“Do any of you know about a new family down on that block by the river?” Bishop Barton asked. “They are new converts from Brazil, and I think the oldest boy should be old enough for Scouts.” The cold air of the bishop’s office kept me, the Scout leader, awake.
“John,” said the bishop. The slumbering deacons quorum president raised his head, showing red lines where the heater he was using for a pillow had left a mark. “Glad to see you again,” observed the bishop, laughing. “I need you to get with Brother Wood and Brother Tolson and go see who this boy is and invite him to Scout meeting.”
“Okay,” John said. But I feared the assignment would turn into one of those we’ll-get-around-to-it kind of things that somehow never happens.
“Maybe you’ll need an address.” The bishop was already writing it out. “His name is Rurik Janiszewski.”
That is how we came to stand before a dilapidated door at the Janiszewski home one night.
“Guess they aren’t home,” John said after one timid attempt at knocking. Brother Wood, John, and I turned to go, but I saw a small face at the window. It quickly disappeared. The door then opened slowly, and a little girl in pajamas stood there among a pile of newspapers.
“Missionero?” she asked. Brother Wood broke into his mission Portuguese, and they talked for a few minutes. Then the door closed.
“She said something about everybody delivering newspapers,” he said. We looked in the carport and saw stacks of thick papers. Right then a beat-up minivan pulled up, and a smiling man emerged from the car. Inside the house a woman said a few things and a cascade of children hurried about, grabbing papers. I could tell that the subject of the bishop’s query was the big kid who looked at me suspiciously from the dimly lit house.
Brother Wood explained the purpose of our visit and then spoke to me. “They are new to the Church; he’s never heard of Scouts,” he said. Somehow we got the point across.
I’d like to say it was easy for Rurik in the Scout troop, but it wasn’t. His English was pretty good, but his winter camping skills weren’t. He was often late, and he sometimes missed our meetings. Unfortunately, some guys teased him about his lack of preparation and camping gear. Despite this, he kept coming and earned a few merit badges.
One day after a troop meeting, Rurik’s dad approached me, seeming a little nervous.
“Would you like to earn some money?” he asked, catching me off guard. He explained in broken English that he did a newspaper route and that he had a problem that he could only take care of by leaving with his family for two weeks. I said something noncommittal, as it was still a few weeks away.
He called again, however, and after some persistence on his part I reluctantly accepted and quickly enlisted a few Scouts in the effort. We decided to go out a couple of times and learn the route. I was unprepared for what we saw.
As I watched that little family scurrying about, dodging traffic to deliver 300 newspapers all over town in the hardest places while negotiating lots of stairs, I was humbled to realize this was how they made a living.
I called the newspaper supervisor, who in a gruff way explained that the Janiszewskis would lose the route if they didn’t obtain a substitute. That was pretty motivational to our effort. The Scouts battled and struggled, and lots of people came to help. It nearly turned into a ward project, and we were really dragging by the end of two weeks. I realized what a sacrifice it had been for Rurik to come on trips and to meetings held during times when he was delivering papers. That’s when I decided in the future we would wait even if Rurik was late to troop activities.
I knew how my perspective had changed, and the Scouts’ reactions didn’t disappoint when Rurik returned from his trip.
“Rurik, how do you do that whole paper route every night?” asked Jason. “Even when it rains?” questioned Kevin. Rurik nodded, flashing a rare smile, basking in his new popularity with the troop.
“Every day,” he said. “Why do you think I come to campouts? I don’t have to do the papers then.” There was a newfound respect for Rurik and his family. It was obvious we had come to love them when the troop refused Brother Janiszewski’s attempt to pay us.
Rurik and his family moved back to Brazil not long after that. Rurik asked for some pictures of our snow camps and igloos, as he was sure no one in Brazil would believe what he had experienced.
We hope he won’t forget us, for we will never forget how much we learned from a thing as simple as a paper route.