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Tad Callister’s 90-year-old mother fed ‘the elderly’ + more examples of the profound influence of parents

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The following is an excerpt from “Teaching with Power” by Tad R. Callister and Kathryn S. Callister.

Parents can have a profound influence on their children. Ben Carson’s mother, a single parent, was Ben’s prime teacher, and what a difference she made. Ben said of himself, “I was the worst student in my whole fifth-grade class.” One day Ben took a math test with thirty problems. The student behind him corrected it and handed it back. The teacher, Mrs. Williamson, started calling each student’s name for his or her score. Finally, she got to Ben. Out of embarrassment, he mumbled his score. Mrs. Williamson, thinking he had said “nine,” replied that for Ben to score nine out of thirty was a wonderful improvement. The student behind Ben then yelled out, “Not nine! . . . He got none . . . right.” Ben said he wanted to drop through the floor.1

At the same time, Ben’s mother, Sonya, faced obstacles of her own. She was one of twenty-four children, had only a third-grade education, and could not read. She had married at age thirteen, was divorced, had two sons, and was raising them in the ghettos of Detroit. Nonetheless, she was fiercely self-reliant and had a firm belief that God would help her and her sons if they did their part.

One day a turning point came in her life and in the lives of her sons. It dawned on her that successful people for whom she cleaned homes had libraries—they read. After work, she went home and turned off the television that Ben and his brother were watching. She said in essence: “You boys are watching too much television. From now on you can watch three programs a week. In your free time, you will go to the library—read two books a week, and give me a report.”

The boys were shocked. Ben said he had never read a book in his entire life except when required to do so at school. They protested, they complained, they argued, but it was to no avail. Then Ben reflected, “She laid down the law. I didn’t like the rule, but her determination to see us improve changed the course of my life.”

And what a change it made. By the seventh grade, he was at the top of his class. He went on to attend Yale University on a scholarship, then University of Michigan Medical School. Afterward, at age thirty-three, he became chief of pediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and a world-renowned surgeon. Later he became a presidential candidate. How was all this possible? Largely because of a mother who, without many of the advantages of life, magnified her calling as a parent.2

As parents, we are to be the prime gospel teachers and examples for our children—not the bishop or the Sunday School, Young Women, or Young Men teachers or leaders, but the parents. As their prime gospel teachers, we can teach them the power and reality of the Savior’s Atonement and of their divine identity and destiny. In so doing, we will give them a rock foundation upon which to build.

The home is the ideal forum for teaching the gospel of Jesus Christ. This fact was greatly impressed upon us while on assignment in Beirut, Lebanon. While there, we learned about a twelve-year-old girl, Sarah. Her parents and two older siblings had converted to the Church in Romania but were then required to return to their homeland when Sarah was just seven years of age. In their homeland, there was no Church presence, no organized units, no Sunday School or Young Women program. After five years, this family learned of a branch in Beirut and, just before we arrived, sent Sarah, accompanied by older siblings, to be baptized. While there, we gave a devotional on the plan of salvation. On more than one occasion, Sarah raised her hand to answer the questions we asked.

After the meeting, and knowing of her almost nonexistent exposure to the Church, we approached her and asked, “Sarah, how did you know the answers to those questions?” She immediately replied, “My mother taught me.” Her family did not have the Church in their community, but they did have the gospel in their home. Her mother was her prime gospel teacher.

Helaman paid a great tribute to the mothers of the two thousand stripling warriors: “They had been taught by their mothers, that if they did not doubt, God would deliver them. And they rehearsed unto me the words of their mothers, saying: We do not doubt our mothers knew it” (Alma 56:47–48; emphasis added). What a powerful witness those mothers must have borne to their sons! And what finer tribute could a child pay to a parent than Enoch did of his father: “My father taught me in all the ways of God” (Moses 6:41).

It was Enos who said, “The words which I had often heard my father speak concerning eternal life, and the joy of the saints, sunk deep into my heart” (Enos 1:3; emphasis added). Alma the Younger had a similar experience. In the moment of his extremity, “racked with torment,” he “remembered also to have heard [his] father prophesy unto the people concerning the coming of one Jesus Christ, a Son of God, to atone for the sins of the world.” As his “mind caught hold upon this thought,” he pled for the mercy of Jesus Christ, and then the miracle came (Alma 36:17–18). What if in these moments of readiness, even desperation, there were no words of eternal life taught by their fathers and mothers to draw upon, no reservoir of doctrine to drink from because there had been no home evenings, no scripture discussions, no preaching in the home? Fortunately, however, their fathers and mothers were their prime gospel teachers, and when their hearts were receptive, the power of the doctrine bore deep into their souls.

The family proclamation explains why it is so important for parents to teach the gospel in the home: “Happiness in family life is most likely to be achieved when founded upon the teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ.”3 What an example Alma is to all parents in this regard. The scriptures record, “He caused that his sons should be gathered together, that he might give unto them every one his charge, separately, concerning the things pertaining unto righteousness” (Alma 35:16). In personal, intimate, one-on-one encounters, he counseled his children and bore his irrefutable testimony to them. No doubt this inspired teaching became the bedrock upon which their testimonies grew and their lives of service were built. Helaman was of like mind as he taught his sons “many things” (Hel. 5:13).

Tad remembers his father stretched out by the fireplace, reading the scriptures and other good books, and then Tad would stretch out by his side. He remembers the cards his father would keep in his shirt pocket with quotes of the scriptures and Shakespeare that he was memorizing and new words that he was learning. Tad recalls wanting to do the same thing. He remembers the gospel questions and discussions at the dinner table, the many times his father played catch with him before dinner, and all the ball games he came to—from Little League baseball through high school basketball. It seemed like his father was always there, rooting and cheering his son on. Tad never wanted to do anything to hurt or embarrass his father. He remembers the many, many times his father took him to visit widows—how they would stop by to pick up ice cream for one or a chicken dinner for another and his father’s final handshake with some money enclosed. Tad remembers the good feelings he had and the desire to be just like his father.

Tad also remembers his mother, at age ninety or so, cooking in her condominium kitchen and then exiting with a tray of food. When asked where she was going, she replied, “Oh, I am taking some food to the elderly.” Tad thought to himself, “Mother, you are the elderly.” In truth, she must have cooked hundreds of meals for the needy.

Kathy’s father unexpectedly passed away from a heart attack when she was in high school. At the time he was the principal of an elementary school. He had previously converted to the Church while in the military and was a big, strong man with a gentle and loving disposition. Like the Savior, he went about doing good—doing small but continual acts of service and kindness. He loved his wife immensely and treated her like a queen. He had a wonderful sense of humor. He loved children, and they knew it. Kathy knew he was a man of God. He taught her the gospel and set an example for her that she wanted to follow.

Kathy remembers her mother, a widow at age forty-five, teaching school full-time and managing and cleaning apartments so she would have the financial means to raise four children at home. During these difficult times, with the utmost kindness and patience, her mother taught Kathy and her siblings the value of hard work. At the same time, Kathy’s mother served in many Church callings, including ward Relief Society president. With the early and unexpected death of her beloved husband, the faith of Kathy’s mother never wavered. She was a rock upon which Kathy could build her own testimony of faith.

We can never express enough gratitude for our parents, who were our prime gospel teachers and examples.


1. See Ben Carson and Cecil Murphey, Gifted Hands: The Ben Carson Story (1996), 26–28.
2. See Carson and Murphey, Gifted Hands, 16–17, 32–33, 38, 69, 97, 108.
3. “The Family: A Proclamation to the World,”

Teaching with Power

Jesus Christ is the Master Teacher, and we have been commanded to follow His example, acquiring not only His attributes but also His teaching skills. As we do so, we invite the Spirit into our lives in the fullest measure possible. In Teaching with Power, beloved author Tad R. Callister and his wife, Kathy, explain that the goal of every gospel teacher is much more than giving a masterful lesson or an entertaining, never-to-beforgotten presentation; it is to make our students better—to inspire them to become more like Christ. When we understand this purpose, then the questions we ask, the discussions we lead, and the invitations we extend will all be designed to further this objective. This book will help you more effectively meet the true goal of teaching: helping those we teach become converted disciples of Jesus Christ.

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