“True Friends,” Liahona, July 2002, 29–32
Each year, hundreds of thousands of the children of our Heavenly Father come into The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. For most it requires a great change in their lives. All of them have made a sacred covenant with great promises and with a solemn pledge to endure. That covenant is so important that our Heavenly Father described the blessing and the challenge to the prophet Nephi:
“And I heard a voice from the Father, saying: Yea, the words of my Beloved are true and faithful. He that endureth to the end, the same shall be saved.
“And now, my beloved brethren, I know by this that unless a man shall endure to the end, in following the example of the Son of the living God, he cannot be saved.”1
The Savior warns that if we start along the path and go far enough and then fail and deny Him, it would have been better if we had never begun.2
I think of that each time I visit with new members of the Church. I get that opportunity often, across the world. I see their trusting faces, and often they tell me about some trial of their faith, and then, with urgency in their voices, they whisper, “Please pray for me.” At those moments, I feel again the weight of the charge to each of us from the Lord’s living prophet. It is to keep the promise we made in the waters of baptism “to bear one another’s burdens.”3 It is to be a friend.
These words of President Hinckley energize me: “I hope, I pray, I plead with you, every one of you, to embrace every new member of the Church. Make a friend of him or her. Hold onto them.”4
President Hinckley can’t be there as a friend for every new member. But you can be there for at least one. All it takes is to feel something of what they feel and something of what the Savior feels for them. Try to feel the heart of a young man, Nkosiyabo Eddie Lupahla, in Africa, writing about his friend.
“Two and a half years prior to my joining the Church in 1999, my good friend, Mbuti Yona, looked me up. We had been friends through grades 5 to 12, then [were] separated when we attended different [schools].
“Mbuti was baptized in April 1999, and four weeks later he visited me at home and introduced the gospel to me. Regardless of the rumors about the Church, I was impressed by the ‘fellow Saints’ who gave me a warm welcome on my first visit. It was this same Sunday that my friend introduced me to the missionaries. Arrangements were made to be taught. My friend was there for every discussion, and he kept inviting me to the activities. I really enjoyed being around people with the same values, interests, standards, and goals. It was during this same time period that I began attending institute [of religion]. It all seemed very natural: Thursday nights [5:30]—missionary discussion, followed by institute.
“I learned a lot in institute and especially enjoyed our class about how to achieve a celestial marriage. The first semester ended in May, shortly after I began attending, and I felt cheated. But I was fortunate enough to catch the second semester class, Teachings of the Living Prophets. While in institute, I bought myself the four standard works and I continued to learn and grow in the Church line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little. I was baptized September 17, 1999, by another friend I had made while attending institute.
“I am thankful for the institute program. It has not only shaped me, but it has also helped me qualify to become a missionary, which mission I started preparing for five months after my baptism. I have been blessed with many opportunities to serve and to teach prior to my mission.
“I am thankful for my friend. I hope he realizes what he has done for me. We have both served missions, I to South Africa Durban, he to South Africa Cape Town. All it takes is a friend to bring such a mighty change in one’s life.”5
Now, there seems to be nothing miraculous in that story. But there is a miracle of wisdom beyond human capacity.
Perhaps because Mbuti had walked the path himself or perhaps by revelation, he knew what his friend would have to do to endure. And so he knew how to lift and help.
He introduced his friend to the missionaries. He saw that his friend was baptized and received the gift of the Holy Ghost. He took his friend, even before baptism, to where he would study the scriptures and thus be nurtured by the good word of God. Even before baptism he helped his friend discover this promise: “Wherefore, I said unto you, feast upon the words of Christ; for behold, the words of Christ will tell you all things what ye should do.”6 The words must have told him to buy scriptures, which he did.
At baptism, Brother Lupahla received the gift of the Holy Ghost to serve as his constant companion as long as he invited it and lived worthy of it. That assured him of another promise, “For behold, again I say unto you that if ye will enter in by the way, and receive the Holy Ghost, it will show unto you all things what ye should do.”7 The Holy Ghost must have told him to begin to prepare for a mission, which he did.
We do not know which friends went with him to his sacrament meetings both before and after baptism, but some must have greeted him warmly, as they did on his first visit. There, he renewed his covenant to always remember the Savior, to keep His commandments, and to receive again the promise of the companionship of the Holy Ghost. We don’t know what part his friends had in his calls to serve and to speak. But we can be sure that they thanked him and told him when they felt the Spirit in his service and in his teaching.
We can know something of his private life. Remember that he wrote that he continued to learn. He wrote that he grew in the Church line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little. He said that he had been shaped by his experiences in the Church Educational System institute. We know from the scriptures what caused those changes in him. He had to be praying with faith in the Savior. He was receiving testimony and directions through the Spirit. And then he was not only doing what he was inspired to do but he was asking God to let the Atonement work in his life.
Nephi, describing that miracle of change and what brings it, said this:
“And now, my beloved brethren, I perceive that ye ponder still in your hearts; and it grieveth me that I must speak concerning this thing. For if ye would hearken unto the Spirit which teacheth a man to pray ye would know that ye must pray; for the evil spirit teacheth not a man to pray, but teacheth him that he must not pray.
“But behold, I say unto you that ye must pray always, and not faint; that ye must not perform any thing unto the Lord save in the first place ye shall pray unto the Father in the name of Christ, that he will consecrate thy performance unto thee, that thy performance may be for the welfare of thy soul.”8
The Holy Ghost is a comforter and a guide. But it is also a cleansing agent. That is why service in the kingdom is so crucial to enduring. When we are called to serve, we can pray for the Holy Ghost to be our companion with assurance it will come. When we ask in faith, a change can come in our natures both for the welfare of our souls and to strengthen us for the tests we all must face.
There are limits on what friends can do to help the ones who must endure. It is the new members who must pray. It is they who must rely on the strength they will receive in answers to their prayers. They must choose for themselves in faith to be baptized, trusting in their perfect friend, the Savior. They must choose in faith in Him to repent, to be humble and contrite.
They must choose to receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. The words of confirmation into the Church are an invitation: “Receive the Holy Ghost.” And that choice must be made not once, but every day, every hour, every minute. Even when the Holy Ghost comes and inspires them what they should do, doing it or not is a choice. Even when they read the scriptures regularly, it takes a choice to “feast upon the words of Christ.” And even the feast is not nourishing without a choice to do what the words of Christ tell them to do. With faith and obedience practiced long enough, the Holy Ghost becomes a constant companion, our natures change, and endurance becomes certain.
The member must make the choices, but the true friend is vital. There are important ways for us to share the new member’s burden that it may be bearable. We can love, listen, show, and testify.
First, we must love them. That is what the Savior does. We can do it with Him and for Him. He showed us the way in His mortal ministry. He taught by precept and example that we are to love His disciples.
“This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you.
“Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.
“Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you.
“Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you.”9
The Savior watches over the struggling member as a friend. He laid down His life for all of us. He loves us and will grant us, if we are faithful, the gift of feeling a part of His love for them. I have at times been blessed by the Holy Ghost to sense the Savior’s love for a struggling new member. I know for myself that is possible.
Second, we must listen to the new member with understanding and empathy. That also will take spiritual gifts, since our experience will rarely parallel theirs. It will not be enough to say, “I understand how you feel,” unless we do. But the Savior does. He is prepared to help you be a friend who understands even those you have just met, if you ask in faith. Before He was born, prophets knew what He would do to be able to help you be a friend for Him:
“And he shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith he will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people.
“And he will take upon him death, that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people; and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities.”10
Third, we must be an example for the new member. We can feast upon the word of God. We can ask for and live for the companionship of the Holy Ghost. We can be obedient out of our faith in Jesus Christ. And in time we can become an example of a disciple who is born again through the Atonement. It may be gradual. It may be hard for us to discern in ourselves. But it will be real. And it will give hope to the new member and to all those we befriend on the path to eternal life.
Fourth, we must testify of the truth to the new member. It must be sincere, and it is best when it is simple. It is most helpful when it is about the reality and mission of the Savior, about our Heavenly Father’s love, and of the gifts and companionship of the Holy Ghost. And it is essential to testify that the Father and the Son appeared to the young Joseph Smith and that the full gospel and the true Church have been restored by heavenly messengers. The Holy Ghost will confirm those simple declarations as truth.
The new member will need that confirmation, again and again, even when we are not there to testify. Should they choose to reject the companionship of the Holy Ghost, he or she will not endure. But that is true for all of us, wherever we are and however faithful we have been. All of us will be tested. And all of us need true friends to love us, to listen to us, to show us the way, and to testify of truth to us so that we may retain the companionship of the Holy Ghost. You must be such a true friend.
I can still remember, as if it were today, friends who touched my life for good long ago. They are gone, but the memory of their love, example, faith, and testimony still lifts me. And your friendship to even one new member may, in this life and in the next, cause hundreds or even thousands of their ancestors and their descendants to call you blessed.
This is the true Church of Jesus Christ. He lives. He loves you, and He loves those whom you must serve and who will become your true friends forever.
In the sacred name of Jesus Christ, amen.