Imagine that our bishop has appointed you and me to plan a picnic for all of the ward members. It is to be the finest social in the history of the ward, and we are to spare no expense.
We reserve a beautiful picnic ground in the country. We are to have it all to ourselves; no outsiders will interfere with us.
The arrangements go very well, and when the day comes, the weather is perfect. All is beautifully ready. The tables are in one long row. We even have tablecloths and china. You have never seen such a feast. The Relief Society and Young Women have outdone themselves. The tables are laden with every kind of delicious food: grapes, cantaloupes, watermelon, corn on the cob, fried chicken, hamburgers, cakes, pies—you get the picture?
We are seated, and the bishop calls upon the patriarch to bless the food. Every hungry youngster secretly hopes it will be a short prayer.
Then, just at that moment there is an interruption. A noisy old car jerks into the picnic grounds and sputters to a stop close to us. We are upset. Didn’t they see the “reserved” signs?
A worried-looking man lifts the hood; a spout of steam comes out. One of our brethren, a mechanic, says, “That car isn’t going anywhere until it is fixed.”
Several children spill from the car. They are ragged, dirty, and noisy. And then an anxious mother, leaving the car, takes a box to that extra table nearby. It is mealtime. Their children are hungry. She puts a few leftovers on the table. Then she nervously moves them about, trying to make it look like a meal for her brood. But there is not enough.
We wait impatiently for them to quiet down so we can have the blessing and enjoy our feast.
Then one of their little girls spies our table. She pulls her runny-nosed little brother over to us and pushes her head between you and me. We cringe aside, because they are very dirty. Then the little girl says, “Ummm, look at that. Ummm, ummm, I wonder what that tastes like.”
Everyone is waiting. Why did they arrive just at that moment? Such an inconvenient time. Why must we interrupt what we are doing to bother with outsiders? Why couldn’t they have stopped somewhere else? They are not clean! They are not like us. They just don’t fit in.
Since the bishop has put us in charge, he expects us to handle these intruders. What should we do? Of course, this is only a parable. If it really happened, my young friends, what would you do?
I will give you three choices.
First, you could insist the intruders keep their children quiet while we have the blessing. Thereafter we ignore them. After all, we reserved the place.
I doubt that you would do that. Could you choke down a feast before hungry children? Surely we are better than that! That is not the answer.
The next choice. There is that extra table. And we do have too much of some things. We could take a little of this and a little of that and lure the little children back to their own table. Then we could enjoy our feast without interruption. After all, we earned what we have. Did we not obtain it by [our own] industry, as the Book of Mormon says? (see Alma 4:6).
I hope you would not do that. There is a better answer. You already know what it is.
We should go to them and invite them to come and join us. You could slide that way, and I could slide this way, and the little girl could sit between us. They could all fit in somewhere to share our feast. Afterward, we will fix their car and provide something for their journey.
Could there be more pure enjoyment than seeing how much we could get those hungry children to eat? Could there be more satisfaction than to interrupt our festivities to help our mechanic fix their car?
Is that what you would do? Surely it is what you should do. But forgive me if I have a little doubt; let me explain.
We, as members of the Church, have the fulness of the gospel. Every conceivable manner of spiritual nourishment is ours. Every part of the spiritual menu is included. It provides an unending supply of spiritual strength. Like the widow’s cruse of oil, it is replenished as we use it and shall never fail (see 1 Kgs. 17:8–16).
And yet, there are people across the world and about us—our neighbors, our friends, some in our own families—who, spiritually speaking, are undernourished. Some of them are starving to death!
If we keep all this to ourselves, it is not unlike feasting before those who are hungry.
We are to go to them and invite them to join us. We are to be missionaries.
It does not matter if it interrupts your schooling or delays your career or your marriage—or basketball. Unless you have a serious health problem, every Latter-day Saint young man should answer the call to serve a mission. Even mistakes and transgressions must not stand in the way. You should make yourself worthy to receive a call.
The early Apostles at first did not know the gospel was for everyone, for the Gentiles. Then Peter had a vision. He saw a vessel full of all kinds of creatures and was commanded to kill and to eat. But he refused, saying they were common and unclean. Then the voice said, “What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common” (Acts 10:15). That vision, and the experience they had immediately following, convinced them of their duty; thus began the great missionary work of all Christianity.
Almost any returned missionary will have a question: “If they are starving spiritually, why do they not accept what we have? Why do they slam the door on us and turn us away?”
One of my sons was serving in Australia and was thrown off a porch by a man who rejected his message.
My son is big enough and strong enough that he had to be somewhat agreeable to what was happening or the man never could have done it.
Be patient if some will not eat when first invited. Remember, all who are spiritually hungry will not accept the gospel. Do you remember how reluctant you are to try any new food? Only after your mother urges you will you take a little, tiny portion on the tip of a spoon to taste it to see if you like it first.
Undernourished children must be carefully fed; so it is with the spiritually underfed. Some are so weakened by mischief and sin that to begin with they reject the rich food we offer. They must be fed carefully and gently.
Some are so near spiritual death that they must be spoon-fed on the broth of fellowship, or nourished carefully on activities and programs. As the scriptures say, they must have milk before meat (see 1 Cor. 3:2; D&C 19:22). But we must take care lest the only nourishment they receive thereafter is that broth.
But feed them we must. We are commanded to preach the gospel to every nation, kindred, tongue, and people. That message, my young friends, appears more than 80 times in the scriptures.
I did not serve a regular mission until my wife and I were called to preside in New England. When I was of missionary age, young men could not be called to the mission field. It was World War II, and I spent four years in the military. But I did do missionary work; we did share the gospel. It was my privilege to baptize one of the first two Japanese to join the Church after the mission had been closed 22 years earlier. Brother Elliot Richards baptized Tatsui Sato. I baptized his wife, Chio. And the work in Japan was reopened. We baptized them in a swimming pool amid the rubble of a university that had been destroyed by bombs.
Shortly thereafter I boarded a train in Osaka for Yokohama and a ship that would take me home. Brother and Sister Sato came to the station to say good-bye. Many tears were shed as we bade one another farewell.
It was a very chilly night. The railroad station, what there was left of it, was very cold. Starving children were sleeping in the corners. That was a common sight in Japan in those days. The fortunate ones had a newspaper or a few old rags to fend off the cold.
On that train, I slept restlessly. The berths were too short anyway. In the bleak, chilly hours of the dawn, the train stopped at a station along the way. I heard a tapping on the window and raised the blind. There on the platform stood a little boy tapping on the window with a tin can. I knew he was an orphan and a beggar; the tin can was the symbol of their suffering. Sometimes they carried a spoon as well, as if to say, “I am hungry; feed me.”
He might have been six or seven years old. His little body was thin with starvation. He had on a thin, ragged shirt-like kimono, nothing else. His head was shingled with scabs. His one jaw was swollen—perhaps from an abscessed tooth. Around his head he had tied a filthy rag with a knot on top of his head—a pathetic gesture of treatment.
When I saw him and he saw that I was awake, he waved his can. He was begging. In pity, I thought, “How can I help him?” Then I remembered. I had money, Japanese money. I quickly groped for my clothing and found some yen notes in my pocket. I tried to open the window. But it was stuck. I slipped on my trousers and hurried to the end of the car. He stood outside expectantly. As I pushed at the resistant door, the train pulled away from the station. Through the dirty windows I could see him, holding that rusty tin can, with the dirty rag around his swollen jaw.
There I stood, an officer from a conquering army, heading home to a family and a future. There I stood, half-dressed, clutching some money which he had seen but which I could not get to him. I wanted to help him, but couldn’t. The only comfort I draw is that I did want to help him.
That was years ago, but I can see him as clearly as if it were yesterday.
Perhaps I was scarred by that experience. If so, it is a battle scar, a worthy one, for which I bear no shame. It reminds me of my duty!
I can hear the voice of the Lord saying to each of us just as He said to Peter, “Feed my lambs. … Feed my sheep. … Feed my sheep” (John 21:15–17).
I have unbounded confidence and faith in you. You are the warriors of the Restoration. And in this spiritual battle, you are to relieve the spiritual hunger and feed the sheep. It is your duty!
We have the fullness of the everlasting gospel. We have the obligation to share it with those who do not have it. God grant that we will honor that commission from the Lord and prepare ourselves and answer the call.