The Often Unseen Fruits of Service

It is rare that we understand the good that comes from service. Several small acts of kindness from others at critical times in my life resulted in changes or decisions that have proven to be crucial. But in spite of some efforts at belated thanks, these friends or good Samaritans probably have no idea how important their kindness was. But sometimes we get an inspiring glimpse of what selfless service can do. Today, for example, I learned about the consequences of a famous act of kindness that came President Spencer Kimball. I had often heard people tell how a story of how he helped an expecting mother at an airport, but the consequences of that little story come as a more recent discovery. This is mentioned in this years’ LDS Priesthood Manual, around page 80:

President Spencer W. Kimball urged Latter-day Saints to engage in “simple acts of service” that would bless others’ lives as well as their own.1 He often found opportunities to offer such service himself, as the following account shows:

“A young mother on an overnight flight with a two-year-old daughter was stranded by bad weather in Chicago airport without food or clean clothing for the child and without money. She was . . . pregnant and threatened with miscarriage, so she was under doctor’s instructions not to carry the child unless it was essential. Hour after hour she stood in one line after another, trying to get a flight to Michigan. The terminal was noisy, full of tired, frustrated, grumpy passengers, and she heard critical references to her crying child and to her sliding her child along the floor with her foot as the line moved forward. No one offered to help with the soaked, hungry, exhausted child.

“Then, the woman later reported, ‘someone came towards us and with a kindly smile said, “Is there something I could do to help you?” With a grateful sigh I accepted his offer. He lifted my sobbing little daughter from the cold floor and lovingly held her to him while he patted her gently on the back. He asked if she could chew a piece of gum. When she was settled down, he carried her with him and said something kindly to the others in the line ahead of me, about how I needed their help. They seemed to agree and then he went up to the ticket counter [at the front of the line] and made arrangements with the clerk for me to be put on a flight leaving shortly. He walked with us to a bench, where we chatted a moment, until he was assured that I would be fine. He went on his way. About a week later I saw a picture of Apostle Spencer W. Kimball and recognized him as the stranger in the airport.’ ” [Edward L. Kimball and Andrew E. Kimball Jr., Spencer W. Kimball (1977), 334]

Several years later, President Kimball received a letter that read, in part:

“Dear President Kimball:

“I am a student at Brigham Young University. I have just returned from my mission in Munich, West Germany. I had a lovely mission and learned much. . . .

“I was sitting in priesthood meeting last week, when a story was told of a loving service which you performed some twenty-one years ago in the Chicago airport. The story told of how you met a young pregnant mother with a . . . screaming child, in . . . distress, waiting in a long line for her tickets. She was threatening miscarriage and therefore couldn’t lift her child to comfort her. She had experienced four previous miscarriages, which gave added reason for the doctor’s orders not to bend or lift.

“You comforted the crying child and explained the dilemma to the other passengers in line. This act of love took the strain and tension off my mother. I was born a few months later in Flint, Michigan.

“I just want to thank you for your love. Thank you for your example!” (In Gordon B. Hinckley, “Do Ye Even So to Them,” Ensign, Dec. 1991, 5.)

We may never know whether our attempts at service have a lasting effect or not. Naturally, some efforts will have no lasting impact, but if we seek to follow the Spirit of the Lord in striving to follow Christ, some of our attempts will bring significant fruits that we may one day have the pleasure of understanding more fully. But seen or unseen, let’s not hesitate to do more for those in need of a little help. The difference we make could change lives in surprising ways.


Author: Jeff Lindsay

15 thoughts on “The Often Unseen Fruits of Service

  1. Thanks for sharing this beautiful story. It is another wonderful story of how one member changed someone’s life – or perhaps helped someone be born in this case – just by lending a hand.

  2. Spencer Kimball is the holiest man on earth. If you don’t believe me, just listen to him speak. He’ll tell you all about the kind and humble deeds he has committed.

  3. It NEVER fails…find some good in the world and SOMEONE will try to twist in any way they can.

    FYI, President Kimball did not tell this story. It was President Gordon B. Hinckley praising President Kimball.

  4. Case in point, Anon.

    Thank you, Jeff, for posting this excellent example of SPENCER W. Kimball’s Christlike kindness. I think we could all use it as an example on how we can be aware of our surroundings and help those who are in obvious need.

  5. How silly for someone to think that he told that story of himself. He really was one of the most humble of men. Church leaders rarely travel alone, so someone who was with him would surely have been the one who reported it for his biographer to include.

    Comments like that cause me to worry for the hard-hearted person who left it. How bitter the day of judgement may be, especially if the same harsh standards are applied to evaluate your life. Today would be a great day to reconsider your ways .

  6. It’s a great story, and I’m sure Kimball did lots of nice things for people. I didn’t know him, so I can hardly say if he was humble or not, but I don’t suppose that’s my place anyway. At any rate, if he told his family and friends about this event, then that hardly cheapens it–charity doesn’t have to be secret to be good!

    It does seem a little strange though, how he didn’t know who the woman was, but then somehow she was interviewed for his biography. What’s even stranger is that her own son, who certainly could have heard the story growing up, then heard it in a PH session as a young adult and was suddenly moved to write a letter. I mean, if you (today) had grown up knowing that Hinckley had helped your mom out, and knew that she had spoken with him (or his sons) about the event, and that the event appeared in his biography, and then you heard it again in PH, would you suddenly feel the desire to write? If he had grown up hearing the story, would he need to introduce himself and give all these details about his mother’s true condition, as in, “And now you know the rest of the story?” Kimball’s biographers were circulating the story already, so the mother had been contacted…so Kimball would have already known the rest of the story (since the second paragraph cites her as a direct source). The whole thing comes together in such an interesting way–not impossible, but a lot like some poetic license has been taken.

    I’ll have to read Kimball’s biography. I read the Ensign article, but that doesn’t shed much light on this. It’s like the accounts of Jesus in Gethsemane being relayed word for word, even though all of the witnesses were sleeping far away…somebody appears to have felt that the message of the event was more important than the event itself.

    I know some people (cough..ussell…cough) will undoubtedly take great umbrage at the suggestion that Hinckley could be following the pattern set by Joseph Smith, Paul Dunn, and whoever ordered the rerecording (with realistic cough-track) of Ronald Poelman’s 1984 talk, but I just thought the flow of events was interesting. They could have easily found something more plausible and equally uplifting.

  7. Actually, I need to thank you, Uj. This talk is a tremendous talk that has slipped by my radar. Brilliant. My gratitude.

    It is remarkable that I fully expected that PRECISELY this kind of fire would come in response to this post. Unfortunate. Not even a fortunate happenstance–it’s all the tangled web weaved by white businessmen in the bastion of American conservatism. Who’s spreading the rumors here anyway? That’s our job! 🙂

    What a life some people lead–No goodness, no love.
    Unfortunately, some people have lived half of a life. Miraculous happenstances DO HAPPEN–I’VE SEEN THEM. I know how to analyze, criticize, question assumptions–I’ll make my living doing this. BUt I also know that miracles do happen. Chesterton was right in his insistence that the truth is inherently paradoxical.

    In any case, the Poelman case was a non-event (btw Uj, how DO people get the full text of the talk if it wasn’t published in the original form? Just a question).

    Elder Holland spoke to Poelman’s point within the past few years: “Sometimes we seek heaven too obliquely, focusing on programs or history or the experience of others.”

    Elder Maxwell in 1971 (give or take a year: “Absolute truth comes with its own set of behavioral disorders” (BYU devotional address).

    I’ve done a full comparison between the two texts. The thrust of the two talks remains almost identical; if anything, naysayers who insist on manufacturing a scandal might differ with me. In some ways, the old talk contradicted itself, was muddled in thinking. While other talks are sometimes equally confusing, when the confusion could change a speaker’s meaning, that change must be addressed.

  8. Russ, I hope the froth coming from your mouth doesn’t damage your keyboard. I’m sorry you feel your life has no goodness or love; maybe you should see a therapist.

    I’m glad you enjoyed the 1991 talk.

    The 1984 talk was captured by the miracle of VCR’s, and later published in Sunstone. People thought it was a great talk, especially in Sunstone-type communities, so they noticed when it got changed in the Ensign. Perhaps you think it is just a vast conspiracy. Tinfoil hats, everyone!

    I first read the talk in print, way before web sites were all the rage. I was a recently-returned, dyed-in-the-wool missionary and I could easily see the significant difference. The church is free to censor its publications, of course–nothing wrong with that. The evil part is trying to hide the fact that it ever happened. As for the identical nature of the two talks, I guess if you consider, “realize the difference between the church and the gospel in order to fully live the gospel” and “realize the harmony of the church and the gospel in order to fully live the gospel” are the same thing, I don’t know what to say.

    From what I know from conversations with recent speakers at Conference, today’s talks are due weeks in advance for screening and, corrections are made. So the leaders learn from their mistakes.

    Some recent addresses have made hints, and rightly so, toward making the church less controlling in member’s lives. I too have noticed this trend with much gladness.

    I must have missed your defense of Paul Dunn and Joseph Smith (who taught monogamy publicly (had it in the D&C even!) while living…well…this is a family blog so I’ll stop right there).

    My point stands–if leaders are fallible, stories may be embellished. (Just look at the “milk strippings” fable.) If you want to tell a moving story, find a more plausible one–they exist. Give me a break, Russ–do you think an apostle hasn’t done some kind act of service in the last 40 years? You must be a closet “anti-Mormon”….

  9. Alas, it goes on. Neither you nor I have the evidence to prove or disprove this account. You can be skeptical, even orthodoxically so, if you want. In any case, if it weren’t true, it wouldn’t speak well to Pres. Hinckley’s storytelling abilities; is that the BEST story you can come up with? No rebukes to the wicked (wherein they crawl to Pres. Kimball’s feet in remorse)? I wouldn’t say, “why not more believable, I would say, “when compared to what the human imagination is capable of, why SO believable?” As a story itself, it’s a bore. The woman could at least have revealed herself as some kind of ambassador or movie star who would then start a crusade to support the LDS church.

    The lack of sensationalism is its beauty.

    I’m not inclined to parse Poelman’s words–like you, I can only inject meaning on them. I do know that those who point out differences do so at the expense of the vast similarities. It’s like focusing in on a pimple while ignoring the face (“delivery system” is indeed an odd word to describe something re: the eternities). It was a clean up job, clearing up an already ambiguous talk. His key point remained in BOTH talks–eternal principles do not change while procedures do. Look it up.

    I didn’t bother defending Paul Dunn since he publicly accepted blame just fine on his own (see Church News, Oct. 1991). I’ll let him rest in peace. As far as Joseph Smith polygamy (so hackneyed), that ground has been thoroughly covered. Read Bushman if you want a more thorough treatment. If you don’t want to accept it, don’t. Just please respect those who do.

    And interestingly (you’ll have to take my word on this, even though we Mormons can’t be trusted with our stories :), I actually was researching the strippings story this morning at the same time I was writing my post. You don’t want to go there–George A. Smith’s 20 year -old recollection, Henry Bigler’s firsthand account/journal–we’ve got it covered on this front.

  10. Thanks so much for this post. I am about to teach my very first lesson for Relief Society next weekend. And the topic I chose is Selfless Service, and it is all about this story. I loved reading your thoughts on the subject and helped me understand a bit more about it. Thanks so much.

  11. I'm the two year old child. No longer 2. I grew up hearing this story, but as a child I didn't like my part in the story (crying and making things difficult) so I was also surprised when I heard the story given in a Church lesson when I was in my twenties. From what I understand, my mother saw somewhere that a biography was being written about the life of President Kimball and a general request for stories or experiences about him was issued. The stories were then shared with President Kimball and if he remembered the incident it could be reviewed for possible inclusion in the book. If he couldn't confirm that the event had actually taken place, then it was not used. President Kimball remembered the incident with my mother in the airport and it was selected for inclusion in the biography. I noticed this blog because one of my sister's posted it. I'm not going to follow the blog but just thought I'd try to shed a little light on this one issue. The story helps me to be more aware of the needs of those around me, especially in crowds of people and in airports. I don't plan on following the blog or reading any future comments. My mother passed away last summer. I'm grateful for the kindness of President Kimball to my mother and for every other person in her life that reached out to her in kindness.

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