Sister Carole M. Stephens: Visiting Teachers Are “Emissaries of the Lord”
Contributed By Carole M. Stephens, Relief Society General Presidency
- Visiting teachers are “emissaries of the Lord.”
- Have we accepted our call to be an instrument in the Lord’s hands?
- Small, genuine acts of love will make a big difference.
“Relief Society sisters accept their assignment to visit another as a call from the Lord.” —President Henry B. Eyring of the First Presidency
In the general priesthood session of general conference, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles encouraged home teachers: “Lift your vision of home teaching. Please, in newer, better ways see yourselves as emissaries of the Lord to His children” (“Emissaries to the Church,” Oct. 2016 general conference).
An “emissary” is defined as a messenger, a representative.
As I listened to Elder Holland, I couldn’t help asking the question: do my sisters understand that this counsel also applies to the women of the Church in our assignment to be “emissaries of the Lord” as visiting teachers?
We make a covenant when we’re baptized, and we renew that covenant each time we partake of the sacrament. We covenant that we “are willing to take upon [us] the name of Jesus Christ, having a determination to serve him to the end” (D&C 20:37; see also verses 77, 79).
Visiting teaching is one way to provide Christlike service, as Handbook 2 explains: “Visiting teaching gives women the opportunity to watch over, strengthen, and teach one another.” President Henry B. Eyring, First Counselor in the First Presidency, testified that visiting teaching is part of the Lord’s plan to provide help for people all over the world.
He said, “The only system which could provide succor and comfort across a church so large in a world so varied would be through individual servants near the people in need. … He set a pattern in place. … Relief Society sisters accept their assignment to visit another as a call from the Lord” (“The Enduring Legacy of Relief Society,” Oct. 2009 general conference). Through this system of watchful care, each Latter-day Saint woman has the opportunity to be an instrument in the Lord’s hands.
Do we accept our assignment to visit another sister as a call from the Lord and an opportunity to be an instrument in His hands?
Accepting a new assignment may be uncomfortable at first; you may not know the sister you have been asked to watch over. But you can accept your assignment with confidence, knowing that it has come from the Lord through your Relief Society presidency and bishop as they have sought His help through prayer to know who can help meet her needs.
The Lord’s work is accomplished in His way as leaders delegate to others opportunities to serve. You are a covenant daughter of a loving Father who knows you. You may not be aware of the needs of the sisters you are assigned to watch over, but remember they are also daughters of a Heavenly Father who knows and loves them. Pray for them by name and seek inspiration to know how you can respond to their spiritual and temporal needs—then go and do as you are prompted by the Spirit.
Our opportunity to minister
As we establish a friendship with our sisters, we’ll have a better understanding of their individual needs and circumstances. Elder Holland taught that a monthly visit in each home is still the ideal the Church would strive for. However, realizing this is not always possible, leaders may adapt to meet local needs. He continued: “We [can] make other kinds of contact … via any means the Lord has provided.” Visiting teachers may use phone calls, letters, email, text messages, or other means to watch over and strengthen sisters.
And the scriptures teach, “By small and simple things are great things brought to pass” (Alma 37:6).
The foundation of all we do in our assignment to be a visiting teacher is love. Do the sisters we’ve been assigned to watch over know that we love them? Do they know that they could call on us to help them if they had a need?
My visiting teacher, Stella, occasionally uses text messages to minister to me. One Sunday afternoon I received a text message from her. It read: “I missed you at church today. Are you traveling? Are you OK?” I was traveling and I was OK. I didn’t need help, but I was so touched to know that Stella was watching for me at church and when I wasn’t there she wanted to know why.
Was that ministering? Yes! Did I feel loved? Yes! Did it count? Yes! This is a perfect example of ministering to the one in a small and simple—yet very meaningful—way. We may be assigned to minister to sisters who don’t attend Sunday meetings regularly. When our sister misses sacrament meeting she is missing more than a meeting. She is missing the opportunity to renew her covenants with the Lord. Can we be an “instrument in the hands of the Lord” as we love and care for her and seek the Lord’s help to know how to strengthen her faith?
Elder Holland also taught, “The report that matters most is how you have blessed and cared for those within your stewardship … and nothing to do with a particular location.”
A report is necessary, but the question “Did you get it done?” is only a number—a check in the box—and not what matters most. As a visiting teacher reports any special needs of the sisters they visit and any service rendered, they’re really reporting on their opportunity to be an instrument, in small and simple—yet meaningful—ways, in the hands of the Lord, “and by very small means the Lord … bringeth about the salvation of many souls” (Alma 37:7).