My family moved to a little desert town in the United States during one of the hottest months of the year. But among the Latter-day Saint kids, my reception was cold.
I was 15, and my family had already moved 10 times, so it wasn’t as if I didn’t know how to make friends. I tried everything I knew to break the ice, but after five months I still didn’t have a single friend who was a member of the Church.
Luckily, I had lots of good nonmember friends at school. But that didn’t make it any easier at early-morning seminary and church. I actually sat through five months of seminary without anyone saying hello to me, except my seminary teacher. And in my Sunday School class there was always one empty seat between me and everyone else.
Tom Jeppson * was the ringleader of the LDS kids. He had never really said anything to me. In fact, I wasn’t even sure he had noticed me until one morning when he met me at the seminary doors.
“Go home. We don’t want you here,” he said.
I started to laugh. He had to be joking, right? But when I looked at his face, I knew he wasn’t kidding. I looked at the others standing close behind him. They didn’t say anything, which I figured meant they agreed.
As I turned away, I heard the doors slam behind me and muffled laughter.
I’m never going to seminary again, I swore to myself as I walked the short distance to the high school. It is all their fault.
That day seemed like it would never end. After school I rode the bus to my street, but I didn’t go home. I went to my seminary teacher’s house. He lived a few doors down from me, and I really liked him. In fact, I liked his whole family.
He usually gave me a ride to seminary each morning, so I wanted to tell him not to worry about picking me up anymore. Actually, what I really wanted was some sympathy.
Sister Murray answered the door. Brother Murray wasn’t home yet, but she invited me in for a drink of lemonade. It wasn’t long before I was telling her the whole story. She was sympathetic until I said I wasn’t going to seminary anymore and that I might not go to church ever again.
“If this is really the true Church, people wouldn’t act like that,” I said.
I expected her to plead with me to come back. I wanted her to tell me she would talk to all the kids’ parents and get them in a lot of trouble. I thought she would be ready to do almost anything to keep me active. Instead she said, “Well, fine. You’re not hurting any of those kids by not going. You’re hurting only yourself.”
I was too shocked to say anything. I quickly finished my lemonade and told her I had to go.
I stayed away from seminary and church for three weeks. My seminary teacher called a few times to check on me. I missed seminary, but I was too proud to admit it. I kept telling myself everyone was probably feeling pretty guilty they had made me become inactive. I told myself they would be in trouble on judgment day.
Still, I couldn’t forget what Sister Murray had said about me hurting only myself. And then, one day when I was reading the Book of Mormon, a scripture caught my eye: “See that ye do all things in worthiness, and do it in the name of Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God; and if ye do this, and endure to the end, ye will in nowise be cast out” (Morm. 9:29).
As I read the words, the Spirit filled my heart and I realized Sister Murray was right. Sure, the kids had been real jerks. But they couldn’t keep me away from the Church if I was determined to be there. And best of all, they couldn’t cast me out in the end, when it really mattered—not if I endured.
I got out of bed and set my alarm for 5:00 A.M., so I wouldn’t miss seminary the next day.
We lived in that hot, windy desert town for five more months and nothing really changed—except my heart. For the first time, I understood that no one was responsible for my salvation but me. I didn’t miss another day of seminary or church. And although the LDS kids were still cold, it didn’t matter. I was filled with the warmth of the gospel.
Unfortunately, there are people like the young man in this story who don’t feel accepted by others in their youth group. Church is one place no one should ever feel alone. Is there someone new in your ward or branch? Take the time to get to know them. Kind words of acceptance foster the kind feelings that should exist in every youth group. By leaving others out of your circle of friends, you miss the chance to help strengthen their testimonies—and your own.
President Gordon B. Hinckley admonished: “Be friendly. Be understanding. Be tolerant. Be considerate. Be respectful of the opinions and feelings of other people. Recognize their virtues; don’t look for their faults. Look for their strengths and virtues, and you will find strength and virtues which will be helpful in your own life” (television interview with Phil Riesen, Salt Lake City, Utah, 12 May 1995).