The Message:

Be Thou an Example of the Believers

by Elder Robert L. Backman

of the First Quorum of the Seventy

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    Paul loved his disciple Timothy like a son. In his epistle, written to his “faithful child” from Rome where Paul faced death at the hands of Nero, he addressed Timothy as “my dearly beloved son” (2 Tim. 1:2).

    That bond of Christlike love, given as Paul’s life was threatened, causes his counsel to Timothy to ring with urgency and conviction and could have been given by any loving father to his son or daughter standing on the threshold of an abundant life. He challenged: “Let no man despise thy youth; but be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity” (1 Tim. 4:12).

    As I associate with the youth of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I am deeply impressed with their sterling character and their keen desire truly to be the Lord’s disciples. A stirring example of their powerful desire to live the gospel is the story of Peter Vidmar, gold medalist in gymnastics at the 1984 Olympic Games.

    As a boy of 11, Peter joined the Culver City Gym Club.

    “And nobody after that could ever fault him for his drive, or his desire, or his purpose. Six days a week he worked out at the club, three to four hours a day and 10 on Saturday.

    “Peter’s coaches, the widely respected Sakamoto brothers, Makato and Isamu, were suitably impressed. Not only was this kid willing to put forth the effort, he had potential.

    “With more hard work they told him he could be world-class. And that would mean working out on Sunday as well.

    “End of career. Or so it seemed.

    “A teacher in the Aaronic Priesthood at the time in the Westchester 2nd Ward, Inglewood California Stake, Peter didn’t need to go to his bishop to ask what he should do. Even though that would have been easy since his father, John Vidmar, was the bishop.

    “He told the Sakamotos he couldn’t train on Sunday for religious reasons.

    “They kicked him out of the club.

    “In their rigid training regimen, the Sakamotos looked at disobeying a coach as anathema. They had asked an athlete to follow an order and he had rebelled. In their minds they had no choice.

    “Neither did Peter, who accepted the consequences and began searching for an alternate program. He couldn’t find a suitable replacement and began working out at nearby Venice High School, mainly on his own. It was not a happy time for a 15-year-old boy whose road to the Olympic Games had hit upon a detour.

    “Happily, the impasse didn’t last. After four weeks, the Sakamotos came to Peter. They were now convinced it was a strong religious principle he was honoring—his persistence in staying away proved that—and they said he could be reinstated.

    “From there it was nothing more complicated than work and success and then more work and more success, six days a week.

    “When it came time to choose a college, Vidmar chose nearby UCLA since Makato Sakamoto would be his coach there as well. Through four years together they produced four NCAA all-around titles. Naturally, they moved on in tandem to the Olympic Games, which would be held not only in their home town, but in their college gym.

    “When Vidmar finally got to the top of the Olympic parastyle, gold draped around his neck, nobody on earth knew better what he had gone through than Makato Sakamoto, who stood just off to the side and gestured with joy himself.

    “Not only had he taught Peter how to get to the top, he had learned a lesson from his pupil in the process: You can get there without working out on Sunday. In fact, Sakamoto no longer coaches on Sunday, reserving that time for his family at home.

    “‘He found out he needed that time away from the gym, and changed his thinking,’ says John Vidmar, Peter’s dad and former bishop.

    “Brother Vidmar recalls that dilemma that threatened his son’s career when he was not quite 15 years of age.

    “‘He was devastated about getting kicked out of the club. He loved gymnastics,’ he related. ‘But he never wavered. He didn’t ask me what he should do. He just told me, ‘No way, Dad, I won’t work on Sunday’” (Church News, 12 Aug. 1984, pp. 7, 11).

    What an example of the believers!

    I have met so many others like him—true to the faith, powerful examples of the believers.

    In Word

    In the Santa Fe Argentina Stake, I met a teenage girl, a convert to the Church, who has borne such powerful witness to her peers she has influenced scores to share her happiness by joining the Church.

    At an Aaronic Priesthood encampment testimony meeting, the boys formed a long line waiting for a turn at the microphone. As they bore their testimonies, a nonmember boy, sitting by the Scoutmaster, kept saying, out loud: “How can they say that?” “They don’t know it’s true!”

    About an hour later, caught up by the spirit of the meeting and the sincerity of the boys, the nonmember friend found himself in line, waiting to bear his testimony. When his turn came, he declared: “I’ve got to join this Church! I know the gospel is true!”

    In Conversation

    One Bible translation uses the word conduct here, which reminds me of the following example.

    In a hard-fought contest in the state football playoffs, the game was won when Steve, the quarterback, threw a pass to Mike. There was some question whether Mike caught or trapped the ball. The referee ruled that he caught it.

    Since it was such a vital play, controversy raged. When Mike went to church the next Sunday several people asked him if he really caught the pass. Mike held his tongue until he saw his bishop. “Bishop, can I speak to you in private?” Mike asked. In the privacy of the bishop’s office, Mike said, “Bishop, I caught the pass. I wanted you to know!”

    In Charity

    Clay, Ron, and Dean proved themselves to be young men of action and compassion as they rescued a young woman from her burning car.

    Returning home from a movie, the trio discovered the burning, wrecked car on the freeway exit. The driver was seriously injured, unable to move, and calling for help. Bystanders were doing nothing.

    Ignoring personal risk, Clay approached the car and was forced back. “I backed off once,” he said. “I was afraid it was going to blow up. She was kind of groggy and she said, ‘Help me, please, someone help me.’

    “The second time, I just said to myself, ‘It’s for her good. If it blows up on me, that’s it.’” With that thought, Clay helped the badly injured woman out of her car. With a compound ankle fracture, she relied on Clay to carry her to the curb.

    Meanwhile, Ron used the fire extinguisher from his car to attack the flames. When that and another extinguisher provided by a bystander failed to completely douse the fire, Ron and Dean ran to a pay phone and called for paramedics. Arriving police and firemen completed extinguishing the fire.

    In Spirit

    Darren, a fine priest, enjoyed a high adventure at Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico, where he backpacked with other Explorers on a scenic mountain trek. Here is his account in his own words:

    “The scenery on the trek was beautiful and wildlife was abundant. Among other animals, we saw beaver, snakes, deer and even a bear cub. In addition, we climbed Mt. Baldy, a 12,000-foot peak, at 4:00 in the morning to be on top for sunrise. I reached the top feeling like I had really accomplished something. We were the highest thing around and could see for a hundred miles. Sunrise was spectacular, and the view was magnificent.

    “And yet, that wasn’t the highlight of the trip. It was great and wonderful; one of the most fantastic moments in my life. But the highlight of the trip came not standing on a peak over 12,000 feet high but in a small meadow in the shade of aspens, kneeling in a bed of ants with a log in front of me to use as a sacrament table, blessing the Lord’s sacrament as Jesus had done long ago.

    “As I knelt on that mountainside in New Mexico to participate in blessing the sacrament, it came to me, more forcefully than ever before, the importance of this sacred ordinance.”

    In Faith

    In bearing his testimony a missionary declared:

    “I count myself one of the wealthiest men in the world because I have the gospel of Jesus Christ!”

    A beautiful bride-to-be approached her bishop for a temple recommend in anticipation of her marriage in the house of the Lord. “Bishop, ask me the questions!” she stated. “All my life I have been preparing to answer those questions!”

    Alicia, the oldest of five children, was only nine years old when her mother died tragically and suddenly.

    She took the responsibility of caring for her younger sisters and brothers, demonstrating maturity and intelligence far beyond her years.

    She graduated from high school with a 4.0 grade point average and was awarded a college scholarship.

    That summer, a month before her 17th birthday, Alicia lapsed into a diabetic coma, dying without regaining consciousness.

    Convincing evidence of Alicia’s abiding faith was found among her belongings, a lovely poem she had written, entitled “Things You Cannot Buy”:

    The best and sweetest things in life

    Are the things you cannot buy—

    The music of birds at dawn,

    The rainbow in the sky,

    The dazzling magic of stars at night,

    The miracle of light,

    The precious gift of health and strength,

    Of hearing speech and touch,

    The peace of mind that crowds a busy life

    Of work well done,

    A faith in God that deepens as

    You face the morning sun,

    The boon of love, the joy of friendship

    As the years go slowly by.

    You find the greatest blessings are

    The things you cannot buy.

    In Purity

    Sarah was the only Latter-day Saint girl in her high school. Despite her isolation she dated often. If she wanted to go out with a young man, she would respond to his invitation on condition there would be no smoking, drinking, R- or X-rated movies, nor immorality of any kind. She always set the tone for her dates.

    One day, as she stood at her locker at her high school, the “big man on campus” approached her. In his superior manner he said, “If you would lower your standards a little I would love to take you out.”

    Her response to his arrogant invitation is a powerful affirmation of the sweet purity of our youth. She replied, “If I went out with you I would be lowering my standards.”

    Throughout the Church are found choice young men and women who stand firm as “examples of the believers.” I am proud of them, and have confidence that the future will be bright and beautiful because they recognize they are sons and daughters of a loving Father in Heaven who has special things for them to do.

    I salute that royal generation of loyal Latter-day Saints and challenge them with the words of Paul, with which he closed his first epistle to Timothy:

    “Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, whereunto thou art also called, and hast professed a good profession before many witnesses” (1 Tim. 6:12).

    Illustrated by Michael Rogan