Friend to Friend

“Friend to Friend,” Friend, Nov. 1991, 6

Friend to Friend

Visit the fatherless and widows (James 1:27).

Elder Ronald E. Poelman

One of my most insightful spiritual experiences occurred when I was thirteen or fourteen years old.

I grew up in Salt Lake City, Utah, and the Church was a large part of my life. One day the Aaronic Priesthood boys in our ward went to Welfare Square for a service project.

We were assigned to unload a large railcar full of lump coal. We were to climb up on the load and throw lumps of coal off to either side of the track.

At first, it was fun, a new adventure. It was fairly easy to toss the coal off. However, as we worked our way down into the railcar, it became necessary to pick up the lumps, raise them over our heads, and throw them over the side. By then we were getting tired and very dirty. The lumps of coal seemed heavier and heavier. It became a difficult task.

I remember going home that night and taking a bath. I had coal dust all over me. It was in my throat and nose. I could taste it and smell it. I felt terrible and decided that I would avoid doing anything like that again.

A few weeks later my family celebrated the Thanksgiving holiday. Under my parents’ guidance, we had prepared little boxes of food for the widows in our neighborhood. My sister and I made popcorn balls and wrapped them in waxed paper. My mother made cookies. We also added fruit and some candies to the boxes. We took these gifts to the homes of five or six widows.

No lights were burning in the last home. We knocked and waited, but no one came to the door. Just as we were about to leave, we saw a light appear at the end of the long hall. Then we heard the footsteps of this elderly sister, who lived alone. She opened the door, greeted us, and invited us in.

As we walked down that long hallway. I felt the cold. There was no heat at all in the house except in the small room at the end of the hall, where she invited us to sit down. A fire was burning in the small fireplace there.

We presented the elderly sister with our gift, sang some Thanksgiving songs, then began to talk about the things for which we were grateful. When it was our hostess’s turn, she said, “One of the things I am grateful for is that you came tonight instead of last night. This afternoon I received a delivery of lump coal from Welfare Square, and so we are able to all sit here and enjoy this fire.” I realized that I had helped make the coal available to her.

That was an impressive experience for me. I sensed as never before the importance of the gospel principle of caring for others. I saw the earlier experience of unloading that coal in an entirely different light and with an entirely different spirit. That Thanksgiving experience has affected me the rest of my life.

The Lord has spoken frequently and intensely about our responsibility to care for others, to offer service and love. There is much we can do to help others. It is not necessary that our service always be in the form of money or work or time. We can serve others by simply helping them feel their own individual worth. Everyone, particularly you children, can do this by reaching out to a neighbor or classmate, making him or her feel accepted and loved. In helping others to fit in, we often find that we feel better about ourselves and that we fit in better. There are many ways to serve and love others. It’s important that we try to do so.

Starting school at age five

Ronald, age two, and Mother

Ronald, age six, playing

Illustrated by Larry Winborg