Saturday, June 16, 2012

Alma 17-22


Before class begins, write on blackboard, "What impresses you most about the sons of Mosiah and their missions (Alma 17-22)?"


One of the most interesting stories in the Book of Mormon is not told there.   It is only referred to in two verses.  It is the story of a lone convert, patiently waiting years for the opportunity to fully embrace the gospel.  She was a Lamanite.  The little bit of her story that we do have is found in Alma 19:16-17:  "...Abish...having been converted unto the Lord for many years, on account of a remarkable vision of her father--Thus, having been converted to the Lord, and never having made it known, therefore..." she saw her chance at the visit of the Nephite Christian Ammon.  She had kept her hope to herself all those years, waiting for the missionaries.

How does a sincere seeker find the gospel in a country with limited religious freedom?  The Lord is no respector of persons or of their nationality, so He helps them find the truth through personal revelation, as He did for Abish and her father.  There are similar stories in the world today.  Since we don't have Abish's story, here is Raj Kumar's, from 20th Century India:

"I was born of goodly parents in Punjab, India, in 1958.  Our house was filled with love for God and for one another...

"I wanted to have a rich and meaningful relationship with God through fasting and praying, but as I knelt down before images of gods and goddesses I felt emptiness instead of fulfillment...

"[One day at school] I came across a beautiful sory by Oscar Wilde in our English textbook about how a very mean and selfish person is saved by the grace of God and the love of the Lord Jesus Christ.  I was deeply touched by 'The Selfish Giant,' and often reread it and pondered how the main character had received a forgiveness of his sins.  I contemplated that if Jesus Christ could save a very mean and cruel giant, he must also have power to bring peace into my life.  But I did not know where to find this Savior...

"One afternoon while I was helping out at [my father's] pharmacy...I went to a shoe shop to collect some money.  The owner was not there, so I waited.  While I was admiring the shoe displays, my attention was directed toward an old calendar hanging on the wall.  Pictured was a shepherd with a staff in his hand, surrounded by his sheep.

"As I beheld that picture, I felt a very strong stirring in my heart.  Then my attention was drawn to a verse written in Hindi, which translated as:  'The Lord Yahovah is my shepherd; I shall not want.'  I had never heard the name Yahovah before and did not know who he was.  But looking at his picture and reading the verse brought a tremendous peace, joy, and comfort to my hungry soul.  I must have gazed at the calendar for half and hour.

"Over the next few months, I returned to the shoe store several times a day to see the shepherd and read the verse.  Whenever I felt pangs of suffering or disappointment, I would say to myself, 'I really don't have to worry because Yahovah is my shepherd and he shall provide for my needs.'  I often prayed that someday someone would tell me who Yahovah was so I could learn more about him and better worship him.

"[Following the promptings of the Spirit, I began to attend a Christian church, outside the knowledge of my family.  I greatly enjoyed reading the New Testament, but still felt an emptiness and lack of purpose to life.  Pondering this difficulty, I uttered] my first prayer to God, the Eternal Father.  I do not remember exactly what I said, but I pleaded with him to make himself known to me.  As I poured out my heart, I felt the burden I had been carrying for years lift off my shoulders.  I felt light and invigorated.  I felt a complete change within myself.  The Holy Ghost whispered peace to me...

"[Years later, I had the opportunity to attend a performance of BYU's Young Ambassadors.  While at the performance] the Holy Ghost whispered to me that the day had come for the Lord to answer my prayers.  The Lord had prepared one of the performers to help me.  I would recognize him when I saw him.  Most of the performers had name tags on.  As I looked at a man named Thomas Nelson, I knew this was the person who would help me find the truth.  I approached him and said, 'I would like to talk with you if you have a moment...

"Brother Nelson spent about 30 minutes explaining the Church's beliefs and bearing his testimony.  Those 30 minutes changed my life forever...   When he finished, I said 'Amen' because I believed with all my heart that what he had spoken was the truth."

Brother Kumar was taught the missionary discussions through the mail over the next six months.  Then he traveled to New Delhi to be baptized by the nearest priesthood holder.  He used every opportunity to spread the gospel in India by his service, and a year after his baptism was called to serve a mission in Fresno, California.  He married a beautiful Indian woman, also a returned missionary, and they were blessed with four children.  ("Stepping Stones to Truth," Ensign, October 1997, p. 20)

Abish must have been much like Raj Kumar.  Did she ever think she would find someone to baptize her?  Did she think she would ever go to the temple?  Did she long for association with the Saints?  Had she been years in praying diligently for these things?  Were her own personal prayers a factor in inspiring the sons of Mosiah and their companions to serve a mission to the Lamanites?  Unfortunately, the Lamanite culture did not include record-keeping, so her story was never taken down.

We do, however, have the story of the mission to the Lamanites from the viewpoint of the journal kept by the Nephite missionaries, so we'll talk about them.


Read aloud Mosiah 28:1-2.  The idea of sending missionaries to the Lamanites in that day was preposterous.  It had been tried before, and never successfully, and the Lamanites were enemies to the Nephites.  So, understandably, King Mosiah was concerned about letting his sons go on a suicide mission.  He may have also been concerned about their own new testimonies being strong enough to keep them from reverting to their former wicked ways in such a Godless environment.  But they bugged him for days (Mosiah 28:5).  Read aloud Mosiah 28:6-7.  

So there were two promises given unto King Mosiah:
  1. His sons would actually convert many of the Lamanites.
  2. The Lord would protect them from death.
These promises were kept many times over, not only for Mosiah's own sons, but for those unnumbered others who went with them.  (There were at least two: Muloki and Ammah.  See Alma 17:8,12; Alma 19:2.)

There are nine instances within this reading assignment where the missionaries' lives were in grave danger, but they were protected by the Lord.
  1. King Lamoni would have killed Ammon as an alien when he entered the land  (17:20-24)
  2. King Lamoni regularly killed servants who lost the sheep (17:28)
  3. The animal rustlers outnumbered Ammon greatly in the battle (17:35)
  4. In vengeance, the brother of a dead thief tried to kill Ammon as he lay in a trance (19:22-23)
  5. Ammon was warned by the Lord not to go to the land of Nephi because the senior king would try to kill him (20:2)
  6. The senior king commanded Lamoni to kill Ammon (20:15)
  7. The senior king tried to kill Ammon himself with the sword (20:20)
  8. The senior queen ordered Aaron and company killed by servants when she found the king in a trance (22:19)
  9. When the servants refused to kill Aaron, she commanded the multitude to kill him (22:21)
Truly, as the Lamanites began to observe, they could not be slain.

The promise that there would be many converts was also fulfilled quite gloriously, beginning with those in government.  In next week's assignment, there is a detailed listing of cities and statistics regarding the Lamanites converted.  In this week's reading, there are at least eight separate conversion stories.
  1. King Lamoni (19:13)
  2. His wife the queen (19:9)
  3. His servants (19:15)
  4. Those of his subjects to whom he testified (19:31)
  5. Those to whom his servants testified (19:35)
  6. Those that Ammon, Aaron, Muloki and Ammah taught together after the latter two were released from prison (21:17)
  7. The king of all the Lamanites, Lamoni's father (22:15)
  8. The queen of all the Lamanites and their entire household (22:23)

Now let's go to our little "point of pondering:"  What impressed you about the sons of Mosiah and their missionary service?  (Use the following ideas to supplement or complement class members' thoughts shared.)

Study of the scriptures, resulting in a strong knowledge of the truth.  When King Lamoni began to ask questions of Ammon, Ammon knew how to teach.  It seems pretty obvious that extensive study is beneficial for missionary work, but many of us today think that a passive scripture study is all we have time for, or maybe we limit themselves to what we absorb in Seminary or Sunday School, half-asleep.   We don't realize how seriously we need to study until we get on our missions or until a neighbor or relative asks us a question that draws us up short.  (Alma 17:2)

They taught the Plan of Redemption from the scriptures.  They taught the way the Lord teaches; you see it all through the scriptures.  They gave the overview first, the grand scheme, the whole plan.  They didn't start with the details of commandments or observances, but with the purpose behind them.  Then the details fit in one by one.  (Alma 18:36, 39; Alma 22:12-14)

Prayer and fasting brought upon them the spirit of prophecy and revelation.  The spirit of revelation comforted and encouraged them, as well as guided them in their labors.  (Alma 17:3,9-12)

Power and authority from God.  They were set apart for their call.  (Alma 17:3,18)

They were led by the Spirit.  (Alma 17:17; 21:15; 22:2)

Their source of courage was the Lord.  (Alma 17:10-12)

Preparation: their missionary savings account.  (Alma 17:7)

They served the people first.  Ammon was welcomed as a servant, while Aaron was thrown in jail as a missionary.  Each was following the spirit, and Ammon's approach might not have worked any better in Aaron's area than Aaron's approach did, but it is interesting to note the two different ways.  Read aloud Alma 17:20-25.  Ammon never mentioned a word about the gospel!  He first taught by example.  He established his reputation as one who could be trusted, who was loyal, who was nonjudgmental, who was a friend, who wanted to help with whatever was needed.  We must be careful to follow this example. 
     When he and the other servants were watering the king's flocks at Sebus, thieves came to scatter the flocks that they might steal them.  This, apparently, had been an ongoing problem.  The general philosophy of the Lamanites at this time was 'looking out for number one,' 'getting something for nothing,' 'the world owes me a living.'  Read aloud Alma 17:14.  Ammon first tried nonviolent means to solve the problem (Alma 17:32), but it didn't work, so he went out to fight in defense.  This is the pattern we would also want to follow when threatened with violence.
     It's interesting symbolism to note that the Lord is the Good Shepherd and protects His sheep, and Ammon here was literally protecting animals (what type is not mentioned) as well as the lives of the king's servants, just as his mission's purpose was to gather the Lamanites into the Lord's fold and protect their spiritual lives from the great thief, Satan.  Read aloud 17:35 to "out of their hands."  Ammon killed six thieves with stones from his sling, and one with his sword.  And he cut off a bunch of arms.
     When the shepherds (or goatherds) returned to the king, the other servants told him all about what Ammon had done.  The king was very astonished at such loyalty.  They said to the king, "He cannot be slain."  And that was true, because of the promise of the Lord to his father.  Asking where Ammon was at present, he was told that Ammon was finishing his assigned work, preparing the king's horses for his journey.  The king was very astonished at such service.  He said, "Surely there has not been any servant among all my servants that has been so faithful as this man."  Why?  Remember, the Lamanites were "a very indolent people" (17:15).  Such service was highly unusual.  King Lamoni was seeing the fruits of a Christ-like person.  Even when he was battle-weary, he continued to serve.
     Interestingly, when Aaron was released from prison, he followed the same tack as Alma did and had as great success.  Read aloud Alma 22:2-3 to "we will be thy servants."  Sometimes when we approach someone from the "missionary" angle and they are not interested, we move on.  Like Ammon and Aaron, we must remain as friends and servants even when we cannot teach.

They established a common point from which to teach.   Read aloud alma 18:24-28 to "This is God."  You cannot find a sentence wherein Ammon criticized the king's practices or religion.  He simply added truth to what the king already believed, and then the king himself became aware of the error of his ways and desired the change.  When Aaron was teaching the big king, it was almost exactly the same.  He did not have to point out the king's sins; once the king heard the gospel, he offered to freely give them up.  (Alma 22:15)  President Hinckley consistently used this approach, saying to people of all religions, "Bring what you have that is good, and let us add to it."

Neither trials nor good fortune deterred them from their call.  Ammon was offered marraige into the royal household.  This was not even a temptation to him, because his missionary work was his focus.  Aaron, Muloki and Ammah were thrown into prison in the land of the Amalekites and Amulonites and suffered greatly there.  As soon as they were released, without skipping a beat, they went right back into the synagogues and continued their preaching.  Another perfect example for us.

They did not complain or boast about their missionary service; they simply did it.  Aaron was not bitter that his mission was harder; Ammon didn't gloat over his success.

Their own conversion experiences gave them understanding.  Read aloud Alma 19:6.  How did Ammon know all these things?  He had been there for the similar experience of his friend, Alma the Younger (Alma 36:20).  The same experience with the greater king did not astonish Aaron for the same reason.

As a result of the conversion of the kings, the Land of Nephi became a land of religious freedom, first in the King's province (Alma 21:22), then in the entire Lamanite kingdom. (They start to tell you in Alma 22:27, but then they get sidetracked describing how huge the kingdom is, and don't finish until Alma 23:1-3.)  The lack of freedom in the land was the reason that Abish had to keep her conversion secret all those years.  The result of this mission was like the falling of the iron curtain or the tearing down of the Berlin wall: greater freedom followed.


Once someone is truly converted to the gospel (for many of those born into the Church, that is a process of years or decades), the natural result is an overwhelming desire to share it with others.

As Raj Kumar said, "After being baptized into the Lord's true Church, I could not stop myself from telling others about the great joy and happiness I had received.  I was no longer worried about being persecuted or ostracized.  My relatives, friends, teachers, and associates were generally not very pleased with me, but I loved them more than ever before..."

This is the spirit that seized and then led the sons of Mosiah.  Read aloud Mosiah 28:3.

As Elder Carlos E. Asay said in October 1976 General Conference, "There is a missionary spirit--a spirit which urges us to live outside ourselves and to be concerned for the welfare of others." This is the spirit of the sons of Mosiah.


Anonymous said...

I absolutely love your lesson supplements, and so does my class! Thank you for your insights, Nancy.

Unknown said...

My Sunday Scool teacher asked me to give a short comentry on this lesson in class. How wonderful it was to put in my own words that which you had written. Thank you, and like the Terminator "I shall be back".


Unknown said...

I read your thoughts often and needed to leave a comment today to tell you that I love this approach and will be using many ideas to teach next Sunday. thanks for all your efforts on this blog!!!

Lyrae Smith said...

Hi Nancy thanks for your blog. I was wanting to teach my class this Sunday the lesson from another angle and this is it. Leading with the story of Abish and paralleling it with Raj Kumar's experience is just what I was looking for. Thank you!

Sariah Wilson said...

Hi Nancy - I always enjoy your insights and stop by your blog each time it's my turn to teach to see if there's something I'd like to add to my own lesson. :)

But just FYI - there were no sheep and no sheep rustlers in the story of Ammon. There were FLOCKS, which is the ,only word used by Ammon, by the servants, and by the king. Not a single person in that story ever uses the word sheep.

The Book of Mormon text itself tells us that the flocks could not have been sheep because sheep do not behave like the animals in the story. When sheep are frightened, they herd together. That's why ranchers use dogs to move sheep from one location to another - once they're frightened by the barking, they move as a group in the direction the ranchers want. They protect themselves from predators by staying in a large group.

The animals in the story scatter, and scatter quickly. And they always scatter. They never herd together.

Nancy Wyatt Jensen said...

Interesting point, Sarah, which I had (obviously) never considered. Thanks for bringing it up. I have changed the wording in the lesson.

Jamie said...

Nancy, I teach gospel doctrine every other week and I really enjoy it. This year I was also called to be the stake girls camp co-director. It's been the busiest and most fun calling I've had but I've felt completely overwhelmed and out of time to do anything throughout this year. I'm down to my last week before camp and I find myself coming to your lessons here, once again, to get help with my upcoming lesson. I just wanted to thank you as I have needed to lean on your help many times and you've not even known about it. I knew the Lord would provide a way to help me do everything I've needed to this year and a lot of the time it's been through you. :)