“Feeding His Sheep,” Ensign, Mar. 1997, 34–39
Serving others is vital, President Spencer W. Kimball taught, because it is through one of our brothers or sisters that Heavenly Father often meets his children’s needs (see Ensign, Dec. 1974, 5). Through the love and service we render as home teachers and visiting teachers, we fulfill the Lord Jesus Christ’s admonition to “feed [his] sheep” (John 21:16) and we allow our Heavenly Father to bless us as we strive to meet the needs of others.
When my husband and I were first baptized, we made a lot of friends as we attended meetings and participated in ward activities. When we moved, however, we found it easy to become less active. I took our two babies to sacrament meeting a couple of times in our new ward, but I saw no one I knew, and no one spoke to me. Home teachers were assigned to us but quit coming after one visit.
We soon lost the determination we felt upon becoming new members of the Church. We forgot about our baptismal covenants, and we forgot to “always remember” the Savior (D&C 20:77, 79), because we no longer enjoyed the weekly reminder provided by the sacrament. As a result, we drifted from the Savior and from each other, and our marriage ended in divorce.
When I eventually remarried, unity became a top priority. We spent Sundays together in family activities, but we avoided church. However, shortly after we moved to San Diego, California, in 1978, members of our new ward came to visit. A tall man named Tony Aguiar and his companion began showing up regularly. I was polite, but I never let them in the house. Instead I would visit with them outside on the sidewalk. They were cheerfully persistent, but I always tried to get rid of them.
Tony finally got the hint and one day asked if I would mind receiving a phone call each month instead of a visit. Grateful that I would be spared more visits, I heartily agreed. I was surprised, though, when he actually began calling. He always wanted to know how we were doing and whether we needed anything. At first I resented the calls. Gradually, though, I began to listen as Tony shared stories of his family and his love for them. He talked a lot about his daughter, Emily, and mentioned how close in age she must be to my daughters, Heather and Diane. Perhaps my girls could get together with Emily. She would love to meet them. “Maybe someday,” I would always answer.
Occasionally I wouldn’t hear from Tony, and my husband and I would wonder why he hadn’t called. After all, weren’t we doing him a favor by accepting his calls so he could count his home teaching for the month?
When Tony would resume his calls, he would apologize and relate how he had been ill or undergone an operation. Despite ill health, his voice was always friendly and concerned, and he would talk to me as a neighbor and a friend. Many years later I told his wife, Sue, how grateful I was for our telephone visits. “All he did was make a few calls,” she would reply.
Those calls went on for almost 10 years. Tony’s voice was the only contact I had with the Church. On one occasion, Tony worked up the courage to send me a cassette tape titled Our Heavenly Father’s Plan. I thought the tape might cause problems in our family, so rather than listen to it I hid it away in a kitchen cupboard. But when I began having difficulty with my daughters as they entered their teenage years, I started to listen more closely when Tony described his daughter’s activities. In June 1987 when Tony asked me again if my girls would like to meet Emily, I decided that “someday” had come. “Yes, that would be a good idea,” I said. “What is she doing this week?”
Tony said she was involved in roadshow rehearsals. It wasn’t long before Heather and Diane also were involved in the roadshow and had made new friends. They were excited when I asked them if they would like to attend church with their new friends. Heather then surprised me. “Mother, I found a cassette tape in the kitchen cupboard,” she said. “It tells us who we are and where we come from. I would like to know more.”
On 5 July 1987 I took my daughters to church for the first time. By the end of the month, they were baptized. The patient nurturing of Tony Aguiar, who died a week before their baptism, changed the course of our lives.
Heather has married in the temple. Diane recently finished a mission in Rome, Italy. And I have had the blessings of going to the temple with Sue Aguiar and of serving in the Young Women program and as a visiting teacher.
I will always be grateful for the persistence of a faithful home teacher and the calls he made.
Janet Casey serves as a visiting teacher in the Grossmont Ward, Santee California Stake.
At first I thought the Relief Society president had phoned to tell me that because I was so busy some kind sister was coming to put me to bed, clean my house, and tend my children. Actually, she had called to ask me to visit a less-active sister in need of special help. “She needs a visit as soon as possible,” the Relief Society president said.
Negative feelings flooded my heart as I pondered why I had received yet another challenge instead of an answer to my prayers. At the time, I was a young mother living in Indianapolis, Indiana. We had three sons under the age of four, my husband was busy as bishop, I had an infection that left me feeling constantly exhausted, and Christmas was just around the corner.
Nevertheless, I soon found myself driving to this sister’s house—feeling alone and struggling with my three boys all the way. I overcame my fear to ring the doorbell and was soon standing next to her bed. The first thing I noticed was a wheelchair, and I quickly concluded that her needs, indeed, were great. But before I could introduce myself, she promptly requested that I help her take a “sit down” shower. She had no hesitation about giving me orders.
After I had dried every drop of moisture from her body just as she directed, she insisted that I help her with other routines—lotion, powder, and other “needs.” I learned quickly not to ask if there was anything else I could do. Three hours later, after serving her lunch, I was determined to leave. “I hope to see you in a couple days,” she called after me. “I need your help.”
From November until the following June, the boys and I visited her three times a week. For months I murmured. As we were leaving after one visit, I met her physical therapist at the front door. When I asked him what was wrong with her, he whispered, “Nothing. She has pampered herself and let her muscles deteriorate.” I nevertheless found myself at this sister’s door the following week and for many weeks thereafter.
I don’t really remember a turning point in the experience, but I know how I felt about her when I had to say goodbye in June because my husband had received a job transfer. I had come to love her by serving her, and she had become my friend.
Her advice had helped clear up my infection, and she was full of good suggestions on rearing children. As she watched my struggles as a young mother, she began reflecting on her early days as a mother and began talking about her life before she became ill. Memories that had been locked away for years returned. Our visits slowly became less of a pampering routine and more of a sharing time. I came to understand her life’s difficulties, which were much deeper than muscle deterioration, and she seemed to appreciate my trials. She became a “grandma” to the boys.
Just before we moved to England in the summer, she made me a sign: “The Visiting Teacher Who Hung in There the Longest.” When I had prayed for someone to come to my rescue, I had no intention of saving someone else from pain. Yet that is how the Lord had answered my prayers—by teaching me tolerance, compassion, and the power of love.
Two months after we moved to England, tragedy struck our family. We lost our 11-month-old son in a drowning accident. I experienced grief beyond description, and I remained in shock after we returned to England following a funeral in the United States. The day we returned, I received a telephone call from Joan Davis, the Relief Society president of the Bracknell Ward southwest of London. Her call was the first of a string of daily calls and visits that continued for months.
I was always glad when she came. While we visited, she would help clean up the house and fix dinner, then gather up the dirty laundry to take home to wash. We became great friends. My aching heart welcomed her upbeat personality and bursting energy. Gradually I began working through my grief.
Months later when we insisted on giving Sister Davis a ride home from church on Sunday, she was reluctant to accept. She shyly acknowledged that she lived on the grounds of a prison, where her husband had been a nurse until losing his job. She had neither a car nor a phone.
When I asked how she had called and visited me all those months, she hesitantly explained that she would ride her bicycle up a nearby hill to a pay phone. If I sounded despondent, she would ride another five hilly miles to our home. I was stunned. Realizing her sacrifices, I tried my best to sound happy when she called the next morning. I knew then that I was getting better.
Sixteen years have passed since that experience. I wish I could express the love I feel for my Heavenly Father, not for taking away my trials but for surrounding me with others who helped me through my grief. I had a fresh example in my heart as to what can happen when we don’t let go of heartache and instead allow our bodies and spirits to deteriorate. My baby was gone and I felt dead inside, but another with heartaches of her own had reached out with love.
I often picture a Relief Society presidency in Indianapolis sitting around a table discussing visiting teaching assignments. I know they prayed for and received guidance that day. I thank them for listening.
Allyson Gurney serves as Primary chorister in the South Cottonwood 10th Ward, Salt Lake Cottonwood Stake.
When our ward’s high priests group leader needed a new home teacher for his mother, who was living in a rest home, he called upon my father. As my father’s home teaching companion, I often accompanied him to visit Sister Peterson. Each visit was a lesson for me.
Sister Peterson, confined to a wheelchair and nearly deaf and blind, needed 24-hour medical care. Though her hands were wrinkled and gnarled by arthritis, my father would gently take one of her hands in his, pat it, and speak softly to her. He would listen as she spoke, even when it was obvious that she was not aware of where she was or who we were. At the end of each visit, he would gently kiss Sister Peterson’s brow and promise that we would return soon.
Before one visit, after we had pressed our white shirts, polished our shoes, selected our best ties, prayed, and were preparing to enter the rest home, I turned to my father and asked, “Why do we come? She doesn’t even know we’re here.”
A long silence followed as he searched his mind and heart for the appropriate answer. Years would pass before I realized that in those silent moments, my father earnestly prayed that his young son would in some way be touched and taught by the Spirit. Father looked into my eyes and said, “Because it is our duty.”
As we entered the rest home a few moments later, we found Sister Peterson in a wheelchair near the front door. She looked as she always had looked—unaware of where she was. Father took her hand and told her he loved her. Following his example, I also took her hand and told her I loved her. Suddenly Sister Peterson’s countenance brightened and she became keenly aware of her surroundings. She looked intently into my eyes.
“Joseph,” she told me, “I will remember!” Sister Peterson then became as she had been before, and the Spirit gently dissipated.
Tears filled my father’s eyes as I realized that I had been granted a glimpse of the importance of priesthood ministration and of magnifying one’s calling as a priesthood holder.
Joseph C. Irvine serves in the bishopric of the Stuttgart Servicemen Ward, Stuttgart Germany Stake.
The day dawned extra early that October morning as I arose from my bed to make final preparations for our family’s annual deer hunt. I don’t think I was even fully awake when I began my morning prayer. But as I began to pray, the words “Remember Mary Yates” came to my mind.
I had been Mary’s visiting teacher for quite some time, and although she was less active in the Church at the time, she was a gracious sister who always welcomed us into her home. Dutifully, I remembered Mary in my prayers.
Before long, the rest of the family was up and busily loading food, clothes, and equipment into our motor home. The children’s attention, however, was suddenly diverted by an ambulance driving up the street toward Mary’s home. I hurried up the street, and by the time I arrived several neighbors had gathered in front of her home. No one seemed to know whether to follow the paramedics inside, but I recalled my early-morning prayer and timidly entered. I immediately saw Mary standing alone by the top of the stairs and went to her. She threw her arms around me and said, “I just knew you would come!”
That morning Mary had awakened to find that her husband had passed away during the night. She was alone and grief stricken, but I knew that the Lord was mindful of her distress. I stayed with her until her children arrived.
In that spiritual and emotional hour, I realized how important visiting teaching responsibilities are. Mary needed my help and prayers that morning, and I needed a stronger testimony about how I, as a visiting teacher, could be on the Lord’s errand.
Irene Pearmain serves as Primary chorister in the Brighton Third Ward, Salt Lake Brighton Stake.