What a science experiment taught BYU-Idaho students about ministering

After the April 2018 general conference, Nels Hansen wanted to know more about what ministering really meant.

"I also wanted to know if there was something more that Heavenly Father wanted me to understand that I currently did not understand well enough," the BYU-Idaho professor told students in the BYU-Idaho center at their devotional on Tuesday, July 17.

Hansen is the Applied Plant Science department chair, and like the scientist he is, he decided to conduct an experiment focused on ministering.

He enlisted the help of 20 students who agreed to practice ministering every day for two weeks and record their experiences in journals.

Although he wasn't sure what the group would learn, Hansen believed "God revealed someting to President Russell M. Nelson that was meant for us to better understand."

The experiment took place in May, when Hansen asked the students to pray to Heavenly Father each day for inspiration about who they could minister to. The students were asked to write down their impressions and what happened when they acted on them.

Over the next two weeks, Hansen checked in with the students to get updates on their progress. One student related an experience of feeling a distinct impression to send a postcard to a great aunt in another state. The young woman had no idea why, but realized that she needed to act on it.

"I just wrote about how I felt I needed to let her know I was thinking of her and wanted to let her know I love her," the student said in an email.

Four days later, she got a phone call. It was from her great aunt, who had just received the postcard. The aunt had just had surgery on her both her feet and was feeling low until her husband came in with the mail containing her niece's postcard.

The student didn't know her aunt was having surgery, "but I know Heavenly Father did," she said.

The experience taught the student that ministering didn't need to be anything big — it could be as simple as a postcard.

"When we seek to engage in the work of ministering, our Heavenly Father will lead us to meet the specific needs of others," Hansen said.

At the end of the two-week experiment, the group gathered again to share their thoughts. The conversation was recorded and lasted about 90 minutes. Hansen shared five clips that he hoped would represent the general feelings of the participants.

Throughout the clips, the students concluded that their daily prayers had changed. They found them to be more earnest and "showed a willingness to hear the word of the Lord for them."

Participants also found their view of others changing.

"The people around them were no longer obstacles to happiness, but people to get to know and people to love," Hansen remarked.

As the days went by, students noticed their focus moving from themselves to others. They were more aware and willing to engage with those around them on campus, at work and with friends and family.

Toward the end of the conversation the group concluded that "God knows His children's needs, and if we choose, we can serve Him in meeting those specific needs," Hansen said.

The experiment left participants feeling the need to continue daily ministering.

Hansen compared the results of the experiment to the parable of the Good Samaritan. He reminded the audience that the parable was given in the response to the question, "What shall I do to inherit eternal life?"

Drawing on the thoughts from the experiment, Hansen believes there was a major difference in the perspectives of those who passed the man traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho.

"I think we can agree the theives, priest and Levite all saw [the man] different than the Samaritan saw him," Hansen said. "The thieves, I believe, saw him as an opportunity to get something for nothing. The priest and Levite saw him as someone to be avoided because they would have to give up something for nothing in return."

What set the Samaritan apart? He saw the dying man as "someone of intrinsic worth and was willing to give up his time and his money to bring the man back to life."

Hansen asked the audience to reflect on two questions:

1) How do you see other people?

2) Who are you practicing becoming each day?

"Are you practicing becoming like the thieves, the priest and the Levite?" Hansen asked. "Or are you practicing becoming like the Samaritan?"

Receiving exaltation requires keeping the commandments. Keeping the commandments requires ministering, Hansen concluded.

"Exaltation will come to those who practice being like our Heavenly Father and His Son, Jesus Christ," Hansen said. "That practice is ministering."

"Please do not live one more forgettable day locked inside of yourself."