Monday, June 23, 2014

Help Wanted: Visiting Teachers Who Love and Serve

We had a wonderful visiting teaching seminar last week.  My presidency and my visiting teaching coordinator and supervisors helped plan it and most of them spoke.  I took notes on what was said, because I was certainly inspired to be a better visiting teacher.  Our theme was "Help Wanted:  Visiting Teachers Who Love and Serve" and was based on Sister Burton's talk.  (I, of course, have more of my remarks because I had written them down in advance.  The others'  I took notes on but only captured some of what they said.)
Here are my remarks:
Visiting teaching....when I attended the General Relief Society Meeting, I was so inspired by the words of our Primary, Young Women's and Relief Sciety Leaders and by President Eyring.  I was touched by the theme of keeping covenants.   But one talk especially touched my heart... Sister Burton's talk...Wanted, Hands and Hearts to Hasten the Work.  And as I listened, I felt very inspired that this should be the theme for our visiting teaching seminar.   Because truly, your help IS wanted.   Your help IS NEEDED to hasten the work, to strengthen the ward, to bless your own and others' lives.  We need visiting teachers who are willing to use their hands and hearts to minister.  help wanted:  visiting tachers to love, to rescue, help wanted VTers  to do missionary work, help wanted...visting teachers to be a friend.  As you do these things, you are keeping your baptismal covenants. 

Mosiah 18...when we are baptized we covenant to be witnesses of God at all times, to take his name upon us.  We also covenanted to mourn with those who mourn, comfort those in need of comfort.  As we minister to those we visit teach, we are keeping those baptism covenants.  We are being witnesses of God, and we are serving and comforting those in need of comfort.

I know we have all heard the quote from Pres Kimball:  "God does watch over us and notice us but it is usually through someone else that he meets our need."  I have found that to be true...and I think that is true because when we have the opportunity to bless others' lives and meet their needs, it blesses them but it blesses us as well.   I testify that He is aware of us.

Sister Barbara Thompson gave a beautiful talk about visiting teaching in Oct 2010.  Her talk was based around the scripture in Jude 1:22..."And of some had compassion, making a difference".  Your love for those you visit teach, DOES make a difference.  I testify of that.  
Expand our circles a little wider...already doing so much good through positive words,  compassionative service, friendships, etc.... Now just widen the circle of who we include in that service, friendship and love.  

I know visiting teaching can feel hard at times.  It can feel like one more responsibility on a plate that often already feels full.  I understand.  But  I also understand that it is one of the BEST ways to bless the lives of every sister in our ward and I testify that when we honor our baptismal and temple covenants, the Lord blesses us so abundantly.  In her talk, Wanted, Hands and Hearts to Hasten the Work, Sister Burton said, "sometimes we are tempted to turn back or give up because maybe we think we can't do it alone.  And we are right!  We cannot do the difficult things we have been asked to do without help.  Help comes from the Atonement of Jesus Christ, the guidance of the Holy Ghost and the helping hands of others...You have been sent to earth in this dispensation of time because of who you are and what you have been prepared to do!  Regardless of what Satan would try to persuade us to think about who we are, our true identity is that of a disciple of Christ!"  And disciples of Christ love and serve and minister.

So I want to focus on one aspect of visiting teaching...prayer.  Prayer changes hearts...your heart and those you visit teach.  Praying for those you visit teach will increase your love for them and can change visiting teaching from a burden to a blessing!  It will change your heart.  And it may soften their heart too.

Sister Thompson said, "not all experiences related to visiting teaching are warm and wonderful.  Sometimes it is hard, such as visiting a home where you really aren't welcome or when it is difficult to meet with a sister with a very busy schedule.  It may take longer to build a good relationship with some sisters.  But when we really seek to love, care for and pray for the sister, the Holy Ghost will help us find a way to watch over and strengthen her."  That's a great promise!

Sister Barbara Thompson said, "personal revelation and spiritual experiemces are closely connected to Visiting teaching.  I have experienced some of the most humbling, joyful, spiritual events of my life as I have sat in the homes of the women of my own ward.... We have taught one another the gospel.  We have cried together, we have laughed together, solved problems together, and I have been lifted and blessed."  Wow!!  As many of you know, I have been seeking to learn more about the Holy Ghost this year and seeking to recognize and respond to the promptings I receive.  One thing I have noticed, over and over, is that most of my promptings relate to opportunities to serve, often those I visit teach.  

She tells of visiting teachers in Alaska that live hundreds of miles apart.  To have face to face visits in their homes isn't possible, but she explained that these women are very close.  She said, "These sisters felt closely connected because they were fervently praying for one another, and were seeking the guidance of the Holy Spirit to know what their sisters needed, even though they were not there in person very often."

President Monson said, "We are surrounded by those in need of our attention, our encouragement, our support, our comfort, our kindness.... We are the Lord's hands here upon the earth, with the mandate to serve and to lift his children.  He is dependent upon each of us..."

 Prayers of righteous change hearts, as they did Alma the Younger.  Mosiah 27:14  the combined prayers of the people AND his father led to an angel visiting Alma the younger. If we unite our prayers in behalf of those who are less active and remember that they are beloved daughters, mothers, sisters, etc., many of them will come back.

Sister Thompson says, "The beauty of visiting teaching is not to see 100% on the monthly report, the beauty is seeing lives changed, tears wiped away, testimonies growing, people loved, families strengthened, people cheered, the hungry fed, the sick visited and those who are mourning comforted.  Actually visiting teaching is never done because we watch over and strengthen always."   

I told about the best visiting teacher I ever had.  At a time when we only had one car, she called regularly to see if I needed a ride to church.  She had my family over for dinner.   When Ella was having open heart surgery, her husband helped my husband administer to Ella.  Most months she came and visited and brought a message, but it was okay if she missed a month because I KNEW she cared about me and she helped me in countless ways.  I knew I could call her if I needed anything.

And the only way we can really accomplish all of these beautiful things is if we are praying earnestly for those we visit teach.  Praying to know what their needs are, praying that their hearts will be softened to let us in, praying to know whether to share a spiritual message, just listen, or dig in and provide service.  Praying to know whether our hearts, our hands or both will most be needed to bless the lives of our sisters.  With some sisters you may have a prayer with them in their home, share the VT message and visit.  With others, your visit may include only a very brief message and may focus more on building a friendship.  Other visits may focus on providing a service...helping the sister with something she needs, caring for her children when she has an appointment, folding laundry while you talk.  You will need to ask the sister what type of visit will most bless her life, and you will need to be sensitive to the spirit.  But as you pray daily for those you visit teach, you will find that they are on your mind.  You might find that thoughts pop into your head about activities to invite them to, times when you should call or stop by or may be prompted to drop off a meal, or perform some other act of service.  As your hands and heart go to work, lives will be blessed....your own and those you serve.

Let me close with the words of Sister Bonnie Oscarson, given at the General Women's Meeting.  She quoted Sister Hinckley who said, "Oh, how we need each other!  Those of us who are old need you who are young.  And, hopefully, you who are young need some of us who are old.  It is a sociological fact that women need women.  We need deep and satisfying  and loyal friendships with each other!"  Then Sister Oscarson said, "I extend to you an invitation that was issued once before by a Relief Society General President who said, "I invite you to not only love each other more but love each other better."  May we realize just how much we need each other, and may we all love each other better."
Tatiana's topic was Help Wanted:  A Friend:
A friend is someone you like and enjoy being with.  They help you and support you.  Friends make it easier to live the gospel.  A friend is honest and loyal...friendship requires commitment.
Tatiana quoted D&C 130:2  "And that same sociality which exists among us here will exist among us there, only it will be coupled with eternal glory, which glory we do not now enjoy."
She read a few quotes from Marvin J. Ashton's talk What is a Friend?
One quote was this one:
President Abraham Lincoln was once criticized for his attitude toward his enemies. “Why do you try to make friends of them?” asked an associate. “You should try to destroy them.”
“Am I not destroying my enemies,” Lincoln gently replied, “when I make them my friends?”
She also shared this wonderful quote from Elder Ashton:  "Yes, a friend is a person who is willing to take me the way I am but who is willing and able to leave me better than he found me."

Tatiana also shared a story from Daughters in my Kingdom of a woman who visit taught a less active sister.  The sister never let her in, just stood at the door with the screen closed and spoke to her for a few minutes through the screen each month.  One day, the sister got a phone call from her Bishop.  This woman she visit taught had just had a baby and it had died. She asked that her visiting teacher be at the funeral and said, "She was my only friend."  We never know the difference we are making in someone's life.
Jami's topic was Help Wanted:  Visiting Teachers Who Serve
 Jami shared that she used to think VT is just a visit and then at the end asking, "Do you need anything?" and then going on her way.   But Mosiah 2: 17 tells us "when you are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God."  We should be trying to meet the physical, spiritual and emotional needs of those we visit teach.

As sisters, we need one another.  She shared a story (from Daughters in my Kingdom) of a woman named Veara Fife.  She had both legs amputated, and did not want to be a burden to others.  One day her daughter came over and saw that the visiting teachers had been there and cleaned her house.  Her daughter was embarrassed and said that they would be hiring a cleaning woman.  The visiting teachers "explained how much they had enjoyed their visit with Sister Fife in her home.  Her positive attitude had lifted their sights, and she had helped them, in turn, with their genealogy.'Please don't deny us these blessings,' the visiting teachers said."  Pretty profound:  Please don't deny us these blessings.

Jami shared two experiences when she was able to serve those she visit teaches, and how that had blessed her life and helped her to love these women more.

Stefanie's topic was Help Wanted:  An Example
Stefanie pointed out that Christ is our example and we should follow Him and do as He did.  She said that as a girl she thought visiting teachers were just people who dropped off a meal when your mom had a baby or helped if the family had a problem but you never saw them the rest of the time.
She said that we need to be an example and quoted from a talk by Elder Russell M. Nelson Be Thou An Example of the Believers.  He talked about living according to Christ's teachings.  As we do this, the light of the Lord will beam from our eyes.  She read Matthew 5:14-16.  She told a wonderful story of her sweet children.  One day, someone at Lowes asked her son where he was from.  He responded, "I came from Heaven.  Heavenly Father sent me to my mom and dad.  I am a child of God."  Then he proceeded to sing "I am a Child of God" at the top of his lungs all through Lowes.  He knows who he is, and he isn't afraid to share it.  We, too, can be confident in our beliefs and be committed members.  We can do as the Primary Song says, "I'm Trying to be Like Jesus."

Susan's topic was Help Wanted:  Visiting Teachers Who Heed Promptings

Susan shared this quote:  "You'll either be a great example or a terrible warning."
Her brother recently spoke in sacrament meeting.  He served a mission in Guatemala in 1968.  He and his companion were teaching a man who smoked.  They were a bit nervous to see how he would react to the lesson on the Word of Wisdom.  When they taught the lesson, the man said, "Now that I know smoking is offensive to the Lord, I have smoked my last cigarette."   He quit, immediately.  Now, he recently let Susan's brother know, there are 96 active members in the church in his family.  If we know that neglecting our visiting teaching is offensive to the Lord, will we neglect it?

Obedience is the first law of heaven.  Obedience invites the spirit.  The spirit will guide us.  You will NEVER regret obedience.   Obedience leads us to want to serve others.

Jackie's topic was Help Wanted:  Visiting Teachers Who Share the Gospel

Jackie talked about the purpose of visiting teaching, both when it was first begun (originally, it was created primarily to provide for the temporal needs of the sisters) and now.   It is to watch over and strengthen and minister one-on-one to each sister.  Our charge is to truly love each sister.  It has two purposes:  to relieve the poor and to save souls.

Jackie read D&C 81:5 "Wherefore, be faithful; stand in the office which I have appointed unto you; succor the weak, lift up the hands which hang down, and strengthen the feeble knees."

As we do this, blessings will rain down on us.

Jackie shared some ideas for how we can share a message in an unintimidating way with nonmember or less active sisters.  We can mail a card or drop off a card if they aren't there when we try to visit.  We can take a copy of the Relief Society Announcements and then just hand it to them as we visit about other things and hopefully they will read it later.   We can take a small gift or treat with a scripture or inspirational story attached.  She had a plastic spoon with a cute story about how knives cut and forks are poky and that you should be a spoon, not a fork.  If we keep showing love, and keep showing up, then slowly those we visit teach will come to trust us and want us to visit.
Bishop then concluded the meeting:

First, he started by saying "You are amazing!"  We as men don't hold a candle to you....

He asked if we felt we had to be perfect.  Perfect at visiting teaching or perfect in general and reminded us that we don't have to be, we won't be.  We just keep trying and focus especially on those who have needs or who aren't active, and trust our Savior to make up the difference.  Use the Atonement.

He asked if we knew how many sisters are in our ward.  A few people guessed (I knew).  Then he told us:  154.  On average, we have about 1/3 that attend church.  That means that each of us has about 2-3 sisters that we are assigned to visit teach that are less active. If we have positive contacts with them, love them, some of them will come back.  We have been asked to hasten the work, and this is one way to help accomplish that.  We need these women.  Do we know who those sisters are that aren't with us?  Are we visiting them and inviting them?

He shared a  story from President Monson's talk in April 2014 conference.  Jabari Parker, a Mormon NCAA basketball player was given great advice by his dad:  "Just be the same person you are in the dark that you are in the light.”  We need to follow this counsel also.  To be the same person, no matter where we are or who we are with.

He ended by sharing this quote from Sister Burton's talk  Wanted: Hands and Hearts to Hasten the Work:
Years ago, Elder M. Russell Ballard issued a clarion call to the sisters of the Church when he said:
“Between now and the day the Lord comes again, He needs women in every family, in every ward, in every community, in every nation who will step forward in righteousness and say by their words and their actions, ‘Here am I, send me.’
“My question is, ‘Will you be one of those women?’”13
I hope each of us can answer with a resounding “Yes!”

Am I one of those women?  Can the Lord count  on me?

It was a beautiful meeting, and the spirit was there in abundance.  I am so thankful for the beautiful words, stories, and examples shared by so many (those who spoke, but also by the sisters who attended).  I am so thankful to be surrounded by so many wonderful women who really do bless others' lives on a daily basis.  And I am thankful for the wonderful visiting teaching program and the opportunity it gives us to minister one on one.