One sunny day when I was seven years old, I was playing outside my grandmother’s home while my family visited on the front porch. As I walked along a shrubbery-lined path by the side of the house, I suddenly felt a sharp, terrible pain in my ankle. My family heard my screams and rushed to my side. To their shock they saw that I had been bitten by a snake.
I had to get to a doctor, but we were out in the country and didn’t have a car. My uncle ran several miles to a neighbor’s home to borrow a cattle truck, and once we were in the truck, we even had to stop to get gasoline. My leg started swelling, and we didn’t know what kind of snake had bitten me.
We finally reached the hospital—a little one-story frame building—and after some tests, the doctor determined that I had been bitten by a rattlesnake. Judging from the fang marks, it had been a huge snake—about five feet long! As the poison from the bite rose in my blood, it turned my skin black, until it was black only two or three inches below my heart.
I was in the hospital for many days, and it was a painful and difficult time. I can remember having nightmares and screaming. One time, a young medical student who lived in a house across the street heard my screams as he was taking a shower. He dashed over to the hospital to help me with just a towel wrapped around him. Another time, the owner of a small restaurant about two blocks away became alarmed when he heard me, and he called the hospital, wanting to know what was going on.
I’m told I almost didn’t survive, but while in the hospital I was given a blessing. Because I was unconscious at the time, I didn’t hear the words, but my family later told me that I had been blessed that my life would be preserved for a special purpose. My relatives later told and retold this experience at family gatherings. This has given my life special meaning, and it has strengthened my testimony of the importance and power of the priesthood.
Many years ago, I was the bishop of a new ward in Potomac, Maryland. We had to meet in a school, so one of our first goals as a ward was to build a meetinghouse. Back then, each ward in the Church had to help pay for its meetinghouse, and we sent letters to all the adults in our ward, asking if they would make a donation. As a bishopric, we then decided that the entire ward should be involved, so we also sent letters to the children and teenagers.
The following Sunday, I sat on the stand in Junior Sunday School, which was the meeting children used to attend while their parents were in regular Sunday School. As the music played and the children walked in, one little boy, Jimmy Theurer, came up to me on the stand and placed a nickel in my hand. Our meetinghouse got its start with the contribution of that one little boy. This experience helped me realize that it’s important for children to be a part of what we do in the Church. They can do many good things for the Church, and they can help and encourage their parents to do good things as well.