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July 16, 2009
In The Village
Everyone needs a buddy
by Orson Scott Card

Elizabeth Mills was my wife's visiting teacher for many years when we first moved into the Greensboro Summit Ward. She and her companion came faithfully every month, with well-prepared messages and comfortable conversation.

But assignments change, and years pass. We came home from vacation and heard the news from someone we home teach, Sister Brown, who was providing professional in-home nursing care for Sister Mills: She had passed away.

Brother Mills had died only a few months before, and my wife, Kristine, had meant to talk with her then, but our lives were crazy at the time, and the opportunity kept receding. Now it was gone.

At least Kristine would go to the funeral of this faithful sister. It was not an LDS funeral. Only one of Sister Mills's children had joined the Church; the others hired a protestant minister who did not know her to say a few words at graveside.

There were a handful of other ward members at the funeral -- old timers, who had known Sister Mills during her heyday, when the ward and she were young.

It made Kristine a little sad, though, that the Church had not been present enough in her life, toward the end, that the family would have known to arrange an LDS funeral.

Sister Mills had served faithfully as long as her health allowed. Kristine told me, "I feel like I let her down."

So did the Relief Society president and the bishop. With more inactive members than active ones on the rolls, it simply had not been possible to know everyone.

Last Sunday, the bishop got up after the high council speaker concluded his talk. Sister Mills's life and death as a Latter-day Saint was very much on his mind.

The bishop told about his time with our Young Men at Scout camp the previous week. They used a buddy system when the boys went in swimming. Every twenty minutes or so, a lifeguard would blow a whistle and all the boys had to find their buddy, clasp his hand, and raise their hands above their heads.

Then, when they left the swimming area, they had to take their i.d. card with them.

When all the boys were gone, there was one card left.

Immediately the camp's leaders went into emergency mode. While some looked for a living but forgetful boy among those walking around on dry land, others were preparing with scuba gear to search for a drowned one under the water.

The boy turned up safe (and embarrassed, and sorry), but the lesson was clear: Someone was always watching for you, making sure you were safe.

The bishop then told about Sister Elizabeth Mills, and how, at the end, she was unable to come to church and the leaders of the ward had lost track of her, did not even know who she was.

"I looked with trepidation to see who her home teachers were," said the bishop from the pulpit. "To my relief, they were Ron and Linda Jones, and they had visited Sister Mills every month until she died.

So the Church was still present in her home and in her life. She had not been forgotten.

Still, it would have been so easy for someone to have slipped through the cracks. We have a ward with more inactive than active households, and no more than the average faithfulness among home and visiting teachers.

Lives are busy and full; new people move into the ward and because we see them every week, it's easy to remember and keep track of them. But the elderly, the infirm -- when they stop showing up at Church, it's hard to notice who isn't there.

Just like in the lake, where all you can actually see are the boys who are above the surface of the water.

"So," the bishop said, "I'm blowing the whistle. Look for your buddy. Where is he? Where is she?"

In Relief Society, the president had brought an emergency-kit whistle in from the car. "I won't blow it loud enough to wake the babies who are sleeping in this room," she said, "but I'm going to blow it, so no one can say they haven't heard."

Our ward leaders do an excellent job. They wear themselves out in the service of the ward. But they also have families with children, and jobs that must be done. There is simply not enough time in the day, in the week, in the year to know everyone well, to visit personally with everyone whose name is on the rolls.

That's why home teachers go in the bishopric's stead, and visiting teachers in the place of the Relief Society presidency. No one person can watch everyone, but everyone can watch out for someone, so none will slip under the surface and be lost.

It's what we do, as Christians, as fellow-citizens of the Saints. We guard the borders of the Church, not to keep strangers out, but to let no citizens slip away accidentally, unnoticed, away from the city of God and out into the wilderness.

Copyright © 2021 by Orson Scott Card Printed from