Lessons Learned in Community Service


I thought one voice could never make a difference. But I have been amazed at what can happen when we unite our voices with those of others who share our values.

Ten years ago I found myself feeling guilty and uncomfortable renting videotapes for my children from a local store which I had reason to believe was also renting hard-core adult movies. I was haunted by such admonitions as that of President Spencer W. Kimball: “We … urge Church members to … join others in unceasingly combatting, in their communities and beyond, the inroads of pornography and the general flaunting of permissiveness” (“The Foundations of Righteousness,” Ensign, Nov. 1977, 5). I felt small, intimidated, and embarrassed about getting involved, but I did. As a result of service opportunities that have come since then, I’ve learned some valuable lessons that may be of help to others wondering whether to get involved.

Lesson 1: “There is strength in joining with like-minded neighbors and seeking the Lord’s help.” In the fight against pornographic videos in our community, four concerned mothers of four different religious persuasions were brought together, all of us willing to seek the Lord’s direction. We formed a local decency organization and sought the support of others concerned about our community. I learned you can be strengthened by uniting with others who are willing to seek the Lord’s help in upholding good things.

Lesson 2: Persevere. With the help of our families, over a three-year period we mounted petition drives urging enforcement of state obscenity laws, used mass mailings, personally contacted community leaders, were interviewed on radio talk shows, wrote newspaper articles, and sponsored annual “White Ribbons against Pornography” (WRAP) campaigns (white ribbons on car antennas show community support for high standards). We achieved greater public awareness, but we were left with a great amount of frustration at the lack of other results.

Lesson 3: Political influence is power. We need people in authority who share our values. When our local prosecutor ignored petitions urging enforcement of obscenity laws, we worked to help elect one who pledged to take action. Three years after the election, the owner of the video store with the largest volume of adult titles in our small rural county was brought to trial and agreed to stop selling those videos. Other stores voluntarily removed their adult videos.

Lesson 4: Many people in our communities share our values and our faith in the effectiveness of prayer. We need not be afraid of letting our values or our faith show. It was a powerful moment when, after the pretrial hearing in the obscenity case, citizens in the courtroom joined in prayer for our elected officials and for all who had been involved in pornography. Three years later, I was amazed to receive an invitation from the video store owner who had been prosecuted to attend his first sermon as a preacher in a country church. It was wonderful to hear his account of spiritual transformation and his climb from bitterness and bankruptcy. I acknowledged to him afterward that members of our decency organization had been praying for him for years.

We continue our efforts as a group.

Because of our activities, I have been made aware of related problems in our community. While serving in the Young Women organization, I became concerned over a report from one parent about the sex education his daughter was receiving at school. Studying the district’s course objectives for its health curriculum, I found that abstinence was not mentioned among objectives for sex education. After attending a state abstinence educators seminar and studying course materials and research findings, I met with the district’s curriculum directors to express my concerns and offer suggestions.

Lesson 5: Know your subject, be prayerful, and speak the truth calmly. As a result of this meeting, a task force of representatives from all the county’s youth-serving agencies was formed. I made a presentation on abstinence education to this group, and the decision was made to apply for a state grant for pregnancy prevention. Our group was awarded the grant, and abstinence became the basis for sex education in the health curriculum for our district.

Because of my concern for our schools, I was asked to run for the school board. It was a decision I approached prayerfully; confirmation came after reading a visiting teaching message on community service. I was one of three new board members elected to the five-member board. All five of us work well together despite our differences; I have, for example, been outvoted on issues of appropriate media in the schools and school-related activities on Sunday. Nevertheless, it is critical to “agree to disagree” amicably.

The conditions of modern society afford many of us time and means that were never available to earlier generations. There are opportunities all around us to use these in service to others. When we follow the guidance of our Church leaders and then seek personal spiritual direction, we can have the opportunity to be tools in the Lord’s hands. This is a blessing and privilege that comes not because we may be more capable than others but because we are willing and available. I echo President Gordon B. Hinckley’s sentiments: “I believe in the principle that I can make a difference in this world. It may be ever so small. But it will count for the greater good” (“I Believe,” Ensign, Aug. 1992, 7).

[illustrations] Illustrated by Dilleen Marsh

Chris Bergstrom Armstrong is a member of the Adams Branch, Cincinnati Ohio North Stake, and currently serves as stake Relief Society president.