“Home Teaching with Brother Skinner,” Liahona, Jan. 2005, 40–41
I was baptized into the Church as a teenager but stopped attending not long afterward. Three years in the army did nothing to restore my spiritual health. Yet soon after I was discharged, the gentle but insistent urging of the Spirit of the Lord directed me to return to activity in my home ward. I dutifully obeyed.
Although I was rough around the edges, the elders quorum welcomed me without question and put me to work as a home teaching companion to Burniss Skinner, second counselor in the bishopric. Under Brother Skinner’s loving tutelage, I felt my testimony begin to take root.
Some of our assigned families struggled with tight finances, young children, chronic illness, loneliness, and Church activity. Others exemplified the peace of gospel living. Among these families, Hazel and John Peterson were particularly special. Their son Mike had been a high school friend and one of the young men most instrumental in my conversion. As a young investigator, I had taken the missionary discussions in their home; now I was returning as their home teacher.
In each home we visited, Brother Skinner pleasantly and patiently ministered from the abundance of his heart. His words and gestures of comfort, blessing, care, and counsel have remained in my heart as lessons of the Savior’s love. Home teaching with Brother Skinner was not a burden but the greatest privilege and honor.
Within a year I had advanced in the priesthood, was sealed in the temple to my dear wife, and moved away from Brother Skinner and our home teaching families. After finishing college and law school, I spent 20 years in the military, moving my family to live in four countries on three continents. But I never forgot Brother Skinner, and while serving in various wards and branches, I tried to emulate his compassion and commitment.
After retiring from the air force, I moved back to my hometown to continue practicing law. The intervening 20 years had reordered the wards along entirely different boundaries, but I felt that I should visit Sister Hazel Peterson, who had lived alone since her husband died of cancer.
Six months later, however, I still hadn’t visited her. One winter morning I was driving to my law practice when the image of Sister Peterson unexpectedly came into my mind. Passing by the freeway exit closest to her home, I discounted the feeling and continued driving. But by the time I reached the next exit, I found myself leaving the freeway and backtracking to Sister Peterson’s home. Just as the Spirit had gently compelled me to return to activity almost 25 years earlier, it now gently whispered that I should visit my old home teaching sister.
I knocked on Sister Peterson’s door and waited. After several minutes, I wondered sheepishly if she was out. Another knock, another few minutes. Finally the window above the door rattled and slid along its track. Sister Peterson peered down at me. The years had whitened her hair to the purest wool, and she looked tiny and thin. Her face was contorted in pain. Despite her labored breathing, she began weeping as she recognized me. “Oh, Kevin,” she said, “I’m so glad you’re here. I’m in such terrible pain from my arthritis, and I need a priesthood blessing. Thank you for waiting—please come in.” Before turning away from the window, she added, “I thought you were Burniss.”
I was startled to hear the name Burniss. “Do you mean Brother Skinner?” I asked her. “Does he still live around here?”
“No,” she said. “He lives another 40 miles [65 km] north. But he still works near here, and I have his work number. I called about 20 minutes ago and asked him to come give me a blessing. He should be here any minute.”
A car pulled into the driveway, and Brother Skinner stepped out—much grayer but with the same pleasant spring in his step and kind smile on his face. We shook hands, and 20 years of distance melted away. We entered Sister Peterson’s familiar home, the site of my spiritual apprenticeship to Brother Skinner so many years before. I anointed Sister Peterson’s head with consecrated oil, and Brother Skinner pronounced the blessing. We were together again, companions in an impromptu call to service from the Lord Himself.