Exploring the gospel principles of earth stewardship

Bumping Into People: A Member-Missionary Approach

Norman Rockwell Walking to Church

Bumping Into People: A Member-Missionary Approach

By Søren Simonsen

July 2014

July is a wonderful month, as we celebrate the 1,400 mile trek of the Mormon Pioneers from Winter Quarters to the Salt Lake Valley in 1847. Those pioneers who walked with faith in every footstep can inspire us still today. Specifically, they have inspired me to walk!

Walking is central to so many gospel stories and principles:

  • Favorite Primary songs include “Pioneer Children Sang As They Walked” and “Teach Me to Walk in The Light” where walking is both literal and figurative.
  • Many of Jesus’ stories and miracles happened while walking—walking along the seashore and calling Peter as a disciple, walking on the water to illustrate the power of faith, and walking with his disciples on the road to Emmaus shortly after his resurrection.
  • Isaiah proclaims that those who “wait upon the Lord…shall walk and not faint” (Isaiah 40:31)
  • The Word of Wisdom also contains the principle and promise that we “shall run and not be weary, and shall walk and not faint” (Doctrine & Convenants 89:20).

There are many great reasons to walk. We walk to improve our health. We walk to experience the beauty of the world around us. We walk to keep our air clean and our water pure. We walk to strengthen our community.

As a ward missionary, I’ve reflected often over the past several months on another important reason to walk. We walk because it helps us connect with others. This includes our neighbors and friends as well as people we may not know and would not otherwise meet. Connecting with others is fundamental to member missionary work. We can’t share experiences and influence others with whom we have no interaction.

I’ve walked to church almost every Sunday in the 20 years I’ve lived in Utah. At first, it was sort of a novelty I never experienced as a child in central Texas, where I recall our family driving from 15 minutes to over an hour each way to church. Over the years, I’ve grown to love walking as I’ve found that almost every time I walk to church, no matter the season or the weather, I meet an old friend or make a new friend along the way.

Bumping into people is one of the most important tools we have in becoming effective member-missionaries. Walking to church gives me a chance to stop and say hello that I would not otherwise have had. And even though I don’t always stop and talk to everyone I see, I feel that others who see me walking to church have an important reminder that attending church is a part of keeping the Sabbath day holy. More importantly, bumping into people as you’re walking to a restaurant, a park, the bakery or the store provides opportunities for conversation—about stewardship, love of the outdoors, love of community—and those conversations can inevitably also lead to discussions of faith, values and beliefs.

I’m not suggesting you give up your car completely (though I have). Just try it once or twice a week and see what happens.

If you happen to live in Utah, July is also the month for the statewide Clear The Air Challenge (www.cleartheairchallenge.org). This is an important education and outreach program that uses friendly competition—with fabulous prizes for individual and organizational winners—along with putting information and resources at your fingertips to open up a world of mobility options outside of single-occupant vehicles. By participating in this program, it’s easy to see that getting out of your car not only benefits you, but has collective benefits for the entire region.

Over the month of July, I invite you to join with me and walk to church, and everywhere else you can. See if it provides you an opportunity to connect with someone that you wouldn’t have otherwise. I’d love to hear about your faith-promoting experiences while walking.

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Søren Simonsen is the Ward Mission Leader in the Parleys Sixth Ward in Salt Lake City. He has over 25 years of professional experience in city planning and architecture, and is recognized nationally for his work in making cities more friendly places for walking and biking.