A certain community, in the 1950s and 1960s, was a pleasant place. It was located in what was then the no-longer-rural-but-not-yet-suburban farm country some 10-15 miles from anything even closely resembling a city.
It was also a characteristic Utah Mormon community, combining dairy farms, sheep pastures and willow-covered river bottoms with unpaved roads, scattered houses, a ma-and-pop grocery store and a small grade school.
The Jones family (not their real name) lived in the heart of this community, but were not Latter-day Saints, a fact well-known among the community's residents.
So, while neighbors knew what the Joneses weren't, they didn't know what the Joneses were.
And that, of course, is problematic.
But before we pass judgement on the seemingly uncaring Latter-day Saints of this community, we need to consider this: These were hard-working, industrious, caring, loving people. These were people who helped each other in the fields, cared for one another's children and lifted each other's burdens. Many having descended from LDS pioneer stock, these people obeyed the commandments, taught the doctrine and raised their children to love and serve the Lord.
They were not, to be sure, perfect. But they were, to be equally sure, trying very, very hard to do what was right.
The problem, speaking of the group generally, was more one of omission than of commission.
Community members had absolutely nothing against the Jones family. They just rarely thought about them. It wasn't that they excluded the Joneses; they just never included the Joneses.
Hindsight tells many of those residents just how short-sighted they were.
Because our religious beliefs are so integrated into our daily lives, Latter-day Saints sometimes seem a peculiar people. For many Latter-day Saints, the Church is not only their spiritual base, but also their social base. Because the Church is so much a part of their lives, it can be natural for Latter-day Saints to associate almost exclusively with other Latter-day Saints. Too often and even once qualifies as too often Latter-day Saints can exclude without even realizing it.
The antidote for this is obvious: Latter-day Saints must go out of their way to be kind and neighborly to all people.
Given that, we should perhaps keep this next idea a secret.
Being kind and neighborly is a basic part of doing missionary work.
Why secret? Because, to too many Latter-day Saints, missionary work is supposed to be difficult and scary. If being kind and neighborly is missionary work, then what is there to fear?
A strong caution is also in order: We must never be kind and neighborly only so others will join the Church. That, quite simply, is hypocrisy. Being kind is the right thing to do no matter what the outcome. If, because we are neighborly, someone becomes interested in the gospel, great. But no matter what, we must keep being good neighbors.
There are many ways to invite others to Christ. For many not of our faith, a consistently Christ-like neighbor will have a far greater impact than a premature invitation to sacrament meeting. In many cases that neighborly example will draw others to seek Christ. At such times, we must have the courage to share doctrine and bear testimony. The Spirit, of course, will attend such sincere encounters and the honest in heart will accept what the Spirit teaches. There is, to be certain, a time to be bold. But there is also a time to be deferential.
In ward after ward after ward, and branch after branch, Church members will attest to the kindness and goodness of fellow members. Without the help we receive from each other, most if not all would flounder and stumble while traveling this mortal road. But as was the case of the community mentioned earlier, there are surely people in our midst those whose names are not upon the records of the Church who deserve the same loving attention that we pay to each other.
May we always desire to be the source of that love.