What of the
Editors Note: Sometimes, perhaps very often, the Lord uses people to move his work forward in unexpected ways. He is certainly not limited by our ignorance. A case in point is how the Lord used a man named Willard A. Aston who is little known in the Church today to hasten the work in the 1950's. In 1956, the Lord inspired Brother Aston to publish the book, Teaching the Gospel with Prayer and Testimony. This book based on his experience as a missionary and in the mission presidency of the Great Lakes Mission had a significant influence on missionary work in the Church, even in Japan as this excerpt below from Brother Norman Shumway's autobiography which follows the pictures indicates.
The book (cover picture below) and the gift greeting in it to my father has been in our family since 1957. This book was a gift to my father from our stake president, Joseph Y. Toronto and his wife, Ila. So I have known about the book for a long time. I am very grateful to Brother Aston who died in 1979.
Excerpt from the book, Times and Seasons of Norman D. Shumway, An Autobiography, 2009, pp 80-83
Several months before my call to serve in the presidency, President Andrus first suggested to me that I "make a handbook" for the mission. At the same time, he assigned Elder Morgan and me to travel extensively in order for Elder Morgan to audit branch books and me to instruct auxiliary leaders. We were to keep our mission home callings but be referred to as "traveling elders." Even though we would not be proselyting, I was excited about the opportunity for a change of pace in my work.
I had just finished reading the book by Willard A. Aston, Teaching the Gospel with Prayer and Testimony. I was very moved by its message. I keenly felt that this unpretentious book may provide the key to improving the disorganized teaching methods that prevailed among the missionaries.
President Andrus as well as others had also read Brother Aston's book. He was so impressed by it that he ordered enough copies for every missionary to have one. Its suggestions and methods began to reverberate through the mission. Within just a few weeks, we had incorporated many of its ideas into an emerging new system. For example, the first cottage meeting was to cover eight topics, presented alternately by each missionary, with affirming testimonies repeated several times. In March 1957, all district presidents met in Tokyo and drafted an outline of a new teaching plan for use in Japan. One of the presidents, Elder James J. Jones, Jr., was called to be a counselor in the mission presidency and given the assignment to prepare sample lessons based upon the ideas of the Aston book. I was asked to "write up the plan" and a mission handbook. For the moment I busied myself in proofreading Elder J ones' work and printing it for distribution at a forthcoming mission-wide conference to be held at Nikko in late June. It was warmly received and generated universal enthusiasm among the assembled missionaries.
Elder Jones went home in the fall, and Elder Welch and I began to t ravel through the mission. One of our first trips was to Sendai, and shortly after arriving there we both felt a need to ask for divine guidance and protection in our work.
We entered a quiet, secluded grove of bamboo and soon were totally shielded from the outside world by dense thicket. There we knelt and look turns praying. I received a vivid impression that our prayers had been acknowledged by our loving Heavenly father. I was most grateful that we had taken this time to open our hearts to one another and to heaven.
Several weeks later, we were returning to Tokyo from Fukuoka in a small, two-engined airplane. Shortly after becoming airborne, one engine flared out and died. The motionless propeller could be seen from the airplane's windows. The pilot notified everyone that we were returning to the airport and instructed us on safety procedures for an emergency landing. Pandemonium broke out among the passengers and even the two flight attendants - everyone except Elder Welch and me. We knew, because of our Sendai experience, that Heavenly father was watching over us and would protect us as we served him. We sat calmly, heedless to the fear-inspired wails of others around us, as we landed safely a few moments later. I keenly felt God's assurance that our prayers had been heard - and answered.
During our travels, Elder Welch and I taught the new teaching ideas and studied the applications that had been initiated by the missionaries. As might be expected, we gained vital experience and developed many insights about the new proselyting techniques. President Andrus asked us to incorporate our impressions in a revised set of lessons, written in conversational style in both English and Romanized Japanese. Mission translators were assigned to help with the Japanese dialogue.
When Elder Welch went home on 30 March 1958, the plan was still mostly undeveloped. In the several weeks remaining before I was to return home, I isolated myself in the upstairs of the mission home and worked ardently to complete our task. typed he manuscript for the handbook and the entire plan (consisting of seven lessons) on my Royal portable typewriter, checking often with translators to be sure I had the right idiomatic applications in Japanese. I wrote a section on missionary tools and slightly revised the work of Elder Jones on "daily schedule" and "obtaining cottage meetings." 'The final draft was completed just before I left Japan and was submitted to and approved by President Andrus. He described the plan as "wonderful" and said' "This is what the mission has needed since its inception." It was published on 18 June 1958 as a 191 page handbook containing missionary guidelines, proselyting suggest ions, teaching dialogue and vocabulary, entitled Teaching the Conversion Principles (Second Edition).
The completion this book was no doubt the crowning achievement of my mission. When I look back upon my activities, I can see how the Lord prepared me to help bring about such a work. I had time and experience in the field; I had gained an unshakable testimony of the gospel's truthfulness; I was blessed with a proficiency in the Japanese language. I developed writing skills as the editor of mission publications and I gleaned the best methods of teaching while visiting virtually all of the missionaries in their fields of labor. None of this could I have foreseen, but the reality of it now makes me ashamed that I sometimes complained about my assignments. The Lord had granted me a marvelous opportunity. He opened doors for me to seize upon it, even though I did so unwittingly.
The republication of the Book of Mormon and launching of a systematic proselyting plan provided an effective one- two punch for the missionaries. Convert baptisms increased dramatically and the mission enjoyed great growth over the next few years. While some of these positive results may be attributable to the work that I assisted with, the large share of credit must be given to those who were instrumental in giving new life to the Book of Mormon, and to those who inspired and supported the development of the hand book and teaching system, including President Andrus, Brother Aston, Elders Jones and Welch and the translation staff. Most of all, the mission's success must be attributed to a merciful Heavenly Father who inspired and blessed the hearts of many missionaries and receptive investigators.