“I’d like to bear my testimony and give thanks to my Heavenly Father for my many blessings.”
The voice came from the back corner of the chapel. To the regular ward members it was a familiar voice and one that was often heard at testimony meetings.
A visitor, turning to see who was speaking, saw a boy bent over a folding chair, supporting his gaunt body on his arms while his legs hung limp behind him. How could this obvious cripple be thankful for his many blessings? What blessings?
When he was four years old, a series of tests disclosed that Stephen Farrance had a type of muscle disease, which, if it progressed as it had been doing, would kill him by the time he was 12.
“The impact and finality of the doctor’s verdict didn’t really register with us,” recalled his mother. “Stephen could do so many things. We just encouraged him to be independent. He had his regular chores to do just like his brother and sister. Then later, when the tendons pulled his feet up and he had to walk on his toes, we withdrew some of his responsibilities but gave him others. He went to a regular school and made a niche for himself.
“I remember one teacher telling me that she called Stephen and a new boy up to her desk at the same time. When Stephen arrived, he braced his feet and placed a hand on her desk. The newcomer said, ‘Are you okay?’, and Stephen said, ‘My feet don’t like to stop walking, and it takes me a minute or two to convince them. But, thanks, I’m fine now.’”
Stephen had difficulty sitting. By the time he was 12, he knelt on his chair during class and got callouses on his knees. But he didn’t believe in missing anything that he could take part in. He figured out ways to be part of what the other kids did. The following year his class decided to learn square dancing, and the teacher apparently told Stephen that he could go to the library and read while the others danced.
“But I’d rather take part,” Stephen told her.
“Just how do you propose to do that?” asked his teacher, startled, because by now he walked hanging on to the wall and couldn’t balance himself.
“Well, I’ve thought about it and I’ve decided I could handle the record player, change the record, and watch how the steps are done. That’ll give you more time to be with the other kids on the floor,” he said. So he got to change the records and watch.
“ I have many blessings for which I am thankful …”
Like being basketball scorer in high school, managing one of the girls’ teams, working on the school newspaper, and being elected to various student council offices. When he ran for treasurer, he said in his campaign speech, “You have only to take one look at me to be sure I won’t run off with the funds.” He was elected.
He didn’t limit his time to school activities. His family had joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints when Stephen was eight, so he took an active part in Church programs. He went to Primary, was active in Cub Scouts, and moved on into Scouting. He advanced in the priesthood offices and served the sacrament until one day he tripped. That night he wrote in his journal: “Passing sacrament and tripped, nothing spilled, but maybe I’d better not risk it again. I think it’s too hard on the watchers.” So he switched to reminding the other deacons when it was their turn. As a teacher he helped prepare the sacrament in the little side room and was also secretary of the quorum.
Stephen got up at 5:30 A.M. five days a week for four years to go to seminary. He achieved two years’ perfect attendance and one year with one day absent. The other year he went to a drama festival with the winning play and couldn’t find an early morning seminary, so he missed four days.
“I’d like to thank Heavenly Father for my many blessings …”
While Stephen was making friends and doing new things, the disease was also progressing. His head bent back because his neck muscles couldn’t give him the support he needed. As he would inch his way along the corridors of the school, holding on to the walls, he would have to stop every few feet and rest, then look ahead to see what was in his way.
People made comments. Even some adults would come up and say, “How come you look like that?” or “What’s the matter with you?” Sometimes in a restaurant people would think he was just a bad-mannered kid and tell him to sit up properly or not take up so much room.
Did it bother him?
“No, not really. If they knew it wasn’t intentional, they wouldn’t feel like that,” said Stephen.
His older brother, James, started carrying him over his shoulder. They would make a game of it, and people never knew how serious it really was. Stephen would start home from school, and after half a block James would come along, scoop him up, and run on. Stephen would holler, and often the pair would beat the other kids to the house.
There were times in shopping centers when James would carry Stephen and be told by the security men that that type of thing wasn’t allowed. After awhile Stephen became friends with most of the security men, and they would find carts that he could drape himself over.
“Stephen became friends with people because he took time to notice them. I remember one day at the shopping center he said to me, ‘Hey, Mom, let’s go over there, I want to speak to that guy.’ He went over, and he congratulated the man on his promotion and asked what his new duties entailed. The man explained, and they chatted away. Later, I asked Stephen how he knew the man had had a promotion. ‘If you look at the sleeves of their uniforms, you’ll see they have some gold braid on the cuffs. That guy only had one stripe on last week, and this week he has two, so I figured it must mean a promotion.’”
Stephen’s awareness of people as human beings with triumphs and problems was well known. A fellow student sums up this quality: “Even through junior high you could always go to Steve with your troubles. He was always more interested in other people’s problems than his own.”
Another friend says, “He was always happy and unimportant to himself. He thought it was more important to help other people, which he did every day. He was only important to himself as far as he needed to be to return to Heavenly Father. What a beautiful, fantastic person. He had the attitude, ‘I’m not going to let me get me down.’”
“I’m thankful, Heavenly Father …”
He followed his sister and brother in drama. While they were actors, Stephen became a director, a sound man, and a dabbler in lighting. He did this at high school and with the roadshows.
No one thought of him as a cripple. At home it was understood there were certain things he couldn’t do. As his sister explained to one of her friends, “Stephen can’t run, I can’t draw, and James can’t sing.” Living with Stephen taught the other Farrances compassion, not just for him but for all people.
Stephen sailed through school getting straight A’s until the last couple of years of high school when the toll of just living and moving took a great portion of his energy. He ended with a B average. He was voted Citizen of the Year by the student body and received service awards every year of high school. His last year he won the Soroptimist Youth Citizenship Award and a school bursary. He also ran an hour-long morning radio broadcast at school.
He spoke at church on a regular basis and held various church positions. Ward members loved him and gave him strength, while drawing courage from watching him. He served as secretary in the Aaronic Priesthood MIA and was vice-president of his institute class.
He was a staunch supporter of the missionary program and invited the elders home as often as possible. Stephen was thrilled the day his brother, James, received his mission call. He enjoyed the preparations and being able to travel to Salt Lake City to take James to the Missionary Home there. Stephen firmly believed he would serve a mission too, and he studied diligently to prepare himself for it. His patriarchal blessing stated that he would go on a mission. He didn’t expect to do such a great thing as tracting, but he was sure there was a place for him.
Each day found him a little weaker. His body grew more and more distorted until he was bent almost double and spent his time, awake and asleep, draped over a chair. He didn’t complain; he accepted things the way they were.
Writing and directing the New Westminster Ward roadshow was his last big venture. The Vancouver British Columbia Stake produced the combined roadshows from all the wards. When the judges came back with their verdict, Stephen’s roadshow had won “Best All-Round Entertainment.”
As the applause died down, the stake MC approached the microphone. “Stephen Farrance, writer and assistant director of the winning roadshow, died this morning. We’ve kept this sad news until now we didn’t want to influence the judges. We’d like to congratulate the cast and crew for going on tonight, with special mention to Stephen’s family, who did such a fine job. We dedicate the roadshows to Stephen.”
“How could his family be here tonight?” someone asked, and the reply was, “After living with Stephen, what else could they do?”
“I’d like to bear my testimony and thank Heavenly Father for my many blessings … thank him for the sure knowledge that I will receive a perfect body in the resurrection, for my knowledge that God lives, that Jesus is the Christ, and that Joseph Smith was a prophet. I’m thankful for my membership in this church …”
Stephen had the blessing of a keen mind, a lively sense of humor, and the ability to see problems for what they were. He put all these things together and accomplished a full life, all 18 years of it. But he was not superhuman, neither a paragon of virtue nor a saint, but a warm, loving, normal human being with ups and downs, likes and dislikes.
About the time when many young LDS men are entering the Missionary Home in Salt Lake City at the start of their two-year missions, Stephen Farrance completed his mission here on earth. Did Heavenly Father send him out from the realm of pure love to give us an example to follow? Are we not all, to some extent, crippled in mind, if not in body, and in need of each other’s strength? Was this his mission?
In a letter to Stephen’s brother, James, their former stake president wrote: “Stephen had such a great desire to follow you into the mission field. Now he has received his call. He is eminently prepared to preach the gospel and will yet fulfill a great mission. But on his mission he will not have the heavy burden of his affliction. His spirit now stands straight and tall, and he can walk forth to preach the gospel with power and conviction, even as you are doing. Be of good cheer, Elder. Your brother is about his Father’s work, even as you are.”
A memorial service was held for Stephen at the Vancouver stake center in British Columbia. Instead of sending flowers, friends contributed to a fund in his name set up at his former high school. Each year a graduating student who has “shown outstanding contributions in the area of helping other young people—one who has gone above and beyond the call of duty in the spirit of a true humanitarian”—will receive $100 bursary and the “Super Steve Humanitarian Award.”
The Vancouver British Columbia Stake has inaugurated a “Stephen Farrance Memorial Sportsmanship Award” to be presented to the seminary team that shows the most concern for each other, attention to rules, sincere effort, and good sportsmanship during the annual scripture chase.
At the memorial services, members and nonmembers gathered to remember Stephen. A School friend spoke on Stephen’s contributions to the school and to his fellow students. He spoke of his many talents, his desire to serve, and his example to the student body. His priests adviser talked about Stephen’s Church accomplishments, his enthusiasm for any outing, even if he knew he couldn’t participate, and his concern for the priesthood brethren. And the bishop spoke about Stephen’s spiritual achievements. He reminded those gathered of the great, strong testimony he had, and how he had made use of every opportunity to bear it. He talked of Stephen’s desire to serve the Lord in any capacity he could. For the first time members and nonmembers, brought together through love of Stephen, became aware of many sides of Stephen’s remarkable character.
Stephen lived 18 years. He achieved much, and he was a great example to many of us. Although he lived with a crippled body and suffered much pain, he died in the manner that the Savior has promised to the faithful: “Those that die in me shall not taste of death, for it shall be sweet unto them.”