This is always a wonderful sight and a great occasion, brothers and sisters, and I thrill to add my testimony to that of our president and these great leaders who have preceded me. How delighted I felt this afternoon to see these young people assembled and to hear their sweet voices tell of, I think, the greatest story since the birth of our Savior.
Someone once said, “I am intensely interested in the future because I expect to spend the rest of my days there.” I get excited about young people such as these because they project that kind of a positive future. We love and trust them. Seeing them seated behind me brings to mind a short story from Mt. Kisco, New York, reported in the Reader’s Digest.
“Once upon a time, there was a little red schoolhouse with one big room for 27 children. The teacher sat with an American flag on one side of her and a blackboard on the other. The children sat in rows facing her, the littlest ones in front. The youngest was seven, and she was very little. The biggest was 16, and he was six feet tall. The youngest was smart, and she could read with the other children. The biggest was dumb, but he was strong and could help the teacher carry in wood. In bad weather, he carried the littlest girl across the puddle in front of the schoolhouse. And sometimes she helped him with his reading.
“Then one day the state built a big highway, right past the schoolhouse door. And the State Education Department came by and said, ‘Great things are happening in education. There are special teachers for arithmetic, reading, art and music. If you combine with other schoolhouses, you could have a great big school where your children could have all the advantages. And big yellow buses could carry your children over the new highway right up to the school door.’ So the parents voted to consolidate, and the little red schoolhouse was abandoned.
“At first things went well in the big school. But after a while, the State Education Department said that it wasn’t providing the children with enough meaningful experiences. And some parents complained that the children were not learning to read and write and figure as well as they had in the little red schoolhouse. ‘We will try some new things,’ said the educators. So they tried the ungraded primer, where fast readers were not slowed down by slow readers, and where children who had trouble with numbers did not get moved on to the next grade before they could add 3 and 5. This helped, but not enough.
“‘We will try something more,’ the educators said. ‘We will tear down some walls at the new school, so the children will be working together in one big room. That way, there will be less peer-group competition.’
“Finally, an important educator came along, looked at the school and said, ‘This is good, but it is not good enough. It is too big, and the children are losing their identity. There are not enough interpersonal relationships in the infrastructure. What we really need is a one-room schoolhouse. And since red is a cheerful color, I think we ought to paint it red.’” (From Mt. Kisco, N.Y., Patent Trader, in Reader’s Digest, March 1973, p. 68. Used by permission.)
The educator in this story did not mean that the consolidated school, the special teachers, or the ungraded primer were not advantages. The point of the story is that along with the wonderful new discoveries in education, the emphasis must still be placed upon the individual and upon his needs and relationships with others.
This philosophy applies just as importantly to Church organizations as it does to the little red schoolhouse. In a revelation given to the Prophet Joseph Smith just prior to the organization of the Church, the Lord said:
“Remember the worth of souls is great in the sight of God;
“For, behold, the Lord your Redeemer suffered death in the flesh; wherefore he suffered the pain of all men, that all men might repent and come unto him.
“And he hath risen again from the dead, that he might bring all men unto him, on conditions of repentance.” (D&C 18:10–12.)
Our Lord’s response to the Pharisees’ question, “Why do they on the sabbath day that which is not lawful?” was, “The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath.” (Mark 2:24, 27.)
I understand from what the Lord has revealed to us through the prophets that people are his greatest concern. We are his children. We are somebody, as Elder Ashton so wonderfully stated this morning. We are his children, and he continually reveals himself through the prophets so that one day we can be like him.
Programs, then, wonderfully inspired programs, like the Sabbath, exist to help people. If we are not careful, it is very easy to put the mechanics of the program ahead of the person. Jesus was constantly trying to put the spirit back into the letter of the law. Our first priority, I feel, as parents, leaders, and teachers should be the individual within the home or Church program.
I remember some years ago an experience I had while directing one of the religious education programs of the Church in Southern California.
One of my responsibilities as a coordinator was to secure property, eventually erect an institute building, and then provide a religious program for our college youth. We had secured a wonderful institute site adjacent to the Los Angeles State College. Shortly after the transaction was consummated, the State of California indicated to me that they wanted to take the property by right of eminent domain, which was their prerogative. I checked with my superiors and they said, “Look into the legal side and see if we still don’t have a chance.” I did. We went into court for a hearing. The judge was impressed with the program of the Church and what we do for youth and people. We were sent back to do some additional homework and gather added information.
The day came for the final hearing, and I had about eight hours of work to do in four when at that very moment about ten o’clock one morning a knock came at the door, and because of my frustration I almost said (but I didn’t), “COME IN!” Instead I said, “Come in.” And in the framework of that door stood a 19-year-old USC freshman student who had refused our offers to come and join our group on four previous occasions. His head bowed, hands in his pockets, he said, “Brother Dunn, I have got to see you, now.” And I almost said (but I didn’t), “Can’t you see I am busy?” Because I was. Fortunately I had the presence of mind to invite him in; and as he took a chair, several questions went through my mind.
Question number 1, “What are you going to court for this morning, Paul?” “Well, to try to save a piece of property.” “What do you want the piece of property for, Paul?” “Well, to erect a building.” “Well, what do you want a building for?” “Well, to teach some students.” “What just knocked on your door?” “Oh, a student.” And wouldn’t you know, he took the whole four hours.
The time came for legal counsel to arrive, and we went to court. I don’t know all of the ramifications. We lost the hearing and eventually the piece of property, and it took us two years to secure another site. You would be happy with what the Church has done at Los Angeles State College, but more important, we saved the boy. Had it been your son, I think you would agree that we made the right decision.
God grant us the vision as leaders, teachers, and parents to put people first. Remember the worth of souls is great in the sight of God. I add my personal witness. God lives. Jesus is the Christ. This is his church. This is his prophet. I so testify in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.