Updated: Feb 10, 2020
By Richard Bale
It’s often not until years later that we realize someone has had a significant impact on our lives.
When I was in high school in the 80’s, my church leaders asked me to serve in a capacity that has been a blessing to me throughout my life. My father had passed away two years earlier, and I was trying to find my way with God and man. Sensing the need for a father figure in my life, many people took steps to ensure that I had proper male role models. I will be forever grateful to them for that. So many good men came into my life to help me grow up to be a man who believes in God and follows the Savior, Jesus Christ. They modeled what it means to be a believer, a husband, a father, and a friend. In this article, I would like to tell you about one of these men and pay a little tribute to him.
On May 7, 1977, Sergeant David Martin Kieffer of the Phoenix Police Department was responding to an emergency call when his patrol car was struck by a drunk driver in Phoenix, AZ. The crash left “Marty” a quadriplegic the rest of his life.
In the Spring of ’81, when I was 16 years old, I received an assignment from my Church leaders to work together with Marty in serving other members of our Church. This involved Marty picking me up in his specially modified van and driving me to the homes of Church members to meet with and minister to them. The scriptural foundation for this assignment is found in many passages, but one of my favorites comes from Mosiah 2:17 in the Book of Mormon: “. . . when ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God.” We were instructed to give these families a spiritual message and serve them in any capacity that would bless them. I liked Marty, but I wasn’t too excited about the assignment, as I was “too busy” with my teenage life to be bothered.
Marty, always dressed in a suit and tie, picked me up once a month to go visit these Church members. He drove his van by manipulating modified controls. He steered with his forearm, for example, and the throttle was controlled by squeezing his hand. His brakes were also applied in a similar fashion, but I can’t really tell you how they functioned. His van was ultra cool with an uber air conditioner because Marty had lost the ability to sweat normally and cool his body. We were in Phoenix, where a great air conditioner was a must for everyone, but especially Marty.
Every visit went pretty much the same way. We would start by getting Marty into the home in a place where his wheelchair would fit and everyone else could sit and participate in a discussion. We usually positioned Marty where the air conditioner was strong. We would always start with small talk and focus on “catching up.” Fairly soon into the visit, we would move to a more spiritual message that Marty had prepared. He always gave the lesson. I would just kind of be there as a companion to Marty during the visit. Not much was asked of me. But looking back now, I am so glad I was there!
Every once in a while during his lessons, Marty would do something a bit strange. Without missing a beat in teaching the lesson and using his best arm and most capable hand, he would unhook the strap that held him in the wheelchair and bend forward over his knees. He would sit there like that and continue teaching the lesson. Pretty soon, he would pull himself back up and strap himself again into his chair. I can’t remember exactly why he had to do this, but I believe it was to relieve stress or fluid in his lungs/chest that would build up as he sat speaking. He never complained, but sometimes he apologized for having to do it. He didn’t think for a second about how he looked to others. Marty was faithful and did what he had to do to serve these families. I love him for all these traits . At a time when my life was all about me, I was tutored by a man who had every reason for everything to be about him. He refused to let his life be dictated by his disabilities or the inconvenience of serving. He was committed to God, and it gave him great strength to continue to serve. Now it gives me strength to remember Marty’s level of commitment.
Marty and I worked together for a year or two, and then I was reassigned to someone else. I have often looked back on that time with Marty as one of the greatest lessons of my life. We
always have something to give, and we don’t have to let our circumstances keep us from serving others. Marty was a great example to me.
On May 21, 1997, at the age of 53, Sergeant David Martin Kieffer died from his injuries sustained in the line of duty on May 7, 1977. I will always remember Brother Kieffer and his devotion to serve others in the face of constant difficulty. I will always remember his wife, who sustained him and supported him to be able to serve despite his disabilities. She is just as much a hero to me as Marty is. We need more people like the Kieffers! Thank you, Brother and Sister Kieffer.
Perhaps as we near the end of our lives or as a result of an accident, it’s likely that many of us will at some point question what value we bring to others. “What is the purpose of going on when I can’t even . . . .?” “All I am at this point is a bother to those around me.” Based on my experience with Marty, I believe there is great value in fighting such thoughts and praying to God instead to show you a way to bless others. In Matthew 16:25, the Lord promises: “For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.”
God will provide a way. Just give Him a chance. It will bring fulfillment in life that none thought was possible.
In a future article, I plan to share more about some of the other male role models who impacted my life in a positive manner. Hope to see you again soon!