Strong, active families don’t really need good home teachers, isn’t that right? Especially families of bishops, stake presidents, and other priesthood leaders?
That’s what I thought. Right after I was married, I was called as home teacher to four families. The father of one was active but not spiritually converted. The young husband in another wasn’t a member of the Church and wouldn’t attend with his new bride, who was a member. The third couple was inactive—even though the husband was formerly in a stake presidency and the wife had been a stake Primary president. The fourth family, the Smiths, was happily very active in the Church: the father was on the stake high council, and the mother was the ward Relief Society president.
As my home teaching companion and I considered our assignment, our immediate reaction was to concentrate on the three families that needed obvious encouragement and fellowshipping. The Smiths, we reasoned, would get along fine with just a short social visit from us once a month.
But after our initial visit with each family, and after praying about how to be effective home teachers, we began to realize that every family needs—and deserves—a great home teacher, and that the Smiths needed just as much attention, prayerful consideration, and love as any of the other families.
During the first year, we tried to develop a good rapport with the Smiths. Devoting part of every month’s visit directly to the three children, we became fully aware of their progress in Primary, Scouting, Aaronic Priesthood, and school. When the boy received his (highest award a boy can earn in scouting in the U.S.), I was asked to be the speaker at the meeting where he received his award.
Sometimes we went out for ice cream with them. At ward parties, we socialized with every member of the family.
The friendship worked both ways. For example, when our first baby was born no one was more excited than the Smiths. In fact, Sister Smith gave a party for my wife.
One day Brother Smith called to tell me that he was going to be operated on shortly: the doctor had just found a tumor. I helped administer to him.
The surgery was successful—the cancer was removed. We felt that our role was to encourage the family during their father’s recuperation.
About a year later, another tumor appeared. Again the Smiths needed spiritual strength and support, and again the cancer was removed.
However, several months later they found another tumor. We appreciated many times the comforting power of the Spirit as blessings were pronounced in Brother Smith’s behalf. As home teachers, we discussed with the family the importance of combining faith with submissiveness to the Lord’s will.
When this last tumor appeared, it was so extensive that the doctors couldn’t operate. We were all disheartened—yet we still hoped that Brother Smith would live.
I frequently stopped to spend some time with him on my way home from work. Many times he was in so much pain—his pain relievers were ineffective by then—that he would ask me for a blessing. Those experiences became a highlight of my life. Each day I tried to live so that I could receive inspiration that would encourage my ailing friend.
One Saturday morning, as my wife and I were leaving home to do some shopping, I said to her, “I have a feeling that we should go see how Brother Smith endured the night.” We had seen him the night before, and everything seemed fine.
“All right,” she said. “If you feel we should go over, let’s do it.”
We found him in bed—doing about the same as the night before; there had been no major decline in his strength during the past week. I couldn’t help wondering why I had felt impressed to visit them that morning. So I decided that maybe we should share some faith-promoting experiences with them. The children sat around the bed and listened, and the Spirit of the Lord was there in rich abundance. Suddenly, as we talked, Brother Smith died in the arms of his wife.
My wife took the children into another bedroom and spent the next little while talking to them and answering their questions. She indicated to them that their father would be a source of strength to them all their lives and that someday, because of the Savior’s atonement and resurrection, they could have a beautiful reunion with him.
I helped by calling the doctor, the bishop, and the mortician. Later during the day we ran errands for Sister Smith.
The funeral was the following Monday. When the bishop was making the arrangements, Sister Smith indicated that her husband had planned the funeral in great detail, and that I, his home teacher, was to give the spiritual message.
I was overwhelmed. Brother Smith was close to many stake and general leaders in the Church, but instead, he had asked for me to speak at his funeral. And the printed program was to indicate that I was his home teacher.
Afterward, we did what we could to help the family adjust. We arranged for an accountant in our ward to help set up a budget for them and to get the family finances back in order. We asked another ward member, a carpenter/handyman, to help us inspect the house to determine what needed to be done to maintain the value of the home. The priesthood quorums in the ward then came in and did the needed work to get the home back to its normal condition.
We also helped Sister Smith evaluate various job opportunities. And we tried to be even closer to the children.
Did we neglect our other home teaching families during all this time? No, we saw some small, quiet successes there, too.
The family whose father wasn’t spiritually converted remained active in the Church. The family’s bond of love and closeness enabled them to understand and accept each other’s points of view without alienating one another.
We arranged for the young nonmember husband of the second family to speak at youth firesides and Mutual classes on his life as a policeman, and he was excited about helping young people feel good about policemen. Once he took his motorcycle to Mutual and explained to the boys how it functioned. When this couple moved from the ward a year later, he left with a better feeling towards his wife’s church than he had at the time of their marriage.
The third couple, we learned, had become inactive because they had not felt a part of the ward. We convinced them that we were their friends and were interested in them. Then we helped the wife see that the Church needed her special talents of teaching children. She began attending Sunday School and later accepted a calling as a Sunday School teacher. When my wife was asked to bake cookies for the ward Christmas party, we asked this couple if they would make the cookies, and then we invited them to come to the party as our guests. When they moved to a new ward later, they didn’t become inactive again but remained active.
We didn’t do anything spectacular—nothing more than anyone else could have done. But as I recall these early home teaching experiences, I feel again the great testimony I gained of the importance of home teaching, of the great love a home teacher can feel towards other people, and of the resulting joy that can come from serving others. And I’m especially glad I learned early that every person—even if he’s active—deserves a good home teacher.