The Last Door

April 12, 2006 | 28 comments
By

We’ve all heard the stories about intrepid missionaries who faced rejection door after door only to be let in at the final house that they contacted. It might be that the triumph at the last door represents an example for reward for perserverance, a kind of prize bestowed by God on those who endure to the end. However, it also might be the case — and in my experience it frequently was — that the reason the missionaries were let in on the last door is because once they had gotten into one house they quit tracting and went home. Sometimes the story would be much better if we learned that the missionaries who tracted till dark and went home after being rejected at the last door. Sometimes we endure because of the glory that is set before us (to paraphrase Paul), but sometimes we just endure, which is not without its own dignity.

28 Responses to The Last Door

  1. Eric Russell on April 12, 2006 at 9:27 am

    Good point, Nate. You never want to go back to knocking doors after coming out of a good discussion, it’s such a let down.

    By the way, I hated the MTC and my president was terrible.

  2. a random John on April 12, 2006 at 9:29 am

    When skiing, you always break your leg on the last run of the day.

  3. Jim F. on April 12, 2006 at 9:55 am

    I had a senior companion who, each evening at about 9:00 when we should have been boarding a bus for our house, would feel an inspiration to tract out one more street. He almost always said something like “I can feel that there’s a family there waiting for us. We can’t go home.” In four months, we never got into a house on one of the streets he felt inspired to tract. We got into some good homes, and we taught some good families. But it was never the last house of the day, though had we found a good family in the evening I’m sure it would have been for the very reasons Eric Russell gives. But if you have a good discussion at 2:00 in the afternoon, you can’t exactly turn in for the day.

  4. gst on April 12, 2006 at 9:59 am

    arJ, not me. I broke my legs in the morning and then skied all day long on two bloody, compound fractures, which is not without its own dignity.

  5. a random John on April 12, 2006 at 10:03 am

    gst,

    You probably kept tracting after teaching a discussion in the morning as well… I bow before you manliness.

  6. Adam Greenwood on April 12, 2006 at 10:10 am

    Most of the last door stories that I’ve seen emphasize that the missionaries had decided *before knocking on it* that this would be their last door. My own last door story is typical. My companion and I were headed home one night, but we decided that obedience required squeezing in one last little apartment building, on the (usually well-founded) assumption that no one would talk to us and we could be in and out in 10-15 minutes. The last door in that building was one of the two conversions I saw in Spain.

  7. john f. on April 12, 2006 at 11:07 am

    I see your point Nate and it is almost funny in a way because obviously it is made to be the last door because you go home after you teach the family and don’t knock more doors that evening.

    But I agree with Adam that these stories more often (it seems to me) involve the end of an agonizing evening of door-to-door in which the companionship (or one of the missionaries in the companionship) decides to do just one more door and, surprisingly, as if a miracle, that particular door was opened to them and resulted in either a discussion about the Gospel, or something much more than that.

  8. Jed on April 12, 2006 at 11:15 am

    Aren’t the missionaries who get in the last door and missionaries who do not part of a larger phenomenon, namely the phenomenon of suffering for Christ’s sake? For the missionaries who do get in the last door still must suffer considerably more than the small reward of acceptance at the last door could ever compensate. A morsel and glass of water at the end of a day without food does not fill one’s stomach. It is the experience of a day without food that is important, not whether one gets the morsel at the end or not.

  9. Sideshow on April 12, 2006 at 11:26 am

    I had a senior companion much like Jim F. — on evenings with no appointments, we’d pray for guidance and go tract where we felt led, and it _never_ led to us getting in a door or any measurable spiritual progress that I’m aware of.

    However, in another area, I noticed a different dynamic: call it “the first door”. Often when my companion and I made sure to leave our apartment when we were supposed to and start working like we were supposed to, our first contact in the morning / after lunch would be the best response we’d get all day, whether it was street contacting or tracting. My impression was that we were being rewarded for doing the Lord’s work instead of minimizing our proselyting time by staying home longer.

  10. S. P. Bailey on April 12, 2006 at 11:28 am

    I have a first door story. Early on, when I still spoke awful Portuguese, my trainer would say at each door: “Is this the one, Elder Bailey?, Anytime you want to make your first door approach, just jump in,” and so forth. After a few days of that, I did make a door approach. Although genuinely confused, the woman who answered invited us in. About three weeks later, I uttered the baptismal prayer in slightly less awful Portuguese. Last I heard, Sueli remains active.

    Incidentally, and contrary to a prominent claim in Nate’s post, we did not call it a day after meeting Sueli. I recall that we continued tracting out the endless maze of three-story concrete cube-apartments that dominated that part of Olinda, probably teaching 4-6 more first discussions that day. I guess instant success requires its own kind of endurance and dignity.

  11. Boris Max on April 12, 2006 at 11:28 am

    Any decision to stop tracting could also be influenced by numbers–did we make quota? Will the District Lord yell at us on Monday morning (or whenever your district meeting was)? Will our prez letter make us look good?

    And before any of you spiritual giants out there belittle Elder Max for acting like a unionized factory hand, I would like to point out that the only person I baptized that I know will be in the Celestial Kingdom petitioning the big boss for my release from Outer Darkness–she died of cancer one week after going through the temple–was found when I was in this state of mind. We taught M— and her friend, realized we had taught enough discussions to avoid the wrath of the numbers god, and went home and took a nap.

  12. Matt Evans on April 12, 2006 at 11:30 am

    Like Adam, my only good “last door” story was in Spain (in the projects of Ceuta, to be precise, on the north coast of Africa), and was pre-determined to be the last door of the night. I was an overzealous greenie whose enthusiasm sometimes (frequently?) irritated my trainer. Being more willing to knock doors than he was, I prevailed on him to tract-out one more building before going home. We climbed to the top of the stairs and started down. On the first floor, apartment D, we were let in by a family with four boys. They said they were looking for a new church, attended our struggling (3 active members) branch for several weeks, but ultimately decided against baptism.

    My favorite example of the “last” phenomena is when people say they found their keys in the last place they looked. Imagine that!

  13. Tyler Ward on April 12, 2006 at 1:04 pm

    I have a “first door” story. It was when I was serving in the office in the Czech, Prague Mission. We seldom tracted, mostly because we found other things to do to occupy our time instead of tracting. However, on one night I was feeling particularly guilty for having not tracted in nearly a week. (In my mission, companionships usually tracted anywhere from 25-40 hours a week). Anyway, my companion and I decided we should go tracting. We hopped on a tram and took it to the last stop, which took about 45 minutes to get there. This way, less tracting. Before we got to the last stop I felt horrible. Not sick, but more like I was being rebuked by the Lord. I knew the Lord was not happy with me. I immediately repented and asked for forgiveness. I prayed that we might find someone to teach, and to forgive me for being so lazy. I promised I would work as hard as I possibly could for the rest of my mission.

    The tram stopped and we got off. We said a quick prayer and headed for a nearby apartment building. The first building was locked, so we headed to another building. This time the front lock was broken and we walked in. We told the elevator to the top and knocked on the first door. A man in his early 30′s came to the door. We did our usual door approach. He told us he was busy and didn’t want anything to do with us. I thought nothing of it, and we moved to the next door and down the next floor. About 10 mintues later and two floors lower, this man came searched us out and asked us to come back to his apartment.

    It was one of the greatest 1st discussions. This man told us that he was thinking about jumping off his balcony and ending his life. Instead, he felt something different when we came to the door and couldn’t dismiss it. He was a big time smoker, and we asked him to quit that night. He never smoked again. He was baptized a few months later, and I have tried to keep in touch with him ever since.

    I have often wondered what would have happened if I had not asked for forgiveness in that tram. Would I have been able to be an instrument in the Lord’s hands in helping this man? Perhaps another pair of missionaries would of been led to him. But maybe it would of been too late.

  14. John Mansfield on April 12, 2006 at 1:15 pm

    This isn’t exactly a last door story, but you’ve made me think of it. We had left a late discussion that went well not long before midnight. As we walked back home, we heard someone yelling after us and turned around. It was a family running toward us. When they caught up, they explained that missionaries had been teaching them in another town, but they had moved, and they wanted to be baptized. We arranged to come to their house the next day and went home laughing at the preposterousness: at midnight, out of nowhere, a family chasing us asking us to baptize them. Was it some apocalyptic sign that the gathering of Israel was winding down? No, probably not.

  15. tom king on April 12, 2006 at 2:12 pm

    hello to you all —-i am a last door story—i ve been in the church since mar 4-1961—sometime in the late 50′s two elders came by my home –said they were from T.C. O J.C. LDS—i said no thanks so they went on their way—my mom asked me who were they and i said Christ Saints—she said oh Mormons–well i went to school with some Mormons–asked if i could ask them back—-sure said my mom–so i got on my bike and went down the street and found the elders asked if they would like to come back to my house—they ran back and got home before i did—now this wasent the elders that baptised me but they planted a big seed so sometimes “doing” does work
    tom

  16. Wilfried on April 12, 2006 at 2:23 pm

    Loved your story, Tom! Reminds me very much of my own trying to find the missionaries back, riding my bike, after they knocked on our door. That was in 1964. How old were you when this happened?

  17. Equality on April 12, 2006 at 2:23 pm

    This reminds me–whenever I misplace my keys, they are always found in the last place I look. :-)

  18. Paul R. on April 12, 2006 at 3:02 pm

    I’m intrigued by these stories, but more so by the underlying implications that somehow other people’s salvation, or chance at hearing the restored gospel, is tied to a pair of missionaries hard work, endurance, or level of righteousness. I wonder if that is really true? In my experience hard work rarely equaled success and endurance never led to a “last door� (witness Alma’s people being brought into bondage after they repented and accepted Christ).
    On the other hand, I also experienced evidence of God’s grace in my life, an overwhelming sense that he was aware of me, even at times when I was not at my righteous best. Those times taught me to recognize God’s love even when I didn’t feel particularly worthy of it.
    To link someone else’s potential exposure to the gospel to my ebb and flow of righteousness seems too capricious to me. God largely relies upon us mere mortals to further his work, sinful though we be. I acknowledge that our choices do matter, we need to follow the spirit, endure to the end, etc., but I’m calling into question the supposition that endurance equals success. It’s seems that it’s much more messy and complicated and open to agency on our part and on the part of the potential convert.
    That said, I never had a “last door� story and came to resent the ones told in the MTC because it seemed to make that connection explicit and it never worked for me. I did however have an “only door� story: We had only enough time to knock a few doors before an appointment. We prayed, got out of the car and I asked where should we go? My companion and I pointed to the same house. We knocked, the man answered, was busy, but invited us in for a few moments. He got baptized a month later. He was inactive by the time I left the mission.

  19. Mike B on April 12, 2006 at 3:15 pm

    Sorry for this. When people say they found their keys in the last place they looked, don’t they usually mean they had looked just about everywhere else before finding them? IOW, if they found them in the 2nd or 3rd place they looked, that doesn’t really count. This is my testimony. Well, not all of it.

  20. Mark B. on April 12, 2006 at 3:36 pm

    We’re all sorry too, Mike.

  21. Clark on April 12, 2006 at 4:14 pm

    You always find things in the last place you look because, hey, who keeps looking after you find them?

  22. Wilfried on April 12, 2006 at 5:55 pm

    Paul R (18): “I’m calling into question the supposition that endurance equals success”

    Good question. But in my many years in the mission field I have seen it happen to a certain extent. Dedicated, obedient, hard-working missionaries statistically meet with more success. But there are exceptions and variations. Sad for the very hard-working one who just doesn’t achieve… Irony when the slacker meets success without effort.

    I think we need to include other criteria. First, how do we measure success? Only by number of discussions given and converts baptized? Or also in terms of learning to endure as such, personal growth, patience, self-evaluation? Even more important, endurance is not only just adding one more door. It also needs genuine love for people one meets, originality in approaches, this magic touch that makes people hesitate to quickly close the door and provides the opening for more… I have seen, occasionally, missionaries who had all that and did not need to struggle to find the energy to get to one more door.

  23. JKS on April 12, 2006 at 6:48 pm

    LOL, it is just like “I found my keys in the last place I looked” (but who keeps looking after the keys have been found?)

  24. Jim F. on April 12, 2006 at 7:08 pm

    Wilfried (22): I have seen, occasionally, missionaries who had all that and did not need to struggle to find the energy to get to one more door.

    The best of several very good companions was Robert H. Slover II, and he was one of those you describe. He seemed not to have to work to teach and convert. It was as if those who were ready sought him out. But I think he seemed that way was because he was also the kindest and most loving of my companions (which, I want to repeat, is saying a lot since I had several wonderful companions). To him, the work wasn’t work, it was love. People could see that and they responded.

  25. Wilfried on April 12, 2006 at 8:12 pm

    True, Jim, I also remember a missionary who had it, David Rowles (we’re talking of the mid-sixties), who succeeded in convincing my parents to let me be baptized (a dozen missionaries had failed in this over a two year period). I don’t remember how many people Elder Rowles baptized, a lot, and they all seemed to come so easily — in a mission where it was very hard to get people to listen. And most of his converts stayed active too.

    The problem seems to be that this deep attitude cannot be taught cognitively, not even emotionally, certainly not from the Handbook, nor developed by sheer will. Is it partly innate? And still we know we have to acquire it. One thing is certain: if a missionary who does not have it, tries to “show” it, even with good intentions, it is often clumsy and artificial.

  26. Adam Greenwood on April 12, 2006 at 9:05 pm

    “I’m intrigued by these stories, but more so by the underlying implications that somehow other people’s salvation, or chance at hearing the restored gospel, is tied to a pair of missionaries hard work, endurance, or level of righteousness. I wonder if that is really true?”

    I hope its true to some degree. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this in the missionary, parenting, and hometeaching/fellowshipping context, and I haven’t found any easy answers. On the one hand, if someone else’s salvation depends in part on me, that seems unfair. But if not, then my efforts are pointless and useless–the only result is to build my own character and it would be just as good if God commanded me to learn to juggle five balls and I spent two years trying to do it. I’ve posted on the subject here:

    http://www.timesandseasons.org/index.php?p=1008

  27. Bookslinger on April 12, 2006 at 11:30 pm

    “…that somehow other people’s salvation, or chance at hearing the restored gospel, is tied to a pair of missionaries hard work, endurance, or level of righteousness.”

    I think this harkens back to the seeming friction between God’s foreknowledge and man’s agency. Trying to meld the two brings logic headaches and would even cause sparks to fly out the back of the heads of Star Trek (TOS) androids. (Androids of subsequent series seemed to have been built better.)

    Anytime misionaries say or do something to leave any favorable or spiritual impression can eventually bear fruit. My conversion story contains a testimony given to me by an LDS classmate during our senior year in High School. It wasn’t until 7 years after that, that one night I knelt in prayer and asked (among other things) which church I should go to. Like a loop of tape that repeatedly played in my mind, the memory of that encounter and his testimony would not go away for two weeks, until I finally realized that might be the answer to the prayer. Subsequent prayers during those two weeks went like “No, really God, what church do you want me to go to?” And all He did was push the replay button.

    That’s something that drives me to be prepared to give out copies of the Book of Mormon. It was one of the keys to my conversion. And I know that the Holy Ghost can cause a person to recall memories of encounters, things, and words.

    Even if the search doesn’t begin until someone is in the spirit world, I can imagine a missionary on the other side asking “Remember that blue book that that fat guy gave you?”

    The “spiritual hook” upon which the Holy Ghost makes a connection may be set at the door, and you’re invited in. It may be delayed a few minutes, as some stories tell how the householder later ran after the missionaries to retrieve them. Other times it takes years for the hook to set. And the smiling faces of two well-dressed polite young men gives something to that householder to remember, and it’s like a peg on the wall upon which the Holy Ghost can hang his hat.

  28. Sideshow on April 13, 2006 at 1:18 am

    “…that somehow other people’s salvation, or chance at hearing the restored gospel, is tied to a pair of missionaries hard work, endurance, or level of righteousness.�

    It may not be a question of whether they hear the gospel (I won’t spout the unreliable story of the convert lady whose patriarchal blessing said she would have accepted the gospel 20 years earlier if a certain young man had chosen to go on a mission like he was supposed to), but who they hear it from. I feel that the Lord directs the prepared to meet with those who are prepared to help them come unto Christ, and hard working, enduring, righteous missionaries (both of them) are just the sort that are likely to fit the bill. However, I would not be surprised if the Lord is quite willing to delay someone’s hearing the gospel for a few weeks, months, or years to wait for a sharer who is right for them.