Too Active to Need Home Teachers?


In the middle of New Jersey’s Wharton State Forest, I was planting acorns with a forester, Larry Jensen, and sixteen young people. We were all helping my son Grant finish his Eagle Scout service project. The warm September sunshine and serene surroundings brought back some memories.

I remembered a discussion in a priesthood executive meeting earlier in the year about focusing home teaching resources. In our stake, some home teachers are assigned to visit as many as fifteen families. Someone had suggested that to ensure home teachers for families of greatest need, we cut back or even eliminate home teaching of active families, who presumably don’t need the visits as much.

Like others, I’ve had enough experience with slammed doors, rude telephone responses, broken appointments, and surly receptions to know that some members just don’t want home teachers. However, what troubled me in that meeting—and continued to plague my thoughts—was the notion of members not needing home teachers.

It occurred to me that I, as stake president, and my family might be considered active enough to not need home teaching. From where I was planting, I glanced over at my friend and home teacher Larry, his son by his side, both methodically digging, dropping acorns into the holes, and covering them. Larry was offering this Saturday from his busy life to help us. I appreciated that he and a group of youth had spent most of another day gathering the thirty-five thousand acorns we were planting. Parked a few miles away, where the sandy road became impassable, was Larry’s van; he’d been kind enough to transport ten of our number in it.

I remembered another Saturday when, thirty miles away in the same forest, Larry and one of his sons helped a crew thin out unwanted trees as part of the Eagle Scout service project for another of my sons, Matthew. Larry never begrudged his help, but sought opportunities to assist our family and bless our lives.

Musing further, I recalled his encouraging interest in family history work. Larry invited my wife and me to visit the family history center with him and his wife to become acquainted with the new computer capability there. And how could I forget the night that Larry came to our home to administer to a sick child while I was away on business?

Then there was the time Larry learned that my wife, Christine, wanted a wooden swing and play set for our son Peter. She was hoping that it would keep Peter, who has Down syndrome and is prone to wander the neighborhood, safely in our yard. But I was concerned about the cost and difficulty of assembly. So the play set lost out—until Larry got involved.

He told Christine we could build the set if she would give him a picture of what she wanted. The picture was provided, the design drawn, lumber and other supplies purchased. Then Larry and his son Joshua guided and aided me and four of my sons in the cutting, drilling, fastening, and lifting. We all had a wonderful time, and my boys gained great satisfaction from our efforts. True to form, midway through the project, I left for a stake Relief Society leadership meeting.

When I returned to the nearly completed project and tried to tell Larry how deeply his kindness was appreciated, he responded, “Ever since Peter was born, I have wanted to do something for your family, and especially for him.”

Peter still climbs the fence and wanders off to new adventures sometimes, unmindful of the consternation of family members and their frantic efforts to find him. But not always. Sometimes he stops to swing, hang from the rings, or play on the ladder or slide.

Peter and his four brothers have a dad who has spent most Sundays during their lives visiting and teaching members throughout the three thousand square miles of the Cherry Hill New Jersey Stake. They have a wonderful, caring mother. And in Larry they have a devoted home teacher and friend.

As a stake president, I have learned to treasure many things, such as the sweetness in being witness to loving service and in being a partner in people’s reconciliation with the Savior. Yet, beyond those shared blessings is the infinite treasure of family. How grateful I am for a steady, thoughtful home teacher who continues to bless these people with whom I so deeply hunger to spend eternity.

[illustration] Illustrated by David Linn

Bertram Cannon Willis is president of the Cherry Hill New Jersey Stake.