When I was a young woman, our Sunday School class of 13-year-olds and 14-year-olds was full of mischief and wore out a number of teachers. Before our newest teacher arrived for class, chalk had been broken into tiny pieces and the eraser had been misplaced.
A girl with bright-red hair and matching freckles who was watching for our new teacher suddenly announced loudly, “Here he comes!” as she scurried away from the door.
The new teacher, who I guessed was in his mid-20s, greeted us with a quiet hello and introduced himself as Brother Charington. He and his wife were new in our ward, and they were staying only for the summer. I remember feeling surprised that the new teacher seemed so relaxed. Some past teachers had often acted tense and sat behind the desk, hiding behind a stack of materials. But Brother Charington just smiled and leaned against the front of the table.
We said nothing in reply to his greeting. With calm assurance, he asked us to introduce ourselves. I thought right then that he had made his first mistake. A few giggles escaped here and there as some called out false names. He seemed to accept them without a clue about the deception. I felt sorry for him.
With a patient smile that we would all come to know quite well, Brother Charington asked a question of a girl sitting next to me. To our surprise, he used her real name, not the false one she had given. That was the first of many instances that led us to expect the unexpected from our new teacher.
The next Sunday, we were ready for him again. All the chairs had been moved into a far corner. When the teacher walked into the room, we were all staring at the floor. Our scheme was to sit huddled in the corner and not look up.
Brother Charington greeted us cheerfully. Then we heard the rustling of a paper sack and a few other noises we couldn’t discern. I did the unforgivable and peeked, and so did others. Brother Charington was arranging scrolls and brass-looking plates on the table. With a calm voice, he began talking about the Book of Mormon. He asked us questions from time to time, and before we knew it we had all moved near him.
By using principles of love and showing interest in us as individuals, Brother Charington taught us in spite of ourselves. For a while we seemed to start each Sunday with a trick or a prank, but pretty soon we would become wrapped up in an exciting lesson. Somehow Brother Charington became someone we could think of as a friend because that was how he treated us. Under his tutelage, we began to see that the Book of Mormon was more than just a book—it contained messages for real life.
Summer quickly passed, and Brother Charington’s last Sunday approached. The class decided to have a farewell party on Saturday at a nearby public pool. This was disappointing news to me. I decided not to attend because I didn’t know how to swim and didn’t want to be the joke of the party.
When Saturday evening arrived, I settled down in front of the TV. To my surprise, Brother Charington knocked on my door and said he was there to pick me up. I didn’t explain why I wasn’t going, but I am sure he knew why. He seemed to realize that pushing me would only alienate me. However, before he left he mentioned that his wife didn’t know how to swim and would appreciate some company in the shallow end. I still wouldn’t budge.
The next morning at Sunday School, everyone talked of how fun the swimming party had been. Then Brother Charington started his lesson, and it felt like he was speaking to me personally. He talked about how Nephi, with all his challenges, never gave up on himself or the Lord, how young Mormon rose up as a leader in difficult circumstances, and how at age 14 Joseph Smith sought the truth and endured many subsequent hardships. Brother Charington explained that those young prophets hadn’t started out by overcoming major challenges but by facing smaller trials. Such as going to a swimming party without knowing how to swim, I could imagine him saying.
“When the Lord is on your side,” Brother Charington said, “it’s OK to be yourself.”
After that, with each new challenge in my life, I found myself remembering what my Sunday School teacher had said and then summoning up more strength and courage to push forward. I came to realize that the Lord helps me as I help myself. To this day, I still use that formula in my life and try to instill it in my children.
During that summer when Brother Charington was called to teach the class others had labeled impossible, he succeeded by lovingly remembering that we were just children of God looking for a place to belong.