“What might home teachers or visiting teachers do when a less-active member resists overtures of friendship?” Ensign, June 1993, 62–63
R. Michael Falck, president, Salt Lake Holladay South Stake. In preparation for a special Relief Society meeting, a sister in our stake contacted members in her ward for information and ideas. She particularly enjoyed visiting an elderly, less-active widow. They became friends, and the sister continued to call or visit her new friend in the weeks that followed.
As she patiently listened to the lonely sister talk about her life and give wise advice, she realized that she was getting more out of the visits than she was giving. They became true friends, and the visits were no longer made out of a sense of obligation.
Those who resist our friendship may have been offended by Church members and thus may be suspicious of our motives for seeking them out. They may feel guilty, ashamed, apprehensive, or even frightened. Perhaps they harbor bitterness and anger, their minds and hearts closed to us and the influence of the Spirit. Fortunately, many if not most of our less-active brothers and sisters want our friendship. Could it be that our fear of getting acquainted with them is ungrounded, their resistance more imagined than real? Or is it possible that they resist us because they sense that we, however unwittingly, resist them?
There may be times when we knock on their door or call, secretly hoping they are not home and feeling some relief if that is the case. And yet our heartfelt desire is to help them. To reach them, we must let this desire work in us, or pray earnestly for this desire if we find it lacking. We must look for opportunities to serve them; we must be willing to pray and fast for them and then follow the promptings of the Spirit. Essentially, we must really love them.
I have always been deeply touched by the depth of Ammon’s desire to declare the word of God to a “wild and a hardened and a ferocious people,” the Lamanites. (Alma 17:14.) Upon entering the land of Ishmael, he was bound and carried before the Lamanite king. In response to king Lamoni’s inquiry, Ammon explained that he wanted to live among the people, “perhaps until the day I die.” (Alma 17:23.)
He offered to be the king’s servant and went to the fields to care for the royal flocks. So deep was his desire to win the hearts of these people that he risked his life in defending the king’s flocks. His greatest desire was to have the Lamanites believe on his words and thereby find Christ and embrace His gospel. Through the power of the Lord, Ammon successfully warded off the marauders who sought to scatter the animals. Ammon’s comrades later reported to the king, “We know that he is a friend to the king.” (Alma 18:3.) Under these circumstances, Ammon was able to teach king Lamoni and many of his subjects about the plan of salvation and other truths that led to their conversion to the gospel of Christ.
I have asked myself, Do I care enough to spend a couple of hours on a Friday evening with a less-active couple at a movie, concert, or ball game? Would I forgo a playoff game to be with them or even give them my tickets? Would I be willing to spend part of a Saturday serving them in some way? Perhaps we need to be a true-friend-first kind of home teacher or visiting teacher, willing to sacrifice our time because we really love these people. Then we can become a lesson-giving home teacher or visiting teacher second, after those we visit know of our genuine love for them. I don’t know of many people who can resist genuine friendship.
Consider the following story about a home teacher who befriended a man who fought against the truth with bitter passion. “He could well have been my father, though our ages were only a few years apart. He came to my home as a home teacher and listened to my bitter accusations. He listened until I had no more to say, and then he said he understood why I felt the way I did. He continued to come with love that never condemned and patience that was never exhausted. I don’t remember how it all began, but gradually I found myself listening to him. I anticipated his visits, for he always said the things I needed to hear. … I prayed, and he prayed with me; I wept, and he wept with me; I rejoiced, and he rejoiced with me. … I thank God that he followed the promptings of the Spirit, for a miracle came about in my life.” (Doctrine & Covenants Institute of Religion Self-Instruction Program, Salt Lake City: Church Educational System, 1977, vol. 1, p. 433.)
President Ezra Taft Benson has said: “There is no greater Church calling than that of a home teacher. There is no greater Church service rendered to our Father in Heaven’s children than the service rendered by a humble, dedicated, committed home teacher.” (Ensign, May 1987, p. 50.) Surely the same applies to visiting teaching.
So important is the Lord’s charge to us to “make unto yourselves friends” (D&C 82:22) and love them—Latter-day Saints or not, less active or not—that our fears of being rebuffed or rejected should not deter us. President David O. McKay said: “Love the work, do your best, then leave the conversion to the workings of the Spirit of the Lord; and know this, that when you have done your duty, the peace and satisfaction that come will more than compensate for any rebuff, resentment, or opposition, that might be manifest.” (Gospel Ideals: Selections from the Discourses of David O. McKay, Salt Lake City: The Improvement Era, 1953, p. 174.)