In 1948, while Germany was divided to be governed by the world powers after World War II, Russia blockaded west Berlin in an attempt to starve them into submission. During this time, the U.S. would fly in supplies to aid the starving German people. One day, Lt. Halvorsen, a member of the church, hiked out to take some pictures and came across some German children on the other side of a barbwire fence. He talked with them for about an hour, and as he turned to leave, he had a prompting. He reached into his pocket, and found two pieces of gum. And in an attempt to boost their spirits, offered the two sticks of gum to the children to split amongst themselves. Then he had another idea, he told the children that the next day, he would drop candy from his plane to them. The next day, Lt. Halvorsen dropped three little parachutes, each carrying his own candy rations. For several weeks, Lt. Halvorsen continued to drop these chutes. Men from his company began to donate their own candy rations to be delivered too. Eventually, Lt. Halvorsen was called into the commanding officers office, these drops were not approved and could cost him his job. So naturally, he was worried. When he reported to the commanding officer, he was encouraged to continue these drops as they had started to make a difference and bring hope to not only the children, but their families also. As time went on, this little operation grew as many others began to donate their time, effort, and of course, candy, to help.
Lt. Halvorsen acted as a true disciple of Christ. He gave his own supplies and time, and even risked his job to help these children. Because of his Christ-like example, many others would follow and help make the post-war lives of countless children a little brighter and a little more hopeful.
So what does it mean to be a disciple of Christ?
To be a disciple of Christ does not mean to merely follow him and his example. Being a disciple, much like being converted, means we have to make a change in who we are. As President Gordon B. Hinckley stated, “Let us be true disciples of Christ, observing the Golden Rule, doing unto others as we would have them do unto us”. I see that as meaning we need to live as Christ lived, which is to express His pure love to all we encounter. Was there ever a time that Christ said “I don’t feel like helping right now”, or “they can handle this on their own”? No. Was there ever a time where He thought, “This person doesn’t deserve my help” or “doesn’t deserve my love and support”? No. Everything Christ did, was out of his pure love for us. Christ didn’t help us because it was easy, or convenient, he went out of his way to do the greatest good he could, regardless of who we are, what we do, or even what we think of Him or how we treat Him. This is charity, this is the pure love of Christ. Elder Robert D. Hales said “This love is the defining characteristic of a disciple of Christ.”
So how do we do this? As I was preparing for this talk I remembered a poem I had heard by Carmelo Benvenga in an audio book by John Bytheway. It goes;
“I watched them tearing a building down, A gang of men in a busy town. With a ho-heave-ho and lusty yell, They swung a beam and a sidewall fell. I asked the foreman, “Are these men skilled, As the men you’d hire if you had to build?” He gave me a laugh and said, “No indeed! Just common labor is all I need. I can easily wreck in a day or two What builders have taken a year to do.” And I tho’t to myself as I went my way, Which of these two roles have I tried to play? Am I a builder who works with care, Measuring life by the rule and square? Am I shaping my deeds by a well-made plan, Patiently doing the best I can? Or am I a wrecker who walks the town, Content with the labor of tearing down?”
This poem really made me think. As disciples of Christ, we need to be builders. We need to lift where we stand. To do this we have to do the little things and the big things. You can’t build a house with only nails, just as you can’t build a house with only Large slabs of drywall. It takes a combination of many different things of all sizes to build something effective, comfortable, and truly beautiful. So we need to take advantage of short small encounters and “complement someone’s sassy shoes”. Just as we need to go out of our way for the big things and make time in our busy schedules to walk in the rain with someone who just needs someone to listen. The key is to go the extra mile to help those around you. Take the story I first shared with you as an example. Lt. Halvorsen was definitely a builder. He was already serving his country and delivering supplies to the German people. But then he decided to go the extra mile. He gave something without any thought of how it would affect him. He didn’t think, “doing these unapproved drops could cost me my job”, or “I’ll look so great on the newspapers”. All he was thinking about as he dropped those parachutes was about bringing a little bit of joy to those little kids. It wasn’t his duty, he had no obligation. But he made a difference, in spite of what it would cost him personally. He exemplified how we need to behave as disciples of Christ.
Being a builder isn’t always easy. To be a builder takes dedication, time and effort. And life is hard for each and every one of us. At times, we will all get tired, stressed, offended, or just be fed up with it all. If we aren’t careful at these moments, we may break a waterline and offend someone. So stay diligent! And when you do slip, repent and make amends. We are after all, brother’s and sister’s in one big family. Being a disciple of Christ, and making this effort to express his love, will bless countless lives. Along with those, will be our own. When we “love [our] neighbor as [our self]”, as in the scriptures, we will be blessed. As we are a light to others, our own light will grow. President Thomas S. Monson shared a poem about this;
I met a stranger in the night, whose lamp had ceased to shine. I paused and let him light, His lamp from Mine. A tempest sprang up later on, and shook the world about. And when the wind was gone, My lamp was out! But back to me the stranger came- His lamp was glowing fine! He held the precious flame, and lighted mine.
President Spencer W. Kimball pointed out that “it is usually through another person that [God] meets our needs. Therefore, it is vital that we serve each other.” This means as we share our light, or God’s love, with others, we can literally be miracle workers, answers to prayers, and bring tender mercies into the lives of those around us. And we can know that when our lamp goes out, that God will be watching over us and send someone to share their light.
In my life I have been blessed with two Amazing examples of being a disciple of Christ. My mother and my father. Growing up, I can remember distinctly my parents providing selfless service. Throughout my life my dad has always taught and exemplified the family motto; “Harrell’s help”. I remember sitting alongside my father as he dutifully magnified his callings. I remember countless Saturdays where my Dad would wake my brother and I to inform us that he had volunteered us three for some miscellaneous service project. One time specifically was pulling the moss out of a ward members yard. I, to put it lightly, did NOT want to spend my cherished Saturday on my hands and knees with a trowel trying to dislodge moss from among the grass. And I made that VERY clear to my dad. But my dad brought me along, never once getting frustrated with my blatant statements of how “I hadn’t volunteered and he had”. He would just smile, and calmly say, “Harrell’s help”. So off we went. After a few hours of working, my attitude began to change. As I saw how much the ward member appreciated this service, I wanted to do more. When we had finished, my father pointed out to me how as we served as Christ would, we felt His love for both the ward member and ourselves.
And then there’s my mother. Talk about a rock star! Throughout my childhood my mom took every assignment with a smile on her face. Whether it was a quarter million cupcakes, or helping put on the Life of Christ exhibit, my mom did it all. I remember one family activity where my mother had decided that we would make dinner for some of the ward members. We made and delivered countless little dinners where my mom always wrote some nice little message on the Tupperware, even if it was just “Love, the Harrell Family”. That always stood out to me how my mother would take the time out of her busy day to just do something nice for someone else. Recently, as I took the sacrament to some of the elderly in our ward who cannot make it to church, I noticed a Tupperware container on the counter, with some faded sharpie writing. It was one of the containers my mother had delivered some time ago. When they noticed I was looking at it, they told me how much it had meant for my mom to bring that little dinner some years back and how even now, years later, they still remember that little gift.
My Mom and Dad have always shown me what it means to exemplify Christ’s love and be a true disciple of Christ. They have touched the lives around them. They have volunteered to help even when it wasn’t convenient for them, even when it meant changing around a schedule, or making personal sacrifices. To this day, they still stand out to me as some of the greatest examples of disciples of Christ. And they are such happy people! Even when they are giving their all and things aren’t going their way, they smile and laugh and enjoy life. Their example has helped me develop a desire to be a disciple myself, to go the extra mile to do something nice. They have helped me see the joy that comes from loving our neighbors.
Not only is being a disciple of Christ something we “should” do, or “want” to do, but President Spencer W. Kimball expressed that “we each have a covenant responsibility to be sensitive to the needs of others and serve as the savior did-to reach out, bless, and uplift those around us.” At baptism, we made this covenant to take His name upon us and be a disciple of Christ, in all we do, in every place we stand, and in every fleeting moment. In 1 Corinthians 13:2, Paul says; ” And though I have the gift of aprophecy, and understand all bmysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.” This scripture really hit me. Having charity, or the pure love of Christ, is the most important attribute we can work on as disciples of Christ. More important than even “understanding all mysteries” or having “all faith”. The way I see it, is that he is saying, if we truly believe that Christ is our savior, the perfect Son of God, then we need to “put our money where our mouth is” so to speak, and exemplify the love Christ has for everyone as we are his disciples.
The apostle Paul also said; “Be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity.” As members of His church we stand out. People know you are a Mormon, whether you’ve told them, they’ve heard it from someone, or, chances are, they can just see it.
We are marked with a name tag on our hearts. That name tag does not say “Jonathan”, or “Samuel”, or any of our names, but it has the name of Jesus Christ, printed in bold, for all to see. We are, as members of this church, representing Christ in all we do. Whether it is at home, at school, at work, and especially on missions. We are each called to serve one another, to uplift and to strengthen. In this world, we are each fighting literally the battle for our lives. These are the last days. The enemy is sending everything he can muster. We know that God will be triumphant. But Satan, is mercilessly trying to drag down as many souls as he can. With the devil himself fighting against each and every one of us, why make it any harder for ourselves or others to continue the fight? I personally guarantee that Heaven doesn’t have a “Maximum capacity”. The only ones we are competing against in this life are Satan and his followers as they try to stop us from reaching our divine potential.
As we stand as disciples of Christ, we will strengthen others as we strengthen ourselves. As we each strive to be His disciples, we will all be happier both in this life and the next.
It will be hard. Nothing worthwhile comes without work. But as we give our all, Christ, our Savior and elder brother, will make up the difference. With his help, we can all be his disciples, filled with his love for one another. We will never be alone.
As we act as disciples of Christ, the Holy Ghost will give us promptings of how we can further our efforts and do the most good. Occasionally, the Holy Ghost will guide us to work miracles in others lives. President Thomas S. Monson shared a story about this exact type of situation.
“Stan, a dear friend of mine, was taken seriously ill and rendered partially paralyzed. He had been robust in health, athletic in build, and active in many pursuits. Now he was unable to walk or to stand. His wheelchair was his home. The finest of physicians had cared for him, and the prayers of family and friends had been offered in a spirit of hope and trust. Yet Stan continued to lie in the confinement of his bed at the university hospital. He despaired.
Late one afternoon I was swimming at the Deseret Gym, gazing at the ceiling while backstroking width after width. Silently, but ever so clearly, there came to my mind the thought: “Here you swim almost effortlessly, while your friend Stan languishes in his hospital bed, unable to move.” I felt the prompting: “Get to the hospital and give him a blessing.”
I ceased my swimming, dressed, and hurried to Stan’s room at the hospital. His bed was empty. A nurse said he was in his wheelchair at the swimming pool, preparing for therapy. I hurried to the area, and there was Stan, all alone, at the edge of the deeper portion of the pool. We greeted one another and returned to his room, where a priesthood blessing was provided.
Slowly but surely, strength and movement returned to Stan’s legs. First he could stand on faltering feet. Then he learned once again to walk—step by step. Today one would not know that Stan had lain so close to death and with no hope of recovery.
Frequently Stan speaks in Church meetings and tells of the goodness of the Lord to him. To some he reveals the dark thoughts of depression which engulfed him that afternoon as he sat in his wheelchair at the edge of the pool, sentenced, it seemed, to a life of despair. He tells how he pondered the alternative. It would be so easy to propel the hated wheelchair into the silent water of the deep pool. Life would then be over. But at that precise moment he saw me, his friend. That day Stan learned literally that we do not walk alone. I, too, learned a lesson that day: Never, never, never postpone following a prompting.”
This is a really powerful story. It shows how God truly has a love for each one of us and is always watching over us, as he looked over Stan in this story. This also shows us that as we act as disciples of Christ, the Holy Ghost will be able to prompt us with what we should do in order to bless our lives and the lives of others with the love of Jesus Christ.
There are so many blessings that come with becoming a disciple of Christ. As we take his name upon ourselves to love one another and to help one another, we will be filled with God’s love for us and those around us. We will have his spirit with us as we strive to be like Him. We will be blessed with the joy that comes from bringing joy to someone else.
In the words of Dr. Seuss; “You’re off to great places! Today is your day! Your mountain is waiting, so get on your way!” I know that Christ loves each and every one of us. I know that as we act as his disciples and share his love with one another, that our burdens will be lightened. It will be easier to climb our mountains to reach our divine potential. As we bring joy into others lives, it will bring joy into our own. I know that the only way to be truly happy is to lose ourselves in this wonderful work. I know God loves each and every one of us more than we can comprehend, and that we are each, individually, priceless to Him.
I say these things in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.