“Faith at All Levels of Ability,” Liahona, April 2021
Each person on earth has different strengths and weaknesses, areas of ability as well as limitations. This article features three members of the Church who live with conditions that are medically defined as disabilities. Their good works prove that, especially when it comes to following the Savior, they are certainly able—able to help build His kingdom, able to make a difference, and able to set an example for others to follow.
President Juan Medina is serving as branch president for the second time, but this experience is a bit different. This time, he can’t see those he is ministering to. “I lost my vision little by little, but I did not lose the capability to serve that the Lord has always offered me,” President Medina said from his home in Sonora, Mexico. “Being able to minister to my brothers and sisters is a privilege.”
During the COVID-19 pandemic, President Medina called each member of his branch to see how they were doing. He said that this not only helped others but also helped him feel less stressed and depressed. “It is through ministering, whether someone has ministered to me or I am ministering to others, that I come to know the true love of Christ.”
President Medina said he especially loves working with newly baptized members. “You can see a clear difference between their lives before and after baptism,” he said. “Love changes them.”
When asked about the challenges he faces, President Medina didn’t mention his visual impairments at all. Instead, his comments focused on the people who are missing from sacrament meeting each week and how he wants them to know how much they are missed.
“The biggest blessing I have received is that my life has changed through the gospel,” he said. “Being blind has not changed that.”
There are few places Heather Nilsson would rather be than at the temple.
“It’s a wonderful place because it is literally the house of the Lord,” she said. The Los Angeles California Temple is especially dear to her because it’s where she served a mission. Much of the ordinance work she completed there was for members of her own family.
“I was never able to meet my grandfather in person, but I got to know him in the temple,” she said.
Living with cerebral palsy makes many aspects of life difficult. Sister Nilsson said she sometimes feels discouraged about what this birth defect prevents her from doing, like drive a car or sprint around the block. But her trust in God’s plan gives her a hope more powerful than despair. She vividly remembers the day when she first learned about the Resurrection. She was six years old at the time and had been adopted into a Latter-day Saint family.
“The things that I can’t do now I will be able to do later because of the Atonement of Jesus Christ,” she testified.
In the meantime, Sister Nilsson continues to help God save souls using her talent for family history work. She has researched and helped complete ordinances for hundreds of people in both her adoptive and biological families. When hard days come, she reads her patriarchal blessing. It refreshes her faith and reminds her to view current challenges with an eternal perspective.
Sister Nilsson said that she hopes every person who reads this article knows how much they are loved. “If there’s one message I would share, it’s that you are not alone, even if it feels like that sometimes. Heavenly Father loves you. You are His child.”
As Bridger Pons began looking forward to helping bless the sacrament, there was something he was dreading too: reading and memorizing the sacrament prayers. Bridger has dyslexia, a learning disability where reading and spelling are hard to do.
“I’ve worked really hard to become a good reader, but I still get nervous when I have to read out loud in front of a group,” Bridger said. “When I’m nervous, I make mistakes, which makes me even more nervous.”
So Bridger and his mother printed a version of the sacrament prayers that was easier to read. It used a larger font and was separated into short phrases. After lots of practice, he was able to recite the prayers without any mistakes.
“Being able to overcome the challenge of reading in front of a large group may not be a big deal for a lot of people, but for me it was important,” Bridger said.
His extra effort ended up blessing others in unexpected ways. After the meeting, several ward members came to him and said that his slow, intentional speaking helped them focus on the Spirit during those sacred prayers. Additionally, while helping leaders understand his challenges, Bridger learned that other young men in the stake need similar help. A fear of reading was affecting their Church participation and their confidence in preparing for missionary service. Now the Pons family shares reading resources with others whenever possible.
Bridger said he hopes more people will realize that how well a person reads does not reflect their level of intelligence. He also shared these words of encouragement for those who have reading challenges like he does: “You’re not alone. And you are smart.”
The scriptures teach that every person has been given a spiritual gift from God (see Doctrine and Covenants 46:11). This includes people of all ability levels. For example, perhaps one day we will learn of silent prayers our brothers and sisters who are nonverbal offered on our behalf or an extra portion of the Spirit they invited into our homes.
We have the opportunity to continue building Zion together, contributing whatever abilities we have to offer. Only when all are included and appreciated will our Church family be complete.