Mormons are busy people. Since there is no professional clergy in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, all the functions of congregations, and even greater responsibilities of administration in the Church of Jesus Christ, are handled by lay members.
Currently, I have a temporary “calling” to serve as the Relief Society President of the Penang Branch in Malaysia. My husband and I are member-leader support missionaries in the Singapore LDS Mission. First, we’ve left our family (and Mexican food and cold winters — not everything is difficult to give up) to spend 18 months in Malaysia helping other, newer members of the LDS Church learn how to serve.
Having lay members serve in usually temporary callings in order to keep the Church functioning is a wise program devised by the Lord to bless the lives of the members. By serving in callings, our faith, testimony of Christ, wisdom, talents, and knowledge grow by leaps and bounds. Much has been said about the character and abilities of Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman, and how they were honed by serving Mormon missions. This works for all faithful Latter-day Saints who are willing to serve when they are called by higher authorities in the Church of Jesus Christ through inspiration from God.
Serving as a Relief Society President here in Penang has been quite a challenge for me. The Relief Society is the oldest and largest women’s organization in the world. It serves the women in local congregations all over the world. It is truly global in its reach. It is a venue for learning for the “sisters” of the Church, and especially a vehicle for service, not only for individual members in need but for communities in normal circumstances and communities in dire circumstances.
My first challenge is that I was called just a couple of weeks after arriving in Penang. Most of the sisters in our congregation (called a “ward” if there are hundreds of members, and a “branch” if there are but a few) are Chinese. Chinese names are confusing to me, and I quickly discovered that Chinese women don’t take on the surnames of their husbands, and that the last name comes first. I knew none of the women by face recognition, and could not tell what the names on the roster were. My task was to organize “visiting teaching,” a wonderful program wherein women go out two by two to give watch care to individual sisters. Then if there are special needs, the congregation can act fast to give service.
My second handicap was not knowing my way around Penang, a city of over one million. For sisters to visit each other, it would be best if they visited the sisters closest to their own homes. I discovered that many of the sisters had no transportation, worked long hours many days each week, lived in far flung areas of the city, and were unaccustomed to visiting each other.
Working out visiting teaching routes was like a giant Sudoku puzzle with no hints and Chinese characters for numbers. Although I have given decades of service in various callings in the Church of Jesus Christ, this task had me in tears, and after 14 months of working at it, I still don’t have it right.
I’m from Utah, from a neighborhood with loads of Mormons. Our ward (congregation — they are organized by locale) is three blocks square and is comprised of about 500 Latter-day Saints. We can all walk from house to house to visit each other. And like true Americans, when the weather is bad, we sometimes drive! Obviously, I’m spoiled by the ease of arranging visiting teaching there. And yet, there are still challenges. Arranging visiting teaching has to be done prayerfully. There are sisters with special needs, and sisters with woes and problems, sisters who are fearful, sisters who are alone, sisters who are elderly, sisters who are unemployed, sisters who are wounded, sisters who are lost, even sisters who are feuding.
Luckily, when we receive any calling in the Church of Jesus Christ, we also receive a “mantel” with the calling. This is a special blessing of help and inspiration from God specific to our responsibilities. Through the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost, which all worthy Mormons enjoy, we are privy to personal revelation to guide and support us. No one of us can fulfill any calling without this great blessing.
I once read a book of witness comprised of the written testimonies of Mormons who are extremely smart and attended prestigious universities and entered prestigious professions. They were asked how they kept their testimonies of the Lord Jesus Christ and faith in His Church as they exercised their great intellects and were tempted by the world of mind and reason. Without an exception, they said they had been called into positions in the Church that were beyond their abilities to fill with their own talents. They were forced to call upon God and receive personal revelation in order to function in their positions. This kept them humble. It kept them on their knees.
How grateful I am for the inspired programs of the Church of Jesus Christ. Serving in the Church has made me quite a different person than I would have been otherwise. All the best things about me can be attributed to saying “yes” when I’ve been asked to serve.