Friend to Friend


Keith B. McMullin
Choose ye this day, to serve the Lord God who made you (Moses 6:33).

How would you like to live on a ranch and go to school with only one teacher and seven students? That is what I did as a child in Montana. My bedroom was in the back of the house, and sometimes a bitterly cold wind blew the snow in through the cracks around the windowsill. At night I had to shake the snow off my blankets as I huddled in bed, trying to keep warm.

Before that time, our family lived on a ranch in southern Utah. Life was very simple then, and just about everything I did—even my entertainment—was related to ranch work. For example, for Christmas one year, I received a little ax that I could chop wood with. In the winter we used the wood to heat the ranch house.

Another Christmas, I received a saddle. Before then, I’d ridden my horse bareback. With a saddle, I could ride with my father and help him tend the cattle on the range.

Because most of my friends lived quite far away, after school I spent time with my family, with an occasional visit from neighbors. In Utah, Navajo Indians sometimes came from the reservation to work in our peach orchards, and I played with their children. We didn’t go skiing; we didn’t go boating—again, almost everything we did related in some way to ranch life.

When I was about to enter the fifth grade, my parents decided to move to Salt Lake City, Utah. My mother wanted me to have the opportunities that a big city could provide. Suddenly my whole way of life changed, for things were very different in the city. There were lots of different choices to be made, and I saw that people who didn’t always choose the right could still be popular, could still be thought of as “neat” and “cool” because they were going along with the crowd. However, I had the steady influence of my parents. They taught me, through example as well as through words, that it is always important to choose the right. That is the way to true happiness.

For a long time after we moved to Salt Lake City, I felt that I didn’t fit in. When we had lived on the ranch, we would buy jeans that were too long, then roll them up at the bottom. That way we could wear them longer. But in the city, if someone wore his jeans that way, people made fun of him and called him a hick. They wore expensive brand-name clothes. My mother and father didn’t have much money. Father was working two jobs. Although he worked hard, he couldn’t afford to buy me stylish clothes. When I got older, I was able to get my own job and buy my own clothes.

From that experience, I learned that the way one looks and dresses isn’t what really matters. It is important to be well-groomed, of course, but it’s much more important to be a person of character—someone who can be relied upon and who stands up for his or her beliefs, no matter what others are doing.

When I was growing up, young men went on missions when they were twenty years old. Not all young men were expected to go on missions, as they are today. My father had always hoped that I would go on a mission, and he had encouraged me several times. But as I got older, I wondered, Is that really what I want to do?

My priests quorum advisor, Dale Waite, was a great example and a wonderful teacher. We boys all thought he was terrific. One time he took us to a ward outing at a swimming resort. We had a good time swimming, playing volleyball, and just enjoying being together. That night we piled into Brother Waite’s car to go home—the car sure was full! Full of good memories of the evening’s activities, we were starting up the old highway in the dark of night, when Brother Waite asked, “Did any of you hear the First Presidency’s announcement today?”

None of us had; we were all ears. Brother Waite told us, “The First Presidency has announced that young men can be called on missions at nineteen years of age.” When he said that, the Spirit of the Lord came over me, filling me from the crown of my head to the soles of my feet. I knew that the message was, “You are going on a mission.” I had never had that kind of experience before, but the feeling that I was to go on a mission never left me.

When I was old enough, I was called to serve in Germany. I loved everything about my mission. It was a turning point for me. I came to love Heavenly Father, His Son, and the gospel as never before, and I loved to hear the word of God preached. I came to love the scriptures; I loved reading them and understanding them. I found that the General Authorities who came to see us in the mission field were men of God and had great power to change people’s lives. I saw people accept the gospel and repent and be baptized and be filled with joy.

When I came home from my mission, it was with the firm resolve that I would never be the same—and I never have been. And all of that happened because a priests quorum advisor stayed close to the young men in his quorum, taught them the gospel, and helped them learn in a very simple way that they could go on missions and be touched by the Spirit of the Lord.

I believe that my decision to go on a mission was an example of choosing the right. I learned to choose the right at my parents’ knees, and I will be forever grateful to them for that. This experience gave me a rule by which I measure all things: “Do what is right; let the consequence follow” (Hymns, no. 237). Part of choosing the right means choosing to obey the Lord’s commandment to “honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee” (Ex. 20:12). We might say it this way: Honor, respect, and obey your father and your mother in righteousness. My life has been blessed because of obeying my parents, just as you may be blessed for choosing the right and obeying your own parents.

[photo] With his schoolmates (standing, second from left)

[photo] Splitting wood for kindling on the Montana ranch

[photo] About age 10

[photo] As a missionary in Germany (left) with Jim Wilde, the zone leader

[photo] Bishop McMullin and his wife, Carolyn McMullin