What you do when you are alone is generally a good indication of the kind of person you really are. The same is true when you find yourself to be the only Latter-day Saint in a crowd of people who are not members of the Church.
Although it may be tempting to rationalize that no one knows you’re a Mormon, that no one will ever know if you decide to relax your standards, don’t give in! Someone is always watching you, and if you have the courage to be a good example, you may guide someone else who is searching for the truth.
Years ago, when I was in the military, my family and I were stationed at Charleston Air Force Base in South Carolina. There we met Willis Hepworth, who was serving in the navy. Willis taught us some important lessons about being a good example even when there are no family members or Church acquaintances nearby.
Willis was active in the Church and had been involved in its youth programs. He had musical talents and had participated in a variety of activities.
When he graduated from high school in Magna, Utah, he had decided to join the navy. One of Willis’s naval assignments was aboard a minesweeper operating off the east coast of the United States. As far as he knew, there were no other Church members among the crew.
When the ship put into port at New Bern, North Carolina, for repairs, Willis looked up the address of the local branch and attended services. He found out that the next Saturday there would be a dance at the branch. Excited at the prospect of going to a dance, Willis asked two of his shipmates, Kenneth Kinzel and John Archer, to go with him. The two liked the idea of going to a social function where there would be some single girls, so they accepted the invitation.
They attended the dance and thoroughly enjoyed themselves. Ken was particularly impressed that they had such an enjoyable time without drinking and without the other activities usually associated with “hitting the beach.” He wanted to know more about a church that would sponsor that kind of activity and asked Willis how he could learn more. Willis contacted the missionaries. They taught Ken and John, and in a few weeks both were baptized.
After his baptism, Ken wanted his parents to know about the gospel. “I doubt that my parents would ever be interested in becoming Latter-day Saints,” he said. After all, his father held a prominent position in his own church.
But when Ken was home on leave, he asked his parents if they would be willing to have the missionaries tell them about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Being the fine, open-minded people they were, they agreed. Later, Ken had the privilege of baptizing and confirming them. They later became temple workers.
Don Dewey, a nonmember, was one of Ken’s friends stationed aboard a sister minesweeper. He wanted to discover the inconsistencies in the Church’s doctrine so that he could point out to Ken the error of his decision to be baptized. So when the three men returned from sea, Don decided to join Willis and Ken at sacrament meeting in Charleston.
But Don never did find the inconsistencies he sought. Instead, after months of intensive study, he also chose to become a member of the Church.
One night shortly after his baptism, Don was tending the ship’s engines and reading the Book of Mormon in his spare time. Burt, one of the crew, came up behind him and asked what he was reading.
“It’s the Book of Mormon,” Don replied.
“Are you Mormon?”
“Yes, I am.”
Burt ground out his cigarette and said, “So am I.” He had been brought up in the Church but had stopped participating when he joined the military. Don convinced him to join the others at sacrament meeting the next Sunday. But began the process of repenting and getting his life back in order.
Just before Don was released from military duty, he wrote to my wife and me.
“As you know,” he said, “I am the only member of the Church in my family. I had been saving part of my paycheck so that when I get out I would be able to pay cash for a new car. But now I’ve decided to use the money for something better—to support myself on a mission.”
Ken also decided to serve a mission. After their missions, both Ken and Don were married in the temple, and both have served faithfully in many Church callings.
We asked Ken and Don what it was about the gospel and the Church that attracted them most. Without a moment’s hesitation, they each said that it was Willis’s life, his example.
What if Willis had thought no one was watching him? If he had abandoned his beliefs, would Ken and Don and their families be members of the Church today? Where would Burt be? What would have happened to Ken’s parents? And how about others who also joined the Church because of Ken’s and Don’s efforts?
This great cycle of service, conversion, and good works was generated by Willis’s quiet yet powerful, consistent example as a righteous young Latter-day Saint. Willis was willing to face the challenge of living up to his standards, even when he found himself alone and when he may have thought no one else was watching.
The truth is, people do watch. Your friends and associates, both within and outside of the Church, watch you all the time. They look for the light the Lord said that you should be to the world.
May each of you be blessed to be strong in setting a proper example, even—and maybe especially—when you think you are all alone.