I was in trouble. We were only an hour or two into a six-day 50-mile hike. My skinny twelve-year-old frame was struggling under the weight of a back pack that felt far bigger and heavier than I was. My embarrassment grew with each boy that passed me on the trail. Other than K.F. Nelson, my Aaronic Priesthood adviser who brought up the rear, I was last and falling farther behind. Fear about whether I could make it gave way to tears I did my best to hide.
Before long, K.F. strode up beside me. A conversation something like this followed:
“How are you doing, Bo?”
Out of a boyish heart that wanted to be brave came the words, “I’m okay.”
He knew better. He spotted a big rock up around the bend and said, “Hey, what do you say we take off our backpacks up ahead and check out that rock formation?”
Relieved, I said, “Sure, if you want to.”
K.F. started lifting the backpack from my shoulders. “Wow,” he groaned, “that is one heavy pack!” He called ahead to one of the older, bigger boys, “Hey, Kent, come here.” Once he arrived, K.F. went on, “We’ve really loaded Bo up with some heavy pots. Could we strap a couple of them to your pack? And would you mind carrying this sleeping bag as well?”
“Sure. I can do that.”
After transferring the gear and pointing out some striations in the rock, K.F. said, “Well, shall we hit the trail and catch up with the rest of the boys?”
Off we went. I soon forgot the pain in my shoulders. What I would not forget was my teacher’s kindness and the way he helped me.
As the week progressed, K.F. continued to take a special interest in me. One day he invited me to follow him down to the river. He asked if I would like to learn some of his secrets to great fly fishing. I had packed a fly rod because it was on the list but hadn’t ever fished with anything but a standard pole. He helped me assemble it, then taught me how to tie a fly. He showed me his fly collection and explained how, and under what conditions, he used each one. He then helped me learn the beautiful motion of casting a fly. Before long, I caught my first fish. I was so excited. He told me how proud he was of me.
That week was hard, really hard. And yet, I learned I could do hard. More important, I discovered my teacher and leader believed in me and liked being with me.
Over 40 years later, I now realize that something much more significant and lasting was set in motion. I looked forward to being taught by K.F. in our Sunday deacons quorum meetings. I don’t remember everything he said, but a couple of things stuck with me.
First, I remember the look in his eye when I walked in the class. I could always tell how glad he was to see me.
Second, I remember learning from him the great stories of The Book of Mormon. Most of all, I remember how much I grew to love the prophets of The Book of Mormon. Not only did he teach us about the prophets and what they taught, he inspired me to come know them and feel about them as he did. I wanted to be like them. I felt the power of the Spirit as he shared his love for them and as he bore testimony of what they taught. I could feel how much he and the prophets loved the Savior Jesus Christ. I knew I did too. I felt K.F.’s commitment to be His disciple. I felt mine too.
K.F.’s interest in me continued long past his calling to be my teacher and leader. He stayed connected with me through my high school years. He wrote me every month or two during my mission in Europe. In these letters, he encouraged me to continue to be exact in my obedience, enthusiastic about the work, and valiant as a witness of Christ. He expressed his love and confidence in me. And he always ended by saying, “I pray for you every day.”
I honor this great and humble man, one of the most influential teachers of my youth. I knew he loved me most. And so did every other boy. And the Lord used the love of this man to lay a foundation stone of my faith in Him and His prophets that would last.