True champions

For the 18,000-plus anxious spectators, the setting was nearly perfect: A state-of-the-art high-tech arena, high-fives among friends for the great plays, high-prices for the fast food, and highly skilled, highly paid athletes competing in high-stakes professional basketball.

Virtually every eye in the arena was glued to the action - and half that many people cheered when the home team captured the victory.Ironically, however, the greater victory came at halftime - when fully half the fans turned their attention elsewhere.

With the million-dollar athletes studying strategy in the locker room and the thousands of fans buying more concessions, a handful of Special Olympians - young people with physical and mental disabilities - displayed their own prowess on the arena floor. A few watched. Fewer still seemed to appreciate the great victory of a young man throwing a toy football a few yards to a friend.

But that victory far exceeded anything displayed by the professionals.

When the Savior, in both the Old World and the New World, invited children to His knee, He taught a powerful lesson about the worth of these sweet young people. As mortals we would do well to include in that group those whose physical and mental capacity will, for whatever reason beyond their control, never in mortality reach beyond that of a child.

A faithful and dedicated sister, called to preside over a special-needs Young Women group, said she at first didn't know why she would be called to such a position.

"I had no prior experience. I had no handicapped children of my own. I didn't even have any teenagers.

"But I soon realized: I was called because I had no preconceived notions about these beautiful and sweet young people. When the Lord said something, I said OK. I guess I was like an innocent child myself. I'll do all I can and the Lord will help me when I'm lacking. We've been able to accomplish many great things simply because we had the faith."

On one occasion, this sister and her associates decided that, because the Book of Mormon was indeed a second witness for Christ, there could be no better tool to teach these special young women about their Savior.

"I thought we should spend one evening reviewing the major stories in the Book of Mormon. Some wondered if that wasn't just a little too much. But we had faith. And we did it."

Using the Book of Mormon itself and some Church-produced children's stories about the Book of Mormon, the group accomplished its task.

Then the young women wrote their testimonies. And their testimonies were real heart-felt witnesses of the Savior - proving to themselves that teaching the doctrine and bearing testimony has a literal effect on the hearts and souls of all of our Father's children.

Our human frailty to pre-judge others by looking at their outward appearance sometimes seems exacerbated when we view those with mental disabilities. Those who work closely with special-needs children soon embrace the Lord's practice of looking instead upon the heart. (See 1 Sam. 16:7.)

"They have become my best friends in the whole world. They are mine and I love them. They show me a huge amount of love.

"These young women are honest, sincere - and they don't judge us," the Young Women president said.

"They look right through your soul."

Perhaps that is best illustrated by her experience with a physically small little girl with a bad heart. Because of her medical condition, this young woman couldn't crawl until she was 3 and couldn't walk until she was 6. Now, as a teen, she continues to strive.

"I'm trying so hard - and it takes me so long to do something," the frail teen said. "Can't others see that I'm really trying?"

"Then," the Young Women president recounted, "this choice daughter of God bore her testimony.

" `I know Jesus Christ,' the girl said, and the Spirit verified to me that she was speaking the truth. My whole being burned with fire."

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