Sunday, November 24, 2013

THE MOST IMPORTANT CALLING IN THE WARD: ONE PERSON’S EXPERIENCE

I was impressed with the comments of Sister Susan Curtis on Relief Society (see October13th entry “The Blessings of Relief Society: All I ever really needed toknow I learned in Relief Society”.  If you haven’t read it you should take the time to do so.  When I first read it, my memory leaped back 43 years, when I was first called to serve as a Bishop.   When I was called I felt it important to review some of the callings in the ward.  Some individuals had been serving for years in the same positions, and there were many others who would benefit by a new assignment.  The changing of a Bishopric provides an opportune time to seriously think about how the ward, and individuals, might be blessed anew by making some changes.
            The Bishopric was new and wanted to make certain that any changes made would be in the best interest of the ward and for the individual members of the ward.  We approached this task prayerfully.  We didn’t want to disappoint or discourage anyone, but felt that there could be exciting new growth opportunities for many. 
As we followed our impressions the Holy Spirit spoke, and the message and direction came very clear to me, that the calling of a new Relief Society President in our ward was, bar none, the most important of any changes we were contemplating.  There would be other changes coming, but the first and most important calling at that time was selecting the Relief Society President.  It was unmistakably clear to me that “as the Relief Society went, so went the ward.”  Just as the mother in the home brings a perspective and sensitivity to the home, so does the Relief Society do for the ward.  I felt keenly the Relief Society President, along with those who would be called through her inspiration, would be the heart and the soul of the ward.  If things were right in the Relief Society, many challenges within the ward, and within many families, could be avoided.  This is what happened.
            A few years later I was called as a Stake President to preside over a stake consisting of married students.  Again I had exactly this same impression.  The most important calling was selecting a good sister who would teach, and be a role model, for these eager young wives and mothers.  I felt the Relief Society to be the instrument to provide the heart and the stability in these relatively new families.  We searched valley wide and it became clear when the appropriate sister came to our mind.  Fortunate for us she was made available by a responsive stake president who felt the same as we did, and could see that she was the one needed in this assignment.    
            On a more personal note, seven of our first nine years of marriage were spent as students.  By the time I finished my graduate studies “trek” we had four of our six children.  I don’t ever recall that I let my studies, or graduate school commitments, interfere with my wife attending Relief Society.  In fact I could always tell when it was time for her to “be off” to Relief Society.  In our ward, where a large number of families were graduate student families, a weekly meeting for the Relief Society was held on a week-day night.  I would often say something like “well, I can tell that it must be time for you to go to Relief Society.”  My wife would come home thrilled with the opportunity of being with her sisters in the Gospel, receiving instruction, and being uplifted and rejuvenated from just being there.  She was ready for another challenging week of demanding children, graduate student poverty, and an often stressed out graduate student husband.  What a blessing Relief Society was for me, our children, and for her.    
            Thanks Susan for the reminder of the blessings which come to a family from Relief Society.  I hope that my observations about the importance of Relief Society will be a reminder to Priesthood holders to support and encourage their companions to attend Relief Society and attendant functions.  And to the good sisters, if my personal experience is worth anything, you will experience many returns by embracing the wonderful sisterhood of the Relief Society.

By: John R. Cragun 

   

God's Tender Mercies

Some years ago I was in Japan on a two week business trip. After many business meetings and many hard contract negotiations, I was ready to come home. I remember feeling spent spiritually and found myself on my knees praying to Heavenly Father for guidance and assistance. I prayed for an experience that day which would bring the Spirit into my life. I knew I had a long day ahead of traveling and hoped it would be a day of joy and encouragement.

My trip home started by traveling by bus for over an hour from my hotel to the Tokyo Narita Airport. I would then fly from Tokyo to Portland, Oregon, go through customs, and then take a final leg by plane to Salt Lake City, Utah. I boarded the bus and picked out a seat by the window and took from my briefcase my scriptures with the intent of reading them on the way. The bus would make one stop at Shinjuku Station and pick up more passengers before proceeding to the airport. As these passengers boarded the bus, the seat next to me and the seat across the aisle were two of a few seats open. A young teenage girl sat down next to me and an older woman, her mother, sat down across the aisle.

Soon after leaving Shinjuku Station, I fell asleep. Some time later I awoke to the smell of fish and the crinkling sound of newspaper. The young Japanese girl had just finished her lunch of some fish which had been wrapped in newspaper. She then proceeded to take a book out to read. I glanced over and noticed the Kanji characters and marveled on the complexity of the written Japanese Language. She then turned the page and to my amazement I saw a picture that I knew. I instantly recognized the large man of stature standing in water in the act of baptizing another man. It was Alma baptizing in the Waters of Mormon!

With great excitement I pointed to the picture and said "Book of Mormon" in my best English with a Japanese accent. I then pointed to my scriptures and said: "This is my Book of Mormon." Her eyes grew wide with great excitement and in her personal best English asked if I was a Mormon. I said yes and her excitement grew ever higher. For the next hour we chatted about the gospel and the Book of Mormon. Here was a sixteen year old girl heading to her cousin's wedding in Hawaii. She had met with missionaries and was reading the Book of Mormon in preparation to being baptized and becoming a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Upon arriving at the airport we parted ways and said goodbye. I couldn't help reflect on how the Lord had blessed me with an answer to my prayers by having one person in 50 million sit next to me with a Book of Mormon that contained a picture that I would recognize. What a sweet tender mercy!

I then proceeded to the gate for my flight. I boarded as soon as possible and sat in a window seat preparing to take a long nap as we flew across the ocean to the United States. I was quite tired and i fell asleep soon after sitting down. Some time later I awoke to find a Japanese girl in her early twenties sitting next to me. Not long thereafter she began to read a book and I pulled out my scriptures to read as well. I then noticed as she turned the page a picture of a muscular man in a cave setting holding what appeared to be golden plates. This was the picture of Mormon! She was also reading the Book of Mormon!

Again I pointed to my scriptures and told her I also had a Book of Mormon. I then found out she was going to Utah to live with a sister missionary that taught her the gospel. Her desire was to live with her and prepare to serve a mission a year later. Her English was good. She had studied in the USA and attended a college in St. George, Utah where she met missionaries from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. They taught her about the gospel of Jesus Christ. She then went back to Japan and looked up the Mormon missionaries, proceeded to learn more and eventually was baptized.

It takes nearly 22 hours to travel from the hotel to my house in Utah. For nearly that whole time the Lord placed in my path two sweet Japanese sisters who had a great love for the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. As an answer to prayer, He placed in my path people who lifted my spirit and helped bring His Spirit in to my life. I am so grateful for the tender mercies of God.

By: Kevin Curtis