27901_000_005After my grandfather fell away from the Church, we were detached from our heritage until loving Primary teachers reminded us of the blessings we could claim.
Occasionally I hear someone in the hallways of our ward meetinghouse say something like this: “They’ve got me working in the Primary.” It is said as a half apology to the listener for apparently not having a more glamorous calling. But as I reflect upon my family’s activation in the gospel, I earnestly convey my belief that no job in the Church, especially in the Primary, is less significant than another.
My great-great-grandfather Job Sidwell and his family accepted the gospel in 1842. No amount of persuasion could keep them from practicing their newfound faith, and they soon set out to follow the Saints to Nauvoo. But by the time they arrived, the Prophet Joseph Smith had been martyred and Nauvoo had been abandoned, so they embarked on the long trek across the plains.
His son, my faithful great-grandfather, William Sidwell, died tragically in a train accident in 1905. Perhaps resentful about the loss of his father and the life his family had been thrown into, William’s son—my grandfather George Wallace Sidwell—left the Church and vowed never to return. After serving in World War I, George came home and married a Latter-day Saint woman, Alvira, who had one child from a previous marriage. They moved to Idaho, bought a farm, and had another child, Wayne Wallace Sidwell—my father. George refused to let his young son attend church, so it seemed this branch of the Sidwell family had been derailed from receiving the blessings of the gospel.
My father eventually married Rebecca Gwartney, a strong-willed, intelligent girl who heartily disliked the Latter-day Saints. They initially had three little boys, each two years apart, who were a handful for the young mother. I was the second boy. When I was four years old, my grandmother Alvira offered to take the boys off my mother’s hands every Wednesday afternoon by taking us to Primary. My mother, glad for the weekly reprieves, set aside her contempt for the Latter-day Saints and agreed.
We loved going to Primary. My grandmother continued taking us for about a year, until she became sick and no longer could. We howled our disappointment to our mother until she finally gave in and drove us to town for Primary. Because it was too far for her to go back to the farm before she had to pick us up, and perhaps because she was wary about the doctrines her boys might be exposed to, my mother stayed for Primary. She sat in the back of the chapel with her arms folded and her brow furrowed, discouraging any contact from Primary leaders or teachers.
However, those women in Primary treated my mother with the utmost respect and love. They showered her with attention. Sitting in the back of the chapel, my mother learned the simple truths of the gospel from loving sisters who magnified their callings. The Holy Ghost pricked her heart.
One day my mother came home from Primary and announced to my father, “Wayne, I have gained a testimony of the gospel, and I have to be baptized.” Surprisingly unruffled by the announcement, my father answered, “Well, I should be baptized too.” They called the missionaries, took the discussions, and in 1949, when I was six years old, my parents were baptized. A year later we were privileged to be sealed as a family in the Salt Lake Temple—a building my great-great-grandfather had lovingly labored on about a hundred years earlier. It was a day I shall never forget.
My branch of the Sidwell train had been derailed from the gospel by a series of choices. We could have remained detached from our heritage for many generations. But faithful Primary teachers who lovingly shared the gospel with my mother and her sons picked up the Sidwell train and set it back on the strait and narrow track. Their influence has reached the many descendants of my parents, Wayne and Rebecca. It will also reach thousands of souls on the other side of the veil through temple ordinances because of my mother’s tireless family history work.
Somewhere within the stewardship of each of us is someone who needs our help and encouragement. I was a four-year-old child when my Primary teacher touched my heart. My mother was an adult when the sisters in the Primary reached out to her. There are undoubtedly many more stories like mine, where a Latter-day Saint magnifying his or her calling unknowingly becomes an instrument in the Lord’s hands, making it possible for others to receive the Lord’s blessings. They may not yet have been recognized, but the Lord knows, the mother knows, the four-year-old child knows, and his descendants know what those Primary sisters did for them. May we all magnify our callings, love those we serve, and allow the Lord to bring about powerful changes through our efforts.
Across the Generations
“The rising generation can also affect, adversely or affirmatively, the older generations.” Elder Neal A. Maxwell (1926–2004) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, “Unto the Rising Generation,” Ensign, Apr. 1985, 11.