The Ricciardi Letter Part 1
THE RICCIARDI LETTER By Danny Humphrey. Background: This letter was originally written to an Elder Clarke on June 17th, 1994. The son of a dear friend. I have updated this 16 year old letter with additional stories from my time as a missionary with Elder Ricciardi. The work any missionary does anywhere in the world is of critical importance to the development and conversion of the individual missionary. In other words…you.[Additional background note from James Ivie to Mark Bonham September 21, 2014: I have attached a file to this email of a “letter” that a buddy of mine wrote just over 20 years ago. He wrote this letter to the son of a friend who was struggling on his mission. Years later he began to hear of missionaries who had read the letter – some found it left behind in an apartment, some in the MTC, some had it mailed to them from an older sibling, etc. It took on a life of its own. A couple years ago a general authority called my friend and asked if the letter was really his (yes) and if he would (1) expand on it a little, (2) allow the Church to vet the accuracy of the letter, and (3) allow the Church to contact others who were mentioned prominently in the letter, particularly an Elder Ricciardi from Italy. The letter is about my friend’s mission experience, and in particular the important things he learned from his trainer. Danny has expanded the letter a bit, added a couple paragraphs recently, and we’ve heard of small pieces of it being used by General Authorities. Most recently President Uchtdorf used a few stories from the letter in an address to the missionaries at the MTC in Provo, and the talk was reproduced in the Church News. Pretty cool. Anyway, Danny had told Autumn about the letter before her mission and told her that when the time was right I would send it to her in the mission field. I formatted the letter and gave it headers and corrected some spelling and grammar problems and sent it to her a couple weeks ago. She and her trainer read it and cried a lot – and learned a lot. I hope that you have time to look at it, there are parts of this that I think every trainer should know and understand, and every new missionary for that matter.]Introduction I hope all is well and that your stay at the MTC has been the powerful spiritual experience that I remember. Upon returning from my mission I had the opportunity to teach at the MTC for almost 4 years while I was at BYU. My memories of the MTC are fond for both my mission experience and my post mission teaching experience. I wanted to write you and share some of the powerful lessons that I learned early in my mission that set the pace for the remainder of my time as a missionary.When I arrived in England my very first companion (my trainer) was an Elder from La Spezia, Italy by the name of Elder Ricciardi. His full name was Fabrizio Giovanni Spartico Ricciardi. Elder Ricciardi was an older missionary at 25 years old. He had joined the church with his family 2 years earlier. He came from a very modest upbringing in what was mostly a farming community. I can honestly say that his personal influence and stubbornness in the early months of my mission shaped the way I approached missionary work for the remainder of my mission. Train Ride to Loughborough. We had been together about 2 hours when I caught a glimpse of what a spiritually powerful individual he is. We had boarded the train from Coventry station to Loughborough, which was a small town in the countryside of Leicestershire, England. In order to get to Loughborough we had to change connections in the city of Birmingham.The Birmingham train station is absolutely huge, and it was easy to see how one could quickly get lost if they were not familiar with the place. Ricciardi had checked a schedule he had in his pocket and we began to make our way to the platform. Once we reached our platform I was overcome with jet lag and leaned against a wall to go to sleep. Our train was not due for an hour so I thought a nap was in order. About fifteen minutes into the nap I awoke to see Ricciardi napping away against the back wall of the bench I was sitting on. It was while I was staring at him that he suddenly bolted up from the bench and yelled at me to grab my luggage. He then took off down the ramp and turned the corner. He had startled me so much, that I quickly became angry and thought to myself, “When I catch up to him he is going to get it!” I chased him up and down stairs and ramps before we reached a platform where a train was leaving right when we had gotten there. We literally jumped on the train as it was moving, just managing to get on safely before running out of platform. We found some seats, situated my luggage and finally sat down when I strongly inquired into what the heck he was doing jumping up from his nap and running me all over Birmingham train station. He told me that he was not napping, but in fact praying to the Lord for guidance. When we first entered the train station we had stopped a passerby to inquire about platforms and were told to go to the platform we were at. While we were sitting at the platform Ricciardi felt uneasiness and decided to inquire of the Lord to confirm if we were at the right platform. The lateness of the hour and the fact that this was the final train for our area made accuracy of information imperative. It was during his inquiry that a powerful impression came upon him, not only telling him that we had in fact been purposefully misled by our unknown passerby, but the spirit, as clearly as Ricciardi was speaking to me, indicated where the correct platform was, and that the train was leaving right now! Hence the incredible chase. It was in the middle of his story that he stopped the train conductor to ask if we were in fact on the train to Loughborough. The conductor confirmed that it was and Ricciardi then fell asleep for the duration of the three hour train ride. I just stared at him for the remainder of the ride. First day in the Lord’s vineyard and already a valuable lesson in spiritual discernment! From that day forward I saw the value of inquiring to the Lord on all things. Did I inquire of the Lord every day after witnessing that incident? No, I was human, but I certainly could tell the difference in my mission when I did.Early to RiseI had been told at the MTC that as a new missionary normal wake up time is 6:30am, but that “greenie” missionaries (aka brand new missionaries) wake up at 6am. The earlier time is for getting the new missionary up to speed quicker through extra companion study. My very first morning, Ricciardi woke me up for companion study. I was so exhausted from jet lag, home sickness, running around the Birmingham train station at 30 miles per hour. I did not think to look at the time. In fact the only method of telling time in our whole apartment was a wrist watch Elder Ricciardi wore. We studied, read scriptures, role played discussions then the same in personal study. At the end of personal study, I was sure it had to be close to 9:30am departure time. I raced to get dressed, shaved, ironed shirt, tired but ready to go. Still in his pajamas, Elder Ricciardi looked at me and asked “you look anxious to do the Lord’s work… that is good” “I replied “don’t we have to go soon?”. He smiled. “Elder, we got up at 4:30am this morning; we have another 2 hours before we need to leave. Now I was REALLY angry. I opened the white missionary handbook (known as the white bible) and quoted to Elder Ricciardi “arise at 6:30am”. He reminded me that for training purposes new missionaries were to arise earlier. “Tell me where it says 4:30am in the white handbook!” I inquired. Elder Ricciardi calmly stood up and said “Elder, I am going to tell you a little secret. Most new missionaries are getting up at 4am. I chose 4:30am to give you a little extra rest. If you want to get up at 6:30am, I cannot control you. However, please know that we will be the ONLY new missionary companionship in the WHOLE mission not getting up early…I leave it up to you.” I certainly didn’t want to be the ONLY missionaries not getting up early…4 weeks later we attended my first Zone Conference in the city of Nottingham. It was so much fun to see a few members of my MTC district. I went up to Elder Condor, my old MTC companion and said “isn’t this getting up at 4:30am thing just a killer?” He looked at me like he had missed an “easy to understand” joke. So he “token laughed” which I could tell meant he didn’t get what I was talking about. I know a “token laugh” when I hear one. I said “you know….getting up for companion study”. He laughed again but this time it was the uncomfortable laugh, “ummm, Elder Humphrey, what are you talking about? We get up at 6am.” I was so mad. I immediately searched out 3 or 4 other new training companionship's and confirmed what I had feared. Elder Ricciardi was killing me on purpose. I found Ricciardi in the chapel and gave him the business about being the ONLY missionaries getting up at that crazy hour. He looked away from me, gave a long pause. Then he muttered, “Wow Elder, we are the ONLY missionaries working hard in this whole mission…wonderful…that is good to know, nice work.” I was speechless.I Fear No Man Ricciardi had a saying that has stayed with me, and will stay with me throughout my life. He would say to me, “I fear no man!” He spent his whole mission proving that slogan. Every day like clockwork 10 minutes before departure to proselyte, he would look in the bathroom mirror, point to it, and say “I fear no man”. Then he would do it again with a different posture. I personally thought he was trying to make me laugh by doing it. You know… some inspirational thing for the new missionary. I soon learned he actually meant it. He was not kidding.His door approaches were not only unique, but astounding. He would knock on a door, and when the door was answered he would introduce us as “missionaries from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints”. As he would be giving his introduction he would quickly look into the house to try and find something somewhere that would indicate some commonality that he could address in order to build relationships of trust.One time, approximately the third or fourth day we had been together, a gentleman answered the door, looking really uptight about the fact that we were disturbing his quiet Saturday afternoon. During the opening dialogue Ricciardi glanced in the door and saw a beautiful painting on the wall. Suddenly, mid introduction, Ricciardi screamed out “oh what a beautiful painting!” pushed the door open (nearly sending the man through the wall) and walked right into the house. I stood on the doorstep in absolute horror, a witness to this unbelievable demonstration of bad manners. Ricciardi walked right into the living room, met the wife and kids, and admiring the television set they were transfixed by, commented “what a beautiful television, may we turn it off?” He hit the off switch. I was still on the porch, quite honestly waiting for the police to be called, or for him to get physically thrown out of the house. To my shock I heard his thick Italian accent call down the hall way “Oh Elder Humphrey, will you join us?” I could not believe it. 45 minutes later we concluded the first discussion with a prayer. I confronted him later that night about the fiasco I had witnessed earlier in the day, he said “Elder, I fear no man, and that includes you. I will do the Lord’s work with or without you. I prefer with, but that is up to you”. Ricciardi expounded further, and I want you to remember this because it is absolutely true. Ricciardi told me the following: “Elder Humphrey, what is bold today, will not be bold tomorrow”. He meant that what was uncomfortable for me to declare today, over time will become second nature, and not be seen as “rude”, but rather would be seen by others as “conviction”. He further stated that The Lord tells us in Alma 38:12 to be bold, but not overbearing. Ricciardi defined overbearance as “boldness without love”. When people know and feel your love, you can never be too bold!” he would say. I would not have admitted it at the time because I was still too young and frankly immature to know, but it did not take me long to learn that his words that night were absolutely true. The MTC, The Mission Field, and “Follow Your Trainer”If you asked Ricciardi today about what it was like to have me as his companion, I am sure he would tell you that in the two months we spent together I was not humble, and did not buy into his way of doing missionary work. It is true, I fought him on stuff that I now look back with hindsight and realize was my pride and arrogance, and to a degree pure ignorance. Look, I loved the MTC, but to be frank, it is not the mission field. The MTC training is invaluable, but naturally it is limited, and when you finally do arrive in the field, you actually think you know quite a lot. After all you have spent THREE TO EIGHT WEEKS LEARNING WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT BEING A MISSIONARY. I capitalized the words to emphasize a bit of sarcasm. Truth is, you arrive knowing relatively little. Granted, you know more about gospel stuff than ever, but you still arrive fairly naïve to what the work involves. So when your trainer tells you “do this, don’t say that, you pronounced “coriantumr” wrong it all gets under your skin. The new missionary would like to feel acknowledged for something, for crying out loud YOU HAVE SPENT A LOT OF TIME AT THE MTC PREPARING. Here is the deal that every missionary needs to know. Follow your trainer, because it is my contention that the most important calling in the mission field, even greater than Assistants to the President, Zone Leaders, District Leaders is hands down without question the Trainer. Why? Because they represent your introduction to the mission field, they set the pace of your missionary habits and disciplines. Post mission I worked at the MTC during a couple training conferences for newly called Mission Presidents. In those training sessions mission presidents are instructed on how critical trainers are in the mission field. I trained once, Elder Degala was my greenie (meaning brand new missionary), and he would tell you today that we did not get along because I pulled a Ricciardi on him, and trained him the way Ricciardi trained me, which was demanding, full of boldness, and it drove him crazy because Degala had spent A LOT OF TIME IN THE MTC PREPARING. Someone once commented “Surely the legendary Elder Ricciardi was an Assistant to the President”. No. In fact he ended his mission a district leader (which he had been for a long time), never a zone leader, or AP. But here is what is mind boggling…he trained 4 times. Training more than once on your mission is very rare. In fact I only know of one other missionary from our mission who trained three times. Training is the most difficult calling in the mission field. Elder Ricciardi trained 4 times! Why would the mission president not use Ricciardi in leadership positions such as AP or ZL? I’ll tell you why, because every Mission President knows how vital a properly trained missionary is. Trainers make such a huge difference, taking what might have been a mediocre missionary and lighting a fire of confidence and spirituality. Our Mission President knew Elder Ricciardi’s personal influence could be magnified by training 4 missionaries, who would train 4 more, who would train 4 more let alone the impact through future companionship's of all those missionaries. I met so many missionaries who were either trained by Ricciardi or had simply been companions. We all shared the same stories about his stubbornness, boldness, and spirituality. We differed on our feelings of getting along with him or not, but all unanimously agreed Ricciardi served a mission to the maximum extent a mission can be served, with all his might, mind, and strength. Ricciardi was too straight talking and bold (and I mean Italian Bold) to be an AP or ZL. He would have called down hell, fire and damnation on any missionaries not being obedient. That sort of condemnation should be left to the Mission President. Nevertheless, never forget how important it is to obey your trainer and respect the calling of a trainer. I consider it the most important position of leadership in the mission field. By the way, if you by chance were paired with a lazy trainer who did not set the right pace for you, then please don’t perpetuate that mistake when you become a trainer. A really bad trainer in the first months of a missionary’s new life of dedicated service can snuff out an eager spirit. That is why it is without a doubt the most important calling in the mission field.