My church recently conducted an open house to celebrate the completion of a beautiful new meetinghouse. I invited friends and neighbors to tour the building, enjoy the artwork that adorns the hallways and classrooms, and to learn a little about what makes us tick. Although the event was well attended, very few of my invitees showed up.
When I read in the paper that the Jehovah’s Witnesses were holding an open house to introduce to the locals their new Kingdom Hall, I decided I would go, especially since I had never before been in one of their buildings. I thought that by attending the event I might find out more about what makes them tick.
As impressed as I was with the modest but well appointed facility, I was even more impressed with the friendly people I met. Except for asking my name, no one attempted to extract from me my religious preference, my address, my phone number or in any way tried to force his or her beliefs on me—with one possible exception. A friendly, confident young lady of perhaps eleven or twelve handed me an invitation to attend an upcoming lecture.
I found out that the building went up over a period of two short months almost entirely with volunteer labor and expertise. Members of their church came from far and wide to help erect the building—and I must say, they did a fine job.
Have you ever had neighbors, colleagues at work, members of your civic group or other acquaintances whom you could have called your good friends except that they were Catholic, or Jewish, or black or had some handicapping condition or, heaven forbid, were Texas Aggies?
Suppose you are introduced to someone who is polite and well-spoken. He seems trustworthy, loyal, helpful, kind and competent. Then you find out that he is in the country without papers or that he is from the Middle East and, bam! His good qualities get overridden because of one piece of information.
I am reminded of Janice Komp. She was a classmate of mine I during our high school years. She came from a good family, was attractive, had a great personality, participated in sports and had a good singing voice. But neither I nor any of my friends ever dated her. Why? Simply because she was taller than any boy in school.
Jerry Earl Johnston, in a recent Deseret News article said, “We are all a complicated blend of positive and negative qualities. And putting too much emphasis on just one aspect of a person’s personality at the expense of all others not only distorts the truth, but shows us to be biased and judgmental.” (April 2, 2011)
When I was just a youngster, a woman came to church each Sunday with several toddlers and a baby in tow. She gave them crackers and Cheerios to eat and toys to distract them and to keep them quiet during the main service. Of course, when the meeting was over, the evidence of their having been present was obvious from the crumbs and spills on the pew and on the floor where they had been sitting.
I remember hearing some adults criticize her for the mess they made and for the movement of the little bodies and the noise. Then one woman put the criticism to rest by stating simply, “Perhaps she could use a little help.”
As Henri Nouwen said, “Perhaps we spend far too much time deciding what we think about other people and not enough time looking for ways to help them.” If they are “not one of us” then there must be something wrong with them.
A few years ago North Koreans were experiencing difficult times and many were literally starving. My church provided millions of dollars worth of aid in the form of food, clothing, hygiene kits, clean water and etc. There was some criticism because the North Koreans are not considered to be our friends.
Church President Thomas S. Monson focuses on serving and caring for the lonely and downhearted and befriending those who seem to have few, if any, friends. “I believe,” he says, “that when we face our Maker, we will not be asked, ‘How many positions did you hold?’ but rather, ‘How many people did you help?’”