“Search for the Wanderers,” Ensign, June 1971, 59
I am always happy, my brethren, for the privilege I have of meeting with the priesthood. As I have said before, I have met with men in high places in different countries, holding responsible positions, leaders, executives, and so on, but never do I feel the same as when I meet with the priesthood.
As we were listening to and enjoying these fine talks, and as I looked over this audience and thought of all those who are gathered tonight—President Lee said 170,000—and enjoying the friendship and brotherhood of our brothers in the priesthood, I have been thinking of and wondering about the lad out there who is not with us, who is not a part of this group, because he thinks he is not wanted, understood, or loved.
There are in every ward boys ranging in ages from twelve to seventy who, though they would deny it, are hungry for attention, for brotherhood, and for an active life in the Church.
Let us as leaders, and all of us, always remember and never forget that everyone is looking for happiness. Everyone wants to be happy. It is our great privilege and responsibility to show him the way to happiness and success. Often some little thing, some slight, or a misunderstanding causes one to become inactive. There are those who are discouraged and inactive because they have felt neglected or have been offended; or they are guilty of some transgression of their own, and as a result feel that they are outcasts or that there is no place for them, that they are not worthy or wanted. They feel that they are lost and cannot be forgiven. We as leaders must let them know and make them know that we love them, and help them to understand that the Lord loves them, and that the Lord will forgive them if they will truly repent.
We have an old song, “Where Is My Wandering Boy Tonight?” and I was wondering if that could not be changed to mean more to us in these words: “Why is my boy wandering tonight?”
If those two sons of Brother [Wendell J.] Ashton will follow their father’s directions, and if all who listened to Bishop Brown this evening, and those who listened this afternoon and this morning to the general conference, will follow the instructions that were given them, they will not be wandering boys.
But sometimes boys do wander because, as I said before, of the way they are treated, the way they are neglected; because they feel they are not wanted.
The Lord gave us the parable of the Lost Sheep, and I should like to read it because I think it is important:
“Then drew near unto him all the publicans and sinners for to hear him.
“And the Pharisees and scribes murmured, saying, This man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them.
“And he spake this parable unto them, saying,
“What man of you, having an hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost, until he find it?
“And when he hath found it, he layeth it on his shoulders, rejoicing.
“And when he cometh home, he calleth together his friends and neighbours, saying unto them, Rejoice with me; for I have found my sheep which was lost.
“I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance.” (Luke 15:1–7.)
Every bishop, every stake president, every leader of any organization knows someone who needs attention, and you and we have the responsibility of going to find that lost sheep. If we had knowledge tonight that some young man was lost, if anyone knew of someone who was drowning, we wouldn’t hesitate one minute to do all in our power to save that individual, to save the one who was lost, the one who was drowning, the one who was in need of our help. These young men and these older men who are inactive in the Church, who have strayed away from the Church because of inactivity or for any reason, need our help and need our attention just as much. They need our prayers and our consideration, and nothing will bring us greater joy and happiness than to see one come back into activity.
By saving one, we might save a family. We might even save a generation. By losing one, we may lose not only the individual but a family and his posterity. The responsibility is great. Some of us seem to be very happy if we have from 40 to 70 percent attendance. If you have 40 percent attendance, you have 60 percent who are not in attendance. And if you have 70 percent in attendance, there are still 30 percent not attending, and those are the ones who need our attention, and they need it badly.
I was greatly impressed as I attended a stake conference and called on a bishop to speak. As he spoke, tears came to his eyes, and it was difficult for him to speak when he said, “I want to acknowledge here tonight at this meeting my home teacher. I was an inactive senior Aaronic Priesthood holder, and this home teacher worked with me. I didn’t want to see him at first; in fact, I refused, but he continued until I would let him come into my home and teach me. And here I am now, his bishop. I want to express to him my deep appreciation.” Thank the Lord for such worthy men, who will not fail to do everything in their power to save those who are wandering.
I think possibly I have told this experience that I had myself. I saw a young man when I was stake president; he was a very able young man; he had been trained in agriculture, and we needed an agricultural adviser in our welfare committee. He wasn’t active in the Church. I knew that he wasn’t keeping the Word of Wisdom, but I called and asked him to go to lunch with me one day; and as we sat and talked, I told him what I wanted of him. I said, “You are the best prepared, able young man to do this job. We need you, and you need activity.”
We talked for some time, and he said, “Well, President Tanner, you know that I don’t keep the Word of Wisdom.”
I said, “Well, you can, can’t you?” Probably that wasn’t fair.
And he said, “President, that is a different approach. My bishop came to me last month and asked me if I would take a job in the ward. I told him that I wasn’t keeping the Word of Wisdom. And he said, ‘Well, we will get somebody else.’”
So I talked with him for a little while longer, and I said, “Listen, brother, you need activity in the Church, but we need you, we really need you.”
After we had talked a little while, he said, “Do you mean that if I took a position like this I couldn’t even have a cup of coffee?”
I said, “Yes, that is exactly what I mean. Any leader must be a leader, and you must be an example. If you were taken into a stake committee, we would expect you to live the gospel the way a man should live it.”
He said, “Well, then, I shall have to think it over.” I said, “You think it over. But remember, you need activity, and we need you.”
He said, “Well, I will let you know.”
He didn’t call me the next day. He didn’t call me the next day, and he didn’t call me the next day, and he didn’t call me the next day—and he didn’t call me the sixth day. And I thought, well, he doesn’t want to admit that he can’t keep the Word of Wisdom.
On the eighth day he called me. He said, “President Tanner, do you still want me to do that job?”
I said, “Yes, that is the reason I called you and talked to you about it the other day.”
He said, “Then I will do it, and on your terms.”
And he did it, and he did it on my terms. He was a single man, but he was thirty-some years of age. He came into activity, and there was a young woman who was stake president of the Mutual, a very fine young woman, and he met her and became very well acquainted with her and fell in love with her and married her.
And then he became a bishop and then he became a high councilor and then he became a member of the stake presidency. You know, it has given me a great deal of satisfaction to know that that young man became active, and his family is active. He has children now that are active.
Brethren, regardless of where we are or who we are, we should realize that we have out there a boy, a young man, an older man who is not active, and he wants to be active, if we can just find a way to interest him and let him know that he wants to be active.
I would like to leave this challenge with you tonight, my brethren, that each bishop determine that within the next month he will begin very actively to bring some young man into activity; and each counselor would do the same thing; and each man who holds office in that ward or stake would do the same thing. Brethren, there is nothing more important in your whole lives than to save souls. We have programs and we have planning outlines for teachers, and we give them teacher helps, and all those things to take care of those who are attending, but I fear too often we are forgetting and neglecting and ignoring those who are not always there, satisfied to say we had 50 percent or 60 percent in attendance.
I don’t care at all for percentages or statistics, but I do care for that boy and the outside young man, and I appeal to you tonight, my brethren, every one of you who is holding the priesthood of God, and particularly those who hold office in the Church, to set about to do as the Lord said, to find that lost sheep, bring him back into the fold, so that you will find joy with him when you meet your Heavenly Father.
And to you young men, there is no fun in being lost, and you can keep from being lost if you will honor your priesthood all the time and help the boys who are having difficulty to honor their priesthood, that they might be happy.
I bear you my testimony, my brethren, that we hold the priesthood of God. This is his church and kingdom. He has given us the responsibility of teaching and helping to save our fellowmen. May we do it in a way that will be acceptable to him, which will bring joy to us and help to prepare us for eternal life, I humbly pray in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.