I serve as a bishop in Woodstock, Virginia, and working with youth is easily the highlight of the calling. What could be better than linking arms with the future of the Church?
Watching them learn to lead, to teach, to minister, to repent, and to come unto Christ is like parting earth’s spiritual curtains and peeking into heaven.
In January of this year, Shawn Hamp, then a 17-year-old member of our priest quorum, lost his father. One sunny Sunday afternoon Lyle Hamp was teaching the young men; the next night he was gone. Though he’d been diagnosed with cancer, the timing was still shocking and sudden.
Shawn grieved quietly and marched slowly through his senior year. Having lost my own father as a teen, we chatted often about his feelings and our relationship deepened.
Then, in May, the Spirit began nudging me to meet with him about the temple and a mission. Like his peers, Shawn was busy preparing for prom, graduation, and all the other memorable rites of passage.
Obviously, it wouldn’t be the first time Shawn and I had this discussion, but we both knew the temple and a full-time mission weren’t high priorities. Shawn had never been interested in early-morning seminary, scouting, was hit or miss on mutual nights, rarely attended temple baptismal trips, and usually arrived too late on Sundays to participate in administering the sacrament.
Still, the Spirit wouldn’t let me rest. In one of the strongest promptings I’ve ever received, I knew I needed to look him in the eyes, invite him to drop the classes he’d registered for at a nearby community college, and begin working on his application to serve a full-time mission.
On June 24, I pulled Shawn aside and shared my impressions. I told him I’d felt prompted to share the invitation to pray about what would surely be a life-changing decision, and I promised him I wouldn’t mention it again.
He thanked me, smiled politely, and we said goodbye.
The next day, I received the message heard ‘round the ward.
“Last night after byd (Bishopric Youth Discussion) I came home and prayed about that conversation we had at church and then I started reading my scriptures and I felt the Spirit tell me, stronger than I’ve ever felt before, to drop my lfcc (Lord Fairfax Community College) and go on a mission.”
Shawn lives 16 miles from me, but there’s no doubt he heard me screaming.
The next few months were a whirlwind of interviews, doctors appointments, trips to the temple in Philadelphia, and the call letter he never imagined he’d open. He was called to the California Los Angeles Mission — Spanish speaking — and on December 11 he flew to the Mission Training Center in Mexico.
As his report date neared, we spoke of how his mission would change his life forever and how pleased the Lord was with his decision to serve. But we also spoke of the even greater importance of receiving his endowments in the house of the Lord. While an honorable mission might be called an irreplaceable experience, the temple is called a place of saving ordinances.
The night before he left, I asked Shawn to describe that June night when his future changed. “I just started reading from the beginning of the Book of Mormon and then it wasn’t a super long prayer, but it was what I needed to do. As soon as I was finished praying there was not a single other option for me to choose except for a mission. The answer was too strong to ignore it. It was almost as if it was said out loud that I need to serve. The Spirit was so strong that I just sat there on my floor, crying.”
When I asked Shawn how he’d feel about being the subject of this piece, he was honored. “Tell the youth that the gospel is more important than anything that they could be doing that’s keeping them from church. It’s true.”
Shawn added that after his dad’s death, he first turned to other things to distract him. But eventually, he came to understand more than ever the Plan of Salvation. “I’ve noticed lately there are a lot more promptings from the Holy Ghost. I feel completely better, happier, and like I actually matter.” He also grew closer than ever to his mother, Cindy, and credits her for helping him prepare at light-speed to depart.
Just before we said goodbye for two years, I asked Shawn what might be the single important message for any young man or woman reading his story and feeling a little lost. “It’s never too late to get back on the right path,” he answered.
And if it’s true for teens, it’s true for me and you, too.