I reside in Alexandria, Virginia, about 10 miles south of Washington, DC. My ward’s boundaries encompass the western half of the City of Alexandria. Because of its proximity to Washington, DC, our ward, like the city, is largely composed of professionals working in the federal civil service, the U.S. military, or for private companies that provide services to the federal government. It also includes a smattering of immigrants, mostly from Africa. These demographics make for a ward that is constantly changing. From July to September of 2008, for example, approximately 100 new families joined our ward. Of the 550 members on the rolls, less than 100 are members that lived in the ward when it was formed in November 2005.
I have provided this background so you can understand that we are a rag-tag group of saints. In economic terms, many live unstable lives. Most come and go with the start and end of job assignments or educational pursuits. Few are the active members that own homes and plan to stay indefinitely. The result, in my opinion, has been unquestionable spiritual growth. Here are my thoughts on how we have grown into a community, a ward family even.
Last fall our ward commemorated its third anniversary with a special fast and testimony meeting. Bishop started the meeting by speaking about how we have become a united ward family. He shared some statistics–numbers of convert baptisms, sealings, priesthood advancements, etc., and several examples of miracles in our ward. It was incredible to hear of the number of people whose lives have been blessed by others in our ward. In many instances, people were healed and lives were saved. More impressive than these experiences, in my mind, were the stories told about people reaching out to each other in times of need. In most cases, these were simple acts that required little effort.
Throughout the rest of the meeting, members stood to bear their testimonies. Most spoke of a time when one or more members of the ward touched them through a visit, an act of service, or by being an example of Christ–small acts of kindness at difficult times. In most cases, the person performing the kind act did not understand the impact the act had on the recipient. For example, I was moved to tears when one young man testified that a turning point in his life was when the Young Men’s President and counselor visited his home to invite him to church. At that moment he decided to involve himself in good things. He has been saying “yes” to good things ever since. This young man comes from an unstable home, but by making commitments and honoring his priesthood he has become an example to me of how an Aaronic Priesthood holder ought to act.
During priesthood meeting, our Elders Quorum president spoke about Missionary Work. His basic point was that we don’t make friends with people in order to share the gospel. We share the gospel with people because they are our friends, because we care about them as neighbors, as members of our community, and because we understand that our ward is a family with a common bond, a place of safety. His text was the story of Ammon from Alma chapters 17 & 18. This section is often used to teach missionary work, but in light of our Sacrament Meeting and my thoughts about unity and community, these chapters took on additional meaning:
Alma 17:11 — “be patient in long-suffering and afflictions, that ye may show forth good examples unto them in me, and I will make an instrument of thee in my hands unto the salvation of many souls.”
Alma 17:22 — “And the king inquired of Ammon if it were his desire to dwell in the land among the Lamanites, or among his people” [a people described in verses 14 and 15 as wild, hardened, ferocious, delighting in murdering, robbing and plundering, with hearts set upon riches, indolent, idol worshipers. NOTE: I highlight this not to compare the people in Alexandria to the Lamanites, but to understand that Ammon commits himself to remain with the Lamanites for the rest of his life knowing full well that they did not share all of his values; not to mention the apparent risk].
Alma 17:23 — “And Ammon said unto him: Yea, I desire to dwell among this people for a time; yea and perhaps until the day I die.”
What I realized while reading these verses is that each of us makes decisions about how to involve ourselves in our “place” in life. Through work, education, church callings or circumstances beyond our control each of us will have to make a choice similar to Ammon’s at some point in our lifetime. God would have us approach each place just as Ammon approached his new place with the Lamanites–act and serve the people, your neighbors, as if you will dwell with them forever. Similar to what has taken place in my ward, I feel that the Lord will bless us with opportunities to form strong communities and to experience miracles by touching the lives of others, even through small acts, like visiting a young man in his home, that require little sacrifice on our part.
I am grateful for the moments when I have been blessed to recognize the importance of these small acts by observing their collective effect on our rag-tag community of saints.