Moved by Compassion
Brother Thamas, a thin elderly man, sat by himself, often some distance from the other members who gathered to greet each other at the beginning of our Sunday meetings. His was a small figure, humble in appearance. He had been recently baptized and had no family. His Spanish, although understandable, was a mixture of Portuguese, French, German, English, and his native Hungarian. In brief conversations with those members who tried to fellowship him, he spoke of faraway Hungary.
One day the bishop asked him to speak for a few minutes in sacrament meeting. He was surprised but accepted. We too were surprised to hear his name announced. We prepared ourselves for a brief and simple testimony.
But once he stood at the pulpit, this brother’s appearance was transformed in a most remarkable manner, and he immediately captured our attention. His posture became erect, almost military, although he wore no uniform or medals. His manner was that of a soldier—old, but proud. Slowly but confidently he began his compelling story.
During World War II he had served in an infantry battalion in an area where constant combat covered the earth with blood, pain, and death. His squad was commanded by a sergeant who had earned the hatred of his men through extraordinary harshness. One terrible night a mortar shell exploded not far from the sergeant, critically wounding him. The commanding officer stopped a dilapidated truck that often passed by to pick up the wounded and dying and take them behind the lines to be cared for or buried.
The squad watched the fate of their dying leader from a distance. Not one went to help him. The officer asked for a volunteer to carry the man to the truck and accompany him behind the lines. No one volunteered.
Then, after something of a pause, Brother Thamas stepped forward. “Moved by compassion,” he told us, “I decided to carry the unfortunate fellow and go with him on his trip. I took care of him the best I could during his long and painful ride.
“I returned later in search of my squad. When I reached the front, I learned that fierce bombardment had wiped out a large number of men on the awful night of my departure. Not one man from my squad had survived apart from myself. And then I understood. I thanked God for having moved me to compassion. He saved my life and gave me a chance to hear the restored gospel.”
Our simple affection for a bent old man changed to appreciation, admiration, and gratitude for his having shared an example of the pure love of Christ.
Not Enough for Tithing?
Shortly after I was baptized, I married a man who was not a member of the Church. He controlled all the money I earned and never let me pay tithing.
I suffered for 10 long, unhappy years, during which I could not progress. Eventually I was divorced and began to support my daughter and myself. However, what I earned was insufficient to pay for our rent, bills, food, clothes, and the other things we needed. If I had enough for one thing, I could not afford another.
One day I started to pay tithing anyway. As always I continued to plan my budget. And I began to realize that I had enough money for everything, even with the same salary. At first I couldn’t believe what was happening. Then I read the passage in the Bible where the Lord says, “Prove me now herewith … if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it” (Mal. 3:10). I knelt down and cried unto the Lord in gratitude. He has never forsaken me.
Deer in the Headlights
Many years ago I was returning home after dropping my husband off at school. The drive would take me through a canyon in the mountains of Utah.
I had our new baby, April, with me. This was long before infant car seats, so April lay wrapped in a blanket on a pillow in the front seat, her head resting on my leg.
To stay awake on this late trip I was singing the last hymn we had sung at church, “Abide with Me; ’Tis Eventide” (Hymns, no. 165). As I sang it started raining. When we reached the canyon the rain turned to snow and began sticking to the pavement.
Rounding a bend on the narrow two-lane road, I found a herd of deer directly in my path. I hit the brake, and the car slid. On my right was the mountain, and on my left the road dropped off to the river. There was nowhere to go but straight ahead. Holding the steering wheel with one hand and grabbing my baby with the other, I got ready for impact. But to my amazement, the deer just stepped aside, allowing us to pass.
After clearing the herd, I looked in the rearview mirror. The herd hadn’t frozen in the headlights or scattered—as deer normally would when frightened. They had merely backed up enough to let a little Volkswagen bug through. It felt to me like our parting of the Red Sea. I rejoiced for the 10 miles (16 km) home, thanking God for “abid[ing] with me.”
When I arrived home and got out of the car, I realized what a tragedy it could have been and wasn’t. Tears started to flow. Even if I had hit just one deer, it could have caused serious damage to the tiny car and injury to my baby and me. The near miss had occurred five miles (8 km) from the nearest farmhouse, and we hadn’t passed any vehicles on the road through the canyon or the rest of the way home. I cried with joy, holding my baby in my arms and thanking God for protecting us from harm.
“No Mormons Allowed”
We had just moved to a small rural town where not many members of the Church lived. Our little branch was a friendly, close-knit group, and we enjoyed each Sabbath day and the opportunity to attend church. Our only concern was for our children, who had few playmates their ages in our branch. My husband and I decided to look for ways to make friends outside of the Church so our children could have new friends and get to know people from different faiths.
My hopes were soon dashed, however, when a local children’s group told me that because we were “Mormons,” we were not welcome in their group. I had belonged to similar groups in other areas where there weren’t many Latter-day Saints, and religion had never been an issue before. I assured the leaders of the group that I would not try to proselytize or force my religion on anyone; my family and I just wanted to make friends and meet new people. But they remained firm in their decision and did not allow us to join.
I decided that I would be kind, Christlike, and friendly to the people of this town so they would see that members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are good people. We started inviting other children over to play, inviting neighbor families to dinner, and visiting with others in an effort to get to know people. I read conference talks, Church magazine articles, and scriptures about fellowship, kindness, and serving others. Then I worked to put these principles into practice in my life. I knew if I could show the people of this town how kind and loving Latter-day Saint families can be, this group would be sure to accept us in time.
Time passed, however, and although we were able to befriend the leaders of this social group, they remained firm in their “no Mormons allowed” position.
I decided then to continue being neighborly and kind to the people in my town, but I also decided to search out a similar social group in a neighboring town. But even there I was told that Latter-day Saints were not allowed to join their group. By then I was so frustrated I wanted to cry. What was wrong with the people in these two towns? Couldn’t they see that we were a kind, fun family?
I prayed for the Spirit to guide me and help me be as friendly and Christlike as possible. I prayed that those who knew me would feel in their hearts that we were good people. I prayed they would experience a change of heart that would lead them to accept us. Still, I felt as if my prayers weren’t being answered. No matter how hard I tried, I was unable to soften their hearts.
Then one evening I received a phone call that shattered my hopes altogether. The leaders of the group called and told me once again that my family was not welcome in their group. They were concerned that we might be expecting to join in the future because we had made so many friends in the community. They said some very hurtful things, and I cried with a broken heart. All of the dinners, service projects, cookies, and sidewalk chats had meant nothing to these people. Where had I gone wrong?
That night I prayed a heartfelt and sincere request for help in dealing with those who had such strong feelings against the Church. I felt as if I were now entitled to their favor because of my efforts, and I explained this to my Father in Heaven.
The answer was stronger than any impression I had received for quite some time: “Follow Christ.”
It confused me at first. “Yes,” I thought, “but I already do.” The cookies, the friendship, the reaching out—I was being as Christlike as I could. Still, the only impression I received was “Follow Christ.”
I then realized that when my energies are focused on following Christ, I am not affected as much by the opinions of others. I serve them because it is right and not because it will help my image as a Latter-day Saint. I am friendly and neighborly because I feel friendly and neighborly, not because I have some self-centered reason for being friendly.
“Follow Christ” has become my motto whenever I am troubled by those who dislike us because of our faith. I now find joy in serving others regardless of their reaction to my kindness, and I am blessed for it. I did not come to earth to win the approval of others. I came here to prepare to return to my Father in Heaven, and the only way to get there is to follow the Savior.