“The Power of Song,” Ensign, Aug. 1994, 59–60
“Who are you?” asked the young man who had come up to me as I gathered my notes and visual aids at the end of Sunday School. As I hesitated, he repeated his question, “Who are you, really?”
“I am Brother Brown’s wife.”
He shook his head and asked, “What else?”
“Mother. Grandmother.” Again he shook his head.
This too he did not accept, still shaking his head. I tried again. “Please continue to come to our service—maybe we can find out together who I am.”
He gave me a small smile as we embraced, and my heart filled with love for him. “See you next week,” he whispered.
This is but one of many experiences my husband and I shared while serving as Sunday School teachers at the Idaho State Youth Center. At first we wondered why we were called to teach since we were both in our seventies and didn’t think young people would want to listen to us.
We began our assignment with more than a little trepidation. Between forty and fifty youth, ages twelve to seventeen, attended Sunday School regularly. These were young men and women who had detoured into the painful paths of the world. Some came from Latter-day Saint families, but many did not. Sunday School at the youth center provided many firsts for the students—many had never prayed or sung a hymn.
Attending Sunday School was a privilege at the center, and although initially the youth may have come to earn some reward, their responses told us that after a few meetings they came because they wanted to be there. The warmth of the gospel reached out to all of us involved in providing worship services at the center, and we were able to touch the hearts of the young people we met there.
As the students arrived each week, some paused to write numbers of favorite hymns on the chalkboard near the door. The first songs we sang each week were from this list. The young people sang with enthusiasm and happy countenances. Sometimes it was loud and perhaps off-key, but other times the singing had angelic overtones as the sweet messages of the gospel touched their hearts.
One day, a young man came for the first time, and his group volunteered him to sing “I Am a Child of God.” Never before had he been in such a situation. He looked at the words as Sister Therel Ricks played the song on the piano, but only a few soft sounds came out. Brother Rulon Ricks stepped up beside him, put his arm across the boy’s shaking shoulders and began to sing along softly. As the song progressed, the boy and his mentor increased in strength until they finished to cheers and clapping from the congregation. The young man’s participation helped him to understand that he is a child of God and that he can accomplish much.
Sunday after Sunday we witnessed and were touched by the power of song to tell the gospel story. The fellowship, love, sharing, and tears of these youth were evidences of attitude and behavior changes in the process.
Following much singing, we taught a twenty-minute lesson. One Sunday, we invited a father, deaf from birth, to bring his wife and baby to the center. He related how he learned to talk and explained how the young people at the center could also overcome their problems through prayer, goals, hard work, and living the gospel.
After we finished the service, the youth were reluctant to leave. We were all anxious to keep close the feeling of love and understanding.
I look forward to meeting a certain young man again, putting my arms around him, and saying: “I am a child of God, just like you. I, too, am trying to learn from mistakes, trying to turn weaknesses into strengths. I love you.”