One of the great adventures of life is discovering the joy that comes from selfless service. Indeed, to a large degree, our willingness to be of service to God and our fellow beings labels us as disciples of Jesus Christ. President Thomas S. Monson, First Counselor in the First Presidency, explains: “Like a golden thread woven through the tapestry of life is the message on the label of a humble heart. It was true of the boy Samuel; it was the experience of Jesus. … May it ever be the label which identifies each of us: ‘Lord, here am I’ [see 1 Sam. 3:3–10; Abr. 3:27]” (“Labels,” Liahona, September 2000, 7). The stories that follow illustrate the discipleship of members who have said to the Lord, “Here am I.”
Giving Service in a “Small” Way
Among the people of Córdoba, Argentina, lives a remarkable man named Natalio Virazapia. A descendant of Bolivian and Chinese ancestors, he was born in 1922 and now lives alone in humble circumstances, earning his living by working the soil.
Brother Virazapia considers himself an instrument in the hands of the Lord to help his brothers and sisters in need. Wherever there is a small place to plant seeds, there you will find his battered bicycle. He will be in the small field sowing corn or other vegetables—food that will eventually feed needy families. Although he doesn’t have any land of his own, he always seems to find space to plant his seeds, and the Lord blesses him with abundant harvests. He often brings to church special bouquets of his carrots, cabbage, or chard to share with the other members.
“I have little,” he says. “I can give service only with this small body I have that takes me from one place to another. Through the Church and the teachings of the gospel, I have learned to work with my hands in behalf of others.” His rough, work-worn hands do indeed show the humble victories he has won. They reveal an abiding love for his Father in Heaven, for the land, and for his neighbors.
Some people are satisfied simply to know about our Heavenly Father. Brother Virazapia uses his gifts to glorify Him.
Who Needs My Help?
As a college student, I heard a wonderful Relief Society lesson on service. The teacher said, “If you pray for Heavenly Father to open your eyes to the needs of others so you can help them, He will do so.”
That sentence stayed with me. I wanted to serve others but hadn’t thought to ask Heavenly Father for help. So I decided to give it a try. The next morning I knelt and prayed, “Heavenly Father, if there is anyone who needs my help today, please let me know.” I finished my prayer and headed to class.
Amid the hustle of the day, I forgot my prayer. During the afternoon I went to the grocery store. As I stood in line to pay for my groceries, I noticed an elderly woman who used a cane for support. I smiled at her and glanced at the groceries she was buying. I thought, How is she going to get those groceries into her house? I pushed aside the thought, finished paying for my own items, and headed out of the store. I noticed the woman standing next to her car while a store employee loaded her groceries into the trunk. The thought came to me again: How is she going to get those groceries into her house?
With some frustration, I countered: But what can I do? Follow her home? I had an immediate strong feeling that this idea was correct, so I gave in and drove down the road after her. I kept thinking: This is crazy! Why am I following this woman home? Soon we arrived at her apartment complex. I ran over to her and asked, “Can I help you with these groceries?”
Puzzled, the woman looked at me and asked if I lived nearby. I told her I did not. “Do you work here?” she asked.
I explained that I had seen her in the grocery store and had worried about how she would carry all those groceries into her home. At that point she looked up at me with tears in her eyes and said, “I was wondering the entire way home how I was going to get my groceries into my home.”
Later, as I drove home, my own eyes blurred with tears. I had experienced the wonderful influence of the Holy Ghost touching two lives through the power of prayer. The words of Alma 17:9 came to me: “They … prayed much that the Lord would grant unto them a portion of his Spirit to go with them, and abide with them, that they might be an instrument in the hands of God.”
I am grateful to Heavenly Father for the special gift of the Holy Ghost that not only blesses our lives but also helps us bless the lives of others.
Home Teaching to the End
Often our Church assignments place us in ideal situations for developing charity toward others. My father had the same home teaching assignments and the same companion for many years. He and his companion grew to love deeply the families they served, and the families came to rely on their friendship. What had started as a priesthood assignment became a great bond of love.
In his old age, my father had severe arthritis and great difficulty walking. Yet he and his companion, who by then had trouble seeing and could no longer drive, still got together to visit their old friends. The companions would joke that the two of them combined made up a whole person. My father drove and made the phone calls; his companion helped everyone when a more steady step was required.
One evening they stopped the car at the house of a sister, but my father could not get out. He said to his companion, “Why don’t you walk up and have her come out to the door, and then I can wave to her.”
His companion slowly made his way up the steps and asked the sister to come to the door and wave to my father. Although she was disabled and could not walk easily, she said, “I should say not. After all the years you two have been visiting me, this time I will walk down to the car to visit with you.”
The two of them helped each other out the door and down the steps to the car to visit my father. My father opened the door, and the three of them talked together in the twilight until it was too dark to see.
That was the last time my father and his companion went home teaching. By the next month my father had died, followed shortly by his companion and then that sister.
As my father committed himself to serving others, befriending them, respecting them, and staying with them literally to the end, he provided me with a wonderful example of how charity develops through dedicated home teaching.
Who Is the Teacher?
Two years after I was baptized a member of the Church, I began volunteering to teach severely disabled people at a hospital near my home in Japan. It has been many years since then, and I have come to wonder who really is the teacher—me or my students. From them I have learned about forgiveness, thankfulness, patience, faith, and caring.
I remember one class in particular. It consisted of five women and four men. Their average age was about 30. Almost everyone was mute, and they could not feed themselves or perform other basic tasks. When I spoke to them, they communicated in their own ways, usually with some kind of body language.
Although they were physically impaired, they worked to improve the gifts God had given them. To help them recognize their own individual worth, I read a chapter from the Bible to them each day. Once in a while, I would spend the majority of our time together teaching them of God and of our role in life as His children.
One day I wrote on the chalkboard this verse from Psalms: “It is good for me that I have been afflicted; that I might learn thy statutes” (Ps. 119:71). Immediately after I wrote the words, a 28-year-old man, confined to a wheelchair, began kicking his left leg up and down, showing his approval and testimony of that verse of scripture.
Another student, a 30-year-old man with a heart pure as a child’s, taught me much about gratitude. One morning during the late fall he received a drink of hot water instead of the usual cold water. He was so happy with the hot water he talked of little else the rest of the day.
I remember one woman, about 30 years old, who struggled to learn to use a word processor. She set a goal to learn to use it, and it took her a year. She found it difficult because she had little use of her left fingers. But she persevered. Once she learned to use the word processor, she set another goal to improve on what she had learned.
In these and many other ways, my students have taught me that “the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart” (1 Sam. 16:7). As we learn from one another and serve one another, we grow to love one another. The divine spirit I see radiating from each of my students motivates me to live the gospel better, to try to follow the example of the Savior better, to simply be better. I find in them a beauty that transcends the physical and touches the divine.