Visiting Teaching on Steroids

The past few months have been hard. Sometimes I feel like feminism has ruined everything, ruined my ability to enjoy everything. From James Bond and his Madonna/whore complex to nativity creches that erase the female midwives who most likely would’ve been there and insert wise men who most certainly were not present in that humble stable. (This is not a plea for explanation or rationalization — usually that only serves to underscore my reasoning, exclamation point my feeling of despair.)

A few weeks ago I started tutoring a Jordanian immigrant lady in conversational English. Last Wednesday morning as I rushed to leave the house I got a little careless with my words, letting my frustration spill out in angry imprecations at my children, my house, my husband. Later, as I drove north from my comfortable exurbia to a cramped apartment complex, I called Tom to apologize. He was more understanding, as always, than I deserve. He said, “if it stresses you out so much, maybe you shouldn’t do it.” And I pointed out that before leaving the house that morning I had baked cranberry muffins, started the dishwasher, changed the laundry, nursed the baby and tried to prepare an English lesson.

Tom took a shower and left.

(On school days he makes lunches and drives them on his way, but this was the first day of Thanksgiving break, and Avery was babysitting.)

That’s not the point of this, the moral of that story is simple and one I teach myself unfortunately about five times a week. (i.e. prepare in advance, prioritize and let it go.)

The point of this is that today we had our lesson and that weekly hour I spend comparing pilgrims on the Mayflower to pilgrims on the Hajj is rapidly becoming the most rewarding of my entire week. This week I planned ahead, took a cheap Advent calendar from IKEA as an icebreaker for talk about Christmas and calendars and ordinal numbers, and took Lucy and Molly along, where they watched cartoon Mr. Bean with Arabic subtitles.

I was telling Chrysanthemum all about this, bubbling over in my enthusiasm for the way my new friend showed me how she makes cheese in her small kitchen (practicing “first” and “then” and processes), and I mentioned how we’re starting to study for the naturalization test also, and how the coordinator who matched us up also advocates for the medical and other services the immigrant ladies need.

And Chrysanthemum said it sounds like visiting teaching on steroids, for people who actually need it. I like that. Not that I’m trying to evangelize in any way — possibly my favorite parts are when I remember Arabic words for things (like “bint” for daughter and “mumkin” for possibly) from our time in Cairo, and when we discover that we were born in the same year, and that she was named for the queen of Jordan. And Jesus is on our Christmas flashcards, but I know that Mohamed came later.

Anyway, it’s really good. I feel really good about it. Thanks to L for introducing me to Samira, founder of Women of the World.

How to Teach Primary, Feminist Edition

How to Teach Primary Manual 4 Lesson 39, Feminist Edition

Step One: Read the lesson and accompanying scripture references and wonder if the Nephites were an all-male society.

Step Two: Pray about the purpose of the lesson and ponder if there are any scripture stories that include women and fulfill said purpose.

Step Three: Realize there are several, including a recent personal favorite just a few books away.

Step Four: Read and re-read the scriptural account of your chosen female character. Does her story compare to the suggested male story?

Step Five: Review secondary sources.

Step Six: Compose a children’s hymn verse for this week’s elect lady.

Step Seven: Prepare to teach that both men and women can make personal commitments to God.

——

Step One: Read the lesson and accompanying scripture references and realize it has never met a Bechdel test it couldn’t fail.

Primary 4, Lesson 39: Mormon Witnesses the Destruction of the Nephites

Purpose

To strengthen each child’s desire to remain true to the teachings of Jesus Christ in spite of the evil influences around us.

Scripture Account

Teach the accounts of Mormon abridging the large plates of Nephi and the destruction of the Nephites from Mormon 1–6.

(Tom, who taught this lesson last week, says that Mormon is maybe his favorite character in the Book of Mormon, not least because he is the writer/compiler of most of it. The story of Mormon and his son, Moroni, is inspiring, interesting, and sad. After wars in which Mormon reluctantly led the wicked Nephites to battle, he is one of only twenty-four of his people alive. He is a great spiritual and military leader and a wonderful example for the children to follow.)

Step Two: The purpose could possibly be fulfilled by only speaking of Mormon, but given that my class is five-eighths female, and that they are unlikely to ever be the spiritual or military commander of a nation, how could they more easily envision a personal, relatable way to remain true? Heavenly Father, have any of thy daughters likewise pleased thee?

Step Three: Women who stay true to the faith despite what is going on around them: Eve, who brings life (and death) into the world in order to obey the Father’s first commandment; Ruth, who leaves all that is familiar to her to make Naomi’s God her own; Rebecca, who also leaves her family in order to marry Isaac; Esther, who risks death to save her people; Hannah, who prays for a son for the glory of God despite the torment her sister-wife inflicts; Mary, who agrees to carry a child despite the whisperings of whore that could follow, even (especially) from her betrothed; Eunice and Lois, Timothy’s mother and grandmother, who raised an apostle; and Abish. Ah, Abish.

Step Four: Alma 19. King Lamoni’s wife, the queen, is another great (though unnamed) female character in this story. She watches over her unconscious husband and refuses to bury him, saying he stinketh not to her. She sends for Ammon who praises her faith, calling it greater than any among the Nephites. Ammon raises the king, who testifies of Christ and then sinks back down in joy. The queen is also overcome by the Spirit. Ammon prays and is likewise overcome. Abish, the queen’s servant, finds the three of them, and, having been long-ago converted by a “remarkable vision of her father,” runs out to knock on doors and gather the people to witness a miracle.

The people gather and argue over whether Ammon is a monster or the Great Spirit. Abish comes forward and “took the queen by the hand, that perhaps she might raise her from the ground; and as soon as she touched her hand she arose and stood upon her feet, and cried with a loud voice, saying: O blessed Jesus, who has saved me from an awful hell! O blessed God, have mercy on this people!” The queen then turns and raises the king in the same manner.

There is so much here that I am overcome. Abish is a Lamanitish woman who had a vision* of her father, became converted to the Lord and, “never having made it known,” lived a life of servitude while remaining faithful, ever-watching for an opportunity to share her beliefs. Despite a hidden conversion many years old, she was brave, wise and spiritually in tune enough to change the lives of many. Abish’s faith extends to her raising the queen from her unconsciousness. The queen’s faith in turn (remember, greater than any among the Nephites) raises the king. Abish’s spiritual gifts (visions, healing/raising, speaking in tongues as commonly attributed to missionaries) and personal commitment to the teachings of Jesus Christ are awe-inspiring.

Does the story of Abish compare in inspirational value to the story of Mormon? Does her story in fact illuminate the stated purpose of the lesson? Can it also be of instructional value to the male members of the class?

Heck yes.

Step 5: Secondary Sources:

Elaine S Dalton Love Her Mother

In the Book of Mormon, Abish was converted by her father’s sharing with her his remarkable vision. For many years thereafter, she kept her testimony in her heart and lived righteously in a very wicked society. Then the time came when she could no longer be still, and she ran from house to house to share her testimony and the miracles she had witnessed in the king’s court. The power of Abish’s conversion and testimony was instrumental in changing an entire society. The people who heard her testify became a people who “were converted unto the Lord, [and] never did fall away,” and their sons became the stripling warriors!10

By Common Consent: What to Make of Abish?

From Joanne’s comment, a verse to the tune of Book of Mormon Stories honoring Abish:

Abish saw Lamoni and the queen hear Ammon’s word.
They believed and sank for joy; their hearts he truly stirred.
Abish shared her testimony, then bent on her knee,
And she raised up the queen righteously.

Step 6: Abish verse to the tune of Nephi’s Courage. (This is a bit redundant now that I’ve found Joanne’s great verse, but I actually wrote it a month ago, so here it is.)

The Lord commanded Abish to go and preach the word
To her friends and neighbors and the queen she served.
She had been converted and waited for sign.
Abish was courageous and she would reply:
[I will go I will do, the things the Lord commands,
I know the Lord provides a way, He wants me to obey] x 2
Step 7: I plan to present the stories of both Mormon and Abish. To complement the suggested attention activity (six statements about Mormon), here are six statements about Abish:
  • I was born around a hundred years before Christ.
  • When I was younger I had a remarkable vision of my father and was converted to the Lord.
  • Because my people were wicked, I kept my faith a secret for many years.
  • I was a Lamanite and a servant of the queen.
  • I wanted to be a missionary.
  • Because of my courage and testimony, many lives were changed – I helped convert the parents of Moroni’s Stripling Warriors.
To complement the discussion questions about Mormon, I want to especially ask the children how they think they would feel and act if they had been in Abish’s shoes. What qualities did she exemplify? How can we be like her? How was her society blessed by her actions? How can we be blessed by learning about her? How can we show our gratitude and admiration for her courage?
*It has been interpreted (including by President Dalton) that Abish was converted by a vision her father had, but the scripture reads “a vision of her father,” NOT “a vision of her father’s.” I think that assumption (apparently perpetuated in other language editions of the Book of Mormon) is an unwarranted one.