This was not your typical rescue mission.
No one streaked thick black paint across their face. No one dove into dangerous water. There were no jets, no parachutes and no secret code names.
The rescue didn’t happen at sea, on a mountainside or at the scene of a fiery car crash.
The most important rescue of my life unfolded in a living room.
Thirty years ago, I attended a local congregation of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Charlottesville, Va. We were such a small group of young men that we often combined the three classes for Sunday instruction. In the Church, young men are divided into what are called Aaronic Priesthood quorums. They are Deacons (age 12-13), Teachers (age 14-15) and Priests (age 16-18).
Those around me during this time in my life knew that I struggled mightily with the illness and death of my father. The Sabbath was particularly difficult and I remember a stretch of several Sundays when I chose to stay home alone and wonder about the future.
On one of these hot, thick Sunday afternoons, I plopped in my father’s papasan chair and let the worry wash over me. The air was so humid my shirt stuck to my skinny frame and I don’t know what was more suffocating — the teen angst or the thick Virginia air.
I looked at the clock and imagined our sacrament service ending, then Sunday School and, finally, the start of our third-hour priesthood meeting. I silently wondered if anyone on heaven or earth would even notice I wasn’t there.
Suddenly, I was startled to hear a car crunching up our long, loud, gravel driveway. Our family lived just a few miles outside of town, but far enough in the country that we rarely heard our neighbors or traffic.
A minute passed and I’d convinced myself it was someone turning around when I heard footsteps on the noisy deck stairs. They grew louder and multiplied as they moved across the side of the house and toward the sliding glass door.
Then, one at a time, young familiar faces appeared — Robert Snow, Eber Cummings, J.P. Marshall and others. They slid open the heavy door and streamed into my family room. You could have driven their minivan through my gaping mouth.
Andy Huntley, one of the finest priesthood leaders I’ve ever known, followed them in the door and shook my hand.
What he said was: “We’re here for a priesthood meeting.”
What I heard was: “We’re here for a rescue.”
After an opening prayer and some announcements, we discussed an upcoming Scouting activity and had a short message. I don’t recall the details, but I remember the unspoken lesson.
Before leaving, we knelt on my living room floor and someone offered a benediction. There was no special mention of me in the prayer and never any questions about where I’d been or what I was missing. There were no sermons and no preaching, just the simple message that I was missed.
As we said goodbye, a couple of them swatted at me playfully the way boys do and one of them dove in the papasan. We laughed as we pried him out.
Andy Huntley, the adviser who’d borrowed a van to get everyone there, shook my hand, looked me in the eye and said, “Hope to see you next Sunday.”
And he did.
Recently, I reconnected with Andy and his wonderful wife, Lisa, using social media. They are active, faithful members of a congregation in Centreville, Va. This week I thanked him for his rescue, some three decades too late, and asked what he remembered about the experience.
“I recall feeling that you needed to know that you had members of your quorum and patrol that understood you needed your space; and whatever else you needed — they were there. So, we decided in a quorum meeting to go check on you. Those were tender feelings expressed by young men that typically did not know how to so express themselves. All I did was provide transportation, really.”
His memory is crystal clear, at least until that last recollection. I assured him that his contribution was much more significant and eternal than simply driving the rescue van. Whether he knew it or not, his example that day taught that to rescue a brother, sometimes you’ve got to leave the church.
Perhaps such a real-time rescue isn’t realistic or appropriate in every ward or branch around the globe. A similar visit could happen after Sunday meetings, or on a weeknight, or in the morning hours before church services begin.
Exactly what the mission looks like isn’t important — especially to the lonely brother or suffering sister waiting on the other end. What matters most is that the rescue team shows up.
I often imagine that one day I might need a second kind of rescue, the one that requires black face paint, a life preserver, a brave fireman or a skilled doctor. But even if I do, I’m not sure it could ever surpass the first.
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