I have always lived well outside the Western U.S. where there are church buildings in every neighborhood. I have heard Church members refer to anywhere outside Utah as “the mission field.” Many years ago, when I lived in another ward, I had a conversation with a sister in my ward in which she confessed to wishing she could return to the west “where they did things right.” In all honesty, I was really put off by her comment. Not ever having lived out west, I really did not understand what she was longing for. But I did see many people in my ward stepping up and accepting callings they did not feel qualified to do. I saw them seeking to serve people in the best way that they knew how, and I felt like that counted so much more than how well a program was run.
I have since moved to a much smaller ward, in which there are very few families with children. There is typically only one or two children in each of my children's Primary classes. We are geographically very spread out, making it difficult to develop relationships with other members. And we seem to have an unusual number of people with serious difficulties, such as illness, disability, single parents, widows, etc. My husband was just remarking to me the other day that one of ten of our members needs a ride to church. In the face of all the trials my little ward faces, I sometimes find myself feeling a little like this dear sister shared with me years ago. I especially worry that my children will not find friends in the Church.
So we have been forced to make a concerted effort to look for friends outside the Church. We have met people at the park, at the library, and at the local park district. We plan play dates and schedule activities together for our kids. Grasshopper has loved all of her friends, but she has lamented on occasion that she wishes they could all believe the same thing. And I have wonder what God has planned for us in all of this.
This weekend, I attended a Christian homeschooling conference with a couple of friends (not church members). Toward the end of the first day, I noticed that I did not see a single teenager that was dressed inappropriately (by LDS standards). I came home and told my daughter what I saw and told her that she had friends who were taught the same standards of living, even if their doctrinal beliefs differed. Those friends would support her as she sought to live the gospel throughout her childhood.
And when I returned the next day, my friend remarked to me, “Have you noticed how modestly the youth are all dressed?” I am so grateful for people of all faiths who seek live pure lives. And I am grateful that God has led me to “the mission field,” putting us in a position to seek out friendships with these good people that I might otherwise never have approached.