It is difficult to determine the effect that one person can have, but with time the results can be examined. You never know how the decisions you make will affect others. Abinadi may have died without knowing if anyone believed his teachings. But Alma was converted because of Abinadi’s efforts, and he and his descendants had a great influence on the Nephites for many generations.
President Gordon B. Hinckley gave the following example:
“You don’t know how much good you can do; you can’t foresee the results of the effort you put in. Years ago, President Charles A. Callis, then a member of the Quorum of the Twelve, but who previously was president of the Southern States Mission for twenty-five years, told me this story. He said that he had a missionary in the southern [United States] who came in to get his release at the conclusion of his mission. His mission president said to him, ‘Have you had a good mission?’
“He said, ‘No.’
“ ‘How is that?’
“ ‘Well, I haven’t had any results from my work. I have wasted my time and my father’s money. It’s been a waste of time.’
“Brother Callis said, ‘Haven’t you baptized anyone?’
“He said, ‘I baptized only one person during the two years that I have been here. That was a twelve-year-old boy up in the back hollows of Tennessee.’
“He went home with a sense of failure. Brother Callis said, ‘I decided to follow that boy who had been baptized. I wanted to know what became of him. …
“… ‘I followed him through the years. He became the Sunday School Superintendent, and he eventually became the branch president. He married. He moved off the little tenant farm on which he and his parents before him had lived and got a piece of ground of his own and made it fruitful. He became the district president. He sold that piece of ground in Tennessee and moved to Idaho and bought a farm along the Snake River and prospered there. His children grew. They went on missions. They came home. They had children of their own who went on missions.’
“Brother Callis continued, ‘I’ve just spent a week up in Idaho looking up every member of that family that I could find and talking to them about their missionary service. I discovered that, as the result of the baptism of that one little boy in the back hollows of Tennessee by a missionary who thought he had failed, more than 1,100 people have come into the Church.’
“You never can foretell the consequences of your work, my beloved brethren and sisters, when you serve as missionaries” (Teachings of Gordon B. Hinckley , 360–61). (Book of Mormon Gospel Doctrine Manual, Lesson 18: God Himself Shall Redeem His People)
Now, why would Elder Callis be so concerned about ONE boy from Tennessee? Well, if you don’t know about Elder Callis, the following story may help you understand his concern:
Many years ago an elder who served a mission in the British Isles said at the end of his labors, “I think my mission has been a failure. I have labored all my days as a missionary here and I have only baptized one dirty little Irish kid. That is all I baptized.”
Years later, after his return to his home in Montana, he had a visitor come to his home who asked, “Are you the elder who served a mission in the British Isles in 1873?”
Then the man went on, “And do you remember having said that you thought your mission was a failure because you had only baptized one dirty little Irish kid?”
He said, “Yes.”
The visitor put out his hand and said, “I would like to shake hands with you. My name is Charles A. Callis, of the Council of the Twelve of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I am that dirty little Irish kid that you baptized on your mission.” (President James E. Faust, “Them that Honour Me I will Hounour”, Ensign, May 2001; See also, The Teachings of Harold B. Lee, ed. Clyde J. Williams (1996), 602–3.)
The story of Abinadi (see Mosiah 11–18) is an example of how doing what’s right, even when it’s hard, can affect many lives for good. When Abinadi chose to be the one, his choice led Alma to be the one as well—the only one of King Noah’s priests to accept the gospel, which influenced an entire nation.
Track the RIPPLE EFFECT that Abinadi had:
Abinadi: Abinadi’s testimony to wicked King Noah cost him his life (see Mosiah 17:20), but changed the life of one of the king’s priests, Alma the Elder (see Mosiah 18:1), who at the time was “a young man” (Mosiah 17:2).
Alma the Elder: Alma helped bring into the Church about 450 of King Noah’s people (see Mosiah 18:35). They joined the Nephites at Zarahemla, where Alma became the high priest of the Church and baptized many more (see Mosiah 25:18). His son was Alma the Younger (see Mosiah 27:14).
Alma the Younger: Alma was the Nephites’ first chief judge and high priest of the Church (seeMosiah 29:42). He helped convert more than 3,500 people and converted many more during later missions to Nephite cities. Alma’s sons served missions as well. His oldest son was Helaman.
Helaman, Son of Alma: Helaman kept the records and was one of the high priests of the Church (see Alma 46:6). At about 73 B.C. and again about 54 B.C., he reestablished the Church after years of war (see Alma 45:22; Alma 62:46). He led the 2,000 stripling warriors. His son was also named Helaman.
Helaman, Son of Helaman: Helaman kept the records of the people as well. He became chief judge of the Nephites. During his righteous rule, “tens of thousands” joined the Church (Hel. 3:26). He had two righteous sons, Nephi and Lehi.
Nephi and Lehi, Sons of Helaman: Nephi was chief judge before leaving to preach the gospel with Lehi. These brothers were such powerful missionaries that most of the Lamanites were converted to the gospel (see Hel. 5:50). Nephi turned the records over to his son, Nephi.
Nephi, Son of Nephi: Nephi became a great prophet. He taught and baptized many in the wicked days before Christ’s coming, even raising his brother from the dead (see 3 Ne. 7:15–26). He was chosen as one of Christ’s 12 disciples when the Savior appeared (see 3 Ne. 12:1). The disciples helped convert all the Nephites and Lamanites after Christ’s coming (see 4 Ne. 1:2).
Abinadi’s teachings and example affected countless lives over the years, from Alma the Elder to Nephi. These men didn’t just affect the lives of their converts. Those people likely affected others, including their own children and children’s children, who also affected others. You never know how many people will be affected by what you choose to do. So make sure you choose the right. (Count the Ripples, New Era, Feb. 2005)
Will you be the one? Are you the one? The one who refuses to participate in gossip? The one who stands up for the Church? The one who chooses the right—whatever the circumstances—even when nobody else does? (Be the One, New Era, May 2013)
What kind of waves will you make? In a general conference address, Elder Harold G. Hillam shared the following two RIPPLE EFFECT stories:
When we see the effect one person can have . . . , it perhaps is no wonder that the Lord reminded us, “Remember the worth of souls.”
One of the talks that has had an everlasting impression on me is one given in a Saturday evening session of a stake conference years ago. The talk was given by a young mother. Here’s what she said: “I have been doing the genealogy of my great-grandfather. He and his large family of sons and daughters were members of the Church.
“My great-grandfather,” she said, “left church one Sunday with his family, and they never returned—no indication why.”
She then said, “In my research, I have found that my great-grandfather has over 1,000 descendants.”
And then she said, and this is the part I have not been able to forget, “Of those 1,000 descendants, I am the only one active in the Church today.”
As she said these words, I found myself thinking, “Is it only 1,000, or could it be more?”
The answer is apparent. The spiritual influence that family might have had on their neighbors and friends did not happen. None of his sons nor any of his daughters served as missionaries, and those they would have touched with their testimonies were not baptized, and those who were not baptized did not go on missions. Yes, there are probably many thousands who are not in the Church today, and not in this very meeting, because of that great-grandfather’s decision.
As I heard her talk I found myself thinking, “What a tragedy! Perhaps if I had been there at that time, I could have said something to the father, to the family, to the priesthood leaders that might have helped to prevent such a calamity to their family and to so many in the future generations that would follow.”
Well, that opportunity of the past is lost. But we can now look to the present and to the future. I would say to those who find themselves in the same position as that great-grandfather: Would you consider what you might be doing to your family and to all those who come after you? Would you ponder the effects of your thoughts and your actions?
… I would like to tell you of a stake conference I was assigned to attend. It was a reorganization; the stake president and his counselors would be released, and a new presidency would be called. The stake president was young and had served wonderfully for almost 10 years. He was a spiritual giant, but he was also an administrative giant. In my personal interview with him, he told me how he had delegated much of the responsibility for the stake functions to his counselors and to the high council and had thus freed himself to interview those who needed encouragement. Individuals and couples were invited to come to his office. There he got to know them, counseled with them, and invited them to do better, to put their lives in order, and to receive the blessings available to those who follow the Lord. He helped them by putting them in the care of a capable leader, a teacher who helped them to understand the beauties of the doctrine. Then he told me that in these interviews he would often ask if they would like a blessing. “I have placed my hands on the heads of many members of the stake,” he said.
The next day in the general session of the stake conference, I doubt I have ever seen so many tears—not because they felt the president should not be released, but for the deep love of a young stake president who had blessed their lives. I felt prompted to ask, “How many of you have had the hands of the president on your heads?” I was amazed at the number of people who raised their hands. I thought to myself at the time, “How many of these people will bless the name of this great man, not only now but throughout the eternities?” Yes, these will be the great-grandfathers who will, because of this loving leader, leave a legacy of generations of thousands who will call him blessed.
When we see the effect one person can have on the lives of so many, it perhaps is no wonder that the Lord reminded us, “Remember the worth of souls is great in the sight of God” (D&C 18:10). (“The Worth of Souls“, Ensign, May 2005)
A final story, shared by Ryan Squire, will probably suffice for illustrating our point today. His grandfather believe that on his mission he had never brought anyone into the Church. Here is the rest of the story:
I served in the São Paulo Brazil Mission. While I was there, I met an elderly Japanese couple who served in various capacities in the mission. Brother and Sister Tsuya were well known for two things. First was the haircuts Brother Tsuya would give the missionaries.
The other thing the Tsuyas were known for was their incredible love and mission spirit. They spoke no Portuguese and spoke English with a thick accent. But they would take a box of copies of the Book of Mormon they bought with their own money to the fruit fair on the street each week and would always come back empty-handed. Their spirit was incredibly powerful.
One transfer day I had the chance to talk to Brother Tsuya. I found out that he had joined the Church in Hawaii. I told him that my grandfather had served a mission in Hawaii and was there during the attack on Pearl Harbor. Brother Tsuya was very surprised and said he had joined the Church then but didn’t remember an Elder Squire. I told him that it was my mom’s father, Elder Thurgood, who had served in Hawaii.
Brother Tsuya almost fell out of his chair and yelled out “Elder Thurgood is your grandpa?” He related the story of their meeting. He said while he was eating a meal in the Hawaiian community style, he was being inappropriate and was taking the Lord’s name in vain among other things. A missionary, my grandfather, had spoken up and asked him to stop. Brother Tsuya said he took the name of the Lord in vain again. He said that my grandpa had come over to him, hit him on the shoulder, and lectured him about how little he knew about life, how he wasn’t as smart as he thought, how he needed to quit smoking and do a bunch of things differently or he wouldn’t ever amount to anything.
Brother Tsuya told me that when he went home that night, he knew my grandpa was right. He thought about it and decided he wanted to make some changes. He ran into two similarly dressed missionaries a couple of weeks later and listened to the discussions with a sincere desire to change. Brother Tsuya gave much of the credit for his decision to listen to the missionaries to my grandpa.
I quickly wrote home telling my family I had huge news and that Grandpa Thurgood needed to be there when I made my telephone call at Christmas. When I called home, I finally told him that I had met somebody he brought into the Church. I will always remember how quiet he became as he said, “Ryan, you are mistaken. I never brought anybody into the Church on my mission.”
I asked him if he remembered hitting a smart-aleck Japanese kid at dinner in Hawaii and then lecturing him on how much he needed to change his life. He became instantly curious and said that he did remember the incident well. He was transferred away shortly after that and hadn’t heard more.
I told him that two weeks later that boy had decided to listen to the discussions because of what you said to him that night. He had later married in the temple in Hawaii. He had served in various callings in the Church and blessed many, many lives. He served as a mission president in Japan for three years. He also served as president of the MTC in Japan. He had served multiple missions with his wife.
My Grandpa Thurgood was in tears and couldn’t talk to me after that. He had spent over 50 years thinking his mission hadn’t made a difference to anybody. When the Tsuyas completed their mission in Brazil, my grandpa and his wife went to the temple with them and had a tearful reunion.
My grandfather’s experience reminded me of Abinadi, my favorite Book of Mormon prophet. Abinadi had come before the wicked priests of King Noah and shared the gospel with great power and authority. He testified boldly and was burned to death because of what he taught. The only fruit he had the chance to see was one of the priests, whose name he may not have even known, who asked the king to let Abinadi go and then was chased out of the court. That priest (Alma the Elder) then became a great prophet himself.
We never know the effect our testimony will have on those around us. How could my grandpa have known the difference his testimony at dinner would have on a young man?
We learn that it is not ours to judge those around us when sharing the gospel. It is so easy to look at others and assume they are not interested in the gospel. We think the soil is rocky and that nothing would grow if we tried. Our responsibility is to cast seeds. We are called to share. We are called to invite. We are called to include. The gospel is a gospel of repentance, a gospel of change. In Christ is the power to change. Christ has the power to heal. There is nothing so exquisitely sweet as seeing a soul come unto Christ.
Because of the seed my grandfather planted, Brother Tsuya was baptized, married in the temple, and served as a mission president. He blessed many lives. (Not a Single Baptism, New Era, Feb. 2011)