Links in the Chain of Good


“Activation work is missionary work among the Saints,” says President M. Allen Christiansen of the St. Louis Missouri Stake.

How does one measure the impact of an act of love performed selflessly in another’s behalf?

The answer, of course, is that the results are incalculable. Such acts never cease once they are performed, because the person helped then helps others and on it goes. These efforts literally begin a chain of good that influences first an individual, then perhaps his family, then perhaps a quorum or a ward, possibly the community, and even generations. So powerful is a single act of love.

Such power is not for Apostles alone or bishops or quorum presidents. Some of life’s most important blessings are shared when we simply do our “duty with a heartful of song” the way David Jensen of the St. Louis Missouri Stake did in loving a family back into Church activity.

Seeking Not Our Own

With seven children of their own, David and Loretta Jensen had plenty to do. They had babies to care for, teenagers to drive to school and church events, piano lessons to practice, and classes to teach.

But David had been assigned to home teach the Glasgows, a family that did not come to church. Deborah Glasgow was a nonmember, and Robert had not been to church since before they married. David could think of lots of reasons at first for not wanting to give any more than a monthly call on a family that did not care to see him come anyway.

When David was called to home teach Robert and Deborah, his elders quorum president asked him to rely heavily on the Spirit of the Lord to know what kind of fellowship they needed most.

At the same time, the Glasgows had survived some tremendous problems that had threatened their lives and their marriage at its beginning: two severe auto wrecks for Debbie, a truck accident for Bob. Now, after fifteen years together, they both wanted more but were not sure what—much less how to get it. Nor was it apparent to David Jensen at first just how the Spirit had been preparing the Glasgows to be influenced.

During David’s early visits to the family, Bob would leave. But gradually a deep and important friendship began to grow.

Debbie seemed more interested than her husband in the beginning. David Jensen noticed during his visits that Debbie sought “proof” of everything he said about the gospel. Her interest was laced with doubt and suspicion. But Debbie enjoyed the visits, and David began bringing his wife, Loretta, to share a woman’s point of view with Debbie. Before long, a perceptible change occurred in Debbie’s attitude about the gospel, and the two couples began to grow closer to each other and closer to an understanding of the love of Christ in the process.

One event influenced the relationship significantly. The Glasgow’s five-year-old, Robbie, had to have surgery for a cyst on his pancreas. The cyst ruptured, and the doctors thought he was going to die. David was asked to give a blessing. The Spirit prompted him to give a blessing that was both comforting and healing. When Debbie saw this kind of power manifest, she wanted to learn about it. She wanted that spiritual power in her life. And in her change, Bob saw the need to be worthy himself. Their spiritual refinement began in earnest.

Bob wanted to be worthy to baptize both his wife and his children. But he feared he would not make it. By the spring of 1983, however, Bob had surrendered to the workings of the Spirit and overcame not only his Word of Wisdom problems, but other personal doubts and fears as well. He now holds and honors the Melchizedek Priesthood, received under the hands of his friend, David Jensen. He, in turn, has now had the privilege of laying his hands on the heads of the Jensens’ children to share priesthood blessings.

This chain of good has expanded. With a temple dress made by the Relief Society sisters in her ward, Debbie went with her husband, Bob, on the bus to the Washington Temple, where they were sealed, together with their children.

“Our marriage is not only more spiritual, but more romantic, more stable, and we’re more able to give to others than I ever thought possible,” exclaims Sister Glasgow. “We will always look to the Jensens as examples of faith and charity. The time they took from their busy family to prepare and share lessons with us was a great sacrifice. What a wonderful gift.”

Sharing the gift of the gospel with the Glasgows brought blessings to both families. “I could not have known, without the aid of the Spirit, how important the power of the priesthood would be to the Glasgows,” explains Brother Jensen. “But the blessings that have spilled over into our home through this association have strengthened our home as well.”

Though mysterious to some, it is nevertheless true that when we lose ourselves in genuine, selfless service of others, we find ourselves happier. “I think that one of the sweetest blessings in this life is the chance to actually be a tool in the hands of the Lord as he purifies another life. It cannot help but purify your own a little more each time, just from the contact.” Brother Jensen adds.

M. Allen Christiansen, president of the St. Louis Missouri Stake, where these two families live, expresses a similar view. “Missionary work is merely an assignment to share love—the Savior’s love. Activation work is merely missionary work among the Saints. Both bring eternal blessings to those who give as well as to those who receive. It takes great love to be a giver. Then the receivers become givers, and the love continues on.”

Having Put Away Childish Things

Another link in the chain of good was coupled when elders quorum president Duane Boyce worked with Don and Vicki Raymer.

When Duane first met Donald Raymer, Don was still single. And he was not especially receptive to the fellowshipping efforts of his elders quorum. To the question of receiving home teachers, his response was, “Thanks, but no.” So, every month, Duane Boyce would pay a visit himself—sometimes with cookies or something else that a bachelor might enjoy.

The changes in Don’s life began with his marriage to Vicki. Not long after their wedding, Vicki took a business trip to Tempe, Arizona, for several days. While she was there, she went to visit the LDS temple grounds in Mesa. She came home full of questions.

So many questions, Don recalls, “that I told her we would be better off inviting the missionaries over rather than have me mislead her with my limited memory of doctrines.” Duane Boyce’s next visit found them receptive, and he arranged for the missionaries to teach them the lessons. He also invited Vicki and Don to his home for a family home evening.

As Vicki’s interest deepened, she prepared herself for baptism. In the process, Don refreshed his understanding of the gospel, which he had not thought much about since he had joined the Church in 1977. He had been active for about three years after his own baptism, but a personal tragedy “came along and pulled the young flower of my budding testimony out by the roots.” Now they had the opportunity to study the gospel together and share each other’s questions and each other’s faith.

“I have had to learn to be a priesthood leader in our home,” says Brother Raymer. In his efforts, he has felt the loving strength of his friend and quorum leader, Duane Boyce, and turned to him for an example.

“Ever since we went to their home for that first family home evening with Merralee and their children,” Sister Raymer remembers, “I have wanted that spirit in our home.” And it is coming. Don is now serving as the assistant Scoutmaster, and Vicki serves in the Relief Society. Links are being added to the chain.

The Raymers now feel that they have been the beneficiaries of so much that if they didn’t do their part to keep it going, someone else would miss the opportunity that has come to them. “Passing on the blessings. That’s what the Church is about,” says Vicki. “We receive from one person and pass the blessings on to another. Sometimes we can even give back the good that a person has done for us.” The perfect symbol for this sharing from one to the next is the sacrament tray. Someone holds it for you, and you pass it, holding it for another.

Attitudes and efforts like these affect the whole stake, President Christiansen believes. “The genuine warmth and spirituality of our elders quorum presidencies and home teachers can be felt throughout our 3,750-member stake.

“This spirituality influences and touches the lives of members of all ages. Our youth programs are very strong, with over 70 percent activity among the young men and young women. We have forty-three missionaries serving in missions throughout the United States and all over the world. And with the new temple in Chicago only 250 miles away, we have seen an increase of genealogical interest and temple activity by young and old alike.”

Times of Transition

Since the 1940s, the St. Louis area has seen steady growth in both numbers and spirituality with a base of strong, stable families that have helped build the Church there.

If stable families with deep roots are essential to keep the Church operating, then families in transition are essential to its growth. According to Barry Peraino, an elders quorum president in suburban St. Louis, “Families in transition, or families in whose lives major changes are taking place, are the people most receptive to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Maybe they have just divorced, or remarried, or lost a loved one, or moved.” The kind of gospel message that Barry is concerned about is particularly aimed at less active members of the Church—especially those who have just moved into his stake.

“When major change occurs in people’s lives, they are more susceptible to the Spirit. Look at the Book of Mormon people. When things happened to them to make them stop and think about their lives, they were more humble, more teachable. I believe that’s one of the reasons the Lord took such care to show us that cycle over and over in that great book.”

Barry Peraino and his quorum presidency are committed to seeing that every family that moves into their St. Charles ward receives a visit from the elders quorum presidency within the first thirty days. “We try to make it in the first two weeks,” he explains. “When possible, we help them move in. A quorum can be a physical resource as well as a spiritual comfort.”

Four elements essential to the welfare of each new family as the elders quorum presidency works with them are outlined by Barry Peraino: “First, we pray about every family even before we meet them. Second, we make that initial visit to get acquainted and really try to assess their spiritual needs. Third, as we consider who to assign as their home teachers, we attempt to find common interests that will help bond the home teachers and the family. Finally, we see that home teachers make weekly contact with less-active families, and we evaluate their progress in our monthly interviews with them.”

In the case of less-active families, Brother Peraino has a list of prerequisites for the home teachers that would be assigned: (1) They must be willing to commit to visit the family; (2) they must take a sincere personal interest in friendshipping and loving them and help the family know how much the Church needs and wants their association; (3) they must be willing to make follow-up visits as necessary to teach them the gospel; (4) they must involve the family as much as the family will allow in the activities and spirit of the ward; and (5) they must help involve the ward organizations in showing support for the family and involving them in Church activities.

All five guidelines were used when Donald and Penny Park arrived in the ward, inactive for over a year before they moved to the St. Charles Second Ward.

Besides assigning home teachers, a series of assignments went to a variety of willing people in the ward. Because the Parks had teenagers, the Young Men president called on Mark, their sixteen-year-old. The Relief Society presidency visited Penny once a week at first, and the Young Women presidency visited their daughter, Denise.

“We were hovered over,” recalls Penny of the warm welcome they received when they moved in. And now, four years later, formerly inactive, Brother Park has just completed a stake mission.

“Transition times for families are so critical. We must be there with our arms outstretched to help them,” Barry Peraino explains. “That is true of those who have just joined the Church and need that vital fellowshipping, and it is true for all members. These are times when families need the sustaining love that the gospel brings into our lives.”

He seems to know what he is talking about. In one year alone, these attitudes and efforts have brought nine prospective elders into the Melchizedek Priesthood in their ward and enabled eleven families to be sealed in the temple.

Barry Peraino explains, “When I call a home teacher, I explain ‘This is your second family, care for them.’ And those who take the charge seriously enjoy some of the most fulfilling relationships of their lives.”

In the St. Louis Missouri South Stake, Sutter Gardanier, a member of the high council, is himself a product of the stake’s successful activation efforts. He had been inactive since medical school and is convinced that it took a certain kind of person to reach him. “I admired Bob White’s intellect,” he said. Because of the intellectual kinship these two had, Sutter felt he could trust Bob’s suggestions about how to acquire faith and attain answers to his questions.

As a youth, Sutter had read the Book of Mormon as far as 2 Nephi. But he always stopped. “Bob and his wife Connie became closer than family. They taught me and testified with loving patience. After several months of intensive effort, having read the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, the Pearl of Great Price, Articles of Faith, Jesus the Christ, and praying constantly for a testimony, I had made no progress. Bob challenged me at that time to pay my tithing. I gave a sizeable amount and waited for the feeling that should come. Nothing. I read more in the Book of Mormon and prayed. Nothing.

“Then, while at work in the hospital, I was asked to assist a father who was to administer to his child. During the blessing, I began to have a warm, wonderful feeling that spread throughout my body. I went home and began my second reading of the Book of Mormon, again resolved to test Moroni’s promise. This time as I prayed, the promise came true. That was the beginning of my spiritual conversion to the gospel.”

Sutter followed Bob White’s footsteps further when he became elders quorum president.

Brother Gardanier’s strictly intellectual pursuit of gospel knowledge began that day to be eclipsed by his spiritual pursuit. The Spirit was then, over a period of time and with patient effort, able to bear witness to Sutter Gardanier, revealing what he needed to know about the temple, the Book of Mormon, the Prophet Joseph.

For Sutter Gardanier, Bob White was a link. For each of these other individuals and families, there was a link. Once the servants of the Lord reached out, others joined in the fellowshipping, links in the chain of families, ward members, and leaders.

Each was a kindred soul, each the means for the Spirit to purify the other, both the servant and the served.

[photos] Photography by Michael Schoenfeld

[photo] David and Loretta Jensen, foreground, and their friends Robert and Deborah Glasgow have seen the gospel enrich their lives.

[photo] M. Allen Christiansen, president of the St. Louis Missouri Stake: “Activation work is an assignment to share love.” (Photography by Jed A. Clark.)

[photo] Donald Park, left, and his elders quorum president Barry Peraino. A coordinated effort by the ward involved Brother Park’s family after they moved into the area.

[photo] Sutter Gardanier, experiencing the fruits of Church activity, turned again to the Book of Mormon: “That was the beginning of my spiritual conversion.”