Some years ago, before I was called to my present assignment, it was my good fortune to spend a few days with President Kimball. He invited me to go to Mexico with him to hold some meetings and to inspect some Church properties. On April 27, 1975, he and I, together with his secretary, D. Arthur Haycock, flew to Mexico City. He had asked that no one be advised of his coming. This was partly for security reasons and partly because of his desire just to drop in on things to find out how they really were functioning.
On Monday morning we met at 7:30 for prayer before going to breakfast. It is an interesting experience to kneel with the prophet and hear him talk to the Lord. The compassion and concern he has for all the world is beyond comprehension. He asked the Lord’s help in explicit detail for the members of the Church who were being evacuated from Vietnam. He was mindful of his counselors and the Twelve who were scattered throughout the world. He asked the Lord to bless and prosper “every interest in Zion.”
After breakfast we were met by a stake president and Church employee who would act as driver and guide, and we set out for a tour of Church properties and schools. I functioned as interpreter.
The President decided that he wanted to visit a small school in the southern part of the city. When we arrived, the driver stopped the car and ran to get the keys to the gate on the near side of the school yard. While he was looking for the keys, the school custodian walked up to where we were waiting and opened the gate. He didn’t know who we were. He just felt he should open the gate. After we were inside the yard, the stake president told him who he had just let on the property. His face brightened; then he carefully wiped his right hand on his trousers and offered to shake hands.
Two or three youngsters came up to see what was going on. They were introduced to the prophet. When they realized that he was really there in their school yard, they rapidly spread the word. One little second grader in a yellow shirt sized up the situation. He looked President Kimball right in the eye and said, “You wait right here—don’t go away. I’ll be right back.” And he went to tell his friends the prophet was there.
I don’t know whether it was time for recess or not—probably not. But soon President Kimball was surrounded by a mob of school children. He must have shaken hands with about fifty children before the first teacher showed up. You know, teachers are always a little slow to believe things their elementary school students tell them.
When they came out of the building, there he was—talking to the children and answering their questions. Now, they weren’t profound questions for the most part. One little boy asked him where he was from. He said, “Salt Lake City.” The boy replied, “Oh, I thought you were from heaven.”
In Mexico there is no such thing as a school lunch program. The children bring lunch, such as it is, from home and eat it during recess. Soon the President was deluged with offers to share lunch. Black-bean sandwiches, potato chips, or an occasional unidentified morsel were offered. He was deeply touched by the offers and thanked each child graciously.
One young teacher was a bishop’s wife. She approached hesitantly to shake hands with the President of the Church. She said her mother was seriously ill and was not expected to live. She asked President Kimball if he would take her name to the temple and ask the Lord to bless her. The President said he would. I went with her back to her classroom for pencil and paper. She said, “My husband will never believe what I tell him at the dinner table tonight.”
Finally the President took leave of the children, walked around the building, and made his way to the car. He was slightly ahead of me while I talked to some of the children. I overheard one of them say to another, “Don’t you believe him. He’s not from Salt Lake; he’s from heaven.”
When we left the school, we drove across the city to inspect some temporary buildings that were being used as a chapel by two of the wards. As we entered the property we noticed a car with some people getting in it. A man stuck his head out of the window, waved to the stake president who was driving our car, and shouted, “Hello, President. I’m sorry I don’t have time to stop. I’m in a hurry.”
I thought of the scripture “Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares” (Heb. 13:2). Perhaps he had had an appointment—or something else pressing—but I was sorry that he and some of his ward members had missed the opportunity of meeting the most important man in the world.
President Kimball then proceeded to inspect the property. He visited the classrooms. He climbed a rickety ladder to the roof of the little temporary chapel. He paced the width of the property wondering aloud whether he could measure meters as well as yards. We ate mangos and watermelon in the middle of a field.
Finally we returned to the hotel for some meetings. On the way he told me he would like to go to someone’s family home evening. He asked if I thought he would be welcome if he were to drop in on a family. I told him I thought he would be welcome in any of 10,000 homes in the city and that the only problem would be to decide which family or families he wanted to visit.
He said, “Give me some names of families who are one-hundred-percenters, who always hold their home evenings and who have children of all ages.”
So I did. I suggested several active couples with large families. He chose one and asked me to call and make arrangements for him to attend later in the evening.
I have never had so much fun. I knew the family he selected. I had been in their home before. I called the mother. The conversation went something like this:
“Hello, sister. This is Burton Howard. How are you?”
“I’m here at the hotel with President Kimball.”
“President Kimball. You know—the prophet.”
“The prophet is here in Mexico?”
“Yes, and he wonders if it would inconvenience you too much if he were to attend your home evening tonight.”
Silence. Absolute silence. Finally I said, “Sister, are you there?”
She replied, “Be serious.”
I said, “I am serious. I’m here in President Kimball’s room at the hotel. He has a five o’clock dinner appointment with a congressman. As soon as he can get free, he would like to come to your family home evening. We can probably be there about seven o’clock. Will that be too late?”
She said, “No. We usually don’t start until 6:30 or 7:00.”
I said, “Now, the President will have already eaten so please don’t prepare any dinner. In fact, he doesn’t want you to do anything different than you would do on any other family night. No speeches, no special expense, or anything like that.”
She said, “You are serious.”
I said yes, I was. She said, “Oh, my!”
I said, “We may be a few minutes late.”
She said, “That’s all right. We’ll wait.”
Everything went according to plan. The President asked me to buy a little package of candy for the smaller children. About 6:30 the sister’s husband picked us up at the hotel, and we drove across town to family home evening. On the way President Kimball stopped and bought a dozen roses from a street vendor for his hostess. We arrived at the home. It was a humble place—much too small for the family.
All of the children were dressed in their Sunday best, waiting on the sidewalk when we arrived. The father told his sixteen-year-old son to park the car. This meant taking the vehicle from its double-parked position and finding a place for it on a crowded street lined with cars. His son said, “Just a minute, Dad. Let me say hello to the prophet first.”
I was impressed that here was a boy who knew how to put first things first. We shook hands with all of the children and entered the house.
A program had been prepared. The father gave a welcome in English. The sixteen-year-old boy gave the opening prayer, also in his best English. We could tell it was the first time in his life he had prayed in that language. He gave thanks for the safe arrival of the prophet and asked the Lord to grant this “little prayer” to protect and watch over him.
Then there was an opening song, “Love at Home.” The ten-year-old boy played the piano while the sixteen-year-old led. The program was then turned over to the fourteen-year-old daughter, who welcomed President Kimball, announced the activities of the evening, and then called on her mother to give the lesson.
The mother told the story of the woman at the well in Samaria and tried to draw from her six children what it meant to give living water. She asked each of them individually what they had understood from the lesson and discussed it with them until they could give her an answer. Some of the answers were good and some not so good. But they all participated. Perhaps the little six-year-old girl gave the best response. She stated that sharing the gospel with a nonmember was the best way to give living water.
After the lesson the mother turned the time back to the fourteen-year-old. That little girl was pretty composed and collected. Just as if it were an everyday occurrence, she announced, “Now we would like to hear from President Kimball.”
The President told them about his youth. He said that while he was growing up his father was stake president. He remembered the demands which this made on the family—how it was common for his father to be called at all hours to travel to distant parts of the stake by buggy, how on one occasion he went with his father to visit a critically ill member of the Church, and how, in response to the blessing of the priesthood, a healing had taken place. He said he had never heard his father complain and had never seen him fail to live the gospel.
He drew an analogy for the children seated in front of him. He told them that their father would be called to serve the Lord in various ways. He would only be doing what the Lord wanted him to do, and they should not resent their father’s being asked to serve.
Then he asked a few questions about the family home evening. How it was decided who would give the lesson, whether the same person always conducted, whether everyone took part. The mother told him that they each took their turn, and that there had been no special rearranging of assignments because of his visit.
The President then asked if anyone would mind if he played the piano. He asked if they knew “I Am a Child of God.” Upon being informed that they did, he seated himself at the piano. With a resounding bass accompaniment decidedly not in the original version, he played while we sang in Spanish.
He then asked if they knew “I Need Thee Every Hour.” We surrounded him at the piano, and again playing from memory he brought a professional accompaniment to that song.
He told the family he didn’t favor the Spanish translation of that hymn, that he was informed that in Spanish it said “I love thee” rather than “I need thee.” He told them of the deep significance the English words had for him. Finally he said that that concluded his part on the program.
The father offered the closing prayer in halting English in honor of their guest.
Afterwards punch and cookies were served. It was a typical scene from a Mormon family. The mother told the children that if they couldn’t keep crumbs off the furniture they wouldn’t be allowed to eat in the living room anymore. While we were having refreshments, the ten-year-old volunteered to play another number. He played from John Thompson’s third piano book. His sister offered to join him in a duet, and they presented another number.
President Kimball then said that he had always liked to play duets but had difficulty finding anyone who would claim him as a partner. He offered to play with the ten-year-old, and together they improvised “We Thank Thee, O God, for a Prophet.”
Finally it was time to go. As we walked out to the car, the two smallest children wanted to go with us. The President suggested that they come. And so mother and father, two children, and three guests drove back across the city after having shared a family home evening to be remembered always.
There were two postscripts. As we were leaving, I turned to the mother and said, “I hope we haven’t inconvenienced you too much by all of this.”
She replied, “Oh, no. This has been one of the greatest days of my life. After today, there can never be a really bad day again.”
I had occasion to talk with her on the telephone before we left. I asked her how her children had enjoyed the evening. She again replied, “You know, Brother Howard, usually after home evening our children are quick to go to bed. They have to leave for school at 6:30 in the morning. But last night they didn’t want to go to bed. All they wanted to do was talk to one another. They were filled with wonderment and satisfaction at having had the prophet in our home.”
Then she said, “I just let them talk. I don’t believe they slept at all.”