I no longer wear the familiar black missionary name tag introducing me to the world as Schwester Rogers, but I will not soon forget the lessons I learned while wearing it. For 18 months I literally took upon myself the name of Jesus Christ by pinning His name to my lapel daily and displaying to all that I was His representative.
The name tag brought with it stares, whispers, rejection, and an occasional friendly nod. When I felt impatient or angry with someone, when I wanted to return a rude remark, when I felt too tired to listen or offer help, the name tag would catch my eye and remind me of who I was and who it was I represented. I would then act accordingly with love, respect, and dignity. Although I had covenanted to take the Savior’s name upon myself at baptism and again each week as I partook of the sacrament, I was just beginning to understand what that meant.
In the Book of Mormon, Alma explained to a group of people desiring baptism what it means to come into the fold of God. He taught them that they should be willing to “bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light,” to “mourn with those that mourn,” to “comfort those that stand in need of comfort,” and to “stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places” (Mosiah 18:8–9).
These acts of charity and service came more easily to me as a missionary, but the real challenge, I have found, is going through life without a name tag yet still taking upon ourselves the Savior’s name and standing as witnesses of God. How shocked we would be to see a missionary belittling a person or passing by someone in need. And yet it is so easy for us, we who are under the same obligation, to slip into anonymity in the absence of a name tag or official calling.
Alma talked of receiving the Savior’s image in our countenances (see Alma 5:14). Throughout my life I have encountered men and women who radiate the love of God in their day-to-day living. They go about doing good and blessing the lives of others in small and simple ways, freely giving service without reward or recognition. Their actions testify of God’s goodness, and they stand as witnesses of God.
One such person was a toothless old man in Kashmir, India. While traveling, my father and I found ourselves snowbound in the Himalayas. We were staying in a little houseboat on a lake with only a small wood-burning stove to warm us. My clothes were ill suited for the icy temperatures, and I caught a terrible cold. I was still sore from the sunburn I had received earlier that week in southern India, and now I lay shivering in bed with what had progressed into a bad case of bronchitis. I was homesick and miserable.
Feeling a gust of cold air, I looked up to see an old man in the doorway. He had the beginnings of a scraggly beard on his brown face and wore a woolly cap on his balding head. He didn’t speak a word but broke into a huge grin as he reached into his coat and pulled out a hot-water bottle. After loosening the blankets at the foot of my bed, he placed the steaming gift under my feet, tucked my covers tightly around me, kissed me on the cheek, and was gone.
The warmth of that hot-water bottle seemed to fill the whole room, and I marveled that I felt so loved and cared for as a stranger in a foreign land. I’d never seen this man before—my father said he had come over from a neighboring boat—and I never saw him again to thank him. I doubt anyone else knew of the small act of service he performed that day, but he had nonetheless given comfort to someone in need. In his way, this man stood as a witness of the goodness of God.
Another person who comes to mind is a nurse who helped me feel God’s love at a particularly difficult time in my life. I was in the hospital recovering from the birth of my first child. The joy of our son Adam’s birth had been quickly extinguished by his death that same day. I felt as if my heart would break. All the hopes and dreams we had for our beautiful little boy were gone, and we didn’t seem to have any answers or explanations to calm our troubled hearts. The doctors were matter-of-fact about the whole situation, and the nurses who passed quickly in and out of my room to administer medication and check my condition avoided eye contact as much as possible. Nobody knew what to say, so nothing was said.
I remember sitting up in bed one night and sobbing uncontrollably as I clutched the little teddy bear my husband had brought me. I thought of the new mothers upstairs cradling their babies, and I felt so alone and hopeless. The night shift began, and a new nurse came in to check on me. He was a young man from Africa who looked into my eyes and immediately pulled a chair next to my bed and sat down. He spoke to me about my son, offered words of compassion and empathy, listened to me, and held my hand while I cried. Before he left to finish his rounds, he said he wanted to do something for me and asked me to close my eyes. I shut my eyes and expected another injection of pain medication, but instead I heard the nurse clear his throat and say, “Our Father in Heaven.” I opened my eyes in surprise as this dear man bowed his head and prayed in my behalf.
How sweet the peace was that calmed my heart, and how strongly I felt the warmth of Heavenly Father’s love that night in a cold, sterile hospital room. This nurse did not receive bonus pay or a promotion for what he did that night. Nobody saw him as he mourned with one who mourned and helped bear another’s burden. He did what he did because he had taken upon himself the Redeemer’s name and was a witness of God.
I know a young mother, the wife of a successful businessman, who lives in an affluent neighborhood. She can often be seen rolling down the grassy front lawn of her home with her two small children. They laugh and giggle together as she covers them with hugs and kisses. She doesn’t mind the grass stains or the missed social functions. Her children feel important and loved. In her small way, I think this woman stands as a witness of God’s priorities.
A boy named Oliver used to bag groceries at a supermarket near our home. Although he was probably one of the lowest-paid employees at the store, he took pride in his work and was one of the friendliest, most efficient workers there. He loved each of his customers, knew most of them by name, and served each of them with genuine respect. His manager did not see much of what he did. But desire for recognition was not why he treated his customers the way he did. Oliver, in his own way, stood as a witness of goodness.
I am inspired and uplifted by these people and others like them. Whether it is the neighbor always ready with his jumper cables to help a stranded motorist, the teacher who takes time to write a word of praise on a well-done assignment, or the brother or sister at church who seeks out those who are ill at ease and helps them feel welcome, all these individuals through small and simple acts have become God’s people. The examples of these men and women have reminded me that standing as a witness doesn’t necessarily mean standing on a soapbox testifying to passersby. It means loving, serving, and caring for our fellow human beings and helping others feel God’s love through our actions.
As I strive to follow the Savior’s example as I did on my mission, I have discovered that I really have no need for a name tag. When we have truly taken upon ourselves His name, others can know who we are and who it is we represent because they will sense His image in our countenances.