Editor's note: This is the first in an occasional series that follows and explores Vai Sikahema's quest to find and thank the people in his life who assisted him in his youth.
It took me a little more than a year to find Marty Klein.
Three months of that time was spent just trying to come up with his name. I sent an email to old friends from the LDS ward of my youth, the Mesa 24th Ward, with what I did remember of the man who was my first home teaching companion, hoping to jog someone's memory: "Tall, salt & pepper hair, taught at Mesa Junior High, drove a big, fancy car, married but without children."
Finally, an email came from an old friend in the ward named Ned Brimley: "Is it Marty Klein? He moved to Florida years ago. Try this email."
Yes! Marty Klein!
Marty Klein was assigned as my home teaching companion when I turned 14 because my dad was not active in the church. Marty taught me two important lessons in the year we were companions that had a huge impact on my life, and if he was still alive I wanted to thank him. We were companions from 1976-77. The ward was divided soon thereafter and our family moved to a different ward, so my best estimate is that I hadn't seen Marty Klein since 1977 or '78. About 34 or 35 years!
Soon after we were paired, Marty learned I may not attend Scout camp because my parents couldn't afford the $60 fee. Marty arranged for me to work for a couple named Lamar and Mary Lou Jones, whose family we home taught, in their citrus orchard. For months, I went weekly to the Joneses' home, dug wells around each tree, watered them, spread manure and picked boxes of oranges and grapefruit from those trees.
In my 14-year-old mind, I thought it unfair that other kids didn't seem to work as hard or at all for their way to Scout camp. I did not appreciate then the enormous blessing this experience was for me at 14, to learn the value of hard work, patience and focus to pay for something I really wanted. It was Marty Klein who made it happen.
The other experience happened on a visit to a single mother who lived in an apartment complex in our ward. When we knocked on her door one evening, we could tell she had been crying. Marty asked her if I could watch TV while they sat in the kitchen and talked. After an hour or so, Marty turned off the TV and asked the woman if I could leave a blessing in her home. I said a short, teenage prayer and we left. As we walked to his car — a big, luxurious (by my standards) Cutlass Supreme— Marty started to tell me about the woman's plight.
He didn't tell me why, only that she had informed the bishop that she wanted her name removed from the records of the church. I told Marty I didn't know what that meant, so he explained. Then, the lesson. He told me that her situation was "confidential," a word I had never heard before. Again, I told Marty I didn't know what that meant. He explained that it was our "secret" and only we and the bishop would know of her request, but it was absolutely crucial that we not discuss or disclose the personal nature of her situation with anyone.
From that day on, whenever I heard the word "confidential," I thought of Marty Klein. Whether intentional or not, Marty Klein elevated my stature as a 14-year-old Aaronic priesthood teacher because he entrusted me with something I instinctively sensed was important to this woman's salvation. I never saw her in church again, but Marty delegated to me the task of making our monthly appointments with her, which I did faithfully because of what I knew. She allowed us to visit, was always cordial and warm toward us, perhaps because she trusted Marty and she probably saw me as a responsible 14-year-old. Because of her precarious circumstances, I never wanted to let her down. Those experiences had a lasting impact on my life.