As a parent, there is not much worse than having a child get lost. I can remember being at the children's museum a few years ago with my three kids. I don't recall exactly how it happened, but somehow Ella wandered off and I couldn't find her. I looked around the area we were playing in, but she wasn't there. Then I searched in some nearby areas, but I couldn't see her. I was beginning to panic. I was so worried for her safety. After looking for a couple of minutes, I was about to speak to an employee when I saw an employee coming down the stairs with Ella. I have never been so relieved in my life. She had somehow made it to an upper floor. She hadn't meant to get lost. I had done my best to find her, but I needed help to find her. We were both so relieved and grateful to be reunited.
A couple of years ago, a teenage girl in our neighborhood ran away from home. The parents searched and searched for her. Many neighbors and ward members prayed for her and shared her picture and did what they could to help her be found. Eventually she was found, and she was okay.
Just over a week ago, a friend called me. I was driving home from a meeting at my kids' school, and it was about 7 at night. Her son had not come home from school, hours before. She asked me to pray that they could find him. I know that others prayed for him to be found safely and some others helped search the neighborhood. The child's grandparent was prompted to call a specific neighbor and was able to find the child.
Last Sunday, as I listened to another lesson on missionary work, I began pondering these experiences. It struck me that this is exactly what missionary work is...finding the lost, the wandering. Sometimes those lost are lost through no fault of their own. They have not yet been taught the gospel, and they are "kept from the truth because they know not where to find it." (D&C 123:5) Sometimes they have willfully chosen to leave out of anger, pride, misunderstanding, sin, etc. But it doesn't matter. A loving parent searches for the wandering child regardless of the reason they are lost. They reach out for help to find their missing child. Our Heavenly Father is a perfect parent and wants each of us to find safety and peace. But just as I couldn't find Ella alone and these friends of mine needed others to help them find their missing child, we are each needed to help in the search for our lost brothers and sisters. A member of our Bishopric has often shared that he and his wife pray daily that someone will be able to touch the hearts of their children who have strayed...that for whatever reason, they are unable to rescue them, to bring them back to the safety of the gospel. Often it takes the love and concern and example of someone who cares but is not an immediate family member to come to the rescue to save a wandering spouse, child or sibling... or in reality, it takes the joint effort of both family and neighbors to find the one who is lost and bring them back home. We do this as we faithfully love and serve those we home and visit teach. We do this as we joyfully live the gospel and share our testimonies with others. We do this as we invite others to meet with the missionaries. We do this as we reach out in friendship and service to our neighbors, friends and family. And most importantly, we do this as we listen to the whisperings of the Holy Ghost. We do not know which of our Father's children is lost but ready to return home. But our Father knows which hearts are yearning for the safety and peace of home. He can help us find those who are lost and bring them back to safety.
Another thought I keep having about this is that when a child is missing, there is a feeling of urgency. You drop whatever you are doing and search for that lost child. There should also be a feeling of urgency when it comes to missionary work...there are so many that need to find the truth, and while the peril may not seem as great as when a child is missing, the danger is just as real and prevalent.
I keep pondering the parable of the lost sheep in Luke 15:4-7 where the Shepherd leaves the ninety and nine to seek out the one that is lost. There is a great talk about this parable given by President Howard W. Hunter in 1986 entitled "Make Us Thy True Undershepherds." President Hunter said, "The Lord, our Good Shepherd, expects us to be his undershepherds and recover those who are struggling or are lost."...
He then quotes Hymn 221 which is beautiful:
"Hark! he is earnestly calling,
Tenderly pleading today:
"Will you not seek for my lost ones,
Off from my shelter astray?"
"Make us thy true undershepherds;
Give us a love that is deep.
Send us out into the desert,
Seeking thy wandering sheep."
I hope I can be more diligent in seeking the lost and bringing them safely home.