Youth Perform Spiritual Search-and-Rescue Missions
By Jason Swensen, Church News staff writer
In the shadow of New Mexico’s Sandia Mountains, an intrepid team of young men stands ready to perform spiritual search-and-rescue missions. Many of the team members are still too young to drive, but they are fearless and savvy—driven to find “the one” and return him to fellowship and safety.
If the lead paragraph reads like a preview from a Saturday matinee melodrama, it’s by design. The young men of the Rio Grande (Spanish) Ward—and a few of their rescue “missions” —have indeed been featured in a short film entitled “We Are Brothers” and posted at youth.lds.org. And, yes, the boys are a photogenic bunch. But quorum leaders say it’s the young men’s dedication to their Aaronic Priesthood duties that makes them heroes.
Each week, the deacons, teachers, and priests of the Rio Grande Ward, Los Lunas New Mexico Stake, go out with their advisers—in cars and on foot—on rescue visits to save “lost sheep”: those fellow quorum members who have been missing from Church services and other quorum activities. The young men say they are simply accepting the challenge offered in Doctrine and Covenants 107:99: “Wherefore, now let every man learn his duty, and to act in the office in which he is appointed, in all diligence.”
The visits are simple. The boys knock on doors and let the young men they are visiting know that they are missed. Then they invite them to return to church and other priesthood activities. Sometimes they pass along new Church materials, such as the updated For the Strength of Youth or Duty to God booklets. Other times they play basketball. And when they finish, they invite the young man to join them on their next rescue visit.
The “rescue” often becomes a rescuer in the same evening. There are always handshakes, smiles, and usually a few good-natured slaps on the back. “It was surprising today when … 30 people just came up to my house,” said one young man on the film following a visit. “It makes me happy inside knowing someone wants me to go to church. It makes me want to go to church now.”
“The young men in the ward have really captured the prophet’s message of rescuing the one who is in need,” Bishop Abraham Perez told the Church News. “They have taken that message to heart.”
The bishop’s first assistant, Alexis Valdez, 17, said the weekly rescue visits have fortified the ward’s Aaronic Priesthood quorums. “It’s extremely important that we visit these young men because we need them in our ranks to be strong—it’s what the Lord wants us to do.”
Aaronic Priesthood holders from the Rio Grande Ward in New Mexico walk through a residential park making visits to less-active young men in the ward. The young men make weekly visits.
Alexis said he and the other young men have been inspired by Christ’s teaching to “leave the 99” (see Matthew 18:12) and search for the one missing lamb.
“We are a big family, and it’s our duty to take care of each other,” added teachers quorum president Aldo Perez. “The visits bring us a lot of joy.”
Bishop Perez said the young men in his ward experience the same challenges as young people throughout the Church. They have ups and they have downs. But the rescue visits remind all the boys that they are loved, valued, and needed.
The Rio Grande Ward is made up largely of immigrant families. Some ward members have been in the Church for generations, while others are recent converts. The boys shift seamlessly in their Church meetings and activities between English to Spanish. And many are fast approaching full-time missionary service. The weekly rescue visits, they say, are helping them prepare for their calls.
Young men from the Rio Grande Ward in New Mexico extend the hand of fellowship each week to less-active members of their quorum.
“Our Aaronic Priesthood duties help us to become more spiritual,” said Aldo. “We are learning life skills that will help us on our missions.”
The weekly rescue visits have also helped Alexis come to relish assignments to serve others. He knows such opportunities will come each day on his future mission.
“Now I understand that we are all children of God and that our Heavenly Father wants each of His children to be rescued and return to Him.”