By guest author, P.D. Wiles.
My friend Pat and I have been visiting teaching companions for over 16 years. Some of the sisters on our route have been with us from the beginning; often one will move away to be replaced by another sister within our ward boundaries.
Recently, I learned just how visiting teaching not only affects the one visited, but the ones doing the visiting. Pat and I went to visit a sister the other day who had been removed from our route a few years ago. Her family moved out of town and into a house on a farm, out in the country. We had visited this sister for many years, and Pat and I missed our monthly visits with her. On occasion, we made the 20 minute drive out to her farm, just to visit “for old time’s sake.” Sadly, this last visit was made out of necessity.
A tornado had swept through the northwest end of the county, demolishing homes and scattering debris for miles across the rolling farmland. Our dear sister was one of those hundreds whose homes were destroyed in the wake of the evil wind. She and her husband were out of town that weekend, visiting their children, and weren’t home when the catastrophe occurred.
Pat eagerly accepted the call from the ward compassionate service leader for us to take sandwiches to this sister’s home, in order to feed those who were working that day to help the family gather up the remainder of their belongings. As we drove on the old paved road to her home, we could see the damage the tornado left in its path. Then as we turned the corner, we saw her house—or what was left of it—back in the field, and people slowly making their way through the rubble, occasionally stooping to pick objects up from the ground.
We parked the car and walked toward our dear sister, sandwiches in hand. She looked dazed. Her house no longer had a roof. Glass shards were everywhere. I thought about the times we’d visited her in this house, not being her visiting teachers by assignment, but still feeling the need to visit her anyway.
We each hugged her, in turn. I said, “We’re so glad you weren’t home!”
She said, “So were we.”
She then walked us through the house, just like she had a few years ago when she first moved there. But this time, instead of admiring her skill at decorating, we were stunned by the force which had destroyed her home. Only the interior hallway remained under roof; the rest of the roof lay beside the house, except for the roof in their bedroom. It had collapsed. “If we had been home, we would have never awakened. We’d still be right there,” she said, pointing to the center of the room and the mangled trusses.
I had gotten to know this sister through visiting teaching her. I hadn’t been a perfect visiting teacher in the past, but I had learned to visit her because I cared for her. And even though she had not been on our route for years, I still felt a sense of responsibility for her, a need to let her know she was more than a number on our route—a need to let her know she was loved.
Sister Elaine Jack has offered guidelines to help us be more effective visiting teachers:
“1. Be prayerful.
2. Seek the Spirit. This means praying throughout the month for the women we visit teach—not just five minutes before we go to their house.
3. Show concern by responding in trusting ways, by listening, by risking in sharing our own stories.
4. Give help when needed. Visiting teachers should take the initiative and suggest possible solutions to presidents when they report on the visits they make. My daughter-in-law Gayle's visiting teachers realized when her husband went to Saudi Arabia with the U.S. military forces that they had canceled the newspaper and their membership in a sports club. The visiting teachers shared aerobic tapes and scripture cassettes, and every day a day-old newspaper appeared at Gayle's doorstep.
5. Adapt the message to the sister being visited. The visiting teaching messages in each month's Ensign give good gospel information, but they must be adapted so they become part of a sister's life. She should be personally involved in the discussion. I am saddened by stories of visiting teachers who go in and dump a load of their own troubles and concerns on the women they visit. This is not the spirit of the work.
6. Encourage, acknowledge and accept those we visit, with all their concerns. We do not visit homes to judge. We visit homes to help.
7. Schedule visits whenever possible. Granted, we can't always schedule the time we come, but we should be considerate of other people's needs as much as possible and be joyful in the work. is the gospel in action. It should bring us joy because we are living the law of Christ when we visit teach one another.
8. In visiting teaching we reach out to each other. Hands often speak as voices can't. A warm embrace conveys volumes. A laugh together unites us. A moment of sharing refreshes our souls. We cannot always lift the burden of one who is troubled, but we can lift her so she can bear it well.”
(Elaine L. Jack, Eye to Eye, Heart to Heart [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1992], 148.)
As we left this sister, we hugged her again, and thanked the Lord for watching over her. Her home had not been spared, but I knew she could rebuild. I realized then that through visiting teaching, the Lord has given us the chance to build a shelter from the storms of life—one that cannot be torn down by the raging winds. Our compassion and love for this sister—fashioned by years of visiting teaching—stood strong against the backdrop of the wreckage.
This article first appeared on Suite101.com and was written by P.D. Wiles.