The Seat Next to You
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“The Seat Next to You,” New Era, Oct. 1983, 4

The Message:

The Seat Next to You

Someone needs to hear what you have to say. He’s sitting in …

I salute a royal generation, the greatest generation of youth in number and quality to ever live on the face of the earth. The amount of good that is being done by you is immeasurable. Your influence will be felt worldwide before you have finished your stay on earth.

May I tell you of two young people who represent this royal generation of youth? I do not know these individuals by name. Only part of the results of their good influence is known.

In the fall of 1978, Jeff, as we’ll call him, was very discouraged with life. He was born in the Church but had been mostly inactive. He had married a member but after a few years became disenchanted, and because of marital difficulties they had separated. In addition to that challenge, Jeff was suffering from severe health problems. He had diabetes, which caused partial blindness.

He worked as a night watchman in a chemical plant. His work associates were not members of the Church. Over the months they chided him saying, “Come on, Jeff, let’s go have a beer,” “One cigarette won’t hurt,” or “I’ve got some pretty friends we could have some fun with tonight.” Opportunities to break the commandments were presented, but he did not partake of any of those things.

On a Friday evening, discouraged and lonely, Jeff was invited to meet a friend in Las Vegas to have a wild time. With a feeling of desperation he decided that he would go. He thought to himself, “What does it matter? No one cares about me anymore. I’m miserable. I’ll go.” Thus, he boarded a bus to Las Vegas. Sitting on the bus he conjured up evil thoughts of the things that he would do. He would show his ex-wife, the Church, and everybody else. As this evil spirit about him persisted, he became more and more determined what his course of action would be.

Then a United States serviceman boarded the bus and walked down the aisle. He could have selected any number of seats, but he sat down by Jeff. The serviceman was a very cheerful young man, and as he talked to Jeff he let slip words like “family unit” and “the Church.” Jeff began to be suspicious, wondering if this young man might be a member of the Church. The serviceman then asked, “What would you think if I told you I didn’t smoke or drink coffee or alcohol either? And if I told you that at 26 years of age I’m morally clean?” Jeff pretended to be shocked and said, “Is that right?” The serviceman asked, “Do you think there is something wrong with that?” Jeff said, “No, every man has the right to choose what he wants to do.” Then the young man began to bear his testimony about the truthfulness of the gospel and in the process told him that he had had the privilege of baptizing 15 people in the last six years. As the bus pulled into the station where he was to get off, the serviceman again bore his testimony, got off the bus, and disappeared into the crowd.

Jeff was struck with amazement. He thought to himself, “Here I am wallowing in self-pity and this young man with as many problems as I have is out facing the world positively. Here I sit criticizing myself and everything around me.” Right then Jeff knew what he must do in Las Vegas. He kept saying over and over to himself, “I’ve got to take hold of myself. I must get out of this hole and off of the defensive. He arrived in Las Vegas and did meet his friend, but this time Jeff was in charge. He returned home with his faith strengthened and thankful that the Lord had provided a “man of the hour.”

Will that young serviceman ever know that he was talking to another member of the Church? Will he ever know that he was in tune with the Lord and, as an instrument in His hands, saved Jeff from most undesirable consequences?

The other young man was a missionary. As mission president of the Uruguay-Paraguay Mission I received a letter from a nonmember, writing me from Asunción, Paraguay. In essence this is what he wrote:

“I had been in the President Strossner Airport in Asunción, Paraguay, waiting for a flight, when a young North American missionary approached me.

“I learned quickly that the missionary was going home, having finished his mission. In fact, they were in the process of calling the young missionary’s flight. This missionary took the time, in spite of the fact that he was leaving the country, to sit by me for a moment, share his testimony, and leave me the tract ‘The Word of Wisdom.’ It puzzled me as to why he would do that when he was going home and had already completed his mission. He had no reason to approach me, but he carried the Spirit with him, and I am sure that I felt it as well.

“I have since read the tract ‘The Word of Wisdom’ and feel that the words from Joseph Smith contained therein are true. I particularly want you to know what a great missionary you have, as I felt the Spirit of the Lord through him. Could you please send representatives of your Church to teach me the gospel so that I might become a member of the Mormon church?”

I have often wondered how that missionary will feel in the next life, if not in this world, when he finally comes to know that man. The man may say, “Elder so-and-so, don’t you know me?” And the elder will say, “No, I don’t.” “Look again, elder, don’t you remember?” The elder will probably say, “No, have I met you before?”

Then the man will say, “Don’t you remember the events in the airport in Asunción, Paraguay, in May of 1977? I am the one to whom you bore testimony. You were responsible for me, and because of you, I was baptized.” And then he will turn and with a motion say, “And so was she, my wife, and these, my five children, and their children and their children’s children. In fact, all of these hundreds, elder, came into the Church because of you. God bless you for having not been afraid and for having obeyed the counsel the Lord gave when he said, ‘But with some I am not well pleased, for they will not open their mouths, but they hide the talent which I have given unto them, because of the fear of man. Wo unto such, for mine anger is kindled against them’ (D&C 60:2).” This young elder one day will have great joy as he realizes that what he thought was of little value or just “seed planting” bore a plentiful harvest.

The unselfish acts of these two young servants of the Lord are certainly recorded in heaven. The Lord knows them both well. I am sure he has made good use of them in other instances because of their willingness to listen to the promptings of the Spirit.

Many people are so wrapped up in their own feelings, thoughts, and selfish desires that it becomes difficult for the Lord to inspire them and use them as instruments in his hands to accomplish his purposes.

You are a royal generation of youth. Continue to go forth and let your righteous influence be felt. The Lord will accomplish miracles through you. I pray that each of you will always listen for the promptings of the Spirit and have the courage to follow its direction.

Photo by Jed Clark