Recently a friend of mine was trying to contact by phone a Church member living in a foreign country,” relates Jean Schweider, a member of the Iona Third Ward in Idaho Falls, Idaho. “Not speaking the language, she was having a communication problem. After a long delay, a highly accented voice came on the line.
“‘This is Sister Grant,’ my friend identified herself.
“‘Oh!’ the excited voice on the other end of the phone replied. ‘I sister, too.’
“The phone had linked their voices, and their membership in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints had linked their souls.”
Sisterhood is a feeling of love and compassion, not restricted by social or cultural boundaries. It can be found within the walls of meetinghouses, but more often it is found in quiet acts of unselfishness that have become a way of life for women striving to become Christlike.
These moments of unselfishness can change lives, as illustrated by the following experiences shared by sisters all over the world.
“My first introduction to a Relief Society sister was when I met the Relief Society president of the Kingston Branch nearly ten years ago while I was an investigator,” recalls Elizabeth Pigou-Dennis of Jamaica.
“This sister greeted me with warmth and interest. When I decided to join the Church, I chose to be baptized very early one Sunday morning so that I could go to church afterwards and take the sacrament for the first time on the same day of my baptism. We had no proper chapels or baptismal fonts in Jamaica at that time. Converts had to be baptized at a beach some distance away.
“We had to leave Kingston before it was quite light. When we arrived at the beach, I was surprised to see the Relief Society president already there. In spite of the inconvenience of the hour and the long drive, she was there at my baptism to welcome me. I have never forgotten that.”
Deon Van Dyke, a member of the Millville Second Ward in Millville, Utah, shares this memory: “Just over a year ago, doctors discovered that my husband had a brain tumor. The three weeks between diagnosis and surgery moved so fast and yet so slow; some moments were filled with faith and some with fear, some moments were filled with peace and others with terror.
“The ward fasted with us, prayed with us, and cried with us. My family went through the motions of being normal; we ironed clothes, collected rent from apartments, and tied up loose business ends.
“One morning I discovered a disaster in my freezer—everything was thawing. I unloaded the freezer, chipped ice away, unclogged the drain, scrubbed it and reloaded it while feeling as if everything was falling apart. Bill and I went to a temple session and I sat there feeling so unworthy, so lacking in spirituality, and so empty. I had been angry with the children for almost everything.
“That evening there was a Relief Society social. I didn’t really want to go, but I did. After a nice supper, the speaker gave a beautiful, touching talk about motherhood. The Spirit was strong, and I cried as she finished; then I just couldn’t stop crying. As the closing song was sung, one sister put her arm around me and another took my hand; we all cried together. Their closing prayer included my family and afterward many of them hugged me. I felt the concern from everyone, even those who didn’t express their feelings.
“When I got home, I was so loving and kind and giving. I had been empty; I went to Relief Society and the sisters filled me and sent me home to share their courage and faith.”
As a single parent, Deborah Hill of the Nashville Second Ward, Nashville Tennessee Stake, often felt overwhelmed.
“My son had been in daycare since he was one year old, and we have both suffered through this situation. As he grew, I agonized over not being able to be in the home. I could see firsthand the result of mothers being out in the world when their children needed them at home. The older my son became, the more trouble he started having—first at daycare and then at school.
“I prayed constantly for an answer to this situation, but could find no solution. Then, when my son was ten, a sister opened her home and heart to him. He now enjoys the companionship of other children when I am away and feels a part of a large family. He experiences the love and concern of this ‘second’ mother of the same faith instead of the inattention of strangers. The peace of mind that this brought to both my son and myself has been great. This sister saw a need, felt the Spirit, and will never know the difference it has made in our lives.”
It was a move to California that helped Margaret M. Cannon, now a member of the Provo Thirty-seventh Ward, recognize the value of service. Pregnant with her fourth child and new to California, she faced some special challenges.
“Because money was scarce, my husband, John, had to drop us off at our student housing, then return immediately to Utah for two more weeks of work and salary. Our fourth child was due in six weeks.
“The problem was that our third child had been born six weeks prematurely, with serious complications. I was not sure whether or not this would continue to be a pattern. I visited an obstetrician the day after our arrival in town just to make sure.
“Unfortunately, the new doctor told me my baby could be born at any time. I came home worried and anxious. Who would take care of my other children if I had to go to the hospital suddenly? I didn’t know one soul in Palo Alto.
“About ten o’clock that night, after the children were in bed, I had time to pray and decide what I should do. I went to the telephone book and looked up the number of the bishop of the ward in Palo Alto. From him, I got the number of the Relief Society president and called her immediately. When I explained my predicament, she couldn’t have been more gracious and kind. She told me the ward members would be happy to help in any way they could.
“Over the next few days, at the suggestion of the Relief Society president, other Latter-day Saint student wives stopped by to introduce themselves. They were like welcome rays of the sun. I went from not knowing anyone to having at least a dozen warm and cordial friends offering me support.
“Our baby arrived after my husband came back, for which I was thankful. But I am not sure I could have made it during those two weeks alone without the knowledge that my Relief Society sisters were standing by in case of emergency.”
Learning to rely on her Relief Society sisters was a difficult lesson for Evelynne White of the Linwood Ward, in the Cherry Hill New Jersey Stake. “I had lived in the New Jersey area for five years and was active in the Church, but I stayed fairly aloof from everyone since I had five children and a full-time job,” she recalls.
“Words could not describe the helpless and betrayed feeling that came over me when I discovered a lump in my breast. The biopsy came back positive for cancer, and I had not one but two different kinds of malignant cancerous growth.
“Stunned by the news, my husband felt as helpless as I did. A sister in the ward, a nurse, offered to drive me to the doctor and help interpret medical information and ask appropriate questions. I didn’t know Jill Wildermuth very well, but I took her up on her offer.
“When I heard the doctor say chemotherapy and radiation would be needed in addition to the surgery, I was calm in his office. But I cried to Jill in the elevator. Jill held me and comforted me—just like a sister would.
“Another Relief Society sister organized rides for me for the 120-mile drive for the radiation treatment. Every day for three months, a sister drove with me. At the end of the treatment I had gotten to know many of my sisters much better.
“It’s two years later, and I’m healthy now. And so thankful to have wonderful sisters who helped me through this trial.”
A similar outpouring of love touched Ruth Ann Scarlet Achter. Now a member of the Layton (Utah) Fourteenth Ward, Sister Achter well remembers moving to Germany with her husband and three young children.
“I was ill with a recurring infection and was told I must stay in bed for three weeks in order to regain my health. With daily shopping a necessity and children that were attending school and adjusting to a new home in a new country, it seemed impossible to me that I could take any time to stay in bed. I was distraught.
“Somehow my situation must have come to the attention of the Relief Society, because early one evening my husband answered the door and met two sisters. They told my husband, ‘Don’t let the problems be a worry to your family—someone will come every day to take care of your wife and children.’
“And they came to help me. Day after day, someone came. No one had a car. Most of them came on the train. One elderly lady came on her moped. Meals were prepared, and the children were tenderly cared for. Two ladies came one day and brought a portable sewing machine to mend all our clothes. At first, I was embarrassed by this, but they both chatted and sang as they worked and I realized they were happy to be there. My German improved tremendously, but what we couldn’t speak with words was communicated by the Spirit and by their works. The years have passed, and my children are grown. Our time in Germany is only a memory now, but those sisters and their tenderly rendered service are very real to me.”
Service doesn’t have to be limited to those of our religious beliefs. In fact, says Lorraine Richardson of the Arlington Third Ward, Riverside California West Stake, “the feeling I share with my sisters in the gospel makes me want to reach out all the more to those not yet feeling the closeness the gospel brings.
“Taking dinner to neighbors with new babies, taking friends with me to homemaking meetings, inviting a neighbor and her children to go to the park with us—all these experiences come about, in part, from a desire to share the gospel of Jesus Christ with others not yet experiencing it fully.
“Results have been positive, even though our neighbors haven’t jumped at the chance to join the Church. I remember making granola for a neighbor when she was sick so she wouldn’t have to worry about fixing breakfast for her family. Her husband had previously encountered and believed much anti-Mormon propaganda—he had even preached against us at his church.
“‘Neighbors who are thoughtful enough to do something like this can’t be all bad,’ his wife remarked to him. Because of a simple act of service so common among us in the gospel, hearts were softened. That sister and I are good friends and have had several exciting discussions about the gospel. Although her husband doesn’t share her interest in the restored gospel, he did bring his family to a family home evening at our home and has participated in several other activities with us.”
“As we learn in Relief Society of our sisters throughout the Church, our circle expands to include those sisters outside of the Church,” remarks Sister Jean Schweider. “Many women we come in contact with will not be members of our church. Because we have learned to love our member sisters, it is not hard to include other women in our love—for they are our sisters, too.”