Not Me—I Smoke and Drink
July 1988

“Not Me—I Smoke and Drink,” Ensign, July 1988, 55–57

“Not Me—I Smoke and Drink”

One day about twenty-five years ago I was busy ironing and baby-sitting several children in my home. I was also enjoying a good soap opera and a cigarette.

The doorbell rang. Two men wearing business suits and warm smiles stood at the door. One of them introduced himself as the bishop of the ward. I invited them in and very quickly explained that had been baptized into the Church when I was ten, but that I had never been very active and knew nothing about the gospel. A few months earlier I had attended a Church meeting and had put my name and address on the roll sheet, but no one had spoken to me.

The bishop smiled, looked me in the eye, and said, “I have been praying for an MIA teacher, and the Lord directed me here.” I told him he was out of his mind. He continued to smile, opened the lesson book he’d brought with him, and started to explain about teaching the class.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I said. “I smoke and drink. I can’t teach sixteen-year-old girls.”

He then explained that I was to start teaching next Wednesday at the skating rink where they met for church. I kept saying, “no,” and he kept right on smiling. I told him I was inactive.

He said, “Not anymore.”

I said, “I smoke.”

He replied, “You have until next Wednesday. God loves you. You can do it.” He smiled, left the lesson book, and walked out the door.

I was stunned. Then I got mad and yelled at the air, “You’d better find someone else, because I’m not going to do it!”

I tried to ignore the book, but my curiosity got the better of me. I read it from cover to cover, all twelve lessons. Wednesday drew nearer. I knew the lesson word for word. All day Wednesday I said I was not going, but at the appointed hour I pulled into the parking lot, so scared I was trembling. I had grown up in the slums, lived through gang wars, fought for food, bailed my dad out of the drunk tank, done a stint in juvenile hall. I could fight my way out of anything, yet here I was, letting that bishop get me into a mess like this. Well, I’d show him! By this time I was sitting in the makeshift chapel and they were introducing me as a new Laurel teacher.

In the classroom, facing two angelic girls, I sat down and gave them the lesson word for word, even the parts that said “Ask the class.” After the class I left quickly and went home and cried. A few days later the doorbell rang and I thought, “Oh, good, it’s that smiling bishop coming after his book.” But no, it was those two Laurel girls. One brought cookies, and one had flowers. They came in and taught me—about the people in the ward, about MIA, and about the class. There were sixteen girls in the class, and they hadn’t had a teacher for months. Lila and Lois were the only active ones.

I liked those girls, and I agreed to go to Sunday School with them the next Sunday. They came home with me for dinner, and then we went back to sacrament meeting. We had a break between the two meetings back then.

With their help, I started teaching the other girls. If the girls wouldn’t come to church, we went wherever they were. We had lessons in bowling alleys, cars, and bedrooms, and on porches. I was determined that if I needed to go to class, those girls did too. One day we were giving the lesson to a girl who was hiding in a closet, and she came out and asked, “What about my free agency?” I told her I had never heard of that lesson and that she could come and teach us the next Wednesday.

Lila and Lois became like daughters to me. They taught me to sew, to look up scriptures, and most of all, to smile. Six months later, fourteen of the girls were coming to class, and all were active within a year. Together we learned to pray, to study the gospel, and to help others. We made many visits to the children’s hospital. We laughed together and cried together in a bond of love. Fifteen months later, I was president of the MIA.

I made a decision during that year of teaching that I would never say “no” to the bishop, and I never have. Two sixteen-year-old girls taught me that. I later learned that my smiling bishop was just as terrified of me as I was of him when he first came to my home, and he was sure I wouldn’t show up to teach the class. I sure showed him—and I’m grateful!

  • Joan Atkinson, a preschool teacher, is homemaking leader in the Palos Verdes (California) First Ward.