Awakening to another glorious day in the Pacific, there was an added eagerness for the flight to the zone conference on one of the many islands in the mission. Much planning and preparation had gone into the lessons and talks to be presented. The missionaries always seemed hungry for that special spirit which accompanied these monthly meetings. They enjoyed seeing the President, and reacquainting themselves with others laboring daily to save precious souls.
A smooth flight over sparkling deep blue ocean, and a well maneuvered landing on the small strip of a runway made me feel quite confident this would be an edifying and enjoyable day.
My spiritual message had been given much thought, as the theme of the month revolved around “charity” (the pure Love of Christ). I had chosen to speak about Christ and His pure love that was given to the leper in the New Testament. Seeing the faith and great desire this condemned one had, Jesus had reached out with compassion extending far beyond the written laws of man, and healed him with His touch.
Our plane had been met by two scrubbed smiling missionaries, and we had been escorted to the meetinghouse where the chorus of Polynesian voices welcomed us. So far it had been a day of perfection.
As one elder presented his message, the Mission President leaned over to me and asked if I would accompany him on a short errand to town. I followed him out to the car, and we made a quick dash to the store. The President went towards the building, and he was met by a middle-aged man with eyes that were bloodshot and somewhat bulging. His hair was all but gone, and his wide grin revealed gross neglect of his teeth.. His mannerisms and loud voice quickly gave away the fact that he was intoxicated.
Not caring that we were in a hurry to get back to our Conference, the impoverished man grabbed the President’s hand and held onto it tightly as he cunningly asked for a few dollars (no doubt to buy yet more liquor). My first reaction at the scene across the street was of irritation and disgust.
This was not the first time, nor probably will be the last, that beggars had told their sad stories and asked for just a few dollars so they could quench their insatiable thirst.
I tried to wait patiently, but as the time dragged on, and I knew I would be giving my message shortly, I tried to motion for the President to come. To my great astonishment and displeasure, the President escorted the beggar across the street, and before I knew it, he told him to get into the back seat of the car. The drunkard could barely find his way in, but when he did, he inconsiderately sat right on the meager refreshments we had brought for the conference break, making them inedible.
The stench from his perspiration mixed with alcohol made me queasy, and when he offered his grimy hand as a token of friendship to me, I winced and coiled away from him. Again he extended his hand and made some comments about how happy he was to see me, but I stayed stiff and immobile.
How could the President let this man into the car, anyway? I muttered a few quiet words of complaint to him as he started the car and began to drive around the block and up the street. Suddenly we stopped. As I peered out the window, I saw a woman, carrying a small child and with several others clinging to her skirts or trailing after her.
President told the man to get out of the car and stay with his wife and children, and then promised him that after the conference he would bring some food for his family. The man obviously didn’t want to share his good fortune and hesitated, but with a bit of prodding from the President, he finally stepped out and stood with his family. The wife and children were shoddily dressed and looked hungry.
As we journeyed to the conference, the President revealed to me that this man had once been an active member of the church. He had been a strong handsome lad, having been in sports and other activities. Now with a wife and 13 children, he had been taken in by various types of activities, which had led him into the habits to which he was so obviously bound.
Back again finally at the meetinghouse, I gathered my notes and stepped up to present my message. I began confidently, and as my message about the true love of Christ began, suddenly I was struck by the realization that I had failed a simple test moments earlier.
The talk had been so easy to prepare and find materials for in the scriptures, yet I was unable to even do what I was preaching about. The man we had picked up didn’t suffer from leprosy, but a similar infirmity, which cried out as desperately as the lepers had in the scriptures. My response had been that of the natural man, not the loving touch of the Savior. Perhaps an understanding, patient and loving person could change the course of this unfortunate family’s future.
There had been many conferences before and many to follow, but this one stood out as a great lesson for me. I resolved to be more in tune with what the Lord would have me do.
I shall long remember the example of a charitable Mission President, who later kept his promise by returning to the family with some food, and also had a greater appreciation for the simple but extraordinary loving act of the Savior’s touch.