I attended a really good stake conference today. Actually, I missed the first hour because I forgot it was stake conference, but what I did catch was pretty terrific. When I came in, the primary was singing a really nice arrangement of "I Feel My Savior's Love" combined with a song I wasn't familiar with called "I Know My Savior Love's Me." I quite enjoyed it.
A sister bore her testimony, we sang "Because I Have Been Given Much," and then the rest of the time was given to the visiting general authority, Elder Christopher B. Munday. I found him utterly charming, funny, and yet his message was very spiritual. I wish all talks could be as delightful as his was.
He first told a story of how he was a stake president one, and the visiting general authority had told them to be strict about their time. In doing so, there turned out to be some extra time. The visiting authority then pointed out a man way in the back to Elder Munday and said he wanted that man to bear his testimony. Elder Munday told the authority that was not the right guy, but the authority insisted. Elder Munday then went on to explain that when he was six years old he had gone to his first church meeting at an LDS branch, and this man had been a branch leader there. Elder Munday witnessed this man at this first meeting proclaim that he was never coming back to the church because of something someone had done to offend him.
In later years, Elder Munday was this man's branch president, bishop, and stake president and over the years he tried to reach out to this man. The man didn't want to have anything to do with the church and some of his family members became inactive as well. Elder Munday said that on this occasions when he would try to visit the man, he would turn out his lights and pretend he wasn't home.
This particular Sunday of the stake conference, he had dropped off his active daughter, but couldn't get out of the parking area because two cars had inadvertently pinned him in. His gas tank was almost at empty and it was a particularly cold day (this was in England). Rather than wait in the cold car he decided to, in his words, "burn with the Mormons" in the church house.
When asked by this visiting authority to get the man to bear his testimony, Elder Munday dumbfoundedly asked how the authority would go about getting that to happen. The authority replied, "Go out there and get him." Elder Munday walked to the very back of the room, which was filled with about 1,000 people and asked the man, who was dressed in jeans and old sweater and was unshaven and had his arms folded, to bear his testimony. The man refused. Elder Munday started back to the stand. He had only walked two or three feet when the authority motioned to him to bring him up. Elder Munday physically pulled the man out of his chair and escorted him to the stand.
The man, unhappy to be there, said simply, "I would like to say I know the church is true, but I cannot," and then left. Elder Munday looked at the authority as if to say, "I told you so," and was surprised to see the authority beaming. The authority leaned over and said, "Wasn't that wonderful?"
The meeting soon ended, and as Elder Munday headed toward his office, he saw the man charging toward him. The man grabbed him by his tie and said, "Was it you?!" Munday responded, "No, it was the authority." The man saw the general authority, rushed toward him, grabbed him by the tie and angrily repeated the same question, "Was it you?!" The authority said, "No, it was the spirit." The man stopped short and said he wanted to talk to Brother Munday and the visiting authority in Elder Munday's office.
As then men sat in Elder Munday's office, the man cried and said, "Why didn't somebody pull me out of my chair 22 years ago?" and with tears in his eyes said, "I've always known the church was true."
The man and many members of his family eventually went to the temple together. It had been 23 years since this man had stepped in the temple. At their temple recommend meeting, the man's wife looked happier than he had ever seen her. He asked the man if he felt worthy to attend the temple. The man replied, "I do. I feel clean, and I feel so happy." The man, his wife, and several family members were able to attend the temple together. The next day the man, who was 72, died of a heart attack.
Elder Munday's point was that he was glad that the authority had been spiritually perceptive enough to notice this one man out of a crowd of a thousand and know that it was time for that man to come back. What I got out of was how much God loves his children; how eager he is to bring us closer to him; and how he knows our hearts so much better than anybody else can. It helped me remember that how we see each other is not how God sees us; how we need to put judgment away and let God work through us to help his children, even the ones we feel are past help.
Elder Munday also told the story of how President Hinckley had called him as a Stake President and how he wanted to meet his family. Elder Munday said his boys especially were very rambunctious and he and his wife were afraid of the negative impression his sons might make on the prophet. Sure enough, as they were driving to have dinner with the prophet, the sons (one in particular) began to fight. Elder Munday said he often let his sons settle disputes by boxing each other. He said you would never find that in a family home evening manual, nor was it doctrine, nor did he recommend it, but that it seemed to work for his kids.
When the family arrived, President Hinckley said to each of the first two boys, "I can tell you are good boys," and then to the third (the troublemaker in the family), he said, "I can tell you are a good boy...when you are asleep." Elder Munday said, tongue in cheek, that he knew right then President Hickley was a true prophet.
He also shared stories about his own doubts when he was a missionary and his struggles with the French language as well as counsel he gave to his own son when he was having doubts about his abilities to be a good missionary. He also talked about how he knows there are times when it feels like God has abandoned us, but that He's always there, and I really felt that what he was saying was very true.
He also shared a story about a missionary that served under him when he was a Mission President. The missionary’s dad had abandoned him when he was eight months old. He had a great distrust of men, in general, and didn’t want to be on a mission. He was a very big guy and at first wouldn’t get out of bed. Elder Munday told his companion to physically pull him out of bed. The companion asked Elder Munday if he was aware of the missionary’s size and worried he might retaliate and hurt him. Elder Munday said the Lord would protect him.
The missionary met with Elder Munday and told him he wanted to go home and had arranged his own airfare to do so. Elder Munday stood between him and the door and promised that if he left he would continue running away the rest of his life without getting anywhere, but that if he stayed, he promised it would change his life for the better. He hugged the missionary, who it was later discovered, had never allowed anyone to hug him before. At first, he resisted, but then he gave into it. He eventually decided to stay and became (and still is) a great leader in the church and is currently a bishop.
Anyway, Elder Munday’s talk was delivered with a lot of humor, some slight self-deprecation, a lot of humility, and I found him so down-to-earth and accessible. And yet, what he had to say was enormously moving to me. And his British accent was so delightful to listen to. It was an absolutely fantastic talk.
The meeting closed with an absolutely lovely arrangement of one of my very favorite hymns, "Our Savior's Love." I just felt really good as I left and felt like the Spirit had been strong with me today.
I got into my car, and a lovely jazz, a capella version of "There Is A Green Hill Far Away" was playing. It's really been a marvelous Sunday. I think the Lord has been aware that I have been a tad down the last couple of days, and I really felt like He was trying to buoy my spirits and let me know that things are going to be okay. For that I am enormously grateful.