“Primary Purpose,” New Era, July 1998, 38
I am sitting across the table from Brother Fuller, a counselor in the bishopric. He phoned two days ago and had that tone in his voice that almost shouted “We have a calling for you!”
I’ve been off my mission for six weeks, and a calling sounds super. No doubt providing a little Christian service would be good for me.
“I’d like to talk with you about a calling, Nathan,” Brother Fuller says after a few minutes of pleasant conversation. “We need a teacher for the CTR six-year-old class. There are 13 children in the class, and Sister Swenson, the teacher, feels that is a little too many for one teacher alone to handle.”
Six-year-old CTRs? Me? Oh no. I do not want this calling. I’d rather serve somewhere else … priesthood chorister, cannery coordinator, the homemaking committee.
“Well, Nathan, what do you think?” Brother Fuller gently nudges me back into reality.
What can I say? For two years one of the things I’ve been teaching people about is the blessings of service.
“It will be fine, Brother Fuller. I’ll do it,” I say.
“Great. We will sustain you on Sunday. Nathan, I want you to know we feel very good about this calling.”
I wish I could say the same thing.
Sister Morrow, a counselor in the Primary, is wrapping up my orientation. “We’re so glad you’ll be teaching. We love having priesthood holders in the Primary. The children will really look up to you,” she says.
She hands me the class roll. Four boys and three girls.
“You only have one child who is not active, Parker Scott.”
“So what about him?” I ask.
Sister Morrow sighs. “A nice little guy. It’s just that his parents don’t come, so Parker doesn’t either. They’re new in the ward; they’ve only been here about four months. We don’t know much about them.”
Okay, so maybe I didn’t exactly put a ton of effort into preparing for my first class. I mean, it is about Abinadi, and I’ve only heard the story about a thousand times. So I kind of whip through the lesson manual and figure I can wing it a little.
I stand in front of my class. Wow. They’re so small. Three boys—Robert, Adam, and Zachary—in nice Sunday shirts, two of them wearing bow ties. And three girls—Amelia, Kelsey, and Morgan, all in cute little dresses, shiny shoes, ribbons, and bows in their hair.
“All right, we’re talking about Abinadi,” I say, after a round of introductions. “Abinadi was a prophet in the Book of Mormon. Everyone okay with that?”
I get six puzzled looks, but I decide to push on.
“Well, Abinadi was courageous and when the pressure was on, when he was in wicked King Noah’s court, and when King Noah told him to deny his testimony or be put to death …” The six little kids are squirming. I reach over and grab a picture, one that shows Abinadi testifying in front of King Noah and his priests. “Uh, see … here is what it looked like, according to one artist’s perception.”
One artist’s perception? The wiggles hit my class of six again. Back up, Nathan. You expect them to understand perception? I am beginning to feel a little too warm. Maybe I should have read the lesson a bit more. I nervously glance at the manual and pick up a phrase. “Uh, because of his righteousness, Abinadi was put to death by King Noah.”
I let out a breath of air. Robert raises his hand. “If Abinadi was good, why did he have to die? Wouldn’t Heavenly Father help him to get away?”
“Uh, good question, Robert. It has to do with, well, agency. You all understand what I mean by agency?”
Morgan and Amelia shake their heads. Zachary frowns and looks puzzled.
“Uh, let me start over,” I stammer.
“I wish Sister Swenson was here,” Adam murmurs.
My lesson the following week goes better. The CTRs seem to pay attention for part of it, and nobody begs for the return of Sister Swenson. It helps to read the manual, I realize, and begin preparing early in the week. The third week our lesson is about Ammon and King Lamoni. At the first mention of swords and the first hint of an impending battle, all six of the CTRs, shall I say, immediately focus.
“So Ammon was guarding the flocks when the bad guys come,” I say. “They thought there was only one of him and lots of us. We can take him. First they tried to use their slings and rocks on Ammon, but they couldn’t hit him because the Lord was protecting him.”
Six sets of blue and brown eyes are staring at me. “Next, they tried to use their clubs on him. But Ammon was strong, and he had faith and confidence. When the bad guys got close to him, he cut off their arms with his sword,” I say firmly.
“So he killed some of the bad guys and cut off the arms of others?” Robert asks.
“Yep. That’s the way it happened. Remember, the robbers would have killed Ammon if he didn’t fight them.”
“And then Ammon’s guys took the arms for the king to see?” Robert asks again.
There is a long pause as Robert digests this piece of information. Then he lets out his breath slowly.
“Cool!” he says.
Okay, everything is going great with the CTR-6 class. I enjoy teaching. I think about the kids all during the week. I know they like me. They are learning. So am I.
Why then do I not feel quite super about my calling? Something is missing.
After sacrament meeting, on my way to class, Sister Nakamura, the Primary secretary, hands me my roll. “There you go, Nathan. I noticed one of your class members has a birthday this week. Parker Scott.”
“I don’t know Parker Scott,” I say.
“Maybe you should,” she replies cheerfully.
“When is his birthday?”
Guess I know what I’ll be doing Tuesday after work.
Forty-eight hours later, on a warm, starry night, I pull my car to the side of Holly Knoll Drive and squint at the address. Yes, I’m at the right place.
Okay, Nathan, I think, you’ve done this a million times on your mission. Just go to the door, knock, and let the Spirit guide. My heart is pounding as I reach for the door.
A shaft of light pierces the dark evening air and a man—Parker’s father, I assume—stands in front of me, hands on hips.
“Is this the Scott family?”
“It is. Can I help you with something?”
“Well, I’m Parker’s Primary teacher in church and I came to wish him a happy birthday.”
The man frowns. At the mention of his name, Parker peers around his father at me. “Primary? Church? You sure you’ve got the right place?”
The tone in his voice kind of cools off the summer night.
“Yes, I’m sure. See, I teach the children Parker’s age.”
“Teach them what?”
I began, haltingly. “I teach them about a lot of things. I teach them … to try to choose the right. I teach them about their Father in Heaven. I teach them that the Savior loves them.”
My voice trails off. The man looks at me impassively. From inside the house, I notice someone moving. A woman steps forward to the door.
“Did I hear you are Parker’s Primary teacher?” she asks.
“Yes. My name is Nathan Davis. I’m the CTR-6 teacher.”
“He was telling me what he teaches the kids about,” the man says.
The woman bows her head. “Yes, I know, dear. I know what he wants to teach Parker. It’s okay.” She looks up at me. “I’m Parker’s mother, Karen Scott. I used to teach in the Primary—many years ago, though.”
My confidence picks up. “I’d really like to have Parker come. We have a great class. He’ll make new friends.”
“Yes, I’m sure he would,” says Sister Scott quietly.
“I could pick him up for Primary, if you’d like me to.”
Sister Scott seems lost in her thoughts for a moment. “Thank you, Nathan, but that won’t be necessary.”
My heart sinks. I thought we were getting somewhere.
She looks at me. “When does our ward meet?”
“Our meetings start at 11:30.”
A small smile crosses her face. “It has been too long. Parker, come here, please. There’s someone I’d like you to meet, honey.”
Suddenly, things feel very good.
Sharing time is ours in two weeks. I want it to be awesome.
I look at my six CTRs. “Okay, what shall it be for sharing time?”
Robert almost jets out of his chair, bursting with energy. “I know! I know!” he squeals.
“So, Robert, it looks like you have a great idea. Lay it on us, pal.”
“We need to do Ammon and the bad guys.”
A chorus of nodding heads accompanied by hisses of “Yes!” follows. So Ammon it is, presented by Brother Davis’s CTR-6 class. Of course, there is one big question left. Who is the star? Who plays Ammon?
I ask the question, half expecting a bit of a discussion and disagreement about who should get the starring role. Then I witness a moment of greatness, coming from a brown-haired little boy decked out in a white shirt and red bow tie. Zachary looks at me and says, “I think Parker should be Ammon because he’s new.”
“Do you want to, Parker?” I ask. He nods. “Everyone okay with that?” I ask the rest of the class. They are, and central casting’s job is finished. “Okay, we’ll practice in class next week; then we’ll do it for real the following week.”
It’s Thursday evening, and I’m back at the Scott home. This time I have a Book of Mormon under my arm. I feel like a missionary again. The Scotts know I’m coming. I called a couple of days ago and told them that Parker had a part in a presentation and that I needed their help to pull it off.
Mr. Scott opens the door. He neither smiles nor frowns but invites me in. He sits on the couch, and Sister Scott walks in and joins him.
“As I mentioned, Parker has a part in this skit. He’s playing a man named Ammon, and I think it would be great if you could read the story of Ammon in this book. I marked where it is.” I stretch out my hand and give the Book of Mormon to Mr. Scott. “And if you could help Parker memorize his lines I would appreciate it.”
“Yes, we can do that,” Sister Scott says enthusiastically. “This is great. Parker has really enjoyed your class the last two weeks.”
“It’s great to have him there,” I say. We make small talk for a few more minutes; then I stand up to leave. This time Mr. Scott shakes my hand and says something about it’s nice that I’m taking an interest in his son.
As I walk to my car, I hear Sister Scott calling me.
“You’ve just accomplished something I had dreamed about for many years, but had almost given up hope on,” she tells me. I think her eyes are moist.
“What’s that?” I ask, surprised.
“My husband has a Book of Mormon in his hands for the first time.”
I think I’m as nervous as any Broadway director on opening night. The Primary room is full with children and parents. Sister Scott and her husband are near the back, awaiting our presentation.
After a brief introduction, my class production of “Ammon Guards the Flocks and Cuts off a Bunch of Arms” begins. Parker, dressed in a bathrobe and a sweat band around his head and carrying a cardboard sword, marches toward Kelsey and Adam, who are guarding the flocks.
“I am Ammon,” Parker says in a deep voice. “I fear no one because the Lord is my strength. We will protect the king’s flocks.”
Right on cue, three “bad” guys—Morgan, Zachary, and Adam—appear through the door to the Primary room.
“Oh, look Ammon! There are robbers who will steal the king’s sheep! They will slay us!” cries Robert, looking at the three stuffed sheep brought in as props by members of the class.
“And the king will be mad if we let the bad guys take his flocks!” worries Kelsey. “We must run!”
“Fear not!” says Parker. “Stay, and be of good cheer!”
But Kelsey and Robert run out the door. Parker turns and faces the audience. “They have little faith. But a man’s got to do what a man’s got to do,” he says, which I know doesn’t exactly come from the scriptures but gets across the general idea. Morgan, complete with a homemade fake moustache, announces, “Let’s attack! There is but one of him and many of us!” They load up their cardboard slingshots and pretend to fire away at Parker. “We cannot hit him!” says Zachary. “We must fight him with our clubs.”
The great cardboard battle ensues. Accompanied by anguished cries of “Ouch! That hurts!” the arms disappear inside the loose-fitting bathrobes and the vanquished thieves, minus arms, slink away.
About this time, Kelsey and Robert come back into the room, dragging a canvas bag. “We picked up their arms to prove to the king your mightiness,” Kelsey says. “Let us go to the king now.”
The three of them march to the other side of the room where King Lamoni, as played by Amelia, is pleased by the story and the bag of arms. Robert pulls out one of the arms, courtesy of an old doll, to show the suitably impressed king.
“Now tell me of your Great Spirit,” says Amelia, her fake beard quivering. At this point, Parker turns to the congregation and says, “As you know, the rest is history.”
Whew. Sharing time is over. And, in my humble opinion, it was awesome.
I’m back in the room with Brother Fuller. Ricks College has accepted my application, and I’ll be sitting in a classroom in less than a week. Trouble is, I can’t be a CTR teacher when I’m 600 miles away. This time Brother Fuller will release me from my calling. I already said good-bye to my class, which was only about the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do.
“You’ve done well in the class. We thank you for your efforts,” he says. “You’ve changed lives for the better, which is a teacher’s primary purpose.”
“Thanks, Brother Fuller. That class means a lot to me.”
“Perhaps I shouldn’t tell you this, but I would like to inform you of who will be taking your place. The new teacher is Sister Scott.”
Parker Scott’s mom is the new CTR-6 teacher? It all feels so right.
Two months later I pick up my mail and notice a letter with the scrawled return address of “Parker Scott” in the upper left corner of the envelope. I drop my economics and geology books right there at the curb and quickly open the letter.
“Dear Brother Davis, How are you? I am fine. My mom is our Primary teacher. The missionaries come by and talk to my dad. If he gets baptized, can you be there? Ammon is still my favorite story in the Book of Mormon. We miss you. Love, Parker Scott.”
And for so many good reasons, right there on the edge of the street, I raise my hand high into the air, shout “Yes!” and begin to laugh and cry at the same time.