Joan Atkinson was ironing, watching a soap opera, and smoking a cigarette when she heard a knock at the door. When she opened it, there were two men in white shirts and ties, and one of them introduced himself as her bishop. He said that as he was praying, he had felt inspired to ask her to teach Young Women. She told him that she had been baptized at age 10 but had never been active. He seemed undeterred as he showed her the manual and explained where they met on Wednesday night. Then she emphatically said, “I can't teach 16-year-olds; I'm inactive, and besides I smoke.” Then he said, “You won't be inactive anymore, and you have until Wednesday to quit smoking.” Then he left.
Joan was angry – but she was curious and decided to read the lesson. She read the entire manual and memorized every word of the lesson. She didn’t plan to go, but Wednesday night rolled around, and Joan found herself driving to the church, utterly terrified. She gave the lesson to the two laurels word-for-word (including the parts that said “now ask them”), left immediately, and cried all the way home.
When there was a knock at her door a few days later, Joan was positive the bishop had come to retrieve his manual. But it was the two laurels, armed with flowers and cookies. They had a good conversation about the class and the ward, and they invited Joan to come to church with them on Sunday, which she did. She learned the class had 16 members, but only those two girls attended regularly.
Joan took to her calling with energy and innovation. Her quote on this process is priceless:
“With their help, I started teaching the other girls. If the girls wouldn’t come to church, we went wherever they were. We had lessons in bowling alleys, cars, and bedrooms, and on porches. I was determined that if I needed to go to class, those girls did too. One day we were giving the lesson to a girl who was hiding in a closet, and she came out and asked, “What about my free agency?” I told her I had never heard of that lesson and that she could come and teach us the next Wednesday.”
Joan’s efforts paid off. Within a year, all 16 girls on the roll were attending Young Women. Joan said, “Together we learned to pray, to study the gospel, and to help others. We made many visits to the children’s hospital. We laughed together and cried together in a bond of love.”
I love Joan’s example of church service. I absolutely love watching new converts take on their church responsibilities because they come at them without any of the preconceived ideas of how a calling should be performed or what is expected, and completely open themselves to the spirit. Joan inherently knew what mattered most in her calling – loving the girls, and searching for the lost sheep. I’ve known some pretty motivated young women’s leaders, but giving a lesson to a girl hiding in a closet is something I hadn’t come across before. Joan inspires me because of her ability to magnify her calling and her ability to love those she served.
"Not me - I smoke and drink" by Joan Atkinson