Not a single child should be lost: Young ones need guidance and help to find the blessings of the gospel

While I presided over the Brazil Sao Paul South Mission from 1978 to 1981, the Lord taught me an eternal lesson: It is His will that not one of His little ones should perish. (See Matt. 18:14.) My wife, Phyllis, had been visiting orphanages and hospitals in Brazil seeking to adopt a daughter. We were the parents of two young boys and a young daughter. Another daughter would make our family complete.

An orphanage in Curitiba telephoned one afternoon asking if we would consider adopting a 3-year-old boy. Phyllis wanted me to fly with her to Curitiba the next day. I declined. Zone conferences and missionary interviews filled my week. The "Lord's work" was too important for me to visit an orphanage. Besides, we wanted a daughter.Phyllis flew to Curitiba alone. After visiting the orphanage, she telephoned, requesting that I join her. I reminded her I was busy doing the "Lord's work." She replied, "Wilford, you're not listening."

Phyllis and I entered the orphanage the next morning. "Let's get this over," was my attitude. Ricardo entered the room dressed only in shorts. His recently shaved head revealed a skin fungus on his scalp. His "pigeon chest" came from rickets, aggravated by asthma. A bloated stomach indicated a starving and abused child - a pitiful sight. Abandoned and abused children live in the streets of Sao Paulo. Turning to Phyllis I questioned: "You brought me to Curitiba to see this? Why come here?"

She gently replied, "Wilford, you're not listening."

Alone, Ricardo and I joined hands as we walked in a small patio. In my heart I prayed that the Lord would grant me a "listening ear." Was this emotionally and physically abused child to be part of our eternal family?

As I began to listen, the Lord gently taught His will: that not one of these little ones should perish. Ricardo and I rested on a small curb. Silently, I struggled in prayer. Then, the voice of the Lord came into my mind, saying, "How shall I go up to my father, and the lad be not with me?" - words spoken thousands of years before by Judah to Joseph, a brother he did not recognize and supposed to be dead. (Gen. 44:34.) I had my answer. I could not go up to my Father in Heaven without this lad.

Twelve years later I placed my hands on the head of Ricardo - now named Richard - and ordained a noble son of our Heavenly Father a priest. Again came the words, "How shall I go up to my father and the lad be not with me?"

President Ezra Taft Benson instructed: "You are dealing with the most precious things in the world - the souls of God's children. All that we ask of you is that you so inspire the children that nothing in the world will be dearer to them than the gospel." ("Our First Obligation,' Children's Friend, October 1950.)

Too many children are unable to attend Church. Too many children are unable to be baptized. Too many children are unable to receive the priesthood. It is essential to reach out to less-active children and their families and to provide them with opportunities to participate actively in the blessings of the gospel. Prayerfully identifying children at risk is vital. The following indictors may help:

Identify children with family-related problems. One-fourth of the children in the Church live in single-parent homes. Some live with one parent one week and another the alternating week. Children may be lost to local Church and Primary leaders.

Identify children with social or economic problems. Bus and subway fares may be a major economic hardship on some families, thus prohibiting Church activity. In addition, lack of Sunday clothing may curtail attendance. President N. Eldon Tanner related his story of attending Sunday School as a child in coveralls because that was the best he had.

Identify children with developmental problems. Twelve percent of Primary-age children have identifiable disabilities. Some are physically challenged. Others experience behavioral challenges.

Identify abused children. Abuse comes in many forms - physical, sexual, emotional and spiritual. Listening to children is essential in recognizing abuse.

After identifying a child at risk in any of the above areas, pray for direction. Visit the child in his or her home. Become involved in the child's life. Make yourself the child's friend. Send letters and copies of lesson material. Involve other children. Have class activities. Tell the child when Primary starts. Invite the child to attend Primary.

Thoughtfully make specific plans and give assignments. Coordinate through the ward council. Encourage ward members to learn the name of each child in the ward. Include every child on class rolls. Assign people to give each child rides to Church. Children love to attend Primary. Lack of transportation is a major reason for non-attendance. If no one else can pick up children, you pick up a child. Love the child. Most important, keep trying!

Someone penned these lines, "Kids under construction - the paint is still wet; kids under construction - the Lord may not be finished yet!" Each of us must ask, "That the Lord may finish His construction, am I committed to help find the one?"

As we contemplate each child for whom the Lord has given us temporary stewardship, do we ask, "How shall I go up to my father and the lad be not with me?" For the Lord declared, "Even so it is not the will of your Father which is in heaven, that one of the these little ones should perish. And all thy children shall be taught of the Lord; and great shall be the peace of thy children." (3 Ne. 22:13.)

God grant that we may prayerfully identify and invite all His children that not one of these little ones should perish - and great shall be their peace.

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