'The worth of souls'

Having a child go missing is among parents’ worst fears. Even if the child has been missing only a few minutes — having wandered away in a store or other public place, or from home — parents express great joy when he or she is found and returned to their arms.

Parents invariably express heartfelt gratitude to those who have been instrumental in finding and returning their child. The rescuers often say they don’t need to be thanked, that being part of helping the child return home is reward enough.

Can we begin to comprehend how Heavenly Father feels when one of His sons or daughters wanders away and becomes lost? Can we imagine the joy He feels when a child returns home?

The Atonement manifests the importance He places upon having each of His children return to His loving arms.

For a moment, let’s imagine that a neighbor’s child has wandered away from home. Friends, neighbors, even strangers join search teams. Wouldn’t we also join others to search high and low to find the child? Wouldn’t we do everything in our power to help bring that child home?

In our Church meetings, classes and social activities, we enjoy friendship and feelings of being part of a ward or branch family. But some in our ward or branch families are missing. Maybe they feel they don’t belong. Perhaps they think we don’t understand or love them. They may have taken offense at something someone said or did. Maybe they feel guilt over a transgression and have concluded they are not worthy to associate with their brothers and sisters in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Perhaps they have chosen to associate instead with friends who encourage them to walk paths other than the “strait and narrow … which leadeth unto life” (Matthew 7:14). Any number of reasons could account for the empty seat in the chapel’s pew or the classroom’s chair.

Diligent Church leaders do all they can to help those who have become less active know their Heavenly Father loves them. We must do whatever we can to show that we, too, love them. If we saw someone who is drowning, wouldn’t we do anything we could to help rescue that person? Pulling a victim from the water saves a body; assisting an individual return to the gospel helps save a soul.

An old song, “Where Is My Wandering Boy Tonight,” tells of the anguish a parent feels for a child who has gone astray:

Where is my wandering boy tonight, the boy of my tend’rest care:

The boy that was once my joy and light, the child of my love and prayer?

Once he was pure as morning dew, as he knelt at his mother’s knee;

No face was so bright, no heart more true, and none was so sweet as he.

Jesus said, “What man of you, having an hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost, until he find it?

“And when he hath found it, he layeth it on his shoulders, rejoicing.

“And when he cometh home, he calleth together his friends and neighbours, saying unto them, Rejoice with me; for I have found my sheep which was lost.

“I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance” (Luke 15:4-7).

Sometimes, we associate this parable solely with missionary work among those who have not heard the gospel of Jesus Christ. However, we might remind ourselves that Jesus spoke of a lamb that was already part of the flock.

President N. Eldon Tanner, while serving as first counselor in the First Presidency, spoke of a stake conference in which he called on a bishop to speak. In his April 1971 general conference address, President Tanner said, “As [the bishop] spoke, tears came to his eyes, and it was difficult for him to speak when he said, ‘I want to acknowledge here tonight at this meeting my home teacher. I was an inactive senior Aaronic Priesthood holder, and this home teacher worked with me. I didn’t want to see him at first; in fact, I refused, but he continued until I would let him come into my home and teach me. And here I am now, his bishop. I want to express to him my deep appreciation.’ Thank the Lord for such worthy men, who will not fail to do everything in their power to save those who are wandering.”

In his October 1988 general conference address, Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said, “I believe we members do not have the option to extend the hand of fellowship only to relatives, close friends, certain Church members, and those selected nonmembers who express an interest in the Church. Limiting or withholding our fellowship seems to me to be contrary to the gospel of Jesus Christ. The Savior offered the effects of His atoning sacrifice to all mankind. He said, ‘Remember the worth of souls is great in the sight of God’” (Doctrine and Covenants 18:10).

Certainly, the worth of a wandering soul is as great as that of the person who has yet to hear the gospel message. Everyone we meet, whether active or less-active member, or of another faith or no faith at all, is a son or daughter of Heavenly Father. We find in this brief account by Elder Ballard an example of how we ought to treat them:

“Years ago while walking up Main Street with his father, Elder LeGrand Richards, then the Presiding Bishop of the Church, tipped his hat and greeted everyone. Upon arrival at their destination, President George F. Richards, then the President of the Council of the Twelve, said, ‘Son, do you know all those people?’ Bishop Richards responded, ‘Yes, Daddy, I know them all — all but their names.”

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