Songs, Letters, Lessons—and a Teacher

The lesson period is over. The teacher closes the manual, calls on someone for a closing prayer, dismisses class, and goes home. “Well,” he thinks, “that lesson is over.”

But is it? Does teaching really begin and end with a classroom and a manual?

People are always learning—from teachers, from friends, from spouses, from parents. All of us learn, and all of us teach. We do not always choose our “class.” Indeed, we may not even know that we have taught, but our influence is always felt. Below, several students share memories of their teachers—both in and out of the classroom.

Brother Jess L. Christensen was a seminary coordinator in the days when seminary was fairly new in the British Isles. I was an enthusiastic, but inexperienced, convert.

I still remember clearly a powerful lesson he taught on the importance of temple marriage. Describing the love he felt for his wife and children, he said, “Never make a decision in your life that will leave you standing outside the temple of the Lord.”

Those words accompanied me through the thirty-one years of my singlehood. They echoed as I pondered decisions to marry out of the Church or to marry someone who did not have the true spirit of the gospel. His words and example gave me the courage to make the right decisions—and to wait.

In 1983 I was finally sealed to a wonderful man for time and all eternity, and I know that Brother Christensen’s teachings and love for me had a lot to do with the happiness I now have. Pat Wilkinson, Sheldon, Birmingham, England

About a year after I joined the Church in Cumberland, Maryland, I was called to audit the financial records of the various branches in the Blue Ridge District. As a 21-year-old convert, I had an intellectual appreciation for the gospel, but not much spiritual depth.

As part of this assignment, I was to meet with President Self, who was both branch president and financial clerk of the tiny branch in Keyser, West Virginia. My first impression of him was that he was a good man but not much given to “book learning.”

With all the wisdom of my newly acquired college degree, and knowing the difficulties even more educated people had in maintaining the records in the other branches, I worried about this branch’s financial records. To my surprise, his ledger, with the crabbed yet ever so carefully made entries, was more accurate than any other I had reviewed.

When I asked him if he had any difficulties keeping the records, he humbly replied that he had thought at first that he didn’t have enough education to handle the assignment. Then, admitting that the task had been painstakingly difficult at times, President Self told me that his method was simply to work on the books until he “got stuck.” Then he took a break to ask the Lord for help. Working far into many nights with many “breaks,” he was able to accomplish the Lord’s work.

This was not a formal classroom; President Self was not set apart as my teacher. But he did teach me a great lesson on faith, humility, and the Lord’s willingness to help us in all we are required to do. Larry D. Kump, Ravenswood, Indiana

As a little girl I attended Sunday School in the basement of our old ward building. Every week I looked at a big, wooden bulletin board in the front of the room with anticipation. Our chorister, Sister Owens, filled this board with beautiful pictures—one for every song or story we would hear. I loved to be chosen to hold the pictures.

One Sunday, Sister Owens told us that we were going to learn a new song to sing in sacrament meeting, and she invited a few of us to her home to practice. I was a little afraid to go there by myself, but the cookies waiting on the table in the hall made everything all right.

Sister Owens sat down on the piano bench, and I sat on a small footstool at her feet. The song we learned was about Jesus. She told us that he would be coming again. She told us how much he loved to have little children near him when he was on earth. Perhaps when he came again, he would hold us in his arms.

Her words made me feel so warm inside. I knew that more than anything else I wanted to “be ready there/To look upon his loving face/And join with him in prayer.” (“When He Comes Again,” Supplement to More Songs for Children, p. 7.)

As we sang the song in sacrament meeting, I felt that warm feeling grow. I sang loudly and clearly so that everyone would know how important our message was I will always be grateful to Sister Owens for lighting that first spark which became the testimony I have today. Karen Williams Thorne, Herndon, Virginia

As a nine-year-old, I had Fay Boyd as a friend and teacher. She lived across the street from our meetinghouse, and I always felt welcome in her home. I would often visit her, stopping to eat her delicious popcorn balls and to talk to her myna bird.

Watching her as my teacher, I was always impressed with her great testimony of the gospel and her desire that we also have such a testimony. I remember one lesson she gave about Jesus being the creator of this earth. The concept was hard for me to understand. She went home and wrote me a letter explaining that Jesus had created the earth under the direction of our Heavenly Father. She compared it to my doing the dishes under the direction of my mother. Then she added some scriptural references for me to look up. I have always cherished this letter—evidence of a loving teacher’s desire that I understand truth—and even today it is in my files. Maureen Smith, Las Vegas, Nevada

I often hear that a great teacher is one who sponsors fun activities or who has fancy, exciting lessons. But the teacher who most influenced my life did none of these things. Sister Bennett was my Sunday School teacher for several years following my baptism. Her lessons were not fancy; she read to us from the lesson book. She did not use much inflection in her voice. We didn’t have any extra activities. But these things did not matter.

What did matter to me was that Sister Bennett cared about us, and she showed it. She was always kind to us and considerate of our feelings. And, most of all, I always felt she wanted to be with us. Steven Elmo Averett, Springville, Utah

I met Alan Wild at work and noticed right from the start that he was different from the rest of us. He dressed neatly and always gave a full day’s work for his pay. And he seemed to have so many answers. Shortly after I met him, the father of a friend of mine died. When I discussed the death with Alan, he told me he was not afraid of dying because he knew what was going to happen. I was surprised and a little annoyed, but as we discussed his beliefs, I became very excited.

His continued happy example and ability to answer my questions finally led me to the missionaries, and on 16 February 1974 I was baptised. That same night Alan asked me to marry him. He had promised himself that he would not marry outside the Church but had not told me of his promise, because he didn’t want marriage to be my reason for joining the Church.

Through the years of our marriage, Alan has remained my best teacher. I have learned from him the power of prayer and of priesthood blessings, the necessity of scripture study and family home evening, the wisdom in following our leaders’ counsel, and the joy of member missionary work. His example still inspires me, and I feel blessed to have my eternal companion as my greatest teacher. Susan G. Wild, Morrison, Colorado

As a young girl in my early teens, I was very shy, and attending youth activities and other meetings was painful for me.

That year Gayle Smith was called as my Mutual teacher. She genuinely cared for me and had a way of making me feel a part of the group. I began attending on a more regular basis, and with her encouragement, I even became involved with the ward road-show. With her at my side—an adult outside my family who cared for me—I found myself enjoying the other youth in the Church. My fears began to dissipate. Even today as I struggle with new concerns, this teacher, who taught not only lessons, but souls, beckons me on. Wanda Branson, St. Petersburg, Florida

Prominent in my memories is a woman who taught my Sunday School class the year before I was ordained to the Aaronic Priesthood. I remember her chiefly because she was concerned about each member of our class. I remember at Christmas she sent everyone in the class a card with this message: “When you are confronted with a temptation, ask yourself, ‘Would my Father in Heaven approve? Would my parents approve? Would my gray-haired Sunday School teacher approve?’” The thought of this gray-haired teacher’s disapproval has kept me from yielding to many of the temptations that have come my way. Merrill L. Tew, Blythe, California

Her hair was gray, her face wrinkled with character, and her hands bent and crooked with toil. Sister Chatlain was the oldest person my four-year-old eyes had ever beheld.

I don’t remember much else about those early Sunday School meetings—not even the lessons she taught—but I do remember that through each sacrament prayer, Sister Chatlain’s hushed voice repeated every word along with the priest who was administering the sacrament.

Without her ever talking to me about it, she taught me of the sacrament. I knew it was a sacred, holy ordinance—one which commanded absolute reverence. It is a lesson I have never forgotten. Nihla W. Judd, Kaysville, Utah

And the lessons go on. So long as there are those among us who care enough to teach and exemplify the principles Jesus taught, our lives will be changed, and we will find in them His truth, His image, His peace.

[illustrations] Illustrated by Sonja Cowgill