It was 3:30 A.M. when the telephone rang. I was sound asleep, and it was some time before I found the receiver. I felt some irritation at the thought that this might be a wrong number or a crank call. There was also the chilling thought that there might have been a family tragedy.
I heard someone sobbing at the other end of the line, and then a woman’s voice blurted out a phrase I couldn’t understand. When I asked her to repeat what she had said, she cried out, “Am I killing him?” By this time, I was fully awake and asked her to explain.
She was overcome by emotion and couldn’t speak for a while but finally gave her first name and began to tell the story. At first I didn’t recognize who she was, but I was immediately gripped by her predicament. She explained that her husband was at the local hospital and that during the previous afternoon she had given the attending physician permission to disconnect the support systems which had sustained his life. She had been told that he would pass away at any moment and had waited through the night for him to die.
Then she explained that she felt responsible for his death and desperately needed to know if she was committing murder. She asked me to tell her if God would hold her responsible for her decision. She begged for an answer.
As she spoke, I slowly realized who she was. She was one of the “inaccessibles,” a less-active member of the Church who had requested that no home teachers or visiting teachers come to her home. She was one of seventeen “inaccessible” members with whom I had been assigned to maintain communications in whatever way I could. The purpose in contacting these individuals was to establish some relationship with them, to be of help where possible, and to be available if and when their feelings toward activity in the Church changed. Therefore, each month I made contact with these seventeen individuals in whatever honorable way was possible.
I made it a point to speak to one man in his store. Another I visited where he sold used cars. This sister had allowed me to call her by telephone each month as long as the conversation was brief and did not involve religion.
Sometimes in meetings I listened as the validity of trying to reach these people was discussed. Some members were angry or hurt because they had been rebuffed when they tried to approach one of these members. Others felt that if these members didn’t want any involvement with the Church, we should just have their names removed and be done with it.
I myself had wondered at times. I thought of the many times I had phoned this sister who was now sobbing on the other end of the line. Before calling her, I had always felt a sense of fear and trembling and had always offered a prayer asking for guidance. She had never shown any interest in the Church and had been very critical of our attempts to reach her. She made it clear several times that she did not wish to be bothered with the Church, but she continued to permit me to contact her as a friend.
But where does a person turn when tragedy strikes? What happened when a personal catastrophe entered this sister’s life?
Later that same morning, I visited her at her home. She was humble and sincere in her request to know what Church leaders had said about her situation. We prayed together and discussed the situation. I had already spoken with the bishop and stake president and was prepared as a priesthood representative to offer support and counsel.
That day marked a great change in her life. After her husband’s death, she turned back toward the Church. Family members from another area visited her and bore their testimonies of the value of the gospel. On future visits to her home, I noticed scriptures and other Church literature. She came to believe in and love the gospel again.
Within a year, this good woman also became ill and passed away. But by that time, her relationship to the Lord and his Church had completely changed.
Her telephone call early one morning convinced me that so-called “inaccessible” members are as much in need of the gospel as any other children of God. They may be hurt or angry or separated from the Saints by something they themselves do not understand. But they need our love and support. We never know when one of them might return to find the love and peace the gospel offers.