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How I Learned What True Ministering Looks Like While in Prison

The Savior is our perfect example in all things. If we want to know how to better develop an attribute, value, or characteristic in any way, we need only look to Him. With a new mandate from our prophet to minister more effectively to each other, it seemed obvious to turn to the scriptures and see how the Savior did it.

I was surprised how quickly my search turned from how the Savior ministered to who He ministered to. In hindsight, this should have been obvious as ministering is not so much about the act as the people. Home teaching and visiting teaching were centered on acts: getting in the door, teaching the lesson, checking the boxes. Ministering is focusing on the people.

So with this thought in mind, I started a list of who the Savior ministered unto.

The list is, of course, vast, as it generally includes everyone He came in contact with. But the more I read, the more patterns started to emerge. So I narrowed the list to six categories.

1. The Sick

We read in Matthew 4:24 that “they brought unto Him all sick people . . . with diverse diseases, . . . and He healed them.” As you read the individual accounts of the sick the Savior healed, it’s clear there was so much more involved than just a curing of their disease. There was ministering. I think this is most evident in the story of the woman with the “issue of blood.” She reached out and, through her faith and the power of the Savior, she was healed. Christ could have just left it at that. She was healed. Physically she didn’t need anything else. But the Savior took the time to stop and, amidst the crowd, give her His undivided attention, telling her to be of good comfort ( Matt 9:20-22).

2. The Afflicted

The next category is very closely related: the afflicted. I often wonder if the Savior went even one day in His ministry without caring for someone who was afflicted in some manner. In 3 Nephi 17:9 we read that He healed those who were afflicted in any manner. Do we not all fall into this category in one way or another? Whether it is physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual, all are afflicted in some manner, and the Savior desires to minister to us. In some cases the affliction is how the Savior ministers to us. In Ether 12 we learn that we are given weaknesses to assist in our growth and progression.

One of my favorite stories of Christ ministering to the afflicted is in Mark 8:22-26. A blind man is brought to Christ and the request is made that he be healed. The Savior could easily have fulfilled the request and been on His way. Instead, we read that He “took the blind man by the hand and led him.” I know that in many, many ways, I am spiritually blind. I often picture the Savior taking me by the hand and leading me when I can’t see what is ahead. To me it is such a sincere, personal act, full of patience and charity. Those attributes are so important when ministering to others. We may at times find ourselves in positions to help those whose spiritual eyes are not as strong as ours. These situations will require patience and a charity that lends a clarity to our own eyes that we may see them as children of God who are worth the extra time and effort it may take to walk beside them through their struggles. That patience and charity only grows stronger as I think upon my spiritual blindness and how patience has been shown to me; both by my Savior and others in my life.

3. The Despised

This group includes anyone who has ever experienced hate. Anyone who has been told they are unworthy of love or connection. The Savior included Himself among this crow. In John 15:18 He said, “if the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you.”

The Savior strove to teach us that everyone is worthy of love and connection. I think He showed this most beautifully in John 4 as He taught among the Samaritans. The Jews hated the Samaritans. We read in John 4 that Christ’s disciples were shocked to find Him associating with a Samaritan woman. Even the woman was confused at first as to why Christ would talk with her. He taught her simple truths, but the very act taught so much more. He declared unabashedly that He considered this woman worthy of love and connection.

Do we have the opportunity to minister in this way today? I would encourage you to kneel in prayer, asking Heavenly Father to guide you to the despised of the world—those whom society says are to be hated, kept from love, and severed from connection. Then ask for the Christlike courage to stand beside them in acts of pure charity that declare to the world that all of God’s children are worthy of love and connection.

4. The Condemned

This one obviously hits close to home with me, having been condemned of the world, but I think it applies to all of us. All of us have, and will, commit sin. Christ throughout His life was very clear on how He felt about the condemned. In John 8 we read about the adulterous woman. In an act simple yet profound (which was often His way) He declared that she was worthy of forgiveness. He ministered to her by standing by her side when no one else would—by encouraging and helping her overcome her sins, having complete confidence in her that she could.

5. The Outcasts

These are people shunned by society for being different. As imperfect people, subject to the “natural man,” we tend to fear things that are different; things we don’t understand. This turns tragic when the thing that is different is a fellow child of God.

We all know who they are. It’s highly likely you regularly cross paths with someone in this category. Chances are you’ve been in this category yourself at one point in your life. It’s the kid in your class who dresses differently. It’s the coworker who doesn’t really speak English well. It’s the neighbor struggling with mental illness. It’s the ward member who struggles with social skills. They are the ones whom the Savior spent almost all His time with. And we can minister in the same way, by spending time with them. It’s simple—and yet hard. It’s hard to overcome social behavior, norms, and prejudice that has been ingrained in us since birth. And it takes a lot of courage. But the acts themselves are simple. It’s volunteering to be reading buddies with the kid who dresses differently. It’s learning a few phrases in a new language to help out the coworker who doesn’t speak English. It’s taking a plate of cookies to your neighbor and spending a few minutes getting to know each other. It’s having more patience with your ward member.

6. Our Enemies

The last group is definitely the hardest group to minister to: our enemies. If you’re like me when confronted with the idea of ministering to an enemy, you can suddenly list 101 reasons why your situation is the exception to the commandment “love thine enemies.” That list usually starts and/or ends with "They don’t deserve it." And the fact is it’s true. The people in my life who have hurt me do not deserve the time and energy it would take for me to minister to them. They don’t deserve the benefits that my service would give them. They deserve my ministering and service as much as I deserve the Savior's Atonement . . . Oh wait; that’s right. I don’t deserve the Atonement. None of us do. And yet,  despite the fact that “the natural man is an enemy to God,” He still ministered to us ( in the ultimate act of ministering) by suffering on the cross.

I bring this up because I find that even after years of practice, when I find myself in a situation where I can minister to an enemy, I still instinctively want to make that list. I have found that the best way to counteract that urge is to remind myself that Christ could have just as easily made a list about me, but He didn’t. He ministers to me anyway.

These ministering acts can be small and simple but, in my opinion, are the most powerful. I’ll share and example of why I feel this is true.

A few years ago I was arrested and booked into Box Elder County Jail. I quickly found myself in a world I did not understand—a world where I was the despised, the condemned, the outcast. I came to know what it truly means to be hated. I had not a single friend, finding myself surrounded by enemies—people who, at best, if not wanting to cause me bodily harm, wanted to take all I had and leave me destitute.

I didn’t know what to do. One thing was for sure, ministering to these people was the last thing on my mind. But the Spirit kept giving me small nudges—first in the form of my mother telling me about Ho’oponopono, a Polynesian word meaning “I forgive you, please forgive me, thank you, I love you.” I would say this word over and over in my mind, thinking of the individuals around me. Then Heavenly Father started giving me opportunities to serve. Nothing big—I shared books and cookies with those around me.

Eventually, I even started reading scriptures with some of them. I never did any huge, grand acts of ministering. Just small and simple. To be honest, at first I did them begrudgingly, but after a few months, I started to enjoy it. I prayed for opportunities, sought them out. And after ten and a half months, when I finally left, I could not get out the door for the line of inmates wanting to give me a hug before I left. Because of my willingness to trust in the Savior and minister to my enemies, He was able to use me as an instrument in His hands to bring about a change—a change in myself and those around me, turning enemy into friend and turning hearts towards Christ. And therein lies the true power of ministering as the Savior ministered.

May we all strive to minister as Christ did. He showed us the way throughout His life; we have but to follow.

Lead image from Getty Images
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