The Visiting Teacher

In commemoration of the organization of the Relief Society March 17, 1842, I would like to share a story.

The year was 1973 and Susan was living in a cabin on a dirt road in the San Bernadino National Forest with three small sons and no visible means of support. She had no money, no prospects, no idea what to do next.

She had had several visiting teachers but none had come to her backwoods location until there was Janice. She came faithfully, and even saved Susan and her family a place in Church. On one of those visits, Janice seemed distracted. Finally, Susan asked, “Janice, is something wrong?”

“You are the first person I’ve seen since my doctor’s visit this morning,” Janice said. “I’ve just learned that I can’t have any more children.”

Janice explained through her tears that yes, she already had nine children, but her goal in life was to have twelve. “Have you ever had something you wanted and you didn’t get,” She asked.

It crossed Susan’s mind that being a single parent living on a dirt road in the mountains with no plans for the future—there were some things she had wanted but didn’t get. But she was wise enough not to say anything. Instead, she said, “We need a new library in town. Our library is like a closet. I have read the books in the library. I’m sending for books via the inter-library loan, and I have to wait sometimes for weeks for the books to arrive.”

“Do you like books? Janice asked.

“I love books.”

“Why don’t you go back to school?”

She told Janice that she could probably pay California state tuition, but she couldn’t pay tuition and also pay for someone to watch her three sons.

By the time Janice left, she was still down-hearted, but now, so was Susan; her own woes having moved front and center in her mind.

That night about ten o’clock the phone rang. It was Janice. “Susan,” she said, “I’ve got the answer for you and I’ve got the answer for me. I want twelve children, and I only have nine. You’ve got three children. That makes twelve! Why don’t you go back to college one day a week and I’ll watch your children on that day. Then I’ll know what it is like to have twelve children and you’ll know what it is like to be immersed in books.”

And it was a deal. The boys went to Janice’s, and loved it. She had far more amenities than Susan’s forest pad. Susan went off to school, and notwithstanding she stuck out like Waldo, because she was the oldest one there, she discovered she enjoyed it and was good at it.

And from that humble service from a faithful visiting teacher, something wonderful happened. Susan, indeed, went back to school, and kept going until she had earned her doctorate, and then became a distinguished professor of Church History and Doctrine at Brigham Young University–one of their most popular and widely published professors—Dr. Susan Easton Black. And the story doesn’t end there. Each of those three sons has also earned his doctorate and in each of their homes, and Susan’s, hangs a portrait of Janice Stehmeier, the visiting teacher.

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