I had always understood the concept of the Church as a universal, worldwide organization. But growing up in Bountiful, Utah, I knew little about the Church outside of Utah. I seemed to retain a “this is my ward and that is your ward” attitude. I suppose that while serving a mission in Ireland, I began to change my view on the matter. But one experience in particular helped shape my perception of the Church as it really is.
When I was 14, my father was diagnosed with cancer of the lymph nodes. Chemotherapy treatment was possible, which doctors estimated would help give my father a 50 percent chance of living eight years or longer. The decision was made to go through with the treatment, and during the next six months my father went in weekly for chemotherapy.
At the end of the chemotherapy, my ward in Bountiful held a special fast for my father. It was a marvelous experience to join in faith for a common cause. When the diagnosis came back, the doctors could find no sign of cancer. After I left for my mission, I would receive letters from my father telling me of his continued improvements and how he even ran a marathon. Things seemed to be going well.
The summer before my mission ended, I was serving with a fairly new missionary named Elder Causse. He was from a branch in Bordeaux, France, a place I had once considered “out there in the mission field.”
One morning I was called into the mission office to see my mission president. When I arrived at his office, he told me my father would be calling. When the phone rang, the president shut the door behind me. I was left alone with the phone and every possibility at the other end of the line.
My father greeted me, then told me his cancer had relapsed and that he would again go through chemotherapy. I then spoke to my mother, who told me the ward was going to fast again. I said I would join in the fast as well. After I hung up, I wiped away a few tears and walked out of the office.
On the way back to our area I related the situation to Elder Causse. He promised to fast with me and his promise gave me comfort. But he did not stop there. He wrote to his family in Bordeaux and told them what had happened. They, too, said they would fast for my father and that they would ask the members of their branch to join the fast as well. I was astounded that so many people would fast for the health of a man they knew nothing about.
The Spirit spoke softly to me at that moment, and suddenly I understood what it meant to be “fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God” (Eph. 2:19). We are of one faith, united in the gospel with bonds stronger than illness or death. We are truly brothers and sisters, and no one is a stranger, no matter what land they happen to worship in.