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The Visitor--an inspirational short story series

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For The Strength of Youth

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    Ch. 44 The Wisdom of the Wise
Submitted by Steven ODell on 26 April 2009 - 11:47pm. | | | |

The Weak Things of the Earth
Steven G. O'Dell © 2009

By small means doth the Lord accomplish great things.

It was one of the strangest experiences I have ever had in my life, but also one of the most powerful. My name is Lawrence Devine. I was always kidded in school about my name. The boys would tease the girls in front of me--'You need to date Larry 'cause he's so divine'. The girls would blush with embarrassment and discomfort and the boys would laugh out loud at them and at me. All I wanted to do was disappear into the woodwork.

At home and at church it was different. The general approach by parents and Sunday School teachers was to remind me often that a name like Devine was no accident, but a gift from God to keep me on the straight and narrow path. Needless to say, being a good boy at heart, I liked this approach much better.

The time eventually came for me to serve a mission for the Lord. I was excited that I might be called to anywhere but a place with the small town attitude and mentality in which I had grown up. I was a Kansas farm boy at heart and always would be, but it didn't mean I had no desire to explore the world and stretch my imagination a bit. When my call came that I would serve in Chicago, Illinois, I was thrilled. The thrill lasted until about two weeks into my first assigned area.

“Elder Devine, you should be able to teach the first discussion by now. What's the trouble?”

Elder Johnson was my companion. He was from Utah and was a gung-ho missionary all the way. I considered myself fortunate to have been assigned as his trainee. He had an eye for detail and a desire to obey precisely all the mission rules. But for some reason, I almost felt he was too perfect. I struggled to memorize the discussions and he just absorbed them like a sponge. The more he learned, the more he wanted. The more I learned, the more fell out the other side of my brain. I was frustrated, to say the least.

“Elder Johnson, I don't know why I can't seem to hang onto what I learn. I want so much to make a difference. I want to be a top-notch missionary. I just can't memorize and keep it all in my head. I do have a testimony of what we are teaching, though. I know beyond doubt that the church is true and we have a real prophet. Somehow that doesn't seem enough right now. Maybe it was a mistake for me to come on a mission.”

“Elder Devine, I don't want to hear the word 'can't' come from your mouth anymore. And I want you to remember that you've only been here two weeks. You have a lot to learn and you'll get more comfortable as time goes on, okay?”

I nodded my head, grateful for the words of encouragement, but not necessarily convinced of their accuracy. I needed more faith than what I currently had, if I was to believe that a Kansas farm boy could ever make a difference in anyone's life but his own. That conviction only became stronger in the following weeks. We had been invited to the home of a man who said he was interested in speaking with us, but it became apparent after some time that he was a tougher nut to crack than either Elder Johnson or myself ever expected. It seemed a constant stream of questions that we had trouble answering to his satisfaction and constant distractions from the lesson outlines we were obligated to follow. It became frustrating very quickly.

One Sunday my companion and I got to church a bit later than we had planned, due to a bicycle malfunction that we hadn't foreseen. As we entered the foyer, seated on the couch was a Brother who looked our way and smiled warmly, nodding his head in welcome. It appeared he had also come late and was waiting for the right opportunity to enter the chapel area without causing too much disturbance for others, so we sat and joined him until that chance should come.

“Brethren, how is the work going for you?” he asked softly.

“Fine”, said Elder Johnson. I wasn't convinced of that myself and I guess it must have shown on my face.

“Seems your companion has a different opinion.” It was a statement and not a question. It rather took me by surprise at the time. I didn't know what to say. Should I open up and betray my companion's faith in the progress we were supposedly making, or should I remain silent about the challenges, as he had?

Before I knew it, the discomfort of the silence and this Brother's intense stare pried open my lips and I began to spill out all my concerns. I'm not sure how Elder Johnson took it. I didn't look in his direction, for some reason. All I know is that this good Brother took it all in and listened intently to every word. Not once did he interrupt. When I was about exhausted of information, he nodded thoughtfully, smiled and proceeded to tell me nearly the same things that Elder Johnson had advised. I guess I was somewhat disappointed, until he added a few further words.

“The most powerful thing you have is a personal testimony of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ, Elder. So long as you remember that, it doesn't matter what comes your way. No power on earth can take it from you, if you will keep your lines of communication open to the One who gave you that testimony.”

He spoke with a quiet, but intense power that seemed to penetrate to my very core. I knew he was right and something told me that I had within me more strength than I had previously guessed. But why would it be different coming from him than from Elder Johnson?

“And further, you don't need to answer every little petty concern that is voiced. Just as you took on faith the principles of the gospel until you had a firm witness of the Spirit, so must everyone else do the same. Don't let anyone dictate to you how to teach or not teach. You have a divine commission to proclaim the gospel in the manner that the Lord has prescribed and in no other way but by the dictates of the Spirit. And you have the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost, if you live worthily. Joseph Smith was a farm boy and you just remember what he accomplished with the help of God.”

That speech had left such an impression on me that I was transformed immediately. No longer was I the uncertain Kansas farm boy who would be easily swayed with every turn and whim of the world. No question would derail my mission to teach in the Lord's way.

My newfound confidence was not in vain, either, for upon our very next visit to the home of the man we had labeled “The Questioner”, I took a different path.

“Well, Elders, I would like to know why you think fasting is so important. It doesn't make sense to me to do such a thing. We live in modern times and have no need of such things as the less civilized peoples of the past might have considered important.”

Elder Johnson, who was looking quite wearied, was about to open his mouth in answer to this question when I interrupted.

“Mr. Carnine, answer me this: Is it better to serve the Lord in faith until he reveals the wisdom of it or to obey the philosophies of the world and what it perceives as logic?” I then waited with a focused intensity that must have rivaled that of the good Brother who had counseled me earlier.

After a moment of stunned silence, the answer came hesitantly. “Well,...to obey the Lord, of course.” He stopped and waited, unsure of what was to come next or of what else to say.

“Then perhaps we could trust that God has his reasons for asking us to obey in this one small matter and we can get back to our lessons on the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. I am sure that if you will be patient with us, you will find answers to nearly all your questions. We often find that many things an investigator might ask on his own are not so important as the truths that we, as trained missionaries, might reveal when allowed to do so. I testify before God and man that what we have brought you the most important message known to the modern world. The true and restored church of Jesus Christ is once again upon the earth, with all the accompanying blessings and saving ordinances. That's something you want for you and your family, isn't it?”

Even Elder Johnson looked surprised, but he recovered quickly and we went on with the lesson, uninterrupted and with questions of a much more sincere nature being asked afterward. A true change had taken place, not only in me, but in our investigator. I felt the power of God right down to my toes and felt a gratitude that I had never experienced previously.

Two more lessons with this same investigator went as smooth as silk and I could scarcely wait until Sunday to tell the good Brother what had happened. I realized I had never gotten his name and I was anxious to do so.

We never did see this Brother again. After relating our tale completely and describing him to the Bishop in great detail, we were told there was no such man in the ward that he could recall. He also told me that if ever again I did see the man, I should ask him to contact the Bishop, who was more than a little interested in speaking with him.

At our next meeting with Mr. Carnine, we were pleased to hear him say that he wanted to be baptized into the church, as he had felt the Spirit in our words and that the power of God was in our admonition. That was a wonderful thing to hear him say, of course, because only a few short days before he had been rather obstinate and unreachable. But what truly shocked Elder Johnson and me was when Mr. Carnine told us he wanted us to come speak to his congregation—he was a minister of a Protestant church congregation. In his own words, “I think if they need to hire a new pastor, they should at least have some idea as to the reason, don't you?” We had to agree completely.

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