I’m remembering 9/11 and wondering: Why leave the 99 and seek after the 1 (or 9 or 11)? Why try to save anyone from burning and tumbling towers (symbolic of all perilous situations) at the inconvenience, expense, or risk of your own life?
After all, what CEO, manager, coach, quality control specialist or systems analyst—or for that matter, bishop or priest—would not be ecstatic with 99 percent? Can’t we rightfully—and righteously—consider the 1 to be inconsequential attrition? With 99 sheep “in” the fold, why worry about or bother with seeking the 1 “out”?
Search and Rescue
Imagine asking Thomas S. Monson, president and prophet of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Why have you, daily for the past 60+ years, left the 99 (or 15 million members) and gone out of your way to seek after and minister to the 1?
I suppose that President Monson would say something like this: During my days as a young bishop, I learned three important lessons: 1) it’s true what they say: No one cares how much you know until they know how much you care; 2) nothing shows you care like being there, at their side, especially when they need you; and 3) nothing shows the 99 that you care about them as much as when you minister to the one, especially when the one is the last, least, lowest, littlest, lame, or lost.
My neighbor Scott Hammond is a volunteer member of the county Search and Rescue team. For several years, whenever prompted by his beeper, he leaves whatever he is doing and heads straightway to join the search and rescue effort to save one lost soul.
True shepherds and servants of Jesus Christ, prompted by the Spirit, voluntarily leave the 99 to search for, rescue, and minister to the one.
Suffer and Perish
In fairness, I must admit that the inverse is also true: Those who are not true shepherds will be satisfied, if not self-congratulatory, for achieving 99 percent—leaving the one to suffer, alone, and perhaps perish.
This week, I slipped into the 9 a.m. Midway church meeting and joined a man (Bill) about my age, perhaps a bit older, sitting alone by the south-side entrance.
Before I spoke to Bill, I read the story written about him by his appearance (out-of fashion clothes, rugged features, weathered face and hands).
Since Bill was sitting next to the programs, I asked if he was the official greeter.
“No,” he said, “I’m just a peon,” implying involuntary servitude, inferior status.
Being somewhat familiar with feudal and caste systems, I replied in like terms, “Hi, Bill. I’m Ken, a peasant in the same camp. Why do you call yourself a peon?
“I’m nobody special,” he said. “I have no calling, no friends here.”
I asked, Are you a member of this ward?
I think so, he said. I don’t come to church often. No one knows me. I’m low life.
In the social stratification of feudal systems, low life—peons, peasants and serfs—were excluded based on cultural notions of purity and prominence. Society was divided into rigid social/economic groups—the lower status basically being a condition of bondage, servitude, or modified slavery—as people who occupied a plot of land were required to serve the Lord of the Manor and in return were entitled to work certain fields for meager subsistence.
In an effort to buoy up Bill, I told him that I, not he, deserved to be considered the lowest-ranking member—of the entire Church. I pled my case: “For the past 30 years I’ve traveled the globe alone, nowhere to call home, and attended Church when and where I could. I’ve had no real church calling for 20 years. In fact, I call myself an outcast—human trash, as dispensable and disposable as a dirty diaper.”
“Yikes,” said Bill, “nothing is worse than a dirty diaper. You deserve to be crowned the lowest ranking member in the Church.”
Reversal of Fortune
Of course, in his day, Christ—the Savior of mankind—wore the crown of thorns. He encountered all sorts of prejudice, pride, intolerance, unrighteous dominion, and alleged status of prominence and superiority. Christ then promised dramatic reversals of fortunes in the future (you see, even a dirty diaper—when washed and cleansed—can suddenly be seen as the most valuable item in any household with a baby).
Now, as a former wrestler, I’m familiar with reversals (when you come from underneath and gain control on top of your opponent). As a high school wrestler, I experienced an extreme reversal of fortune—going from being pinned 10 consecutive times as a sophomore to losing only one match as a senior.
Christ taught using parables and contrasts in superlatives—extreme reversals of fortune—from the lowest, last, least, poorest to first, best, highest, richest, greatest.
So, why bother with saving the one? The One lone or lost or lame person may be One of the Lord’s top draft picks, even though we may see him or her as ordinary. As CS Lewis wrote: “There are no ordinary people” (no peons, peasants, serfs or outcasts). “You have never talked to a mere mortal. It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses—to remember that the dullest person you talk to may one day be a creature whom you would be strongly tempted to worship.”
Of many stories I could tell as testimony to the truth of saving one, I think of two:
First, Oseola McCarty from Hattiesburg, Mississippi spent a lifetime washing, ironing and mending dirty clothes, including dirty cloth diapers. Her needs in life were simple. She lived in a small house and economized in every possible way, even cutting the toes out of shoes if they did not fit. Her pay over the decades was small, mostly in one dollar bills and change, but she tithed and saved consistently and one day donated $150,000—in $1 bills—to finance scholarships for poor black students at the University of Southern Mississippi. Local business leaders matched the $150,000. And by the way, the $300,000 has helped dozens of poor students, so far, to improve their lives.
Second, on Friday, Dec. 21 of last year, I was $5K short of making payroll and had other debts—resulting from two cases of affinity fraud and employee embezzlement (one by a neighbor and another by a nephew). I decided to close my 30-year-old business. No one in Utah would have known or cared, except for two remaining employees. It was a painful decision. All that I had worked so long and hard for would be lost—in spite of the blessing of Elder Holland that, if I remain faithful, I would receive what I would need to continue, even if the relief came at the last minute by miraculous means.
At about 11 a.m. I was busy preparing to announce the closing, effective at noon, when into the office barged a big man, John Hewlett, who told me in his loud voice that he had driven from Montana to see me, that he heard me speak a decade ago, and that the Spirit had commanded him to give me $5,000 immediately. And by the way, that $5,000 enabled me to stay in business long enough to sell the assets and continue to this day bigger and better than ever, blessing the lives of a half million people worldwide.
One Soul Is of Infinite Worth
Again, why save the one? Because in the Lord’s higher math, in his calculus, 1 is not next to nothing but equal, in eternity, to infinity. Indeed, great is the worth of one soul. One of my sons, as other missionaries have done, invested two years of his life to bring but one soul—a young Chinese chef working in Frankfurt, Germany—into the Church. By the way, that one has since become many—and could become millions.
I testify that all it takes is one true shepherd to bring the light, add the salt, leaven the loaf—and in the Lord’s way and infinite wisdom, over time, this search and rescue will yield exponential returns on investment and extreme reversals; indeed, thanks to the Lord of Lords, Jesus Christ, the so-called Lord of the Manor may some day work for and worship the so-called peon. He who was lost is found, last is first, least is greatest.