Wow! This was it! My chance to finally get involved in missionary work, and with a low risk factor, too. I could hardly believe my eyes when I discovered Jennifer, my daughter’s kindergarten friend, and her parents at our church! Investigators!
Up to this point my batting average in missionary work had been pretty low, exceeded only in laxity by my attempts at genealogy. From the time fifteen years earlier when I had excitedly made my way into the “mission field” (meaning then anywhere outside the boundaries of Utah and southern Idaho), I had been sadly disappointed at my failure to spread the good word. Oh, I’d made a few frightened attempts at asking the Golden Questions, but they’d always been terminated by a friendly “thanks, but no thanks” type of response.
Now someone else, I discovered, had done the hard part, and here they were, a “golden” family, as the missionaries liked to call them, in my very ward, just waiting to be fellowshipped! Opportunity excited my courage, and beginning at that point our acquaintance became friendship.
Jennifer’s mother, Patti, was an attractive, outgoing woman, and she fit right into our circle of friends. She graciously accepted my offer of rides to Primary for the children, and I was delighted when she would call with a problem she was having with a newly discovered principle of the gospel or an outlandish rumor she had heard. I suffered when she began reading the negatively slanted material she found at the public library, and I was amazed at the way she could read A Marvelous Work and a Wonder late at night after a hard day’s work.
Mike and Patti were bright, practical people, and their conversion came only after much careful thought and study. They weren’t baptized right away, nor were they sure they wanted to be. They needed time to test, to practice, to make sure their decision was right. It was during these months of waiting and hoping that I discovered what is, I guess, the basis of all human relationships, the substance of Christianity.
During those days of wondering “Will they or won’t they?” “What if they decide against the Church?” “What if …” I asked myself the inevitable question: If Patti decides not to join the Church, will it affect our friendship?
The answer, I knew, had to be a firm, emphatic “No!” For a “yes” answer may have meant that I wasn’t concerned with my friend, but with a baptism, with my own welfare. (After all, if I labor all my days and bring just one soul, how great will be my joy! [See D&C 18:15.]) The question brought a rush of principles and values—the importance of missionary work, the happiness the gospel brings, the importance of steadfastness. But the ultimate principle always surfaced: If I were really interested in Patti’s welfare, our friendship wouldn’t be contingent upon baptism within a given framework of time. Because I became aware of that principle I learned to know Patti as a person with hopes and dreams, successes and disappointments, joys and fears, and not just as “an investigator.”
That was my moment of truth. Since that time I have observed those “fellowshippers” who really have an impact on others. My husband often refers to the ward in which he grew up in a small Utah town. For years there had been the traditional two groups: the actives and the inactives. Then a new man moved into the ward, an out-of-towner, and he was immediately given many of the inactive members as home teaching families. Within a short period of time many of the inactive families became active. The story goes that “he didn’t know they were inactive!”
Although this interpretation is a good one, and supports the “as if” principle (treat a man as if he has certain qualities and he will develop them), I believe there is another possibility. It may be that this man looked upon his contacts as friends, as brothers, and not as the stereotype “inactive members.” It may be that his warmth and sincerity found a place in the hearts of his families where others, going through the motions of activating an inactive family, had failed.
Traveling from Virginia to Utah recently, we attended Sunday School in Cheyenne, Wyoming. The Gospel Doctrine lesson that Sunday was on the subject of love, and many thrilling and thought-provoking ideas were introduced. One woman in the class was very responsive, and as it looked like the teacher was running out of time she became anxious. Finally she raised her hand and said, “I’ve got to say this. Everything you have said here is true, and it’s beautiful. But there’s one thing about love that nobody has mentioned.
“You can’t say, ‘I’ll love my family,’ and ‘I’ll love the Church,’ and let it stop there. Either you are a loving person or you’re not. You have to care about the clerk in the supermarket, though she may be grouchy and sharp after a hard day. You can’t turn love on or off at your convenience; it has to be you!”
She was right! And I remembered what she said at every service station and restaurant between Cheyenne and Salt Lake City. I wasn’t surprised that not only did strangers react more positively, but as a result of my newly developed habit of caring about others, I discovered amazing improvements in our family relationships, too. Equally important, I learned that with an attitude like this, fellowshipping would be much more simple. If I could learn to shower warmth and love on everyone, I wouldn’t have to worry about who would be a likely prospect!
It has been two years since I first saw my daughter’s friend’s family at church. They are active members of another ward now, and are more active in the missionary program than most of us. I can’t take credit for Patti’s conversion—the Spirit did that. But I learned an important truth that seems evident for every situation: When in doubt, care. Love and concern are never wasted.