How comfortable would you be if someone important â€“ your prospective father-in-law, or that trophy client youâ€™ve been courting â€“ showed up at your door and asked to go to church with you? Can you trust your ward to be welcoming? Could you confidently send your guest into Relief Society and trust that your ward sisters would overlook the scent of tobacco?
I can. Something happened in my ward last Sunday that proved I can. Something has been happening over the past few weeks, and burst out again this morning, that proves that my ward members are consistently trustworthy.
But I canâ€™t tell you about it, because I wonâ€™t risk embarrassing a good man. So Iâ€™ll tell you another story instead.
Brother R. was a student from Madagascar, studying in Marseille, France, in the mid-1970s. Two missionaries from Utah, clowning around and daring each other to do stupid things, saw Brother R. walking toward them on the street. One missionary, mistaking Brother R.â€™s dark skin and broad features as African, jabbed the other in the side with his elbow and dared his companion to stop the young man and invite him to church. (Realize, this was in the days before the 1978 revelation on the priesthood, and missionaries were not supposed to seek out black investigators.) The missionaries stopped Brother R., inviting him to church as a practical joke.
No, thatâ€™s not the kind of behavior that would reassure me of the trustworthiness of my brethren. Still, good came of it. Brother R. went to church. He listened to the discussions and was baptized. He was ordained an elder, received his patriarchal blessing, graduated from the university, and flew home to Madagascar.
The church has quite a presence in Madagascar, today. In the 1970s, Brother R. may have been the only member in the entire country. He studied his scriptures, and kept the commandments as well as he knew how, but otherwise could not do much toward practicing his religion. For fellowship, he attended a Protestant church and played the organ for their services, and eventually he married the daughter of his minister. The R.â€™s had four children, one right after another.
Brother R. tried to teach his wife about the gospel, but she would not listen. She told him repeatedly that one man could say anything, and unless she saw how the members of a religion treated each other, she would not listen to his teachings. Her father was a good man, she knew how the members of his congregation treated each other, and that was enough.
By 1982, Brother R. had stopped trying to tell his wife about his own church. One day Mrs. R. told Brother R. that she could tell he was unhappy â€“ what could she do to make his life better? He told her that the only thing he needed was for her to listen to the missionaries, and the only place he knew to find the missionaries was in Marseille.
Mrs. R. agreed to go where there were missionaries, and where she could see how members of her husbandâ€™s church treated each other. Raising the roundtrip airfare for a family of six meant that they had to sell everything they owned. The R.â€™s sold everything, said goodbye, and flew to Marseille.
Leaving their two bags of clothing in an airport locker, the R.â€™s â€“ father, mother, and four children ranging from a few months old to almost five years â€“ found a bus, and rode it to the Marseille chapel. They didnâ€™t know where else to go.
If the R.â€™s showed up at your chapel â€“ on a Saturday â€“ what would they find?
In Marseille, they found a small group of members cleaning the building. One of those members took Mrs. R. and the four children to her apartment to rest, while another member drove Brother R. back to the airport to pick up the familyâ€™s belongings. A young man, a student, went to his own apartment and packed a few clothes, then moved in with a friend and gave his apartment to the R.â€™s for however long they needed it.
I heard all this the next morning at fast and testimony meeting. My companion and I taught Mrs. R. â€“ who soon became Sister R. â€“ but by the time we got to her the members in Marseille had already done everything that really needed doing.
Whatâ€™s your favorite story of a ward doing exactly what it should have done?