The longer I live and the more experience I gain in my ministry as a member of the Council of the Twelve Apostles, the more overwhelmed I become with the individual commitment that some people have in serving the Lord Jesus Christ.
Some time ago, I was assigned to preside over a regional conference in La Paz, Bolivia. La Paz is high in the Andes mountains, at an elevation of approximately 12,000 feet. Members came to the conference from small towns and villages scattered throughout the area of La Paz and the Altiplano.
Great sacrifice and commitment were required for some of these members to attend the meetings. Prior to the leadership training session, I stood in front of the stake center and greeted the brethren as they gathered. I greeted one older brother who told me through an interpreter that he lived a long way from La Paz. I noticed that his shirt was a different color from about the middle of his chest down. The upper portion of his shirt was white, while the lower portion was a brownish-red color.
I learned that he and three of his companions, all Melchizedek Priesthood holders, had taken more than eight hours to travel to these meetings. They had walked most of the way and had to ford two rivers where the brownish-red water came up to their chests. When they came to the main road to La Paz, they flagged down a truck and stood in the back of it for the last two hours to the stake center.
I could hardly believe that anyone would have such commitment, faith, and courage. When I expressed my deep concern for this dear brother, he said, “Brother Ballard, you are an Apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ. I would walk as long as required, ford as many streams as required, to come and hear from you what the Lord wants me to do as a priesthood leader in the Church.”
This response brought tears to my eyes. We embraced one another in the special brotherhood of the priesthood of God. I also learned that they had not had anything to eat, nor did they have any place to stay that night. Through the goodness of the Saints of La Paz, they were taken care of during the conference weekend.
These brethren are not alone in their commitment to serve. I am reminded of a sister in Peru who has been called by her bishop to be a “Special Proxy” at the Lima Temple. Her day begins at 3:00 A.M. and she begins her trek to the temple at 4:00 A.M. She has to take three different buses to arrive. The cost of bus transportation uses up over one-third of her monthly income, which is meager. During a bus strike in Lima, she still came, and once arrived in the back of a ton-and-a-half truck headed in the direction of the temple. What marvelous devotion to service!
Recently I received a letter from a fine young man in the missionary training center in Provo, Utah. The story of his commitment, in essence, goes like this:
“Swimming has been one of the most important things in my life, and my family has made incredible sacrifices in order for me to excel. I can remember getting up at 4:00 A.M. every morning, along with my dad, who would take me to my workout. And every afternoon my parents would come and pick me up. It was very expensive going to championship meets in many parts of the country, but somehow, my parents always managed to help me attend.
“Well, I did quite well, and last year I qualified for the Olympic trials. I had been swimming on the University of Arizona swim team, and had some of the fastest times in the country. At the same time, I was trying to decide about a mission.
“I only had one year of eligibility left, and in that year I would be captain of the swim team. Two years of a full-ride scholarship were also available to me if I stayed. If I left to serve, I’d lose them. While I was swimming over ten miles a day in preparation for the Olympic trials, however, I decided to send in my mission papers.
“Soon I found myself in Austin, at the trials. My team was among the most elite to go, and about eight of us had times good enough to make the Olympics. Things didn’t go well for me, though, and I failed to make the team. The goal I’d worked for all my life, the goal my family had come from across the country to see me achieve, was now out of reach. I wanted to jump right back in the pool and start training for the 1992 Olympics.
“Then I remembered I’d sent in my mission papers. How could I leave a loser, though? My coach told me he knew I could break the records I wanted in the next year, and that if I left, I would be throwing away everything I’d worked all my life for.
“The following week was agonizing. I was pulled in many directions. I talked to my leaders and prayed and prayed. Finally, I had the overwhelming feeling that now was the time to go on my mission. You don’t argue with the Spirit.
“I’m on my mission now. I have no regrets about this choice, and I’m happier than ever. Sure, it’s been tough, but when you lose your life in Christ, you find it. I know what it’s like to have potential to do something and not quite make it. It’s a small taste of torment. I don’t want this to happen when I face my God at Judgment Day. It takes commitment.
“We must decide now, I believe. I didn’t ask myself every morning if I wanted to go to practice or to sleep. I decided beforehand, and there was no choice to be made when morning came. We have to be committed. But to be committed 100 percent, we need the help of the Lord. You need to have the discipline and commitment to do the things you’ve promised, long after the emotion under which you made the commitment has died.”
We all have challenges in life. The challenges of those who live in relative prosperity are different from those who live in more humble circumstances. But we can all be committed, and this commitment must lead to action. Whether we find ourselves walking eight hours and fording streams in Sunday clothes to attend a priesthood meeting, or putting aside a lifelong goal in order to serve a mission, the Lord sees and blesses those who act on their devotion to him.
In James 2:14–26, we learn that in order to prove our faith, we must act on it. “If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit? Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone” (James 2:15–17).
When the time comes for you to sacrifice for that which you believe, will you have the faith to make that sacrifice? Have you made the commitment to do anything the Lord asks, and are you disciplined enough to fulfill that commitment, even at a time that may not be particularly opportune or pleasant? I would encourage each of you to promise the Lord, now, that you will do as he or his messengers ask. The sacrifice may be great; the sacrifice may be small. But may you all have the strength and integrity to act on your faith, so that you may one day appear before the Lord blameless, knowing that you did everything in your power to prove your commitment.