My parents were the first members in the small country branch of Warrnambool in Victoria, Australia. For many years, my sister and I were the only youth at church. In my 3rd year of high school, I attended boarding school in the city of Melbourne. On Sunday, after attending the required school church service, I could attend our church services. I was required to wear a school uniform when leaving the school grounds.
As a shy 14-year-old, I remember walking into the nearest ward and noticing the large number of youths. I felt embarrassed and out of place in my school uniform. Because my sister was attending a school in another part of Melbourne, I chose to attend her ward on most Sundays.
One day, I was surprised to receive a letter from a Melbourne address. It was from Maxine Thatcher. She was the youth Sunday School class president. The letter said something like:
We notice that you have not been coming to church very often and want you to know that we all miss you and hope that you will come back soon. If there is anything I can do to help you, please give me a call. My phone number is …
I was surprised and delighted and, after reading the letter many times, decided to give Maxine a call. I went to a phone box, picked up the receiver, put a coin in the slot and nervously dialed the number.
Maxine answered. She sounded very nice and expressed concern for me. I explained that I was attending church with my sister on most Sundays. Maxine told me that she and the other members of my Sunday School class hoped that I would choose to attend church with them more often.
“O Lord, wilt thou grant unto us that we may have success in bringing them again unto thee in Christ. Behold, O Lord, their souls are precious, and many of them are our brethren; therefore, give unto us, O Lord, power and wisdom that we may bring these, our brethren, again unto thee.”Alma
She invited me to attend the next Sunday. I did attend and felt welcome and connected. I forgot about the discomfort of going to church in my school uniform.
The next year, my family moved to Melbourne. Maxine and I continued to be friends. A year after my mission, we were married and sealed in the Hamilton New Zealand Temple. I will always be grateful for a youth Sunday School class president who noticed I was missing and reached out with a friendly letter to invite me to return.
The Savior taught:
“What man of you, having an hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost, until he find it? And when he hath found it, he layeth it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he cometh home, he calleth together his friends and neighbours, saying unto them, Rejoice with me; for I have found my sheep which was lost. I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance.”
I love the powerful concepts taught in this scripture:
“Go after the one until he find it.” To “find” one may be more than to locate our missing friend. It may mean understanding their concerns and ministering to their needs.
“He layeth it upon his shoulder, rejoicing.” How can we help our friend to return? How do we minister to them, or help relieve their burdens? Can we go to church with them, or be there to welcome them, sitting with them so that they feel comfortable?
“He calleth together his friends and neighbours, saying unto them, Rejoice with me.” As our friends come to church, we can help them find connections and feel part of a group of friends.
As we return to physical meetings, we are focused on “The Gathering” - gathering to sacrament meeting where all feel loved and build faith in Jesus Christ.
As Alma and his companions prepared to teach the Zoramites, he prayed:
“O Lord, wilt thou grant unto us that we may have success in bringing them again unto thee in Christ. Behold, O Lord, their souls are precious, and many of them are our brethren; therefore, give unto us, O Lord, power and wisdom that we may bring these, our brethren, again unto thee.”
As we visit stakes and districts across the Asia Area, we have been delighted to hear examples of members inviting those they love to sacrament meeting. Hundreds have returned to remember and renew their faith in Jesus Christ, make covenants with Him and receive His Spirit to be with them. We need the sacrament every week to strengthen and help us on the covenant path.
There are many more who need loving invitations to return. During the pandemic, some have lost contact, others have faced trials of their faith, while others have tragically lost loved ones. Many friends and neighbours need the blessings of the gospel of Jesus Christ. We can reach out to all in love, share our faith, and invite them to participate with us.
I testify that the simple principles of love, share and invite can guide us in this great and joyful work of “The Gathering.”
1. Luke 15:4-6