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If we stop caring about the suffering and needs of others, we begin the process of abandoning all that endows us with humanity. One man who understands that reality is Elie Weisel, survivor of the concentration camps and winner of the Nobel prize for peace. On one occasion, pursuing what he must have known was a nearly hopeless cause, Elie led a group of relief workers and a convoy of twenty trucks loaded with food and medical supplies along the Thai-Cambodian border.
The supplies were intended for the war-ravaged Cambodian countryside. However, Cambodian military units on the border refused to allow the supplies to pass, and they were subsequently left in Thailand refugee camps. Elie was saddened that those who needed his help most did not receive it, but that did not mean he had failed. Remembering his own experiences in the death camps, he said, “I came here because no one came when I was there. Perhaps we cannot change the world, but I do not want the world to change me.”
This remarkable humanitarian also said,
“If there is one word that describes all the woes and threats that exist today, it’s indifference. You see tragedy on television for three minutes and then comes something else and something else. Indifference, to me is the epitome of evil. The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it’s indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it’s indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it’s indifference. Because of indifference, one dies before he actually dies” (From the Citation for an Honorary Doctoral Degree, awarded to Elie Weisel at the one hundred and fourteenth Summer Commencement Exercises at Brigham Young University, August 17, 1989).
Indifference is not permitted in the Testing Center. At least, it is not permitted from those who want to pass the Test. This is a group Test, and one of the foremost requirements of participants is that they must help each other solve the problems on the Test. If we do not, we ourselves cannot successfully pass the Exam. The Teacher spoke of those who are indifferent to the problems and the pain of others, and described their fate:
“Then shall he say also unto them on his left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels:
“For I was an hungered, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty and ye gave me no drink:
“I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not (Matthew 25:41-43).
Helping others with their problems is not easy work. Such service often requires a tremendous effort.
A few years ago I was assigned a new home teacher. On his first visit to our home, he spent time alone with me. “How can I help your family?” he wanted to know.
“Help us read the scriptures,” I told him. “Years ago when the children were little, we read through the Book of Mormon together a couple of times. But in the years since, we haven’t done very well. I feel like we need to be reading regularly. If you could help us get started again, I’d be grateful.”
We discussed the best time to get the family together and decided the morning hours were preferable. He said he would give the matter some thought and get back to me.
The next morning, at 6:40 a.m., a knock came at our door. I dragged myself from bed and down the hall to see who was there. Our home teacher stood framed in the open doorway. “Time for scriptures,” he said, and walked in. We got the rest of the family up, staggered to the table, read for twenty minutes, and he was gone. The next morning, at precisely 6:40, he was there again. And the next morning, and the next and the next. He came to minister to our family every weekday morning for three months! I believe that scripture reading is now an indispensable habit with us. We had a problem. He helped us solve it.
This concept of helping others with their Test problems is the real purpose of church service of every kind. We are involved in organized love and administered affection. We are taking a group Test, and we are required to help each other.
I witnessed a superb example of this sharing of burdens in an episode involving my Aunt Mary. One year, around Christmas, her husband, LeGrande, fell on the ice and struck his head. Two weeks later, he discovered that he could not tie his shoes.
The doctors found a subdural hematoma on his brain, positioned so that it was nearly inoperable. But the alternative to an operation, the continuing degeneration of his motor skills, seemed worse. The doctors were asked to go ahead.
LeGrande came out of surgery alive but a complete invalid. The medical personnel did not believe he would live to leave the hospital. He did. But he had no motor skills. He could not move his arms, his hands, his lips. He could not talk, nod, blink, or respond to external stimuli in any observable way.
The surgeons had warned Mary of this possibility. She now had a decision to make. What should be done about LeGrande’s problem? She had the funds to pay for the necessary and continuous care he would need, but she had no desire to pay strangers to care for her husband.
She took him home, purchased the necessary equipment, and began to attend to him. She was not hoping for recovery, nor for a miracle; she was simply doing what she could to assist the one she loved.
Time passed. Each day Mary got LeGrande out of his bed with the aid of a harness and a pulley. She shaved him, bathed him, brushed his teeth, combed and (as needed) cut his hair. She mixed his food and fed him through a tube in his stomach. Every day she ensured that all of his joints were exercised. She turned him frequently to prevent bedsores.
She did all of this, day after day, without one word or gesture of gratitude or awareness from her husband. Some friends and relatives remonstrated with her. “Let him go,” they said. Of course she would not.
Mary often told the Teacher, “You can take him out of the Testing Center when you want, but until then, I will take the best care of him I can.” And she did, for twelve years.
He is gone now, but her tireless, thankless service to him in the Testing Center will bear the fruit of eternal joy when they meet after her Graduation.
A number of years ago, my wife and I lived in a small farming community in southern Arizona. One sabbath in Sunday School, we were discussing King Benjamin’s counsel about sharing our substance with the less fortunate. One young man raised his hand. He felt some concerns about a personal application of the scriptures we were discussing.
The ready availability of farming work in the community enticed significant numbers of Mexicans to cross the border illegally. They walked through the desert for about thirty miles to look for work in our area. By the time they reached the freeway south of town, they were always hungry and thirsty. Many of them stopped at the first house they found to beg for a bite to eat.
This brother had recently married, and he and his wife lived in one of only two houses south of the main highway. He described the problem, and said, “I don’t dare feed any of them. If you feed one, he’ll mark your house in some way and then you’ll be expected to feed them all. They shouldn’t be here anyway.”
His conclusions seemed reasonable to me. But in my heart I could still feel the message of King Benjamin:
“And also, ye yourselves will succor those that stand in need of your succor; ye will administer of your substance unto him that standeth in need; and ye will not suffer that the beggar putteth up his petition unto you in vain, and turn him out to perish” (Mosiah 4:16).
The scriptures we were studying that day made it clear we are expected to aid fellow students. The message of Mosiah 4 made it clear that we cannot excuse ourselves from assisting those in need of our help because their own mistakes have created their need. Benjamin said,
“Perhaps thou shalt say: The man has brought upon himself his misery; therefore I will stay my hand, and will not give unto him of my food, nor impart unto him of my substance that he may not suffer, for his punishments are just–
“But I say unto you, O man, whosoever doeth this the same hath great cause to repent” (Mosiah 4:17-18).
Another class member raised her hand after a moment or two. She and her husband lived in the other house south of the interstate. She seemed reluctant to say what she wanted to say, but felt compelled to do so. “I don’t want to hurt any feelings,” she said, “and I do not mean to sound judgmental. But I must say something about this. No one leaves our house hungry. No one. And if my husband and I are not at home, our children know. We feed anyone who asks for food.”
The Savior spoke to those who would inherit His kingdom and explained one of the reasons why they were to be so blessed. “I was an hungered,” He said, “and ye gave me meat . . .” (Matthew 25:35).
We must help others with their problems. No acceptable excuses can be given for indifference. Brigham Young spoke of this matter of feeding the hungry and warned of the danger of being judgmental about who does and who does not deserve our help. He said:
“Suppose that in this community there are ten beggars who beg from door to door for something to eat, and that nine of them are imposters who beg to escape work, and with an evil heart practice imposition upon the generous and sympathetic, and that only one of the ten who visit your doors is worthy of your bounty; which is best, to give food to the ten, to make sure of helping the truly needy one, or to repulse the ten because you do not know which is the worthy one? You will all say, administer charitable gifts to the ten, rather than turn away the only truly worthy and truly needy person among them. If you do this, it will make no difference in your blessings, whether you administer to worthy or unworthy persons, inasmuch as you give alms with a single eye to assist the truly needy” (Brigham Young, Discourses of Brigham Young, p. 274).
Consider another illustration:
“Old Bob came into our lives in an interesting way. He was a widower in his eighties when the house in which he was living was scheduled to be demolished. I heard him tell my grandfather his plight as the three of us sat on the old front‑porch swing. With a plaintive voice, he said to Grandfather, ‘Mr. Condie, I don’t know what to do. I have no family. I have no place to go. I have no money.’
“I wondered how Grandfather would answer. Slowly he reached into his pocket and took from it that old leather purse from which, in response to my hounding, he had produced many a penny or nickel for a special treat. This time he removed a key and handed it to Old Bob. Tenderly he said, ‘Bob, here is the key to that house I own next door. Take it. Move in your things. Stay as long as you like. There will be no rent to pay, and nobody will ever put you out again.’” (Thomas S. Monson, AThe Long Line of the Lonely,@ Ensign, Feb. 1992, 4).
I have known two men who, like Grandfather Condie, were profoundly dedicated to the principle of helping others with their problems. Both of them touched my life in powerful ways, and I wrote brief tributes to each of them. One of them was named Hans. The other was Bishop Smith.
Hans was Swiss, but of German parentage. He came to America when it still felt like a land of promise. He had not been here long when two young men knocked on his door and brought the gospel into his life.
Three months later Hans was in St. Johns, Arizona, a new member of the Church, headed for the heart of Mormon country. However, his enthusiasm to get to Zion was tempered by his love for Arizona. Not the sagebrush, cedar, and cactus, of course. The object of his affection was Arizona Gibbons, and she reciprocated. They married and moved to Linden, Arizona, where neighbors taught Hans an unforgettable lesson about the communal nature of the Test of Life. An unexpected, devastating fire destroyed every possession the family owned. Hans was burned so severely in the fire that he and his family remained in the neighboring city of Snowflake for a month while a doctor cared for him. His son wrote the following about their return to the family property.
“Toward the end of the month Uncle Aut and Aunt Jayne Frost came to Snowflake. They asked us to ride with them up to the ranch to Alook at the remains of the cabin and see how the crops were growing.@ (My parents owned forty acres of mostly forested land adjoining the Frost Ranch.) As we came to the place, Uncle Aut turned into it. We could not imagine why he wanted to take us there since there were no crops to be seen. He and Aunt Jayne gave us some excuse and insisted. As they drove through the trees into the center of our land, there hidden among the large trees stood a new frame house!
“It took Dad and Mother a moment to comprehend and to believe what their eyes were seeing. It is not possible for me to adequately describe the emotional scene as my parents began to realize what it meant. Our neighbors had built us a new home without our knowledge or any help from us. Some of those neighbors now emerged from the house to witness our homecoming, to share in our amazement, then our joy. My parents were completely overcome with emotion; tears of gratitude and happiness were plentifully shed by them and by all present” (Gordon H. Flammer, Stories of a Mormon Pioneering Community, Excel Graphics Inc., 1995, p.1).
Hans finally left Arizona and traveled to Utah, and to Cache Valley.
Arizona was my father’s sister, so Hans was always Uncle Hans to me. He moved his family practically into our back yard. He was always smiling, always laughing. He was happy to be alive and refused to keep it a secret from his face. Paul’s teachings about being reconciled with God found a magnificent mortal example in Hans.
He was eccentric in his habits and set in his ways. He would not learn to drive a car. Perhaps he could not see the sense in it. Hans had his bicycle. For twenty years it got him to work and it got him home. The bike started on the coldest mornings, ran on regular, parked anywhere, and repaired easily. But the reality was that he had no need to drive, and he enjoyed the quiet passage of the seasons of Nature’s beauty as he pedaled along.
Of course driving would save time, but he did not need more time. Everything he wanted to do he was doing already. Everything he wanted, he had. He was master of his world because he was master of himself. He was not a slave to greed, lust, or unsatisfied desires. Money was important for his family’s welfare, and so he was industrious and frugal. But anybody who needed money more than he did could have it. He conceded time to sleep, but arose every morning at 5:00 to study the scriptures and to accompany himself on the piano as he sang a hymn–to start his day the way a day ought to start.
He had a garden in which a weed more than an inch high was a personal insult; in which rows were always and irrevocably straight; in which he labored long, hot hours every spring and summer; and from which any neighbor (or nephew) in need was free to harvest.
For this man of simple tastes, life was a constant banquet. His soul was in perfect harmony with the purpose and meaning of living, because he had something important and wonderful to contribute: himself. The lessons of the new frame house in Linden were never lost to him. No job was too insignificant if it was for someone else. Broken fences and doors seemed to mend themselves in our neighborhood. The nine widows who lived on his two-block section of Center Street knew they had a benefactor watching over them, practicing pure religion with a hammer and a wheelbarrow.
In fact, Hans owned the world’s first wheelbarrow to go one hundred thousand miles without a major tune-up. He hauled enough dirt, cement, and gravel around our neighborhood to rebuild Glen Canyon Dam. As often as not, his benefactors never knew he had come or gone. He did not do his good deeds on the sly. He did not try not to get caught. He simply did not care if anyone knew. He was a priesthood man, doing the work of the priesthood. He did not believe in labels or limits. He believed in helping people with their problems. He believed in service.
One evening I was at his home, watching television with his son, when his daughter dashed into the room and begged her mother to iron her dress, a pleated skirt. She had a date, was late, and (for dramatic effect) was nearly hysterical. Her mother was occupied with a small household chore. Hans told her to carry on. He picked up the skirt and turned on the iron. He was simplicity and serenity as he worked, one eye on the pleats, one on the T.V.
Hans was just finishing when Diane came back into the room. It surprised her a little to see him ironing. I could see it in her eyes. She slowed her mad rush long enough to look at him for a moment. Then she kissed him on the cheek and whispered, “Thanks, Dad.” But I don’t think she understood. I don’t think any of us understood until he fell.
The Church built a stake center in the vacant lot next to his home. Hans was so pleased. He had retired from his carpentry work at the university and his days were free. Helping build that building became his new dedication. The disciples of the Teacher had once built him a new home; now he would help build a new home for the Teacher and some of his disciples. Hans spent his days there, all day, every day, doing what had to be done, giving and serving without pay and without remorse. He was on the Lord’s business. Then one day, as he worked in the cultural hall lining up the roof joists, the scaffolding shifted. He fell headfirst to the concrete floor below. Fellow workers rushed to him and found him bleeding, conscious, coherent. He said two things. With his steady good humor peeking out through eyes glazed with pain he whispered, “It will feel better when it quits hurting.” And then, as a wave of dizziness and agony washed over him, he added, “Don’t call the doctor. I have to set up chairs for the ward party tonight.”
He slipped away from us then, into a coma. He never returned. His gravestone is small and simple, an appropriate symbol. But his true monument stands on Center Street, majestic and grand, among the houses of his widows: the Mt. Logan Stake Center, for which Hans gave what he had always given: himself.
“Do you want me to help you?” I ask my son as we kneel beside his bed.
Danny is four now and always wants to say his own prayers. But I like to help occasionally, to guide him away from the repetition I hear emerging. “Heavenly Father, bless the bishop.” Those words are as certain as summer sunshine. Where did he learn them? Why have they made such an impression on his young mind? I do not know. But every night his prayer begins with those same simple words: “Heavenly Father, bless the bishop.”
I think about the bishop as I wait for my son=s decision. Bishop Smith is homespun. In the curriculum of mortality, he majored in callouses and common sense. He seems to be all bone. He is bald, thin, and very tall. One Sunday he spoke at the pulpit and we listened from the front row. Danny asked, “Is the bishop a giant, Dad?” Since I suspected that he could not see the bishop’s spirit, I said no–“He’s just tall, Danny. And good.”
I am the Young Men’s President and teach the Priests. It is Bishop Smith’s quorum so he comes when he can. One Sunday he came in late, water streaming from his coat, tie and trousers. We had just started the lesson when it began to rain–a marvelous, unexpected thunderstorm, drenching for twenty minutes what had been a beautiful, blue Sunday.
“I’ll be back,” he said. “I’m going home to change.”
“Where have you been?”
“Rolling up windows,” he answered. He smiled and was gone.
Last Sunday night we attended a priesthood leadership meeting together. Stake leaders emphasized again that nothing the bishop says to a young man is as important as what he does. They made the point that the relationship between a bishop and the young men in his ward is a primary factor in getting them on missions and married in the temple. Their message was: “If you want those young men to listen to what you say, they have got to know that you care. You have to fish with them, joke with them, roll in the mud with them . . .”
Yesterday we rode together to Bishop Smith’s work place to pick up a plumber’s snake. As we drove we talked about the meeting. “How do you strike a balance?” he asked. “How do you find time to fish and joke and roll in the mud, along with everything else a bishop is supposed to do, and still succeed as a husband and a father?” We discussed that dilemma for a time, and then the talk turned to the business at hand.
I had called him with a serious problem: the tubs, toilets, and sinks in my house were all backed up. I needed to know who I should call for help. Bishop Smith is a builder and knows about such things. “That will cost you a month’s wages,” he said. “Can it wait till tomorrow? I have a hundred-foot snake at work. I’ll come over and see what I can do.” I was reluctant. A bishop’s time with his family is precious. I tried to talk him out of it.
“I’ll be there tomorrow afternoon.”
Three of his children came along for company. For hours we labored over uncooperative plumbing and stubborn pipes. I apologized again and again, and prayed to be done quickly, to give him back to his family. Long after dark we decided that the only way to get around the right corners and down the pipe to the problem would be to get up on the roof and put the snake down the vent.
It was storming again. Bishop Smith stood in the yard and watched for a few minutes, the rain running off his face, thunder roaring, lightning stabbing out of the clouds. “No,” he said, with a smile. “With the kind of luck we’ve been having, we better not get on that roof tonight. What time do you get up in the morning?”
At 5:30 the next morning we were on the roof and by 7:00 we were done. Toilets flushed. Tubs drained. I walked with him to his truck and tried to pay him. He got in the truck, leaned out the window, and glanced up. “He’ll pay me,” he said, and drove away.
Now I kneel with Danny. “Do you want me to help you?” I ask again. He has been waiting while my thoughts have wandered.
“Do it myself,” he says. “Heavenly Father, bless the bishop . . .” Those same words, but tonight they reach deeper than sermons or scriptures. When Danny is finished, I climb the stairs to my room to kneel beside my own bed.
“Heavenly Father, bless the bishop.”
The Teacher has constantly emphasized the communal nature of the Test. In D&C 52:40 He said, “And remember in all things the poor and the needy, the sick and the afflicted, for he that doeth not these things, the same is not my disciple.” Service is a fundamental function of the true disciple.
As Alma explained the principal duties associated with baptism, he taught that those who entered into this covenant with the Teacher must be Awilling to bear one another’s burdens that they may be light; Yea, and [must be] willing to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort” (Mosiah 18:8-9).
My brother and his wife, generous and remarkable Christians both, have developed a simple philosophy to describe what their lives, and the lives of all those in the Testing Center, are all about. “We want to help the Teacher solve other people’s problems,” they say. My brother has declared that he must maintain at least a three-year supply of food. He needs enough for his family, and the rest for his wife to give to the neighbors.
The preceding is Rule #11 of Ted Gibbons’ series on how to pass the Test of Life. It comes from his book, ‘This Life is a Test.’ If you would like to get your own e-copy of the entire book, send $5.00 to the PayPal account of firstname.lastname@example.org. Please choose the PayPal option “Friends and Family.” We will email you an e-copy of the book.