience like that, that is a true experience that happened in our mission, and you realize that, yes, God does send the help we need.
Doug: Absolutely. I — this was something, and I’ve mentioned it several times on this program, but it hit me in such a profound nature when I heard a talk, and I wish — I remembered this, and I don’t even remember who delivered it. It was basically something to the effect of when we meet our maker on the other side, when we review our lives, we will be stunned at how often intervention was sent, how often angels were ministering to us, how often the Lord intervened. In other words, how often he was right there at our shoulder, right there at our side. Angels ministering to us and helping us out. That has just indelibly stuck in my mind. And I believe that to be true.
Brad: I fully agree with that. I saw that every day on my mission. It is a lot of time in retrospect, when you are able to look back. You know, when I look back and think of that you can see God’s hand in your lives so much, and just every experience, every day, it is just amazing.
Doug: What to do When They Say It’s Not True. I told you about an experience I had with a guest on my regular weekday show, and I know missionaries run into this all the time. What do you do when people are just right in your face? As a mission president, as a missionary, and as a regular rank and file member of the church, and they say, “It is not true. How can you be such a dolt and believe this?”
Brad: In the chapter we kind of compare it to The Wizard of Oz and how Dorothy received help from the scarecrow, and we can think things through. Also, that she received help from the tin man — that we can follow our heart and trust the feelings that we have; and that she received help from the lion, who helped her to be courageous. And we can be courageous in standing up for what we believe and for standing up for the doctrines that we know to be the truth. I think as young people get a few solid answers in their minds — because some of the questions that come up come up over and over. Elder Ballard, in the last general conference, counseled the members of the church to just have a few answers prepared so that when questions come up we are not caught off guard. But if we know a few of the questions that are usually asked and we have a short answer prepared then we feel a little more courageous. In the book we have tried to provide a few answers that young people can start to work with in their own minds and in their own interactions.
Doug: I remember hearing several people, and all the way to the highest levels of leadership within the church and conference talks and so on, to those who are at a more professorial level, who have talked about how unique the Mormon church is that in the keystone of the religion — not the cornerstone, but the keystone of the religion — in other words, it’s gone, everything falls, is the Book of Mormon. I like the way you have titled your chapter, and it’s Our Sickle — The Book of Mormon. Your thoughts on that, both of you, for Russell and for Brad. Russell, first with you.
Russell: Well, I think it was actually Elder Christofferson who went down and visited my parents’ mission and he was teaching the missionaries and he told them that in Doctrine and Covenants 4, when it talks about “He who thrusteth in his sickle with all his might, the same layeth up in store that he perisheth not,” said that our sickle is the Book of Mormon. Because a sickle in farming is used for gathering and that nature, and that is what the Book of Mormon is for us. It is the tool God specifically prepared for our day to help us gather in his children, to help bring them unto the truth, and I think one of the biggest promises is right in Doctrine and Covenants 4 — that if we use the Book of Mormon with our whole heart that we also are bringing salvation unto our own soul, as well as others.
Brad: A movie that my wife really enjoys is the movie “Contact.”
Brad: And my father-in-law read the book and they’ve enjoyed that through the years. But I love the parallels in that movie with Joseph Smith, because this scientist ends up going out into space and finds out that we are not alone in the universe, but then when she comes back everyone says, “You never left.” And she says, “Oh, but I did.” But she has no proof except for 18 hours of blank videotape that they can’t explain away. I think, in a similar way, Joseph wasn’t the only one who claimed visions. Joseph Smith wasn’t the only one who claimed to see angels and visitors from another world — you know, from a heavenly world. He wasn’t the only one. But he is the only one who provided evidence, tangible evidence that we can hold in our hands. Eighteen hours of blank video tape, so to speak, but it is even more fascinating because it is not blank. Many people write about the future and many religious people will write about the millennium or the second coming or heaven, and nobody can say whether they are wrong or right because they are writing about futuristic events. Joseph provided a history that opens itself up to scrutiny, and as many times as that book has been under the magnifying glass, it has held up. And that is what I think is so remarkable is that our missionaries are not going out without a tool, without a sickle. They are going out with a powerful tool. Evidence we can hold, evidence we can touch. Oh, these people who are learning about the church, they may never have a chance to know Joseph Smith, or to know people who knew Joseph Smith, but because of that book they can know for themselves. That is evidence of not only the fact that Jesus Christ is divine, but also that Joseph Smith was his instrument.
Doug: Oh, absolutely. Let’s take a brief break and when we come up we will talk a little bit more about this book. It is called Raising Ourselves to the Bar: Practical Advice and Encouragement for the Next Generation of Missionaries and their Parents. We are delighted to have Brad and Russell Wilcox with us, the authors of the book, on Everyday Lives, Everyday Values.-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Doug: We’re back on Everyday Lives, Everyday Values. Raising Ourselves to the Bar: Practical Advice and Encouragement for the Next Generation of Missionaries and their Parents. Published by Deseret Book, authored by Brad Wilcox and his son, Russell Wilcox, here with us. Boy, the time is slipping by so, so quickly, and I just wanted a final thought or two from both of you. As we approach this book, we take it off the shelf, we enjoy it, we talk about some of the concepts in it — I wanted to just mention this last part, or near the last part. Get Out There and Astonish Someone. Let’s talk about astonishing people. I think many missionaries come back somewhat astonished at the success, somewhat astonished at — I know their parents are astonished — at what they were able to accomplish. Something as simple — to just regularly making their bed to actually taking the word of God out to people who have not heard it before. Just kind of a final thought on the book, where that astonishment is kind of a theme for the end. Brad, maybe we could wrap up with you first.
Brad: That phrase came from a visit of Elder Holland to our mission, and that’s what he told the missionaries to do. He said, “Our message is astonishing, now get out there and astonish someone.” And the missionaries took it to heart. It was remarkable to see them deal with people with courage, with boldness, and to not be apologetic about approaching people. I think some of our young people are a little nervous about talking to others and they don’t feel comfortable or confident in their people skills. That is something that parents can really work on, if we can kind of steer away from some of the electronic media and some of the electronic games and the texting and such that are keeping them from developing the people skills that they are going to need to be able to really interact with people and astonish them.
Doug: Russell, your thoughts, and maybe reflecting on your mission. What was astonishing, and what do you hope will astonish people who will take this to heart?
Russell: Well I think, during my mission Elder Hillam came and visited our mission and taught us as missionaries. He, at one point, pounded his fist on the table and he said, “You preach a strong gospel. And if you are not going to preach a strong gospel you should go home.” And it just really impacted me and I realized the importance of really being bold and recognizing the power and authority that missionaries have been given, and going out and teaching people with that same kind of power and authority. And it is something that, right from that moment on, really changed my mission and the impact I was able to have on people and be able to see them start to respond to that bold testimony.
Doug: Uh-hmm. It has been a joy to have you both with us. What a pleasure to have you here in the studio together. Brad Wilcox, his son, Russell Wilcox. Again, the title of the book — Raising Ourselves to the Bar: Practical Advice and Encouragement for the Next Generation of Missionaries and their Parents. I wish you both, as we approach this holiday season, the very, very best. Thank you for sharing your gifts and your skills with us.
Brad: And thank you.
This book is excellent! Brad Wilcox always does an amazing job, and I was really impressed with his son as well. I enjoyed the insight from both a father's perspective as well as a son's. I felt like it was full of great ideas, effective suggestions, and it wasn't the same things we hear over and over when talking about missionary prep. I would definitely recommend this book!