Where Love Is
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“Where Love Is,” New Era, Apr. 1999, 12

Where Love Is

Near England’s Stonehenge, the Ralph family is building its own monument—one dedicated to charity and Christlike service.

Stonehenge—one of history’s mysteries. Every year millions of people travel to Salisbury Plain, England, to visit this ancient monument. What most people don’t know, however, is that, tucked away nearby in the remote village of Kingston Deverill, lives the Ralph family, whose history is as rich as Stonehenge and whose acts of charity are as monumental.

Meet Edwin, 17, Emmanuel, 16, Martha, 13, and Sophia, 8, descendants of King Alfred the Great. Their daily schedules are as busy as most young people their age, with school, church, and sports; but their household responsibilities are unusual. They, along with their parents and grandparents, live in Kingston House, where they care for five mentally challenged men. The five residents are between ages 33 and 71. They have multiple learning disabilities with their mental ages ranging from two to five years. They need constant supervision. With the extended Ralph family, each child plays an important role in the running of this unusual home where service and charity are taught and learned daily.

Early each morning, Sophia scrambles out of bed, wakes her father, then helps him make breakfast for the family of 11. Later on Martha washes up, Emmanuel vacuums, and Edwin supervises bathing sessions. As the Ralph children interact with their less able “brothers,” their love for these men radiates. “They bring a lot of laughter into our lives,” smiles Edwin, a priest in the Yeovil Branch, Bristol England Stake. “You learn to develop patience and a sense of humor.”

He relates a story of one man who came to their home after living in an institution for most of his life. “The first thing he did was to vacuum the toilet. He had learned to vacuum and did it very well. When he arrived, he asked us if he could use the vacuum cleaner, which we thought was great—until it went up in smoke.”

There’s never a dull moment at Kingston House. Caring for the men is a full-time job, which the family happily shares among them.

Emmanuel explains the feelings he has towards the men whom he sees as brothers. “I know they’re special people, and it’s my responsibility to help them. They have boys’ spirits in men’s bodies, and it is refreshing to be around them.”

Emmanuel dreams of being a professional cricket player one day. He shares this dream with the residents by playing cricket with them on a regular basis. In fact, all the Ralphs are cricket fans and will challenge anyone to a match in their backyard. The sport enables the disabled men and non-LDS friends and neighbors to come together. Once the game begins, barriers vanish, and the participants lose themselves in fun.

Martha, who plays for Dorset Girls Cricket Team, enjoys watching her friends overcome their fear of the patients. “At first they’re a bit scared,” she says. “We forget at times that they are mentally disabled until we see the reaction of other people to them. After a while they get to know the men and see them in a different light. We all have a great time.”

As a Beehive in Young Women, Martha realizes that the time she spends with the residents has helped her learn to view others less judgmentally. “Because of the experience I’ve had with our residents, I realize that other people need help too. It’s not good to hold prejudices. Christ never did.”

The gospel gives Edwin a clearer perspective. “It’s nice to know they are spirits just like me, and there is a purpose for their disability here. I want to help them live the best lives they can. It will be brilliant to see them in the Resurrection. I look forward to meeting them in the next life when their bodies are perfect.”

One of the residents, Roy, was 46 when Sophia was age two. Because Roy’s mental age was the same as Sophia’s, they became best friends. Brother Ralph describes how they played together and followed each other around. “Now Sophia is eight, and Roy looks up to her as his big sister. Mentally he’s still a two-year-old.” It’s touching to watch them walk hand in hand down the lane to the lambing fields. When it’s spring, Sophia takes Roy to see the newborn lambs, an outing they both cherish.

Brother Ralph serves on the high council of the Bristol Stake. He’s pleased with the spirit of charity the residents have brought into his home. “The children feel it’s quite natural for them to help the disabled men. Giving them attention and time is not a burden; it’s a benefit. There’s no question in my mind that we’ve been blessed.”

Where there are obstacles, there are also talents. The family believes that the men have been blessed with unique gifts despite their limitations. One has a great memory and always knows where everything is. Another is shy until he gets involved in sports, when he forgets himself and his skills come out. Yet another is an artist, even though he is partially blind and deaf. And another is a natural clown. He is a genius at remembering names and voices.

Another source of enjoyment for the Ralphs is missionary work. The Yeovil Branch which they attend is 28 miles away with an average attendance of 75 members. Eleven years ago, when Edwin and Emmanuel were six and five, they helped to convert their grandparents. “It was exciting to teach my parents,” says Brother Ralph. “The children are not afraid to share the gospel with others, and this has made the world of difference in our lives.”

The Ralphs’ missionary work also extends to family history. When they traced their family lines, they discovered they were descendants of King Alfred the Great. It also happens that the standing stones mentioned in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, King Alfred’s meeting place with his troops in 878 A.D. where he made plans to battle the Danes, are on the Ralphs’ land. These two five-foot stones form part of their family shield. The wooden coat of arms also displays the motto “Honor, Truth, and Excellence.” These qualities reflect in their lives as a family as they serve those in need.

Photography by Mathew Van Orden

(Left) Martha, 13, teaches one of the men her family cares for how to hold a cricket bat. (Below) The Ralph family—including Edwin, 17, Emmanuel, 16, Martha, and Sophia, 8—pose with their father and four of the mentally challenged men they lovingly serve.

(Left) Walking down the lane to visit their pets. The latest count includes eight dogs, four cats, four ducks, a Shetland pony, a goat, chickens, rabbits, a hamster, and a school of fish. (Left inset) Edwin, with one of the residents, wants to work with animals, so he gets to look after the mini-zoo. (Right inset) Kingston House, where the Ralph family lives. When they did their genealogy, the Ralphs discovered they had descended from King Alfred the Great. Now they serve another King by following His example of caring for those in need.