23 Now do ye remember, my brethren, that we said unto our brethren in the land of Zarahemla, we go up to the land of Nephi, to preach unto our brethren, the Lamanites, and they laughed us to scorn?
24 For they said unto us: Do ye suppose that ye can bring the Lamanites to the knowledge of the truth? Do ye suppose that ye can convince the Lamanites of the incorrectness of the traditions of their fathers, as stiffnecked a people as they are; whose hearts delight in the shedding of blood; whose days have been spent in the grossest iniquity; whose ways have been the ways of a transgressor from the beginning? Now my brethren, ye remember that this was their language.
25 And moreover they did say: Let us take up arms against them, that we destroy them and their iniquity out of the land, lest they overrun us and destroy us.
26 But behold, my beloved brethren, we came into the wilderness not with the intent to destroy our brethren, but with the intent that perhaps we might save some few of their souls.
Near the end of his missionary service among the Lamanites, Ammon spoke to his brothers and their associates about what they had learned from the experience.
First, he reminded them of the love Heavenly Father had shown for them when they were fighting against Him years before: “We went forth even in wrath, with mighty threatenings to destroy his church,” he said. “Oh then, why did he not consign us to an awful destruction, yea, why did he not let the sword of his justice fall upon us, and doom us to eternal despair?” (Alma 26:18-19)
After recognizing the error of their ways and repenting of their sins, they had developed a deep desire to preach the gospel to their enemies, the Lamanites. In the passage above, Ammon relates the reaction of their friends and neighbors when they shared this desire. “What good would that do?” they asked. “Don’t you know anything about the Lamanites? They’re beyond redemption. They are so evil that nothing you can do will change them.” Ammon even recalls being mocked by these other Nephites: “They laughed us to scorn.”
But the sons of Mosiah knew something that their friends didn’t know: people can change. They had seen this in their own lives, and they were confident that the Lamanites could also be reclaimed.
In our efforts to share the gospel, we must overcome our human tendency to judge other people.
Clayton and Christine Christensen discovered this many years ago, when the full-time missionaries invited them to list friends who might be interested in learning more about the gospel. “We dutifully made this list, placing those we thought most likely to be interested in the gospel at the top. They looked like ‘ideal Mormons’—people whose values, such as clean living and commitment to family, mirrored our own.” But none of those people were interested in learning more about the Church. Then, a new set of missionaries came into the ward and made the same request. Clayton and Christine had exhausted their list of ideal candidates, and they referred the missionaries to some other friends who seemed much less likely to accept the message. To their surprise, these friends invited the missionaries into their home and began to study the gospel. Clayton and Christine learned an important lesson from this experience:
We simply cannot know in advance who will and will not be interested in learning about the Church. We thought we could judge and therefore excluded from our list many people whose lifestyle, habits, or appearance made them seem unlikely candidates. As we reflect upon those who have joined the Church, however, it is clear that few of them would have been on our list of “likely members” when they first encountered the Church.
Many who accept the gospel are troubled or needy (see Alma 32:2–3). Living the gospel transforms them. The only way all people can have the opportunity to choose or reject the gospel of Jesus Christ is for us, without judgment, to invite them to follow the Savior (“Seven Lessons on Sharing the Gospel,” Ensign, February 2005).
As President Thomas S. Monson taught:
We need to bear in mind that people can change. They can put behind them bad habits. They can repent from transgressions. They can bear the priesthood worthily. And they can serve the Lord diligently….
We have the responsibility to look at our friends, our associates, our neighbors this way. Again, we have the responsibility to see individuals not as they are but rather as they can become. I would plead with you to think of them in this way (“See Others as They May Become,” General Conference, October 2012).
Today, I will remember that people can change. In my efforts to share the gospel with others, I will strive to see them as they can become. I will resist the temptation to predict who is likely to be receptive to the message. Instead, I will share and invite with optimism and without judgment.