The Softening of the Heart

“The Softening of the Heart,” Ensign, July 1986, 12

The Softening of the Heart

By the time he died, Barney Clark and his artificial heart had become famous. But what had happened to his real heart was more important, though it made no news. A year and a half before his death, Dr. Clark became active in the Church again and prepared himself to enter the temple with his wife, Una Loy.

Barney Clark had grown up in the Church, in an active home where he was taught the gospel. His uncle, whom he always called grandpa, was his bishop for virtually all of Barney’s youth. Grandpa “Mac” saw that Barney was properly instructed in the gospel and that he went to church regularly.

It was only after Barney went into military service that he took up smoking and drifted into inactivity. Una Loy recalls how after many years her husband came back to the Church.

“Because he smoked, he felt unworthy to go to church,” she says. “So he would always have a reason not to go with us on Sunday. But he always insisted that we pay our tithing, and he supported me as I worked in the Church.”

Though it was ultimately terminal, his heart disease brought him to a spiritual awakening. Brother Clark quit smoking when he discovered the seriousness of his condition, and a few years later began responding to the regular and patient visits of his home teachers, specially assigned to fellowship and teach him.

Over several years, two different fellowshipping teachers were instrumental in influencing him. The first was Bishop Dean Austin, of whom Barney would say, “Bishop Austin can get me to do things I ought to do, and like it.” Then came Bishop Ralph Willie, who, like Barney Clark, was a dentist. They became good friends, and Barney looked forward to the weekly visit from Ralph and his companion, Fiora Chevara.

Eventually Brother Clark asked his wife if she would still want to go to the temple if he could become worthy. The answer to the prayers of Una Loy Clark’s entire married life came as they were finally sealed for eternity.

Sister Clark recalls with great fondness that first glorious reunion in the Celestial Room with the man she had loved for so many years. “To me it was as if we were already in heaven together. It was an emotional experience that I will never forget, and one that has been a comfort to me now that he is gone.

“When I am lonely, I think of that moment when I joined him in that sacred room, and I think that’s the way it will be when I join him in the next life.”

The Clarks were not aware that Bishop Ralph Willie had been released from the high council of the Federal Way Washington Stake to be Barney Clark’s “fellowshipping teacher.” They just knew him as a dear friend who had taken an interest in them.

It took staring death in the face to influence another member of the Federal Way Washington Stake, named Roy Emmett. Roy was a prospective elder, and his story is something of an adventure, which he tells with a profound sense of relief:

“In the spring of 1979, an elders quorum president named Ross Carson came to the house a couple of times and tried to get me to attend the temple preparation classes. I didn’t really want to go, but he was a nice guy and he persisted.

“After considerable effort, some months later he persuaded me to go to the class. So Linda and I went. But I still hadn’t changed my ways.” (Roy liked to smoke and drink.)

“That summer, July 13 it was, I was out fishing on the ocean in our small boat with my son, who was thirteen at the time.

“While we were out there the outdrive broke on the motor. That was a problem, thirty miles from shore. But the bigger problem was that there was a small craft warning: a storm was approaching. We were at the mercy of the sea.

“I got in contact with the Coast Guard, but the Coast Guard couldn’t find us. During this time we drifted down to the Oregon coast. I could see the lighthouse just getting smaller and smaller.

“While we were drifting I started to pray. I told my Heavenly Father that if we made it through this—you see, I wanted my son to have a chance—if we survived, I would try to change my ways.

“We made it back. The Coast Guard found us and towed us in.” And the softening of Roy’s heart began that day. His actual conversion and change of heart took patience and great effort from his wife and the elders quorum, as habits were broken and new ways of seeing and feeling began to replace old ones.

Before long, Roy was not only an elder, he was in the elders quorum presidency with Ross Carson, the man who loved him back into the fold. Six months later, Ross moved away and newly activated and freshly groomed Roy Emmett became president of the quorum. His home teaching and activation achievements are still something of a legend, years after his release.

With a crescendo of such stories over the last few years in Federal Way, the Federal Way Stake has come to enjoy one of the highest sustained rates of activation anywhere in the Church. Three hundred forty-nine prospective elders have been ordained through efforts in Federal Way, with well over a thousand immediate family members directly impacted by the activation of the priesthood holder in the family. And 90 percent of these brethren have remained active.

The stake’s success has come as an inspired cadre of stake and ward leaders have met a challenge issued by F. Arthur Kay, then a regional representative, to come up with a way to build stronger Melchizedek Priesthood quorums in their stake. President C. Terry Graff and his counselor Richard A. Mitchell vividly remember the excitement they felt as they received that challenge from Jack L. Smith, who was then stake president.

President Mitchell is now the counselor in the stake presidency responsible for activation and is a highly effective leader himself. “We must literally see ourselves as instruments in the Lord’s hands,” says President Mitchell. And being instruments in his hands, to these two leaders, does not mean sitting back and waiting for the Lord to do the work.

After study, prayer, and fasting, they took some of the most effective leaders in many organizations throughout the stake and assigned them to fellowship and teach less-active members.

President Graff is a firm believer in what he calls the inverted leadership principle.

He feels that the strongest, most prepared members must lead out when working with people in one-on-one situations like activation.

“We need the most capable people to step in and take the initiative with the less-active members,” he explains. “In designing the approach, we looked at the missionary program of the Church and decided to emulate it,” recalls President Graff. “We released some of the key leaders in the stake and in the wards, and we trained them thoroughly. They caught the vision. Once these Saints were functioning, we received regular reports on their progress through a stake activation committee. The elders quorum presidents also met regularly with the fellowshipping teachers. Everyone knew what was expected in the program, and they were able and willing to put in the effort.

“The process of activation,” says President Graff, “is the process of softening the heart. We have found great wisdom in the Savior’s direction to “leave the ninety and nine … and go after that which is lost.” (Luke 15:4.) We don’t neglect the major programs of the Church, but they tend to carry on without as much attention as we need to give to the lost sheep.

“We tell our bishops that we must be willing to go out of our way to reach the one. We find that if we go after the boy and his dad with most of our energy, we have enough left over for the standard programs. If we need to use an elders quorum president or a counselor in a bishopric to activate people, we release them from administration to work one-on-one. It’s not as hard to find someone to fill a place in a quorum or a bishopric where the new person will be surrounded by good support. Besides, if you use this upside-down leadership principle, you do two things at once: You activate with your strongest, and you build new leadership at the same time.

“Nothing meaningful happens quickly,” he says emphatically as he describes the long commitment to activation. His speech is not flowery. Rather, it is slow and deliberate, like his approach to living the gospel. For nine years now the Federal Way Stake has maintained and refined the effort.

If you ask Rod Davidson what his calling in the Church is, he will tell you: “It’s the best job in the Church. All we do is make friends and talk with them about our favorite subject—the gospel.” Rod and his wife, Carol, are a “fellowshipping couple” in Federal Way. “We are called for two years, like a mission, and assigned to teach and visit weekly with less-active families.”

The stake leaders use the term less-active rather than inactive when referring to members involved in the activation program.

“We don’t emphasize activity in the Church,” says President Graff. “We emphasize the importance of the temple and baptismal covenants in building a person’s relationship with his Heavenly Father and with his family. To accomplish this, we focus on the power in the priesthood quorums to strengthen brethren and their families. People are happier when they put the right things first.”

“People respond to being cared about,” President Graff explains. “We try to go into their world to love them and to introduce how living the gospel will make that world better. Then, when they decide to join us in Church activity, they make our world better by becoming part of it.”

In describing how a less-active family is selected, Joel Marks, a former elders quorum president in one of the wards, explains: “A great deal of prayer would go into choosing those who are ready to be fellowshipped and taught. Our presidency would then visit prospective elders and their families to get to know them and find out what was happening in their lives. Getting acquainted with them personally would enable us to know better how to help them.”

Such personalized attention means a great deal to Sonia Baczuk (pronounced Basic). Sonia has a special assignment as activation board member in the Federal Way Stake Relief Society. The activation board member assists the ward Relief Societies as they work closely with the priesthood quorums, making every possible link with the families being fellowshipped. Her devotion to activation is founded on gratitude.

Sister Baczuk’s husband, Alan, had been inactive. He loved to hunt and went whenever he could—often at the expense of his family. Seeing that the marriage was headed for trouble if things didn’t change, Alan’s elders quorum presidency went to the Lord for help. They assigned a home teacher who had similar outdoor interests. He prepared himself spiritually so as not to offend, then approached Brother Baczuk to help clear timber from the stake welfare farm. While at the farm, someone commented to Alan that if he didn’t take his sons hunting with him, he would be hunting for them. Recognizing their love for him and their concern for his welfare, Alan turned back to his family, then to the Church.

Through his long period of inactivity, Sister Baczuk had stood alone but resolute and faithful. She believed deeply that a husband needs to be the head of the family rather than be rejected.

She reaped not only the reward of seeing her husband strengthen his place at the head of his family, but also head their ward as its bishop. Because of his own experience, he devoted much of his time during his service as bishop to those who had strayed from the fold themselves. Having grown up outside the Church, then having wrestled with his own soul, Bishop Baczuk gained a genuine love for the members of his ward, especially for the lonely and outcast.

If the Federal Way Stake seems extremely tightly organized and goal-oriented, these two characteristics only enhance the highly charged atmosphere of love and warmth. The goals, the schedules, the meetings, and the manuals have all become like the tools that a gardener keeps appropriately out of sight so the manicured garden and grounds may be more fully appreciated and enjoyed.

If pressed on the subject of why his stake is so successful at activation, President Graff explains that activation is not the highest priority.

“The President of the Church has set our priorities in the threefold mission of the Church: proclaim the gospel, perfect the Saints, and redeem the dead.”

As President Graff interprets these three: “Proclaiming the gospel is missionary work, perfecting the Saints involves activation, and redeeming the dead is genealogy and temple work.”

“All three of these,” President Graff continues, “are really part of the same great work of bringing our brothers and sisters the blessings of the gospel. The nonmembers, the members, and those beyond the veil must make the covenants upon which these blessings are predicated. And to accomplish this requires a long, steady pull in all three areas.”

President Graff believes that “the most powerful incentive in activation is the temple. When you go to a father who is inactive or to a single woman or a young adult, there is no other question that is as powerful as the question: ‘Someday wouldn’t you like to be sealed to your family in the temple?’”

One member of the stake now active because of the activation program is Guy Richards. All his married life, Guy had avoided going to church. His wife, Judy, wanted him to go, but he had some habits that made it inconvenient. Once in a while he would attend if his children performed, but generally he stayed away.

His change of heart began when they moved to Federal Way. Several of their new neighbors were members, and they made friends with some. Slowly he began to feel more at home with these new Church friends than with his drinking friends.

But the moment that changed his heart was when their specially assigned home teacher, Clayton Terry, backed up to their driveway with an entire truckload of firewood for them. Tears filled Guy’s eyes and love filled his heart thinking that someone loved them enough to do that for them.

Guy was then called to be the Cubmaster and later the Scoutmaster. And he and Judy continued to receive warm and encouraging friendshipping.

Five years ago, Guy was totally inactive in the Church. Today he is in the bishopric devoting countless hours to others. Guy Richards’ own change of heart has given him great empathy for the problems of others. His own experiences will enable him to love them into activity rather than love them because of their activity.

“People are not projects,” President Graff assures. “We have committed ourselves to be spiritually attuned to the needs and hopes of ‘the one.’”

Good leaders like President Graff let us see what happens when we care enough to use the right words, or when we give the time to fulfill our callings with care and with our full attention, pulling steadily over the long haul.

President Graff sums it up: “This is a Church of miracles. We believe in miracles. Every activation story is a miracle. So we go out and work, fill out the reports, organize, teach, and follow up, all so we will be obedient and faithful. Then we may ask for the miracle. We kneel down and ask the Lord to touch a person’s life. And we thank him for how our life has been touched by that person. Then the Lord creates the miracle: He softens the hearts of his lost children—and our own at the same time.”