I’ve been taught that true disciples of Jesus Christ develop the gift of seeing others the way the Lord sees them. It takes humility, compassion, grace, practice and remarkable vision.
Brian Connor of Pennsylvania has just that. He sees people as if viewing them through some sci-fi, high-tech telescope only heaven could invent.
Connor discerns needs and quickly senses who needs a joke, who needs a hug and who needs to be reminded that everything is going to be just fine.
But what makes him so unique in a sea of sameness is that he does all this seeing in the dark.
Brian Connor is blind.
Brian Connor, right, with LDS missionaries Elder Stolworthy and Elder Cleere on Jason Wright's first visit with them. | Jason Wright
I first met Connor two years ago when missionaries from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints invited me to his home for a lesson. Before the opening prayer, I noted that his wit is quicker than Steph Curry and gift for storytelling puts J.K. Rowling to shame.
By the time I left his home, I knew he’d have a rare impact on my life.
As the weeks whisked by, Connor’s faith and testimony in the restored gospel grew and he was soon baptized. Those who’d known his past — alcohol, drugs and other exploits not suitable for a family audience — were overwhelmed by his mighty change of heart.
After years of hard living, Connor had lost his eye sight. But after just two months of investigating the LDS Church, he’d found another kind of vision.
As he progressed in the gospel, fantastic home teachers and many other members were given opportunities to serve by giving rides to and from his home at the edge of our massive ward boundaries. He was different, we concluded, but not because he was blind. Connor was special because he had a way of lifting those his mortal eyes couldn’t see.
One year after his baptism, Connor went to the temple and had his eyes opened even wider. Later, he was called as a priest quorum advisor. Each week after Sunday School, one or more members of the quorum led him around the building. He teased them about haphazardly knocking him into art on the walls, water fountains and toddlers on the loose.
Because, well, sometimes they did.
No matter; Connor always laughed. He loved how they cared for him and the boys stood tall next to their friend with the permanent smile.
Gathered in the bishop’s office, the priests and Young Men president treated their advisor with great respect. The blind man with the colorful past told stories, shared opinions and often was the first to ask why someone was missing and what could be done to better minister to “the one.”
Recently, Connor called me and in tears announced he was moving. He needed a new place to live and a brother in Pennsylvania had offered to help.
Brian Connor says goodbye to members of the Woodstock Ward Priest Quorum. | Stephen Funk
Two days later, Connor was led to the pulpit and he thanked the many members who’d embraced him, especially the young men. They’d changed his life, and the calling had been a blessing he couldn’t describe. Most importantly, he bore a powerful, memorable testimony of Christ.
It was a moment the boys — and the rest of us — will never forget.
When Connor sat, the most senior member of the priest quorum stood and expressed his love and admiration for this man who’d become a brother. With his voice cracking, the young man said, “Brother Connor proved that he didn’t have to be able to see us, in order to guide us.”
Later, during priesthood meeting, Connor contributed to a crucial conversation about a quorum member who’s been in our prayers and plans for months. Sitting across the room, I was reminded that he’s only ever heard the voices of these 16- and 17-year-old young men, but he sees them perfectly.
As the meeting concluded, there were tears, hugs and photos. But when he thanked us for leading him out the door and to his ride home, we gently corrected him. “No, Brian, you’ve been leading us.”
Two weeks later, as the priest quorum met once again on a Sunday morning, the phone rang in the bishop’s office. It was Connor, of course, checking on the boys to say hello and to see if they were where they needed to be.
Because even from two states away, this blind disciple has remarkable vision.