Minneota is a small town in the middle of a beautiful tall-grass prairie in western Minnesota. It is a quiet, peaceful place where folks know and trust their neighbors, and children ride their bikes to school. In a remote area like this, though, there aren't enough Church youth to organize a seminary class.
But if they can't go to seminary, the Church Educational System will go to them. The young men and young women, like Joseph and Jacob Cheadle of the Marshall Branch, Sioux Falls South Dakota Stake, can study at home with one of their parents, and CES missionaries will visit them and check on their progress.
So when the phone rings at 6:30 on frigid winter mornings in the Cheadle household, there is no reason to be alarmed. The kids know that it is just Dad calling to teach a seminary lesson. Dad is U.S. Army Capt. Aaron Cheadle, and he is calling from Iraq, where he is serving as the brigade transportation officer in the 834th Aviation Support Battalion on Joint Base Balad.
Brother Cheadle has been in the military for 23 years. When he left his wife, Laura, and their seven children home in rural Minnesota and began his second tour of duty in Iraq last July, he understood the sacrifices that they would all have to make while he was away. Concerned about the particular pressures faced by a military wife, Brother Cheadle prayed that he could find a way to help Laura and ease the strain that she would undoubtedly feel in his absence.
Asked how she copes in the single-parent role, Sister Cheadle said, "It helps that it's crazy enough you don't have time to stop." Occasionally, she said, she drives the 12 miles to Marshall where friends in the Church offer to give her a hand.
Brother Cheadle felt impressed to help his wife by teaching his seminary-age sons early morning seminary. Up to that time, Sister Cheadle, who joined the Church while in college, taught her boys.
But when Brother Cheadle considered the demands on his time in Iraq, he could not imagine how he could accomplish this goal. He knew that it was important, though, and he continued to pray in faith that a way could be found.
Brother Cheadle's faith was rewarded. Schedules were rearranged and, miraculously, time was found. Within a few weeks, with the full support and cooperation of his commanding officer and the soldiers who work for him, Brother Cheadle started to call home each school day to teach his sons lessons drawn from the life of the Savior. In reflecting on what this experience means to him personally, he writes, "Spending the time studying and pondering the scriptures has brought the Spirit into my life more, and my reverence and respect for the real power of the Atonement has deepened."
Sister Cheadle said Joseph and Jacob enjoy their seminary experience. "It's perfect, because Aaron gets a chance to stay in touch with the boys," she said. They start their morning doing their paper route, take seminary, then join their other school-age brothers and sisters going to Minneota Public School which includes preschool through 12th grade.
When asked about the rather extraordinary circumstances surrounding this seminary class, Brother Cheadle expressed gratitude to his Father in Heaven and a testimony that with faith, one can always accomplish the will of the Lord. He believes that in addition to the seminary curriculum, this may be one of the most important lessons that his boys have learned from this experience.
Joseph said, "It's pretty special to have my Dad be able to teach us while he's deployed." He added that his Dad, who served a mission in Germany, is a professional teacher who instructs classes on English and German at the local school.
Sister Cheadle said that, while the younger children are usually sleeping during the seminary hour, their Dad is able to call home at other times to talk to them.
Brother Cheadle is a little surprised that other people find the seminary story so inspiring. He wonders if maybe people are moved by the symbolism of a soldier who, though far from home, remains faithful to the things that matter the very most. Perhaps he is right. But the faith shown by the Cheadle family in the face of enormous sacrifice and terrible danger is also inspiring. Their devotion to studying the word of the Lord during this difficult period of separation seems to echo the spirit of the psalm, "God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble" (Psalm 46:1.)