It’s early Saturday morning. You have lots to do—hang out with friends, maybe catch up on your homework. Then the phone rings and you remember that this Saturday is your ward’s youth serve-a-thon. You groan and think about getting in one more hour of sleep, right?
Of course not. Getting up is easy if you’re in the Richmond Ward, Richmond Virginia Stake, and today much of your service will be for those who aren’t members of the Church. Today you get to join with the missionaries and meet a lot of new people.
This Saturday morning, youth from the Richmond Ward are spread out in five different locations around the city. The first stop is a small house in the middle of Richmond. Fourteen-year-old Zack Harton and his friend Will Jones are stationed here, raking leaves, pulling weeds, and having fun.
Zack doesn’t personally know the family his group is helping, but he does know that this family is investigating the Church. Therefore, he knows that he’s also setting an example. “It makes me feel good because I’m helping someone in need—just as I would help my own brother and sister if they needed help,” Zack says.
His friend Will is also investigating the Church and is glad that Zack invited him to come along today. Will has already caught on to the wonderful feeling that comes from service. “I feel that I have an obligation toward other people,” Will says. “I started coming with Zack to Scouts and never knew it was going to get into this. But I just think it’s wonderful that somebody would care enough to do this. While we were working in the yard, everyone would help one another. You didn’t even have to ask. I could feel God around me.”
Will’s enthusiasm for service touches Cary Fleming as she, too, helps clean up at this stop. “The house looked pretty bad when we got there,” Cary says. “I wondered how we were going to clean all this. But then Will started singing nonstop, and I kept on pulling weeds, and we had a blast.”
Cary found out that what her mom said last night was right. “I did not want to go, but she told me it would strengthen my testimony if I really prayed about going and asked to have a good time. So I knelt down and prayed, and I’ve had the best time.”
A couple of kilometers away, Charity Holderness is cleaning bedrooms and bathrooms for a part-member family in the Richmond Ward. For Charity, this is a little out of the ordinary. “When I clean my own room, my mom thinks I’m sick,” she says.
Today she’s feeling something different. “I can’t even explain this feeling. I know that I haven’t done even a fraction of the work some people do. But I feel so much better knowing that I can keep doing small things. Maybe I’ll sweep the kitchen floor when I get home.”
Thirteen-year-old Caity Ingles is also here. She is not a member of the Church but came when her friend April Lacy invited her. April asked Caity to come because, she says, “I want her to know that I like to serve and help other people.”
The two missionaries at this stop like April’s idea about setting an example. Elder Jeffrey Mortensen, from Visalia, California, says: “We’re just the missionaries serving in this area for a short time. But when a ward member can make a connection with a nonmember, that is awesome.”
Building relationships—as well as cutting down some unwanted trees—is in full swing where a third group of youth are stationed. Todd Swenson, age 17, is here, and he’s a little tired from pulling up roots and clearing leaves. But his attitude is not the least bit tiresome. “This is my first time doing anything like this, but I want to do it again. I think it makes the people we are helping feel that they have friends, that someone is looking out for them,” Todd says.
Ben Mullins, age 14, agrees. “I hope it makes them feel that Church members like to help other people. It also gives me a better attitude about serving.”
Besides, according to Heather Swenson, there’s not much better to do on a Saturday. “I can spare one Saturday. I’ve got a lot of time left in my life to help other people. I need to use that time well.”
Across town at a less-active ward member’s home, Chris Odell knows all about using his time well. “I know this is the best thing I could do today,” Chris says. “When I serve, I feel close to heaven.”
Lindsay Lansing, age 14, nods in agreement and says, “Service shows that you love and respect others.” She is helping the sister missionaries gather leaves and stuff them into a garbage bag. This is not the first time she has joined them to provide service for her neighbors and less-active ward members. “I do this whenever I get the chance.”
Lindsay, Chris, and the rest of the group here finish quickly, but they don’t want to quit yet. So each of them jumps into a leader’s van to find another group that may need some extra hands.
By lunchtime, the last group of Richmond Ward youth are putting finishing touches on a wall at Svetlana Iskiyayev’s Village Shoe Shop. They have spent the morning tidying and painting the back room of the shop.
Svetlana and her husband left careers as a doctor and a lawyer when they came to Virginia from Russia several years ago. Now they are building their dreams here. And Helen Capehart, age 16, is happy she can help them. She has invited two nonmember friends to help her today and hopes that they, as well as the Iskiyayevs, will see the light of the gospel through her service.
After all, examples of service are what drew Helen herself to the gospel just a short time ago. She says: “I’m so grateful that the Lord led me to this Church and for the awesome examples my friends here have been to me. My biggest example now is Jesus Christ, and I find so much joy in serving him. I hope I always have this feeling in me.”
Most likely, that feeling will stay with Helen because she has found an important key to sharing the gospel—service.
As youth from the Richmond Ward close their day of service with a testimony meeting, Helen once again captures the essence of this activity. “I don’t think I ever feel the Spirit as strong in my life as when I am serving the Lord,” Helen says. “Look at all the magazines with beautiful people on the covers. The world says that’s beauty. But when I was working today, I got paint and dirt all over me. And I think that is the Lord’s true definition of beauty.”
She is probably right. What could be more beautiful than a child of God who has found happiness in following the example of the Savior?