1978
The Fuja Magic with Children
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“The Fuja Magic with Children,” Ensign, Apr. 1978, 25–27

The Fuja Magic with Children

A friend and I were discussing the challenges of teaching children correct principles. She mentioned that her nine-year-old son’s misbehavior sometimes had her stumped. Then she asked a question I had heard before and have heard many times since: “Have you heard what Irene Fuja did?”

“Tell me,” I replied.

“Well, my boy was climbing through the church window when he should have been in Primary class. Irene’s the first counselor, you know. She took my boy into a room alone and firmly told him that such behavior was totally unacceptable. But she didn’t stop there. The next day she sent him a letter explaining that even though she had spoken firmly to him, she appreciated him. She thanked him for carrying her Primary supplies. She assured him that she knew he had great potential. She told him she’d be watching him in the future and was looking forward to seeing him in Primary the next week.”

“Sounds like Irene,” I said.

“Oh, but she didn’t stop there. My boy was the only child in the ward to enter a special essay contest. Irene bought him a plaque and wrote a note congratulating him. It said, ‘I’m watching you, and I like what I see.’”

Since this conversation, I have watched Irene Fuja even more closely, and I like what I see.

Irene is the mother of two boys and two girls, ranging in age from seventeen years to twenty months, and she has also had Lamanite children in her home under the Placement Program. Currently she is the Primary president for Provo Utah North Stake.

Irene’s life now is not quite the way she pictured it as a child. During high school, she planned to attend Brigham Young University and become an English teacher, but when she received her patriarchal blessing, there wasn’t a word in it about teaching English. “There was,” Irene says, “a considerable amount about my responsibility as a mother and my role as a woman in the Church. I started to think differently, and decided my ambition should be to have a family and run an efficient home.”

She says that because she had three children in ten years, she felt she would be able also to reach out and touch the lives of other children. When she lived in married student housing, she saw a need for children to have someone spend time with them. “Many times the mothers sent their children out to play, and they’d never check to see what kind of play they were involved in,” she remembers. “So I went outside with my children and included other children in our play.”

She learned that children enjoy having an adult play with them. When she went outside to jump rope with her daughters, girls from all over the neighborhood joined them. When she was asked, “How do you find time to do it?” she thought, “If you don’t have time for your children, what else is there in life?”

When the Fujas moved to their present ward, Irene asked her husband not to tell anyone of the executive positions she had held—Young Women president, Relief Society president, stake Primary president—because although she would willingly accept any call, she particularly wanted to teach a class. She had filed pictures and story ideas since teaching Primary in her high school years, but had never had the opportunity since then to put the material to use.

Her opportunity came, and she was called to teach twelve four-year-olds in Sunday School. Of that experience, Irene says, “I loved it. Teaching is as much a challenge as you want to make it. You can give a lesson and think it no challenge, or you can go the extra mile and make it as challenging as you want.”

Irene still tries to keep in touch with her former pupils. For one little boy in particular she does special things each year. She recalls, “He could distract three boys on either side of him, completely ignoring the lesson, or so it appeared, but if I stopped in my presentation and asked him a question, he knew the answer.”

Sometimes she would prepare a treat before leaving for class so that on the way home she could say, “Hey, I’ve got a treat in the cupboard. Let’s go eat it!” This gave her a chance to visit with the children and become their friend.

Irene later served as a Blazer A teacher. She used her creativity to make the lessons a memorable experience for those ten-year-old boys. For example, once she buried some coins and her lesson notes on the Holy Ghost in baby food bottles in her garden. It took the boys two weeks, with the help of a map the second week, to find all of the bottles. The coins she had enclosed gave them enough money to buy ice cream cones for the group. After the purchase, and with the boys confined in her car contentedly eating ice cream, Irene explained to them that some people spend all their lives running here and there digging for happiness instead of following the Holy Ghost as a map for guidance.

To make an Easter lesson special, she recorded it, with her husband as narrator, and rolled up a picture of the Savior for each boy. Then she took the tape and a recorder to each boy’s home, asking him to listen to the lesson by himself and then unroll the picture. Several of the boys said it was the best lesson they had ever had, and they mounted the picture on a plaque as a permanent reminder of the message.

If a boy was absent from class, Irene arranged for him to receive the lesson through notes, a telephone call, or a visit to his home. If a boy was present but “missed” the lesson because of misbehavior in class, Irene would arrange to go to his home and present the lesson to him and his parents. On one such occasion she discovered that the boy’s father had gathered together his entire family to hear the lesson—his wife and their ten children, including a married daughter and her husband and baby. Irene recalls, “I was a nervous wreck by the time I had finished that lesson. But it was a good experience.”

One time she bought each boy a copy of the New Testament and encouraged them to read all of it. With that completed, they then went on to read the Book of Mormon. “It was interesting,” Irene observes. “The boys you might think wouldn’t read it were the first ones done.”

As her students graduated from her classes, they made a commitment with Irene that they would keep in touch, and she keeps a journal of all those with whom she corresponds. One boy is now ten. Two years ago, Irene collected a stack of paper airplanes he had folded from sacrament meeting programs. Now she sends him several of the planes on special occasions along with a personal note. She is saving some of the planes for future events such as priesthood ordinations and his entrance into the mission field. “He may be a little embarrassed now,” she says, “but by the time he is ready to leave on his mission, I think he’ll be waiting for his paper airplane.”

Does this personal interest and commitment to a calling always bear fruit? “You won’t always have one hundred percent success,” Irene says, “but if you don’t try, you will have no success at all.”

Irene Fuja writes notes and plans projects and outings to make children in her classes and neighborhood feel important.