Before President Monson was the prophet, he was an apostle. An apostle serves under the direction of the prophet, with church-wide responsibility. During this time, he visited Germany. His guide for this trip was Dieter F. Uchtdorf, who is now a member of the presidency of the church, but who at that time was a local church leader. President Monson asked about a previous local leader named Michael Panitsch. Brother Panitsch had been one of the pioneers of Germany’s church organization. President Uchtdorf explained that the man was now bedridden.
President Monson decided he wanted to visit the man, but President Uchtdorf, knowing President Monson had just had foot surgery and was in pain when he walked, suggested the trip would be a bad idea. Brother Panitsch lived on the fifth floor and there wasn’t an elevator. President Monson was not concerned and insisted on visiting the man rather than sight-seeing. He had to stop every few stairs to rest, but he made the entire five-flight climb without complaint and had a very nice visit with the man.
President Monson often receives requests for personal visits from those who are suffering or dying. His secretaries often try to shield him from these requests, knowing he would spend every moment on them if possible. One day, however, a message was relayed to him of a woman who was dying and who longed for a visit from him, because he was her favorite church leader. There was no way to fit the visit into a schedule that had every moment filled, but somehow, President Monson could not get the request out of his mind. He found himself uneasy, even though he’d never met the woman. The next day, he got into his car, purchased a gift, and drove into unfamiliar territory on the long journey to the woman’s home. When he arrived, the woman was semi-comatose. She lay in a room that included a framed picture of President Monson. He took her hand and talked with her, a monologue, since she couldn’t respond in any way. However, her son was certain she knew who he was and understood what he said to her. She died just nine hours later.
President Monson’s life of service was prepared in childhood. His parents were warm and giving people. They lived near railroad tracks and homeless or transient people often came to their door looking for food. His mother always brought them into her kitchen and prepared a sandwich and glass of milk for them, feeding them right there at her own table. Each Sunday, young Tom Monson was expected to deliver a plate of food to his elderly neighbor before starting his own Sunday dinner. He was never allowed to wait until he’d eaten first, and from these experiences, he learned to put others before himself.
President Monson is well-known for his service to individuals. Although he leads a world-wide church of millions, he never loses sight of the fact that each person in the church is an individual, and he is constantly watching for opportunities to serve that one person.