Getting to know and love new people is a way to honor Christ and his teachings

On Faith columnist Alfred Gunn extolls the virtues of getting to know new people.
On Faith columnist Alfred Gunn extolls the virtues of getting to know new people. TNS

I figure the Lord blessed me in many ways when he sent me to Brazil as a 20-year-old missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

You see, Brazilians are a warm and friendly people. For the men, a handshake is never enough. They clasp hands and with the other hand grasp the arm, often leading to an embrace among acquaintances. For the women, it is an air kiss on both cheeks when greeting another woman. Electronic devices have not replaced the human touch and smile yet.

I believe I was a friendly fellow before the mission, but in Brazil, meeting new people every day, I learned what it means to have a “love of God and of all men,” as a favorite scripture invites.

Some years ago a professor at Brigham Young University, Russell T. Osguthorpe, invited his students to have a real conversation with each new person they met, every day, in preparation for a life where they would be meeting people for the first time, and they needed to practice to develop the skill. The assignment did not count toward their grade, but students entered into the spirit of it with real energy and commitment.

One week a student reported having conversations with 72 people he had never met before. That’s impressive.

“How did you do that in one week,” Osguthorpe asked, “How did you visit with so many?”

He responded, “Oh, I was standing in lines a lot this past week, and so I would just ask the person next to me to hold my place in the line, and then I would move through the line and introduce myself and talk to as many people as I could.”

Reading of that experience, I realized I did the same thing last Sunday in the “linger longer” time after church, when the ladies of our congregation served an incredible taco bar and dessert meal for some 280 of us. I had folks save my place in line twice, so I could visit with so many people I know and love, and with some new members, while the line moved forward. People are always more interesting than tacos anyway.

A childlike poem teaches a grownup lesson:

“We have the nicest garbage man. He empties out our garbage can. He’s just as nice as he can be. He always stops and talks with me. My mommy doesn’t like his smell, but then, she doesn’t know him well.”

It’s nice to stop and get to know folks along the way.

“What if our only motive were love?” Osguthorpe asked, inviting students to consider the life of Jesus Christ. “The Savior’s earthly ministry was a time of teaching, a time of miracles. He established His Church on the Earth. He called the Twelve to become leaders in the Church. He taught everyone who would listen. He healed the sick and raised the dead. And why did He do all these things?

“He had only one motive — love. His message to us is that we need to be good and do good, but we need to do it for the right reason. This is precisely why the two greatest commandments are the greatest: ‘Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind’ and ‘Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself’ (Matthew 22:37–39). The motive means everything.”

He went on.

“The Savior’s life on Earth was short, but He was always reaching out in love every step of the way. He helped so many while He was on His way to help someone else. He noticed what others needed, reached out to them, and helped them — sometimes in simple ways and other times in miraculous ways. Every miracle He performed, every word He spoke, He did out of love.

“He loved those He taught. He cared for their spiritual well-being, but He also cared for their temporal needs. When they were hungry, He fed them with five loaves. When their souls hungered, He inspired them with the truths of His gospel. He cared for those who lost their way. He cared enough to find them and bring them home. He never forgot one of His own.

“He loved the young. He loved the rich. He loved the poor. He loved the sick. He loved the sinner. He loved all of God’s children. When He saw them suffering, He healed them. When He saw them sorrowing, He lifted them up. When He saw them in pain, He comforted them.”

May we follow the Master’s example as best we can, loving God and our fellow man.

On Faith columnist Alfred Gunn, a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at Gig Harbor, can be reached by email at Russell T. Osguthorpe quotes from “What If Love Were Our Only Motive?,” a BYU devotional address, March 4, 2011. For more information, visit