Growing up in Bountiful, Utah, I knew little about the Church outside of Utah. I suppose I felt anyone outside my ward was a foreigner. It wasn’t until I served a mission in Ireland that I began to appreciate the Church as a universal, worldwide organization. One experience in particular helped shape my perception of the Church as it really is.
When I was 14, my father was diagnosed with cancer. Doctors estimated that with chemotherapy, he had a 50 percent chance of living eight years or longer. Since the alternatives were even less encouraging, my father decided to suffer through the six months of weekly treatments.
At the end of the chemotherapy, my ward in Bountiful held a special fast for my father. It was a marvelous experience to join in faith for a common cause. When the diagnosis came back, the doctors could find no sign of cancer. After I left for my mission, I received letters from my father telling me of his continued improvements and how he even ran a marathon. Things seemed to be going well.
The summer before my mission ended, I was serving with a missionary named Elder Causse. He was from a branch in Bourdeaux, France, a place I had once considered “out there in the mission field.”
One morning my mission president called me into his office and told me my father would be calling. When the phone rang, the president excused himself and left me alone. I was apprehensive as I picked up the phone.
My father greeted me, then told me his cancer had relapsed. He would again go through chemotherapy. I then spoke to my mother, who told me our ward was going to fast again. I said I would join in the fast as well. After I hung the phone up, I wiped away a few tears and walked out of the office.
On the way back to our assigned area, I explained the situation to Elder Causse. He promised to fast with me, and his promise gave me comfort. But he did not stop there. He wrote to his family in France and told them what had happened. They, too, said that they would fast for my father and that they would ask the members of the Bourdeaux Branch to join the fast as well. I was astounded that they would fast for the health of a man they did not know.
At that moment, the Spirit spoke softly to me, and suddenly I understood what it means to be “fellow-citizens with the saints, and of the household of God” (Eph. 2:19). We are of one faith, united in the gospel with bonds stronger than illness or death. We are truly brothers and sisters. None of us is a stranger, no matter what land we happen to worship in.