Mormon Journal

By


An Instrument in His Hand

From the dimly lighted parking lot at the university, I noticed a young man staring at me. Thinking that perhaps he was waiting for someone, I looked around. But even when I looked away, I could sense that he was still looking in my direction. He was sitting near the front entrance to the building.

I considered using the rear entrance, but when I saw other teachers and students entering the building, I walked toward the door, pretending to be unaware of his scrutiny. When I came within a few feet of him, he turned away, and I climbed the long flight of stairs to begin teaching my three-hour evening class.

I did get a good glimpse of him. He looked like a student—perhaps a senior or a graduate student. He was dressed in an open-collar shirt and khakis, and he seemed upset.

I forgot about him as I began teaching the class. But during the break in the class, I walked over to the window and looked down to where he had been sitting. I felt a sense of relief when I saw that he was not there. There had been a great deal of crime on campus lately. Several professors and students had been robbed. “The unrest on this campus is getting to you,” I thought, and determined not to worry so much.

I continued teaching the class. Afterwards, a few students lingered to chat. One by one, they drifted away, and I packed my few books and materials and headed down the stairs. The building seemed isolated—as it typically was this late in the evening.

As I descended the stairs, I thought of the young man I had seen earlier that evening. But I quickly dismissed such thoughts as I walked through the open glass doors and began to cross the parking lot.

It was a beautiful fall evening. The sky was clear, and the air was crisp. This walk was always refreshing after a three-hour class. I took a deep breath, thinking about my return home. Suddenly, I again felt that I was being stared at or followed. This time, the feeling was more intense than earlier. I glanced over my shoulder, and in the distance, I could see a figure approaching rapidly. I tried to calm down. “It’s probably just a student hurrying somewhere,” I thought. I kept telling myself to be calm and to think rationally.

I looked around the parking lot, but I couldn’t see anyone. I felt a sense of relief as I approached my car—glad that I had remembered where I had parked. Just as I reached to open the door, I heard a voice say, “Dr. Byrd, may I talk to you for a minute?”

I turned around, intending to give my office hours. It was the young man whom I had seen earlier. He looked distraught and tense, quite out of breath from the jog across the parking lot. He apologized for alarming me and told me that he had been waiting for me most of the afternoon. His name was Mike. He told me that he had felt impressed to come to the university to talk to someone, and as he had seen me approaching the building earlier in the evening, he had felt moved to walk toward me. He had decided not to because I had seemed to be in a hurry. But he had gone over to the evening school to ask who I was.

He said that he had expected to have been led to a teacher of religion or philosophy. When he had discovered that I was a psychology professor, he had felt a little apprehensive. He said, “I have just been dismissed from one of the seminaries in the Washington, D.C., area because I questioned the nature of God and the tenets of religion. I need to know who God is and which church is true.”

I stared in disbelief. I had read stories about such experiences happening to other people. Quickly, in my mind, I offered a prayer for the Lord’s guidance. I told Mike that I was a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. We spent the next two hours at the student union building discussing the gospel.

As we talked, I watched the tenseness leave Mike’s face. His countenance began to glow. He had already thought about many of the principles we were discussing. I seemed to be simply validating what he already believed. He accepted the principles of faith, baptism, and repentance as well as the First Vision, tithing, temple, genealogy, and missionary work—all without question. The words seemed to flow from me with a conviction that I did not know I had.

The union building was closing. We had to leave. We walked across the same dimly lighted parking lot—this time with a feeling of peace and protection. I gave Mike the name of a local bishop and told him about the missionary discussions. He seemed grateful as he shared his testimony with me. He knew that he had been led to the university, and he was glad he had waited for me. He left me, and I remained in the car for a few minutes, this time watching him walk away. I felt a peace and calmness as I pondered the evening’s events. The tears softly came. I left the university feeling uplifted and refreshed that I had witnessed the Spirit’s guidance and had been allowed to be an instrument in introducing Mike to the restored gospel of Jesus Christ.

A. Dean Byrd, a professor of psychology at George Mason University, teaches the Family Relations class in the Mt. Airy (Maryland) Ward.

Learning to Listen

My thirst for knowledge was insatiable. A convert to the Church, I felt I had a lot to learn, and so I read all the materials I could get my hands on. Yet, after ten years, I still did not comprehend how people received revelation. The burning sensation and that still small voice others talked about seemed to elude me.

Marriage only added to my frustration. When decisions had to be made, it was my husband who always got the answers. His track record was terrific; we had the help we needed when we needed it. I found it easier to pray that we would get the answer, then just follow his counsel.

Still, every once in a while, my inability to receive revelation would leave me with a nagging, let-down feeling. This usually came when I went visiting teaching. I would kneel in prayer and ask that the Lord help us discern the needs of those sisters my companion and I were to visit. Then we would make our visits. The sisters never seemed to need our help, and so I would let things drift, all the while yearning to be of inspired help.

An employment change for my husband brought us into a new city and a new ward. I was so bothered by my previous “failure” as a visiting teacher that I did all I could to avoid the Relief Society presidency. But in spite of my best efforts, it didn’t take them long to find me and make the call. My initial visits with the wonderful women my companion and I were assigned to promised to be only the first in a series of special visits. I worked hard on the lessons trying to bring some special meaning to them for the sisters. I wanted to give them all that I could. Yet, when I prayed to know the needs of these sisters, the heavens were silent.

One morning while I was dusting, a thought came into my mind—call Amanda. I quickly pushed it away so I could get on with my work, but while I was sorting laundry, it returned. I impatiently told myself that Amanda was busy preparing her cooking mini-lesson for homemaking meeting that evening. She wouldn’t have time to chat. I went on to the dishes, but once again the thought came—call Amanda. I gave up, dried my hands, and went to the phone. All the time I was dialing, I was practicing my apology for bothering her when she was so busy.

When Amanda answered the phone, I found myself not apologizing, but asking if she needed help with her cooking lesson. To my surprise, I found that she had been on her knees in prayer asking for help. She needed someone to fry extra portions of the food so that each sister attending home making meeting might have a taste. Out of desperation, she had almost decided to skip that part of her demonstration.

A couple of weeks later, I was writing letters to some of my relatives when I was troubled by another thought. Whenever I would pause in my writing to think, the names of the three sisters on my visiting teaching route came into my mind. I pushed the thought aside and kept on writing. But the more I pushed, the more it persisted. Finally, I let it stay just to see what would happen. A few minutes later I was busily engaged in writing short notes to the three sisters, telling them simply that I was thinking of them and wishing them a happy day.

With the pressures of everyday activity, I easily tucked this experience in the back of my mind. One day, my daughters and I got involved in making and decorating a batch of sugar cookies. It turned out to be a very large batch of cookies. I knew we could never eat all of them. Again, a thought came into my mind—the sisters on my route. I had learned by this time not to ignore those kinds of thoughts, so the girls and I quickly wrapped the cookies and went to deliver them. On the way back home my oldest daughter said that sharing the cookies had been a great idea; it had made her feel good.

After I put the girls to bed, my daughter’s comment returned to my mind. I suddenly realized that these thoughts which popped into my mind were a bit unusual. I cornered my husband that night and asked that he tell me what was happening. He explained that the thoughts were just my way of getting the answers I had sought for so long. Each had shown me a way to help my sisters.

The more I thought about this, the more I realized that I had been limiting myself by expecting to receive a constant flow of revelation on behalf of my sisters. Sometimes, all a person needs is a friendly face when the day is dragging. None of us face major problems all the time, nor do we always need outside help in dealing with them. More important, I found that I could receive inspiration. But it would come according to the Lord’s will, not mine, and in the way he tailors for me. I felt as though a load had been lifted from my shoulders.

With my new understanding came renewed gratitude for the wisdom of my Heavenly Father. I knelt to thank him, and to ask for help in remaining worthy of his Spirit in the future.

Rhonda McNeil, mother of two, is an assistant data entry clerk in the Provo (Utah) Sixteenth Ward.

It’s a Small Church

In the spring of 1975, four days before South Vietnam was taken over by North Vietnam, my family fled Saigon. We had only a few minutes to pack and could not bring much with us.

After a couple of days waiting at the military airport, we boarded a cargo plane to an uncertain destination. With all our worldly possessions in our small bags, we left behind our beloved country forever.

Like autumn leaves blown in the wind, we landed at Clark Air Base in the Philippines. We stayed there for a few days, and then flew to Wake Island in the Pacific, where we were processed to enter the United States.

After what seemed a long, long week on the island, we boarded another plane to continue our exodus. We were given a choice of camps in the United States in which to stay temporarily. My family chose Florida, but later, during the flight, we found that we were heading for Fort Chaffee, Arkansas—a place we had never heard of.

We were driven to the camp at night and assigned to stay in the barracks with other Vietnamese refugees. There was nothing to do at the camp except line up for food three times daily.

Four years before, with the help of two American soldiers from Utah, I had joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. So the first thing I did when we got to the camp was to find the Church. I did not spend much time looking. The district presidency from a neighboring city knocked at our door in the barracks a few days after our arrival.

I had never met these men, but it seemed that I had known them before. Even here in Arkansas—far from our homeland—there was a branch of the Church, and its members were eager to help and care for us. The members brought us some extra food since we found it difficult to adjust to the food at the mess hall. They also bought me a new pair of shoes to replace the tropical slippers I had not had time to change in the haste of our departure.

The district president announced that an LDS Social Services agent was coming to help us with the paperwork to get out of the refugee camp. He came the next Sunday, and we gathered at a chapel to have our first sacrament meeting at the camp. The Vietnamese members were few, and most were new to the Church, but that meeting was the most touching one that I have ever attended.

We refugees had to have an American sponsor to help us settle into American society. Before we had arrived in America, one of my sisters, who had come to the United States years ago, had told me there was a Latter-day Saint who had served in Vietnam who could be my sponsor. But all I knew about him was his name—I had no telephone number or address.

In the interview, the agent from LDS Social Services asked me who my sponsor was. I gave him the name—Pulsipher. But I felt sad and disappointed. I thought it would take days—even weeks—to find out the man’s whereabouts.

But the interviewer said, “Don’t worry, Nhat. I know an LDS social agent in Texas who is also named Pulsipher. Maybe he can help us to find your sponsor.”

He called the man in Texas and talked to him. Surprisingly, he found that this Pulsipher happened to be my would-be sponsor’s brother!

A few weeks later I left the refugee camp to fly to Utah and start a new life in America. I have discovered that wherever we may go in the world, there are helpful and caring people in the Church. This is a small church indeed!

[illustrations] Illustrated by Dilleen Marsh