“Meeting the Children of a Stake,” Ensign, June 1984, 76–77
When Lowell R. Tingey was called as president of the Yuba City California Stake in 1979, he determined that one of his top priorities would be to know the people of his stake personally. He wanted to show them how much he loved and appreciated them.
He wanted especially to meet the children.
“I contemplated my life as a child, and realized that I could never recall a time when I really knew my stake president or felt that my stake president knew me. The more I pondered on that point, the more the scripture came to my mind about the Savior counseling his disciples to let the little children come to him, ‘for of such is the kingdom of God.’ (Luke 18:16.) That weighed heavily on my mind until I came to the conclusion that I wanted to get to know all the children in this stake between the ages of eight and twelve.”
In preparing for a stake conference address, he thought about the importance of missions and temple marriage and felt impressed to ask the children how they felt about those subjects. He would ask them to tell him in a letter. So as he spoke on that conference Sunday, he asked the girls from eight to twelve in the congregation to stand.
“I challenged them to write me a letter and express why they wanted to marry in the temple. I cautioned the parents not to do the writing. I wanted the children to do it.”
When he received their letters, President Tingey told the girls, the stake executive secretary would call them to arrange an interview. The stake president promised a special gift to those who wrote; he held up a framed 11- by 14-inch color photograph of the Oakland Temple.
The girls sat down, and he asked the boys of the same age to stand. “I challenged the boys to write me a letter and tell me why they wanted to go on a mission when they reached the age of nineteen.” They would also meet with him and receive a picture.
Within five weeks, he received ninety-eight letters. There were at that time 110 children ages eight to twelve in the stake; nearly 90 percent of them had responded.
The letters were touching, and indicative of the knowledge the children possessed. “I want to be married in the temple because I want to live for all eternity with my Heavenly Father and Jesus,” one girl wrote. “Another reason is because our family will live together for ever.” Another wrote that she wanted to marry in the temple because “I want to be just like my mom and dad.” A boy wrote, “I want to go on a mission Because I know that President Kimbal wants me to go on a mission. And I have FAITH THAT I will Do a good job.”
One girl’s painstakingly typed letter read: “I want to be married in the temple because I can be sealed forever. So I can be a family forever. So I can keep the comanmants and learn more about the gospel and so I can be reserected as a family.”
A boy wrote: “I want to teach people about the Church, and tell about how much Heavenly Father Loves them, and help them to learn the gospel. I love Heavenly Father, I Am glad I came into the Church with my Family.”
For the next four Sundays, President Tingey spent three to five hours each afternoon interviewing the children. He knelt in prayer with them and expressed his love for each child to their Heavenly Father. The interview included counseling from him about the eternal nature and value of their spirits, and a chance for them to ask any questions they might have for their stake president. He presented them a letter he had written telling how they could prepare to reach their goals of missions and temple marriages. In the letter, he urged them to hang the temple picture where it could be a daily reminder of their goals.
Many parents have expressed gratitude for his work with their children and its effect on the family. One mother wrote how much the experience meant to her sons, then added, “We are converts to the Church. We have been members four years. There have been many times I had thought about becoming inactive, but instead, my testimony has grown stronger. Some day I know my husband and I will be sealed for eternity.”
“Heather’s letter to you was quite an insight into her feelings and goals. They seemed so much more mature than I had been giving her credit for,” another mother wrote. “Her picture of the temple is right above her bed. It’s the first thing you see when you enter the room. It never fails to give me that feeling of serenity and hope that I felt so strongly in the temple. It’s a constant reminder of the eternal nature of my relationship with my daughter.”
President Tingey says reports like that, along with the relationship he has built with the children, have assured him that his effort was worthwhile. “Now, as I travel throughout the stake to visit the wards and branches, the children come to me and shake my hand. They are able to call me by name and feel comfortable with me because they know that their stake president loves and appreciates them. They are not afraid of their priesthood leaders,” he says, expressing gratitude “for the power of children” in the lives of adults.