I remember—vividly—December 31, 2003.
I was a 20-year-old missionary, serving in a small town tucked away in the mountains on the US-Canadian border. The wind chill was well below zero. The sky was perfectly clear, and despite the cold there wasn’t much snow—if you’d asked me, a boy from Florida, I’d have guessed it had gotten too cold to snow.
I wore a thick wool coat that my grandfather had worn on his mission. I had sturdy boots, gloves, and a hat; the finishing touch was a scarf, wrapped around my face and leaving only my eyes exposed. There have been colder days, in colder places, for sure. But it was plenty cold for me that day, as I stopped every few minutes to wipe ice out of the inside of my scarf, which had formed from the moisture in my breath freezing when it hit the cold.
I have to assume that everyone who has served a mission has stories like this. Stories where it was unbearably hot, or cold to an unsafe degree, or where someone threatened you with a knife. And those are the easy parts; life as a missionary is difficult, and you spend a good deal of the time—at least I did—feeling like you’re not measuring up to your magnificent calling. You certainly don’t feel like an angel.
The prophet John Taylor, in penning this hymn, shines much-needed perspective on that work—work we all do as everyday missionaries, but work that holds special meaning for us if we were able to serve as full-time missionaries.
Go, ye messengers of heaven,
Chosen by divine command;
Go and publish free salvation
To a dark, benighted land.
Never doubt your calling; never. When we go forth we don’t go forth as men and as women, we go forth as messengers of heaven. While anyone who has a desire is called to the work, those who rise to the call are, undoubtedly, “chosen by divine command.”
Often we labor in a place that is dark, not yet illuminated by Gospel light. While “benighted” here can simply mean “dark”, it also carries its own meaning, suggesting that the shadow cast on those who have not yet received the Gospel has everything to do with their lack of proper opportunity and nothing to do with being less valiant or valued in the sight of God. There are so many searching for the Gospel that simply know not where to find it.
When your thousands all are gathered,
And their prayers for you ascend,
And the Lord has crowned with blessings
All the labors of your hand,
Then the song of joy and transport
Will from ev’ry land resound;
Then the nations long in darkness
By the Savior will be crowned.
President Taylor wrote two hymns that are in our current hymnbook, and they appear to go together—in addition to this hymn, “Go, Ye Messengers of Heaven” (#327), he also wrote “Go, Ye Messengers of Glory” (#262). In both he writes of a future day when the Savior will reign on the earth.
But in this hymn he also writes of specific, personal joy that each of us will find in those with whom we have shared the Gospel. Thanks to your efforts, whether as a full-time missionary or simply as an everyday missionary, you’ll touch thousands. And at a later day—or maybe now!—they will cry unto our Heavenly Father in fervent prayer with gratitude that you were there, that you opened your mouth and that you helped them find the Gospel, regardless of how small your role was in it. They may not accept it in this life, but the Lord sees all the labors of your hand and blesses you accordingly.
Ultimately, songs of joy will come from every land, and the Savior will sit on His throne here on the earth. But it won’t happen until those thousands have been touched. It’s up to us to reap while the day lasts. If we do, the Lord’s promise stands—how great will be our joy.