Spiritual Survival in Southeast Asia
It is good to be home again after a separation of 17 months from my family during two tours of military duty in Southeast Asia.
While I was away I came to realize what an important role my family plays in the development of my soul. Only with them could I ever “endure all things,” since a prolonged solitary life soon strips away motivation and enthusiasm. While alone, the tendency is to turn increasingly inward, to give undue attention to your own needs. This trend leads to spiritual “bad health.” Family life is just the opposite. The love and concern of family members is conducive to good spiritual health, and you learn to turn outward as you give attention to the needs of others. I soon learned that “it is not good that man should be alone.” (Gen. 2:18.)
But of all I endured during the war, it was loneliness that got me down the most. Loneliness cankers the soul in its own way. When we are with those we love, we govern our conduct to please them as well as ourselves. When we are alone, that external stimulus is removed, and with it goes much of our drive.
It was that way for me. I always had the nagging feeling that the ordinary business of life was suspended, that I was in some kind of limbo waiting for it to resume. The trap waiting for me, then, was not spiritual regression, but spiritual stagnation.
Looking back, I believe I emerged from that experience a better man than when I entered. I filled what could have been a spiritual vacuum with the gospel of Jesus Christ, and I now have rather happy memories of a time well spent, with no regrets. Every attempt I made to live the gospel kept me on “the straight and narrow” and brought peace to my soul in a distant land under abnormal, trying circumstances.
How was this accomplished? I think the activities summarized from my diary of the last 146 days tell the story:
I attended 50 Church meetings in six different branches throughout Asia, involving three different languages (in spite of a work schedule that included both day and night shifts and few days off); attended 15 family home evenings; taught ten lessons in priesthood classes; gave two talks in sacrament meeting; taught ten missionary lessons; read 12 books, including the Book of Mormon; and wrote 50 letters to friends and family on the themes of love and fidelity.
I said 200 prayers, and that wasn’t easy. Five of us lived in cramped quarters, and privacy was rare. But there was one time each day when I was by myself, and that was while riding my beat-up bicycle the two miles to work. Often I would be wending my way along the road’s edge just as the sun was rising, and only the chirping of birds broke the stillness of my surroundings. Then I talked with my Father in heaven. As I pedaled along to work in the brightness of a new day or returned in the black of night, I poured out my heart to him and received solace in return. Thus, in a concerted effort to remain true to the faith, I was preserved for coming home.
But it was the day I arrived home when I truly realized the great value of the gospel plan. As I opened the door to my own home, with my wife’s hand in mine and my three children trailing close behind, I knew I was safe at last within the family circle. I sat for a moment in my favorite chair among familiar surroundings, basking in the radiant expressions of my family, and I understood more about heaven than I ever had before.
My mind flashed back over the scenes of human wilderness from which I had just come, and I felt that God had now led me to a very special place, an oasis as it were, where I had all I needed to nourish me during my mortal journey. Here was love, beauty, virtue, goodness, and every other attribute that mankind has ever sought, right here in my family. If there ever was an environment in which a man could grow and attain godhood, it was here.
From no other place on earth do I hear so much stress placed upon the saving nature of a good home life as I do in this church, and never have I had so much confidence in the leaders of the Church as now. My experience testifies to me that they proclaim a divine message.
Ruth Was My Roommate
She was about 25 years old, tall, lithe, and friendly. And her name was Ruth. Was it mere coincidence that we shared the same first name, just as I would wonder later if it was mere coincidence we shared the same dormitory room on the university campus for a week?
Although she was clean, Ruth’s appearance was symbolic of the drug scene—long hair, dangly fringed clothing, and multicolored beads. Steady, girl, I reassured myself. Not everyone who has long hair and wears beads uses drugs. Yet I wondered why we had been placed in the same room and what we would find in common. I was nearly twice Ruth’s age and had been a grandmother many times.
In sacrament meeting some time earlier my bishop had extended the invitation for someone to represent our ward at the school, with the enticement of two college credits. “Why don’t you go, Sister Ruth?” he had said following the meeting. “It would fit in so well with the social work you are already engaged in.”
Having been reared in an active Latter-day Saint home and in a predominantly Mormon community, drugs and alcohol had never been a part of my life. In fact, in the tight little world we had built, we didn’t even talk about them. Yet I had agreed to spend a week “living in” with a girl who needed help and companionship.
I would learn many things that week to make me a better social worker. Each girl is different, with a particular problem to be solved. Most of these problems have many facets, and they are not necessarily great, earthshaking ones, but a series of smaller ones that accumulate and bear down overwhelmingly on an already confused soul.
How often in the future I would reflect on my long, late-hour visits with Ruth. How often, in helping another, I would draw on her information. Listen. Don’t judge, criticize, or condemn. Never preach.
It was long after midnight on that first night when I was awakened by the sound of a key being wiggled in the keyhole. I reached up and let Ruth in. She was bubbling breathlessly over her exciting evening and wanted to talk. Having slept almost four hours, I was revived and now awake, and we lay in the darkness talking for more than two hours—two complete strangers sharing our thoughts and finding our common interests.
We talked of our childhood and of our different upbringings, of our homes and children, of her longing to provide for her own child. We discussed real love, free love, and sex. As we spoke of religion and God, she said she could not conceive of a God in the shape of a man—still it might be possible.
This was a deeply moving experience for me, and we followed this pattern without exception all week. Ruth’s story unfolded like a novel, and I was fascinated by it. I liked this girl. She was not like the ones I had observed on the street—unkempt, listless, and with no apparent goals; she was exciting and exuberant—full of life and expectations.
Having hit rock bottom, she was on the way up and showing remarkable progress. Like hundreds of others I was to meet on the campus that week, she measured her life from the time she had been “off” alcohol. Her time was five months and a few days. Since that time, and for the first time in seven years, she had made her own rational choices and decisions with a clear mind.
“I was so drunk at high school graduation I spent the night in jail,” she told me. “In fact, I have been in and out of jail so many times it got so I was smoking my own cigarettes. You see, there is an understanding among us that each one leaves a package of cigarettes under the mattress for the next occupant. All too often I was the next occupant.”
Since her high school days, much of Ruth’s time had been spent living the life of a nomad. She was living in abandoned houses claimed only by those who band together and try to take care of each other. Each person contributes his worldly possessions and talents to the welfare of the group. It is understood that no one is ever too “skunked” to be admitted. No one owns anything alone, and each can stay as long as he wishes.
In this constant search for “their thing,” Ruth told me that religion was an integral part of their lives—not religion as I had known it, with church every Sunday and many weekday meetings, but a yoga stance in meditation and communication, following the swirl of cigarette smoke up into the unknown, merging with laughter and companionship—building their souls to their gods. Who were their gods? Each had his own, and each experimented in various cults and rites.
Ruth was through with this form of escape. Seven years ago she had “cut out,” and now she was “cutting in.” She was not out of the woods yet, though. An alcoholic lives one day at a time, and meets often with others so they can buoy each other up.
Was she through with drugs? Mostly. She would never “shoot” again. At breakfast the second morning she exclaimed, “I’m going to give up cigarettes.” I knew she really wanted to. She made it for almost two days, but her nerves were so frayed that she finally gave in and started smoking again. Through knowing Ruth, I realized better that life’s big problems are not solved with dramatic suddenness, but usually through a long process of change, and then only with much tolerance and understanding.
As we said our goodbyes at the weekend, probably never to meet again, Ruth put her key into the lock and again it didn’t work. She turned the key over and checked the room number on it. Our eyes met in wonder, for now we realized that we had not been scheduled to be together. We were to have had separate rooms!
Fate? Coincidence? It is not important. I will always be grateful for that revealing encounter with a brave girl.
Ruth’s souvenir from Salt Lake City was a Book of Mormon; mine was a clearer insight into a world I had not known or understood. In the future, I will be more tolerant in my attitudes.
Teenage Witness to the Martyrdom
Just a lad of eight or nine was I, but I have not forgotten what he said, or how the old man trembled as he talked.
Grandpa Archie sat in Mother’s rocker, waiting for his lunch. Suddenly he called me to him, took me on his lap, and said, “Golden, I am old. I won’t be around much longer, but I have something to say to you that must not be lost. I want my grandchildren and their children to know that I was in Nauvoo when they murdered our Prophet.”
His old body trembled, and he squeezed me until I was almost frightened as I felt the deep anger in his soul. His feeble eyes blazed, and his soft, faltering voice became as hard as ice, and as cold:
“How I hated those who dared lay their hands upon the prophet I loved.”
He sighed, and his old body relaxed a little. “I was there when they brought their bodies back from Carthage. I saw their bloody, lifeless forms; I heard the anguished cries of their wives and neighbors; I saw their sobbing children and tried to comfort them.
“I knew the Prophet’s boys, played with them. They were often in our home, and I in theirs. Now they were fatherless, even as I. Their father was a martyr by bullets; my father was dead because of drivings, persecutions, and hate—but no less a martyr for the truth.
“I was there when they buried the sandbags to deceive the mob and laid the bodies in secret graves.”
Grandfather paused. He needed strength. And then he went on: “Listen again, my son. I tell you this because I want you to know. After the Prophet’s body fell from the window at Carthage, the mob rushed upon him to desecrate his body. But God would not permit this act of violence. He sent a sheet of lightning between the Prophet and those sons of the infernal pit, and they dared not touch him. Golden, my son, remember this—they could not touch him. They ran and are running still and will run till judgment day.”
He was tired now and his voice trailed off, “I hope I am present at that day.”
He dozed. Slowly the color crept back into his face, and when he opened his eyes, they shone with a light I had not seen before. Holding me at arm’s length, he commanded with a voice that no longer shook:
“My boy, look at me and listen. I want you to hear it from one who was there. I want you to hear it from one who loved him. I want you to hear it from one who knows.
“Joseph Smith was a prophet of God. Through him God restored his church, and it will never be destroyed or taken from the earth. Now, my boy, remember what I say. I, your grandfather, was 14 then, and I was there.”
Editor’s note: The family of Archibald Buchanan (1830–1915) joined the Church in 1835 at Lima, Illinois. He came to Utah in 1852, filled a mission in the Elk Mountain Indian Mission, and afterward served for many years as Brigham Young’s interpreter to the Ute Indians. Brother Buchanan was a member of the first Sevier Stake high council.