Fisherman in a Storm
My conversion story begins in Cornwall, the southwesterly part of England that juts out below Wales and above France into the Celtic Sea and the Atlantic Ocean. My family on my father’s side were sailors. In fact, my father went to sea as a young boy and has sailed around the world more times than he can remember; consequently I was hanging around boats almost before I could walk. Before long I became a fisherman and joined the crew of a Falmouth fishing boat.
The sea around this part of Cornwall is treacherous and has, over the years, claimed the lives of thousands of seamen. Mine was one of the lives nearly lost, but instead it was changed by the events of one fateful day aboard our fishing boat, the Lady Mildred.
I met my fishing partner, Roger Pepper, at six in the morning as usual. We listened to the weather forecast as we steamed down the harbor and out into Falmouth Bay. The forecast called for increasing winds from the southwest to force 9 (defined as a strong gale capable of damaging buildings). We didn’t worry much since the forecasts were seldom accurate; besides, we could get back in before the weather got too bad.
We arrived at an area some 10 miles (16 km) east of Falmouth and settled into steady fishing. At about midday the weather was rough enough that most other boats were heading for home. But we carried on fishing, concentrating on catching as much as we could. When the sea became so rough that we could no longer stand up without holding on to something, we stopped to survey the scene.
Looking around we realized that all the other boats had gone home and that the waves were in excess of 30 feet (9 m). The tops of the waves were being blown off in a stinging, blinding spray, and the sea was boiling and roaring like a cauldron. We knew we had to head for home.
We crept forward, the boat nearly standing on end as she struggled to climb over each wave, then crashed into the trough on the other side. Each time the boat plunged into a trough, she buried her bow under the sea so far that all we could see was a mass of green seawater covering the wheelhouse windows and pounding the deck behind.
By now the wind was gusting to force 12 (hurricane intensity), and the coast guard was reporting 100-mph (161-kph) winds. Then it happened: the Lady Mildred barely managed to climb to the top of an enormous wave, hovered on its crest, and plunged down the other side. She hit the bottom with a deafening crash, and we were immediately thrown to the back of the wheelhouse by the water gushing through the holes where the windows had been. The boat struggled to the surface but was immediately swamped by another wave and then another; each time she was taking longer to surface and was lying deeper in the water.
Roger managed to close the throttle, and we looked behind to assess the damage: all our fish and fishing gear were gone, and many of the deck boards had disappeared. The lifesaving gear had been washed away, and the radio was full of saltwater.
Another huge wave washed over the deck, adding even more water to the foundering boat. We looked at each other and realized we were going to sink. The next wave would probably do it. The sea was a mass of white water, and we knew there was no way we would survive if she went down.
I crawled aft, where the pump was, and tied myself to the mast, pumping as fast as I could while Roger struggled to keep us heading into the wind. As each wave assaulted us, I was completely submerged and knocked off my feet; only the rope around my waist kept me from being washed overboard.
I was terrified and sure we were going to drown. I hadn’t even had the chance to say good-bye to my wife and my little son Christopher. How were they going to manage? Would Christopher remember me? Who would look after them? For the first time in my life I prayed. I asked God to look after my family and not let them grieve too much. I asked Him to save us and promised to start attending a church. My prayer was a desperate and humble plea from the depths of my heart.
It seemed that all at once the sky brightened and a momentary gap appeared in the waves. I yelled to Roger to turn the boat and head for the port town Mevagissy. The battered boat slowly lurched around, and we headed landward. I continued pumping as we steamed on, the boat’s stern rising in the air as the seas picked her up and hurled us forward amid a roaring froth of water.
After what seemed a lifetime, we came into the shelter of Dodman Point. It was lovely to know that I would see my family again. People lined the breakwater, their faces strained and pale, but as we approached they broke into smiles, waving to welcome us into the harbor. We steamed on toward the other boats, but just as we drew alongside the landing quay our engine stopped.
We moored and spent 30 minutes explaining what had happened. Apparently, other fishermen had been worried and were about to search for us. While Roger telephoned for someone to fetch us, I pumped the rest of the water out of the boat. Before long I needed a rest, and I wondered how I had managed to pump for four hours nonstop during the storm. While I rested I decided to find out why the engine had stopped.
When I pulled out the dipstick to check the oil level, out came a stream of water. The engine was full of saltwater and had seized solid. Over all, the boat was a sorry sight.
Just two days later I sat at home thinking how lucky I was to be alive. I had completely forgotten my promise to God, but it became clear that Heavenly Father had not. At about 2:00 P.M. there was a knock on the door. When I opened it I saw two smiling, smartly dressed young men. A feeling of recognition and comfort swelled inside me, and I invited the two missionaries in before they could utter a word. They seemed like two long-lost friends, and I knew they were there by the power of God.
I listened intently to their lessons. I read the Book of Mormon. I had no doubt whatsoever that the message they brought was true. It was as though a cloud had been lifted from around me, and suddenly I could recognize familiar surroundings. I felt I had found my purpose in life. I had found the truth. It was a feeling of coming home, a feeling of absolute satisfaction, a feeling of arriving home safely from a long voyage and being welcomed with open arms by long-missed friends.
Words of Faith
Several years ago we were blessed with a baby son. The month prior to his birth seemed very long as my husband, Roy, and I, plus our three older children, awaited the arrival of our baby.
Finally the great day came and we were all delighted with this little child from God. We decided to name him Jonathan.
However, the excitement of Jonathan’s arrival was soon marred when, at only 12 days old, he was admitted to the hospital with a condition doctors called bronchiolitis. He was showing signs of pneumonic infection in his right lung, had lost all interest in feeding, and was very distressed. As I handed him to the nurses in the hospital, I felt so helpless. What could I do to make my little son well? He was so tiny and frail.
Because Jonathan had been admitted to the hospital so suddenly, I needed to contact my husband at work. When Roy finally arrived I could tell he, too, was anxious for our son’s well-being. For a few hours the doctors carried out various tests and took X rays. We were eager to have some quiet moments alone with Jonathan so my husband could administer to him. When the opportunity came, he placed his hands upon Jonathan’s tiny head and whispered a short blessing. I had never seen Roy so nervous.
Afterward I awaited the comfort I hoped to feel, but it did not come. I worried and felt guilty for thinking the words Roy had said were inadequate. I had wanted him to utter a refined and eloquent blessing—one that would automatically heal our son. I felt numb, as if the whole experience were unreal.
I watched the nurses come and go as they brought various equipment to my son’s bedside table: tubes to ease his breathing, tubes to force-feed him if that became necessary, and syringes to administer medication. Jonathan’s medical needs were being met, but still I felt no comfort.
Then, slowly, a great warmth began to spread over me, a great sense of peace. The guilt I felt over doubting Roy’s priesthood blessing disappeared as I realized Heavenly Father was aware of our need. A strong witness came to me that it was not the words Roy chose to use in his blessing that were important; what mattered was the faith that both Roy and I had in the power of the priesthood.
Faith was the key. I recognized how grateful I was for the life my husband led and for his worthiness to fulfill his priesthood responsibilities. I was grateful for the faith he showed in calling upon our Father in Heaven even though he felt inadequate. And I was grateful for the knowledge I gained that faith can bring the influence and blessings of the Spirit into our lives.
A few days after Jonathan was admitted to the hospital, his bedside table was cleared of all the unused tubes. He ate hungrily and began to put on weight. Five days later he was discharged, well on the road to recovery.
Jonathan’s illness may not have been a life-or-death situation, but it was the first time our family experienced the kind of anxiety serious illness can bring. Through it all, I learned a great lesson on faith.
The Prophet Prayed with Us
“Please bless all the sick and afflicted”—I have often heard these words in prayer and sometimes even said them myself. At the same time I’ve wondered just who we were praying for. Who is sick? Who is afflicted? My family was fortunate enough many years ago to witness how one can sincerely apply faith and prayer for those in need when President Harold B. Lee (1899–1973) offered a closing prayer at our family home evening.
After speaking to an audience of more than 12,000 seminary and institute students, teachers, and priesthood leaders in Long Beach, California, President Lee and his wife agreed to spend the rest of the weekend with my family in Laguna Beach before pressing on to other Church business in San Diego.
Our family was excited at the prospect of having President and Sister Lee as our guests for family home evening. Each member of our family was given an assignment with respect to the night’s program and activities. Our four sons and daughter accepted their assignments with heightened enthusiasm knowing who would be with us.
The program was filled with personal testimony, scripture, song, games, and popcorn. Indeed, we hoped the evening would never draw to a close because of our precious guests and the warmth, graciousness, and affection shared by all.
When it came time to offer the closing prayer, I made something of an apology to President Lee in case our family prayer might go on too long. Traditionally our family prayer allowed each member of the family to pray aloud in turn. With five children and two parents, plus President and Sister Lee, nine prayers might keep us on our knees for a time longer than usual.
As we knelt together, there was an elevated sense of spirituality. It was reflected in the carefully worded prayers offered by each. When President Lee offered his prayer, his supplication to Heavenly Father left an everlasting impression on every one of us, especially on me as a father and stake president at the time.
After expressing his thanks for all the blessings showered down from above, President Lee humbly entreated Heavenly Father to bless his family, naming them one by one. He called upon Heavenly Father to bless his faithful counselors in the First Presidency; he named them and suggested special needs they required to carry out their responsibilities. He then named the Twelve Apostles, citing each one by name and expressing hope they would be reinforced with spiritual insights and vitality commensurate with their calling. President Lee then named several leaders of nations, inviting Heavenly Father to bless each one with the ability to govern with affection for their people and with kindness and peaceful oversight.
While on our knees in family prayer, President Lee taught a masterful lesson as he prayed with specificity by naming others and citing their personal needs as he perceived them. His prayer was far more than simply “bless all the sick and afflicted.” Since that night I have tried to pray with more sincerity and forethought and have repeatedly referred to this experience with the hope of teaching what President Lee exemplified. I feel a deep sense of gratitude that I was privileged along with my family to witness that powerful prayer of concern and love for others as taught by a prophet of God.
It Took a Tragedy
It was late February, and my husband, Melvin, had earned a two-week vacation. We were using the time to clear farmland and build a fence around our house and surrounding fields in Mountainberg, Arkansas. I was excited when Melvin suggested we plow an area for our spring garden.
Melvin borrowed a hand plow from one of our neighbors, and I picked out the perfect spot. I hopped on the tractor, and Melvin hooked up the plow. The ground was so soft that I put the tractor in a higher gear. Just before we got to the end of the first row, the tractor jerked backward. I turned to see what had happened. Melvin was pulling on the plow; it was caught on a root. As I turned around to shut off the engine, I realized the tractor had lurched upward and was about to tip backward on me.
I fell off, twisting and landing on my stomach. In almost the same instant, the tractor came down on top of me. I remember the look of horror on Melvin’s face, then I screamed as the bones in my legs were crushed into the ground. I prayed that I could stand the pain long enough to reassure Melvin I would be fine.
Hours seemed to pass before I was freed. With the help of our son Marvin and future son-in-law Tony, Melvin finally pulled me out, and they gave me a blessing. I knew I had been seriously injured, but I felt the peace of knowing my Father in Heaven was with me and would continue to give me comfort.
We didn’t have a telephone, and the nearest town was an hour’s drive, so it took three hours for an ambulance to arrive at our house and finally get me to the hospital. Once there, I was rushed into surgery. When I woke in my hospital room, in addition to Melvin, our Relief Society president, Sally McNabb, was standing by my bed. I remember thinking, How did she hear about this? and Why is she here when she lives an hour’s drive away? But my strongest memory is the gratitude I had that she was there to help Melvin and our children. She assured me that the children would be cared for and told me not to worry about them. She spent the night at the hospital with me.
Melvin and I were relieved when the brothers and sisters in our small branch stepped in to help with our family. Sister McNabb took our daughter Athena and our 11-month-old Var home with her. Kay Tipton, our Young Women president, took our other five boys home with her. She lived about 45 minutes away from our boys’ school, but she drove them to and from school every day for several weeks. She took them to their Church activities, and she even brought them to the hospital to see me three or four times a week. At first the doctors didn’t think I would live. After several days they decided I would live, but they thought they might need to amputate my legs. My right leg had been crushed; my left was broken in four places. My pelvis was broken in three places. Both legs were covered with second- and third-degree burns from battery acid and gasoline that had leaked from the overturned tractor. During the next few weeks, I was in and out of surgery so often I never knew just what was going on.
One thing I did know—there was always someone there for me. The Relief Society arranged for the sisters in our branch to take turns covering three shifts a day at the hospital so someone would be with me 24 hours a day. They kept this up for the first 6 weeks, then stayed about 10 hours a day for the next 6 weeks. I know these sisters had families; many of them also had health problems. Yet they regularly made the sacrifice to travel many miles to be with me.
The sisters also fasted and prayed for me. They served willingly and gave me strength when I was too weak to face each day alone. I was in the hospital for three months and was still in a full body cast for another three months after I returned home. All this time the sisters continued to serve me and my family. I was witnessing what Alma spoke of when he preached that followers of Christ “should look forward with one eye, having one faith and one baptism, having our hearts knit together in unity and in love one towards another” (Mosiah 18:21).
The doctors were able to save my legs but said I probably would never walk again. I believe it was because of their good care, combined with the faith of my family and priesthood holders and Relief Society sisters, that I am alive today and able to walk again.
Before my accident I had not really understood the purpose of the Relief Society and, more important, I had never felt the power that shared sisterhood can bring. Now I can say with conviction that I am grateful for the Relief Society program because it helps women become more Christlike. I have truly been blessed by the service I have received as well as all the opportunities I have been given to serve.