I joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints when I was 17 years old. Sister Marlene Velez was my first and only seminary teacher. I don’t remember much of what she taught, but I remember what I felt in her classes. She showed me the path of discipleship, and I followed. To a new convert like me, Sister Velez was a gift from God.
This season is about God’s most precious gift, the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. As I ponder that gift, I am reminded of other gifts I’ve witnessed in my experience in Seminaries and Institutes of Religion around the world. These volunteer teachers offered their own small sacrifices to bring souls to Christ.
I am reminded of Tosiwo, a young man from the small village of Malem, Kosrae. Tosiwo, a recent high school graduate and convert, was recommended to be the seminary teacher of a handful of youth in their newly created branch. There was no hesitation when Tosiwo accepted the call. Recognizing that he needed to know more about the gospel than his students, he studied the scriptures during his rest breaks from working the fields. He spent hours of his free time visiting students and bringing his enthusiasm for seminary to their homes. These students felt God’s love for them through Tosiwo.
I am reminded of Jenny, a less-active member at the time, who rose to the occasion when God needed her. We were approaching the beginning of the school year without a seminary teacher. Time was running out. The inspired bishop, perhaps in desperation, recommended Jenny to be the seminary teacher. I visited with her and explained why I was there. With tears in her eyes, she responded, “I am not active. Why would the bishop do this to me?” We sat silently for a few minutes. I didn’t know what to say. Then, in the humility that characterizes most of these people chosen to be gifts from God, she responded, “What should I do to prepare?” Last I heard, Jenny was in her 12th year of teaching seminary.
Finally, I am reminded of Sister Matisima on a tiny island called Uman in the Chuuk lagoon. She was serving as the assistant branch clerk because she was the only member who could do arithmetic. She was also the seminary teacher. Sister Matisima would wait for her seminary students outside the gate of their high school every day after school. She had the kind of personality that spoke to nonmembers, and they would often join her and her students as they walked to the church for seminary, listening to her preview of her lesson for that day. When God called Sister Matisima to teach seminary, she considered all students hers.
These are just a few of the gifts I am reminded of. There are many more. God has a way of personalizing His gifts to His children. They are exactly what we need, when we need them. To youth of the Church, there is a Sister Velez for everyone.