Visiting Teaching: The Multiplier Effect
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“Visiting Teaching: The Multiplier Effect,” Ensign, Mar. 1985, 17

Visiting Teaching:

The Multiplier Effect

Several years ago a family from India bought a home in our neighborhood. We shared foods with each other, took walks together, and were blessed with lasting friendships and many lessons about another culture. Sneha Kulkarni attended Relief Society with me and we shared the same visiting teachers, who visited her at her request.

One evening after we had been together I received a call that my friend had died of a heart attack. During those first hours of grief, my bishop came to tell me that Sneha’s family had asked that I speak at her funeral. For the next four days I prayed and prepared a message to share at a Hindu funeral conducted by an LDS bishop.

After four days of mourning, time had blessed me with composure; I felt that I would be able to honor my friend properly. But at the mortuary, surrounded by beautiful Indian people—shoeless, wearing saris, burning incense—I was overcome by the responsibility ahead. Shova Baji and I cried in each other’s arms as she grieved for her sister-in-law.

Retreating to the mortuary office, I prayed again for strength. Then, sitting on couch with my the head bowed, I felt the warmth of an arm around my shoulder. Seeing my tears, Ida Radtke, my visiting teacher, had come to support me when I needed her most. I had come to the funeral expecting to comfort others. Yet here was a loving soul ready to comfort me. I felt the love of Christ through her care.

That experience in compassion made graphic to me a lesson I had learned as a child. In the days before organized family home evenings, our parents had gathered their children around them to learn about Jesus and the principles of the gospel. We learned that Jesus taught in parables and with simple visual aids—lilies and lambs and mustard seeds.

One of the most lasting lessons, however, was that Christ “multiplied his service by twelve” in order to further his ministry, rather than doing it alone. From that early lesson comes two concepts that have remained with me. First, the Lord knew that everyone needed to experience the joy of service. Second, he needed the service of the Twelve, men who could spread his goodness and compassion, men who would carry on even after he left them.

The Christlike service of Relief Society visiting teachers is a living example of the multiplier effect. Fanning out into LDS homes, they can maintain heart-to-heart contact with every sister for whom the bishop is responsible. And their effectiveness is limited only by their creativity.

For example, on New Year’s Eve in 1976 Sister Marilyn Gutke caused quite a stir in her ward when she delivered triplet boys instead of the twins that were anticipated. Brother and Sister Gutke and their two daughters, Christine and Dianne, ages four and six, did some quick planning when doctors allowed the mother and all three babies to go home from the hospital the following week.

The visiting teachers had already accepted the task of assigning meals for the family. But they went further in planning a sewing bee, where ward members would tie and bind three quilts and sew the last few dozen diapers Sister Gutke had not been able to finish. Within three hours, the work was completed in a festive atmosphere.

Visiting teacher JoAnn Horlacher also organized the sisters into shifts. Women came to the Gutke home each morning for several months to help Marilyn bathe and feed the babies and to help wash, dry, and fold the clothes. A need was met and blessings shared as visiting teachers multiplied their service through the goodness of many other ward members. Today the whole ward shares an interest in the lives of David, John, and Paul Gutke.

Another opportunity for loving service is available when visiting teachers are assigned to visit nonparticipating members. How would the Savior gather in his lost sheep if it were not for shepherds who help extend his influence? Sister Glenna Boyce was assigned to call on Mae, who for most of her life had been uninterested in the Church. While her two children attended Church meetings and activities, Mae and her husband, Bob, chose to remain apart from the ward.

At first, Mae was offended by her visiting teacher’s interest; she considered her privacy invaded by Sister Boyce’s monthly visits.

Nevertheless, a prayerful visiting teacher persisted, though often deeply disappointed by the reception she received. Frequently she stood on the doorstep to visit because she was not invited into the home. At other times, she faced an unanswered door. Once when Mae and her family were leaving for a trip, Sister Boyce brought a gift, a small metal box to collect seashells for Mae’s grandchildren, but Mae chose not to open it for several months.

Mae began to ask herself why Sister Boyce was so kind to her when no warmth was returned. “Once when she came to visit I was cutting corn off the cob, preparing it for the freezer,” Mae explains. “I apologized for the mess, hoping she would leave, but she came right in, washed her hands, and helped me finish. I was stunned.”

She adds, “After years of this good sister’s offering to be my friend, I knew something must have made it worth her time, and I began to listen to her. Now that I realize that she was a messenger sent to represent the Lord, I feel very sad about the way I treated her.”

Sister Boyce continued to demonstrate her “love by assignment.” She never failed to visit, and she always cared enough to follow the promptings of the Spirit. As Mae felt the warmth of Glenna Boyce’s kindness, she also began attending Church meetings with her husband and they both enjoyed the multiplier effect of love from the whole congregation.

Sister Boyce now knows why she persisted as a visiting teacher. Mae and Bob Thomas were sealed in the Logan Temple in 1979 and have since served two years as temple workers. Their children and grandchildren are sharing the blessings with their parents because a visiting teacher kept reaching out.

Visiting teachers have always been encouraged to follow the Savior’s words to do “that which ye have seen me do.” His influence is increased widely when good shepherdesses such as Glenna Boyce help gather in his lost sheep.

In another home, eighty-three-year-old Veara Fife developed irreversible health problems, and doctors confirmed the need to amputate her legs. She determined not to become a burden to others. Her family encouraged her as she learned to manage in a wheelchair, but they worried about her housework and meal preparation.

One day her daughter, Norda Emmett, came to help and discovered that the visiting teachers had been there. They had tidied the house; it was spotless. Sister Fife’s voice was cheerful, and she was emotionally sustained. Her daughter was embarrassed to have the visiting teachers do the work. She explained to her mother that the family would hire a cleaning woman—the visiting teachers were not to help.

As her daughter talked with the visiting teachers, they understood the family’s feelings. Then they explained how much they had enjoyed their visit with Sister Fife in her home. Her positive attitude had lifted their sights, and she had helped them, in turn, with their genealogy. “Please don’t deny us these blessings,” the visiting teachers said. Sister Emmett learned a new concept of caring that day. Later, as she brought her mother into her home to live, others reached out to help her with her mother’s care, taking her to local events or temple sessions, joining her in quilting in the family room.

Occasionally visiting teachers serve without knowing the full value of their efforts. Teaching by the Spirit and following the counsel of leaders is the basis of a firm testimony shared by Sister Jane Broberg as she magnified her calling.

The Christmas season was well underway as Sister Broberg and her companion, Sister Sylvene Seeley, planned to complete their visiting teaching early in December. After three attempts to visit one sister, they felt that their efforts should be accepted as sufficient. But the Relief Society president asked that they try at least one more time.

The visiting teachers felt rather irritated at the request. Nevertheless, they tried a fourth time to visit their neighbor. As they approached her home, the Spirit whispered to them that she needed them that very day—not the first, second, or third time they had tried to reach her. As they knocked on the door, they were greeted with a burst of tears from the sister who had needed them. She welcomed them gratefully, and they comforted her as she mourned the loss of a loved one.

Single sisters have unique opportunities to reach out in support of the sisters whom they teach. When Sister Peggy Jastrab, a convert in Massachusetts, moved to a new location, the ward members became her “family.” Sisters Rochelle Frank and Judy Seamons were extra-mile visiting teachers who introduced her to new friends.

Before Peggy was to return to Boston, her visiting teachers wrote a letter expressing their love and wishing Peggy well in her travels. Just three days before she was to depart, however, Peggy was seriously injured in an accident. Disoriented and alone in a hospital emergency room, Peggy’s identity was verified through the letter in her purse. Hospital personnel contacted the two visiting teachers, who notified her bishop and Relief Society president. They in turn contacted Peggy’s bishop, her landlord and her parents, providing a network to care for her needs. A simple letter from two visiting teachers provided the important clue to this sister’s identity and began the chain reaction of care and help.

The stories continue—daily service given by women who have seen the vision of compassionate visiting teaching. The testimonies cross national borders and know no age limit. They are all a part of the multiplier effect exemplified by the Savior as he reached out to others and allowed them the blessings brought by self-initiated service.

  • Elaine Reiser Alder, a free-lance writer and mother of four, is the compassionate service leader in the Logan (Utah) Twenty-second Ward.

Illustrated by Robert Barrett