This experience comes from the April 1985 General Conference when Elder Marvin J. Ashton talked about his experience learning from a prophet while visiting those in prison:
Another lesson was learned from President Kimball as we visited a prison together.
One day a few years ago President Kimball said, “Marvin, I’d like you to take me to visit the Utah State Prison.” He remembered that when I was in charge of the Social Services programs for the Church I had had the responsibility for prisoners.
I said, “President Kimball, I don’t want you to go to the prison. I am afraid for your safety. There are some men confined there who would do anything to attract attention by embarrassing, injuring, or insulting you. I just don’t want you to go.”
That was once when I felt I couldn’t grant his request. He took my advice, and we didn’t go.
However, about two months later, D. Arthur Haycock, President Kimball’s personal secretary, phoned me and said, “Elder Ashton, President Kimball wants you to go to the Utah State Prison with him.” The next day we went. My delaying tactic had lasted only a few weeks.
I called Warden Morris and said, “May we come and visit you? We do not want anyone to know of our visit. Could we just meet in your office and not go through the minimum, medium, or maximum security places? Perhaps you could invite two inmates with whom President Kimball could visit in your office. Later we could look around the grounds and talk with others.” He agreeably made the arrangements.
We traveled to the institution, where about a thousand people are incarcerated. Soon into the warden’s office came two prisoners. I was impressed with how hard the convicts looked—how mean, how sullen. After they were introduced and sat down, I broke the silence by saying to President Kimball, “Would you like to say a few words to these two men?”
He said, “Yes.”
They both looked steadily down at the floor. President Kimball waited, and finally when one raised his head up a little, President Kimball looked directly into his eyes.
Let me just pause for a minute and set the stage. One prisoner had been convicted for murder and the other for manslaughter. Here is a prophet. Here were two hardened criminals. What do you say? What do you do? Do you say, “Aren’t you ashamed of yourselves? What a waste for you to be in such a place as this”? Those are things that might cross your mind and mine.
As I mentioned, as President Kimball caught the eye of one of them, he looked at him with a penetrating stare and said, “Tell me about your mother.”
This inmate looked up and told him about his mother. Tears came to his eyes as he talked in detail about his mother.
When that was over, President Kimball looked at the other one, who was now paying strict attention. He said, “Young man, tell me what your father does for a living.”
The prisoner said, “I do not know where my father is. I never hear from him.” And he went on and on talking openly about his family.
I won’t tell you the details, but what a lesson in counseling, interviewing, and kindness was being taught by this great prophet. I learned more about interviewing in those fifteen minutes than in any similar period in my life. No condemnation. No judging. Only displaying a real interest in the person and his circumstances.
Before our interview was over, somehow the press found out that President Kimball was there. They were at the door and wanted to get into the warden’s office for an interview and a picture. I remember one of the inmates said, “Mr. Kimball, could I have my picture taken with you?”
President Kimball responded with “Why don’t I stand between the two of you, and we will take all three of us at once.”
I did not feel very comfortable with President Kimball standing between those two men in this setting. I had the responsibility for his safety. I had tried to talk him out of it. But he is a disciple of Christ and holds on to the words of God: “I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: … Naked, and ye clothed me: … I was in prison, and ye came unto me.” (Matt. 25:35–36.)
After the pictures were taken, President Kimball looked at one prisoner and then at the other and said, “Thank you for letting me have my picture taken with you.” Is there any doubt we love him? He loves everyone. He teaches us the real meaning of Matthew 22:37–40:
“Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.
“This is the first and great commandment.
“And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.
“On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” [Matt. 22:37–40]
Each week after the Twelve and First Presidency have met in the temple to take care of current business, we take turns reporting where we have been and what has been accomplished in the way of stake divisions or reorganizations, or missions visited, regional conferences attended, and so on. One week I remember among the Twelve we had been almost everywhere around the globe. President Kimball listened to all of us and then gave his report: “I spent Saturday and Sunday visiting the sick and the homebound.” The rest of us who thought we had had a busy and productive weekend realized that a man of God had again taught us a lesson.
Has our prophet taught us anything through his prayers? Very often the Twelve and the First Presidency pray together. When President Kimball takes his turn to be voice, he generally includes this phrase in his prayers: “Bless our enemies. Help us to understand them, and them to understand us.” He doesn’t ask for vengeance or retaliation, just for understanding so differences can be resolved. Perhaps family differences and neighborhood problems could be resolved if we would follow our prophet’s example and pray for patience and forgiveness.
President Kimball once said, just after he became President of the Church, “I thought I knew how to pray before, but now I am really learning how to pray.” A man of God knows he can’t reach goals alone. He knows that guidance and help are available through prayer.
I share these personal experiences to illustrate lessons I have learned from a disciple of Christ. I only do so to encourage myself and you, particularly the Aaronic Priesthood members, to select the traits I have illustrated and incorporate them into our lives. We should list our goals and then work on them consistently, until little by little they become part of us.
This beloved prophet of ours doesn’t speak to us much anymore. He has already given us more direction than most of us are following. So often we are reminded of the sign on his desk that says, “Do it.” Yet are we doing all we can to live productive, spiritual lives, with love of God and neighbor at the center of our plans and actions? Have we learned the power and the need of unconditional love? He even shows love to his enemies and many become friends. He has no time for envy, hate, ridicule, or evil speaking. Do we?
Two or three weeks ago this great teacher gave me motivation to try even harder to follow his example. Each Thursday morning after the Twelve have met for two hours, we are joined by the First Presidency to take care of our joint business. When President Kimball comes into the room on the fourth floor of the temple, one by one we go by and shake his hand.
President Kimball, now worn from long years of service, has a difficult time seeing, hearing, and speaking, so when it was my turn, I said, “President Kimball, I am Marvin Ashton.” He took my hand, paused, and then finally said softly, “Marv Ashton, I love you.” That is all he said to me. What else do I need? I can now go into the world and accomplish all of my assignments more effectively when I realize President Kimball trusts me and loves me.
When I am asked, “What does President Kimball say when he is with you and the others in the temple?” I say, “That is not too important. The thing that is important is that he is there. Despite pain, discomfort, and a tired, worn body, he is there. From him we learn what enduring and persistence are all about.
The fiftieth section of the Doctrine and Covenants gives, I believe, an accurate description of President Spencer W. Kimball: “He that is ordained of God and sent forth, the same is appointed to be the greatest, notwithstanding he is the least and the servant of all.” (D&C 50:26.)
Now a great counselor is sitting at the side of this wonderful prophet. To him President Kimball has delegated much responsibility. With wisdom and judgment President Gordon B. Hinckley bears a tremendous load as he carries on the myriad tasks the prophet needs to have completed. Week after week President Hinckley sits at the side of the President in the temple, deferring to him, respecting his wishes, carrying on the daily responsibilities of the First Presidency, never assuming authority or becoming obtrusive. There is a mighty bond between President Kimball, President Romney, and President Hinckley. As they serve together each one teaches us what it means to be united and to be men of God.
I leave you my witness that President Spencer W. Kimball is a prophet, preserved in this day for purposes and occasions such as this. We can reflect, ponder, and be grateful the Lord has given us an extended period in which to enjoy his influence. His life motivates us to set our goals and make our plans to become disciples of Christ such as he. May God help us as priesthood bearers to follow his example, heed his priceless counsel, and share his wisdom and love in our homes, I pray in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.