First Place All-Church Article Contest

“Calls at this house are certainly a waste of time,” my visiting teaching companion said as we knocked on the weather-beaten door of a small and sagging rear house. “We never find anyone home.”

I glanced at her and nodded, as the peeling paint dug deep into my knuckles with the repeated firm raps; but we lingered, hoping today might be different. It wasn’t, and we finally threaded our way back along the heavily overgrown path to the street.

“Well, we’ve really gone the extra mile trying to see this woman,” I said as we climbed into the car. “Even locating her place was a monumental accomplishment.”

Hidden from street view by a larger house in front of it, the shabby little place had been difficult to find when we had made our first call six months earlier. Altered ward boundaries had brought a few new families into our ward from another, and this call had been added to our district. When the address seemed incorrect, we had persisted, and after stopping at two service stations and inquiring at several doors, we had finally made our way along the buried path to discovery. But that discovery was followed only by disappointing silence.

Since no telephone number showed on Judy Kearns’s information card, we had checked the directory service, only to learn that she had an unlisted number. A look at the ward records showed us that she was an inactive convert of three years who was supporting two small children by herself.

With each visit we had left a friendly note asking her to call us, but there was no response. We had even left some fruit at her door and had stopped by on a weekend, but we were always met by empty silence.

“Just another lost cause,” I thought as we drove down the street toward home, but my conscience nagged. Had we really gone the extra mile? What was the extra mile? By gospel standards, it was not just filling an assignment, I remembered, but caring enough to magnify an opportunity to successful fulfillment. True, we had put our toes into the extra mile, but that was only inches, and full steps could be taken.

That night, after four telephone calls, I managed to locate the visiting teacher from Judy’s previous ward. The gleaned information was vague, but I did get the unlisted telephone number. As I hung up, a little stirring of excitement lifted my spirits, and I eagerly dialed her number, only to be met again with the disappointment of prolonged, hollow, unanswered ringing. I tried again the next day and evening, but with no success.

While I was on my way home from a late-afternoon dental appointment several days later, the thought flashed into my mind that Judy, too, might be on her way home. It was the end of the normal working day, and she must go home once in awhile. Would she resent a visit at such an inconvenient time? On a quick impulse I swung the car in her direction and decided to take a chance. Pulling to the curb and looking down the long driveway, I could see the usual empty car stall, so I switched off the motor to wait. When twenty-five minutes had ticked by I shifted nervously, knowing my own family would be arriving home wondering where Mom and the usual dinner aroma was.

Uneasily I waited another fifteen minutes and was just getting ready to leave when an old, weather-beaten Volkswagen pulled into the driveway and filled the stall. By the time Judy had unloaded two small children from the car and located her house key, I was on the porch explaining who I was and expressing delight in finally having the opportunity to meet her. She responded with a cool, uncomfortable attitude, but my friendliness won and she invited me into her small living room.

I initially centered my attention on her young son and daughter, while they showed me their art work from nursery school and described in detail the skinned knee under Gary’s bandage. This gave Judy a chance to relax and observe me. Slowly she warmed up to my interest in her children, and she hesitantly began sharing some of her struggles to protect them from the ravages of a shattered marriage. I learned that her husband had left her and the children to find what he called his “personal freedom.” In her determination to survive, she began working at a meager-paying job and was taking night classes to become a dental assistant. She had placed the children in a neighborhood Christian church school, and was attending Sunday services there as well. It really didn’t matter where they went to church, she said, as long as they went.

My visit was short, but I had established a relationship and made an appointment for another call on her day off. At the door, I looked straight into her eyes and bore my testimony to the truthfulness of the gospel, and begged her not to deprive her precious children of the chance to share in its beauty. Her eyes filled with tears and I squeezed her hand as I left.

Anxious to take another step for Judy, I tried to communicate with her home teacher. After three telephone calls devoted to locating someone with the latest list of assignments, I learned that the ward executive secretary would be the one with whom to talk. He wasn’t home when I called, and after repeated attempts all evening, I finally gave up.

Two nights later, I tried again, only to find he had left his records at church and that I should call the clerk’s office in a few nights to get the information. I called as suggested, but no one answered, and I began wondering if it really was important to contact the home teacher.

My visiting teaching companion was delighted when she learned I had actually made an appointment with Judy, and she brought new enthusiasm to our efforts as we approached the little house in the rear. Judy was waiting for us and received, with appreciation, the still-warm cookies we had baked for her. The first part of our visit was light and friendly, but then Judy began sharing her fears and concerns for her children, the devastating feelings of inadequacy she had, and the agony of her financial struggles. We offered sympathy and dried her tears, but I knew more must be done. At the door I asked about her home teacher and learned she had never seen one since coming into our ward boundary. I was indignant! How could six months have passed without an assignment?

Sunday morning I was at church early to talk with the executive secretary. On investigation, we found that Ray Greer, a responsible, dedicated elder, was Judy’s assigned home teacher. I was baffled, and tried to locate him at church, only to learn he was on a two-week vacation. I was amazed at how many obstacles cluttered this extra mile I was trying to walk and I determined not to let them stop me. With that in mind, I contacted Ray on the day he arrived home. As I poured out my questions, he looked at me in blank confusion. He knew nothing of Judy Kearns, or of an assignment to be her home teacher; and we quickly realized that the communication chain had dropped a link someplace along the way. I handed him Judy’s unlisted number, gave him notes on my information, and voiced my urgent concern for her. He expressed appreciation for my help and seemed eager to correct the situation.

In a few short weeks the extra mile had turned into a miracle mile. It was the miracle of God’s organized plan in operation, the miracle of dedicated men honoring their priesthood, the miracle of women who care. It was thrilling to see the process in full operation, to see people eagerly following the Lord’s outlined programs. It was exciting to know that I belonged to his church.

Ray not only had an immediate visit with Judy, but he also invited her to share dinner and home evening with his family that week. At that gathering the children responded to each other, and soon Judy was enjoying the deep interest of Ray’s wife, who offered to pick them all up for Sunday School. Judy was hesitant, but the children were eager, and she finally agreed.

Coming back to church gave Judy a new awareness of the importance of the restored gospel, and before leaving she had met the bishop, visited with the Relief Society president, and agreed to let one of the officers pick up her children from nursery school to attend Primary. When the bishop learned that Judy would soon be a trained dental assistant and was concerned about a job, he asked the ward employment director to start looking for dentists who might be prospective employers. By the time Judy was certified, he had three good interviews waiting. She was offered all three jobs and chose the highest salary offer.

A few weeks later the Relief Society president dropped by to request Judy’s help in giving some pointers on dental care to the night Relief Society. Judy responded and enjoyed meeting other working sisters who shared many of her same problems. She became a steady supporter of Relief Society. Then the bishop decided it was time for a Church calling. Junior Sunday School seemed to fit her schedule best, and in a short time Judy was one of its outstanding teachers.

Then Ray Greer, who had been concentrating on finding her better housing within the ward boundary, came up with a winner. While the elders moved her belongings, the night Relief Society lined shelves and the Sunday School officers prepared food to make it a party. Judy had become special to a lot of people and a very vital part of our ward.

On the fast Sunday when Judy stood to bear her testimony for the first time, the chapel was especially quiet as we all listened closely. She humbly acknowledged her new-found security in the knowledge that the Lord walked with her and that his gospel brought the serenity to overcome fear and inadequacy. Tears of gratitude flowed down her cheeks as she expressed love for all those who had helped lift her life with their caring. As she finished, most of us dug for our handkerchiefs and sensed the elation of shared victory. Wiping my eyes, I marveled at the beautiful process that had brought about Judy’s transformation. And I knew, incredible as it seemed, that it had all begun with some meager efforts to go the extra mile in my visiting teaching assignment.

I realized that day with a new clarity that, insignificant as we may feel in the service of God, each of us possesses the ability to put His great plans into operation, to release marvelous power that changes and builds lives, to provide the outlet for dedicated, vibrant service. But this tremendous potential can move ahead only when we create the momentum, when we release the dams and allow God’s magnificent glory to go forward and make the extra mile a miracle mile!

[illustration] Illustrated by Howard Post

Sara Brown Neilson, a homemaker, serves as education counselor in the Pasadena California Stake Relief Society.