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Bob’s Mission Farewell Talk


Bob's talkThe telephone is an amazing device.  Today, many of us carry it around in our pockets, or in a purse, or connected in some way to our belts.  We can quickly call anyone in the United States, or (for a little extra money) in the world.  If we do not feel like talking directly to someone, or we do not want to interrupt them, we could use the phone to send an email or a text message.  But telephones have not always provided so many possibilities.

My first experience with a phone, that I can remember, was when I was seven or eight years old.  We lived in Idaho.  I remember learning our telephone number (which I still know: 638), and being told that when the phone rang two times it was for our family, and if it rang one time or three times it was for one of our neighbors.  If we needed someone’s telephone number that we did not have, we dialed “0” and said, “Information Please.”  If we wanted to know the correct time, we would say “Time Please.”    Also, if I picked up the phone to make a call, and I heard other people talking, I needed to hang up and wait until they were through before taking my turn with the phone.

A few years later, when Brenda and I were young marrieds with two little boys, we lived in a small town located about 200 miles north of Las Vegas.  I was working as a school psychologist in my first job after graduating from college.

One day we were talking on the phone with my parents who lived in Ogden, and they said that they had tried to call and talk to us the previous weekend.  They said that our phone rang and rang, and then an operator came on the line, and told them that we had taken our boys and traveled to Las Vegas for the weekend.  We did not know the local operator, but we did appreciate her keeping track of our family.

The Helpful Operator

Telephones and telephone use has certainly changed since those early days.  One of my favorite stories is about an even older telephone system, and a person named Paul Villiard [Paul Villiard, Readers Digest, 1966].  He begins his story by saying that when he was quite young, his family had one of the first telephones in their neighborhood.

I remember well the polished old case fastened to the wall.  The shiny receiver hung on the side of the box. I was too little to reach the telephone, but used to listen with fascination when my mother would talk to it.

Then I discovered that somewhere inside the device lived an amazing person – her name was “Information Please” and there was nothing she did not know.

“Information Please” could supply anybody’s number and the correct time. My first personal experience with this genie-in-the-bottle came one day while my mother was visiting a neighbor. Amusing myself at the tool bench in the basement, I hit my finger with a hammer. The pain was terrible. I walked around the house sucking my throbbing finger, finally arriving at the telephone.

After seeng the telephone, I quickly ran for the footstool and dragged it over to the wall.  Climbing up, I unhooked the receiver and held it to my ear.

“Information Please,” I said into the mouthpiece.

A click or two and a small clear voice spoke into my ear. “Information.”

“I hurt my finger. . .” I cried into the phone. The tears came readily.

“Is your mother home?” came the question.

“Nobody’s home, but me.”

“Are you bleeding?”

“No,” I replied. “I hit my finger with the hammer and it hurts bad.”

“Can you open your icebox?” she asked. I said I could.

“Then chip off a little piece of ice and hold it to your finger,” said the kind, helpful voice.

After that, I called “Information Please” for everything.  I asked her for help with my geography, and she told me where Philadelphia was.  She helped me with my math.  She told me that the chipmunk that I had caught would eat fruits and nuts.

Then, there was the time our pet canary died. I called “Information Please” and told her the sad story.  She listened, then said the usual things grown-ups say to soothe a child.  But I still felt bad.  I asked her, “Why is it that birds sing so beautifully, only to end up as a heap of feathers on the bottom of a cage?” She sensed my concern, and answered quietly,

“Paul, always remember that there are other worlds to sing in.”

Somehow, I felt better.

On another day, I called “Information Please” and asked, “How do you spell fix?”

All this took place in a small town in the Pacific Northwest. When I was 9 years old, we moved across the country to Boston. I missed my friend very much. “Information Please” belonged in that old wooden box that hung on the wall back home, and I somehow never thought of trying the new black phone that sat on the table in the hall.

A few years later, on my way west to college, my plane put down in Seattle. I had about half an hour or so between planes, and so I spent 15 minutes talking on the phone with my sister, who lived near Seattle.

Then without thinking what I was doing, I dialed my hometown operator and said, “Information, Please”.

Miraculously, I heard the small, clear voice I knew so well, “Information.”

I hadn’t planned this but I heard myself saying, “Could you please tell me how to spell ‘fix’?”

There was a long pause.  Then came the soft-spoken answer, “I guess your finger must have healed by now.”

I laughed. “So it is really still you,’ I said.  “I wonder if you have any idea how much you meant to me during that time.”

She replied, “I wonder if you know how much your calls meant to me. I never had any children, and I used to look forward to your calls.”

I told her how often I had thought of her over the years, and I asked if I could call her again when I came back to visit my sister.  “Please do,” she said. “Just ask for Sally.”

One way to understand this story is to simply consider how these two people helped each other.  Another possible lesson is that we should never, ever underestimate the impression we leave with others.

The Wonderful ‘Story’

We all grew up hearing, reading and telling stories.  We hear stories at home, at school and at church.  We hear stories while listening to the radio in our cars, while watching television, and when attending movies.  We hear stories told by members of our family, by our friends, and from our best teachers.

As children, we loved to hear stories.  My grandchildren continue to encourage me to tell them stories.  For most of us when we were young, a story became the preferred method of learning, remembering and digesting new knowledge.  As we have grown older, that has not changed.  In Sacrament meeting, Sunday school classes, and while listening to General Conference, we thoroughly enjoy (and can usually remember and tell others) a good story that we have heard.

The Greatest of All Teachers

Jesus was the greatest of all teachers.  His messages did not last only for an hour, a day or until the closing prayer.  They did not last until the next test, or until the end of the semester.  Amazingly, Jesus’ messages have lasted for over 2000 years, and have helped change the lives of (hundreds of millions) literally billions of people.  There are over two billion Christians alive today, which is about one-third of all people on Earth (compared with only 13 million Jews, and about 1.5 billion followers of Mohammad – Muslem).

One of the reasons that his messages were so powerful, so understandable, and so memorable is that he taught with stories.  Most of his best-known stories are known as ‘parables’.  Jesus’ parables can be thought of as earthly stories with heavenly meanings.  In his parables, Jesus would compare some aspect of everyday life, with which he was familiar, with a truth about the kingdom of God.

Jesus’ Parables

Most good teachers over the years have told stories, but none so much as Jesus during his 3-year ministry.  In Mark we read that “without a parable spake he not unto them” (Mark 4:34).  In other words, whenever he spoke to them, he did so with a story.

A parable conveys to the hearer religious truths exactly in proportion to the listener’s faith, intelligence, and knowledge.  To the dull, aloof and uninspired it may be just a story.  To the alert, interested, and spiritually in-tune, the story can help in better understanding the best way to live the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Jesus knew that the knowledge gained from a story would not easily disappear.  The specific words of a story may fade over time; but, like with the parable of the ‘good Samaritan’, for example, we frequently remember the lesson being taught for a long, long time. Even 2,000 years after the story was first told, most of us (and many who are not even Christians) are very much aware of what it means to be ‘a good Samaritan’.

Jesus’ Experiences

The best stories seem to come from our own experiences, or by including our observations of the relevant experiences of others.

Even though it has been several weeks, I still remember some of the stories told in our last stake conference.  I particularly remember when President Miles told about his son returning from his mission and having difficulty when water skiing, and President Egan told about his wife and their experience when going to the doctor.  Many of you probably remember them as well.  Likewise, at each General Conference, President Monson and the other General Authorities follow the example set by Jesus, by telling one or more stories in each of their talks.

Jesus’ parables were rooted and were unique to his life and times. It is amazing that stories that took place 7,000 (6,975) miles (11,000 km) away from Salt Lake City, and 2,000 years ago, are still so easily understood and remembered.

Jesus’ stories were based primarily on his life in and around the small farming village of Nazareth in northern Israel (population of about 15,000).  Nazareth is located about 20 miles west of the Mediterarean Sea, and about 20 miles east of the Sea of Galilee.  Due to the location of Nazareth, Jesus was familar with both farming and fishing, with both being reflected in his parables.

Jesus’ small home would have been built with limestone blocks.  It probably consisted of two rooms, with dirt floors, a flat roof (on which the family slept on hot summer nights), and a wooden front door.  Like others in the village, Jesus and his parents slept on mats, and owned limited personal goods, which required little room for storage.  Water needed to be carried to the house from a public well, or local spring.  Lighting was provided by earthenware oil lamps that usually burned olive oil.

When younger, Jesus probably enjoyed going with his mother and sisters to Nazareth’s marketplace.  As he got older, Jesus, his brothers, and his father (Joseph) worshipped at the local synagogue.  This is most likely the same synagogue in which Jesus taught his first sermon.

His mother’s daily work focused on preparing food for her family.  With the help of Jesus’ sisters, she would grind grain, bake bread, milk the animals, and make cheese.  Typically, the family ate only two meals each day – a small breakfast, and a much larger dinner.  Dinner would have included cheese, vegetables, fruits, and eggs.  Fish was their most common meat (which they usually bought at the market), followed by chicken (which they raised).  Food was served in a common bowl, and eaten with the fingers.

Jesus probably observed that all the people of Israel were loosely divided into three groups, based primarily on the type of work that they did.  The upper class was made up of King Herod and his court, the temple priests, and the Sadducees.  The middle class was comprised of teachers, traders, merchants and craftsmen who worked with wood or metal.  The Pharisees and scribes also were part of the middle class.  The lower class was made up of laborers, which included weavers, stone carriers, and the unemployable, such as lepers, the blind, the insane, and crippled.  People from all of these groups were included in his parables (and other teachings).

By studying and understanding his daily life, we recognize the source of Jesus’ parables, and how his life experiences are reflected in them.  Although the parables were rooted in the life and times of Jesus, the teachings found in the parables transcend that culture and are still meaningful to us today.  [I wonder if 2,000 years into the future, people will be able to understand the story about Paul and the telephone operator.]


As we attempt to be more Christ-like, not only should we listen to what Jesus taught, but also focus on how he taught.  The process of conveying the information, to help ensure that it will be understood and remembered, may be as important as the message itself.  I believe this means that we should, like Christ did, include more good stories in our church talks and church lessons.

In other words, becoming Christ-like means that we should attempt to emulate his behavior, as well as his teachings.  We should accept the call as Jesus did, we should minister as Jesus ministered, we should serve as Jesus served, and we should try to teach as Jesus taught.

Final Words about the Operator

I want to finish the story about the kind telephone operator we talked about earlier.

Three months later, Paul was back in Seattle, and made a quick call to ‘information’.  A different voice answered.  He asked for Sally.

“Are you a friend?” She said. “Yes, a very old friend.”

“I’m sorry to have to tell you this, but Sally had been working part-time the last few years because she was sick. She died five weeks ago.”

Before I could hang up she said, “Wait a minute. Did you say your name was Paul?”

“Yes,” I replied.

“Well, Sally left a message for you. She wrote it down in case you called. Let me find it, and read it to you.”

Sally’s note said, “Tell him I still say there are other worlds to sing in.  He’ll know what I mean.”

Paul thanked her and hung up.  He did know what Sally meant.

I wonder if we know what Sally meant?

Did we consider Paul’s experience as ‘just a story’?  Or did we look for (and find) a ‘heavenly meaning’?

Originally, I thought the message was that we should be kind to all, and always to be Christ-like in our dealings with others, as did the (kindly, and unknown) operator that helped the little boy (and probably many others).

But maybe the message is even deeper than that.  Could it be that because of the love, teachings and sacrifices of our resurrected Savior there will be a resurrection for all, which will provide new opportunities for each of us to serve (‘to sing’) again?

Helping the Starfish

There once was a man who walked on the beach each morning before he began his work.  One day as he was walking along the shore, he looked down the beach and saw a human figure moving like a dancer.

As he got closer, he saw that it was a young man and the young man wasn’t dancing, but instead he was reaching down to the sand, picking up something and gently throwing it into the ocean.

He called to the young man, “Good morning! What are you doing?”

The young man paused, looked up and replied, “Throwing starfish in the ocean.  The sun is up and the tide is going out. And if I don’t throw them in they will die.”

The older man replied, “But, young man, don’t you realize that there are miles and miles of beach and starfish all along it. You can’t possibly make much of a difference!”

The young man bent down, picked up another starfish, and carefully tossed it into the sea. He then turned to the older man and said, “It made a difference for that one.”  That is how we feel about going to Budapest Hungary to serve a mission.

There are 10 million people in Hungary, and over the past 20 years (since the end of Communism) less than 5,000 people have elected to join the Church, and fewer than half of those are still active in the Church.  Like the young man returning a few starfish to the ocean, we know that we will not be able to talk with, or teach, all of the Hungarian people, but we plan to help share the gospel with some of them.

We also know that, because we agreed to accept the Lord’s call to serve a mission for the next 18 months, the Lord will certainly provide many more opportunities for us to share the gospel than if we had elected to stay at home.

My Testimony

I would like to close by sharing my testimony in the Hungarian language.

Hiszek Istenben.  Hiszem, hogy Én Isten gyermeke vagyok.

I believe in God    I believe that I am a child of God.

Tudom hógy a Jezus Krisztus evangélium igaz.

I know   that   Jesus Christ   the gospel of   is true.

Tudom hógy Jezus a megváltank

I know that Jesus is our Savior (Redeemer).

Tudom hógy a Biblia, és a Mormon könyve Isten szava.

I know   that   the Bible and the Book of Mormon are God’s word.

Tudom hógy Thomas S Monson a prófétáya Isten.

Thomas S Monson is a prophet of God.

Jezus Krisztus nevében, Ámen.

Jesus Christ   in the name of   Amen.

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© Copyright 2011 Our Hungarian Mission - By Bob and Brenda
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