Californians Count Blessings Amid Quake Losses
The San Francisco Bay Area was in something of a festive mood October 17, celebrating professional baseball’s World Series between the two local teams. But at 5:04 P.M., an earthquake measuring 7.1 on the Richter scale cut the party short, putting thoughts of the San Francisco-Oakland World Series out of almost everyone’s mind.
Nearly seventy people died as a result of the earthquake, including three Latter-day Saints. Thousands of people were left homeless, many Church members among them.
The quake was centered in the Santa Cruz Mountains south of San Francisco. Its hopscotch pattern of destruction seemed almost capricious. It spread northward, largely skipping over San Jose, but doing severe damage in San Francisco and Oakland. An upper-deck section of Oakland’s Nimitz Freeway collapsed onto the lower deck, crushing cars and the people in them. An upper-deck section of the Bay Bridge between Oakland and San Francisco also collapsed, and damage was extensive in San Francisco’s Marina district.
Some of the most widespread damage occurred in Santa Cruz, Watsonville, Hollister, and other nearby areas. With property damage estimated in the billions, the earthquake has been labeled the most costly natural disaster in United States history.
Damage to the Oakland Temple and other Church buildings, however, was minor, except for one meetinghouse in San Jose that was already scheduled for remodeling.
As the rubble of the fallen freeway section in Oakland was removed, it was learned that John Lauritz, a Church member from San Francisco, and Jackie Easton, a member from Sacramento, had died in its collapse. Brother Lauritz had been recuperating from surgery at the Easton home, and Sister Easton had taken him to San Francisco for a doctor’s appointment. He was driving his own car for the first time after surgery, and she was following him when they drove onto the freeway just before the quake started.
Church member Elida Ledesma Ortega, of the Pajaro First Ward, Santa Cruz California Stake, died of injuries received in the collapse of a bakery in Watsonville.
Elder Gene R. Cook of the First Quorum of the Seventy, President of the Church’s North America West Area, toured the affected areas. He lauded the “great and optimistic spirit” of members there and expressed the love and support of Church leaders. “The priesthood and visiting teachers were terrific,” he said. “They were very well organized to respond to individual needs and quick to contact all their members.”
Immediately after the earthquake subsided, members throughout the area turned to helping others, even though, in many cases, their own homes had been severely damaged or destroyed. Location of members and meeting of their immediate needs proceeded under priesthood direction. But Latter-day Saints also earned the gratitude of people throughout their communities. Missionaries, under the direction of their mission president, donated tens of thousands of hours of volunteer work.
Members were also the recipients of selfless, Christlike service from non-LDS neighbors. Throughout the quake-torn areas, a spirit of helpfulness seemed to prevail.
The Church’s welfare system rose to the occasion in meeting the short-term temporal needs of homeless Saints. Members of the Mercury Amateur Radio Association, the Church-affiliated organization of ham radio operators, were invaluable in local communication efforts, particularly in the Santa Cruz area. Latter-day Saints from outside affected areas donated labor, materials, and funds to help members who were left homeless or with homes badly damaged. There will be a continuing need to help individuals for some time, local priesthood leaders say, but the most useful way others will be able to help at this point is through fast-offering donations.
For Latter-day Saints, the history of the quake and its after-effects is written largely in the experiences of individuals. Following are a few of their stories.
SAN FRANCISCO—Max Hawes, his wife, Kelli, and their infant son, Derrick, live in Pacific Heights. From their window, they could see the smoke in the Marina district after the quake. Since members of their Golden Gate Ward lived in the area, Max packed a flashlight, gloves, and first-aid kit in a hip bag, took a ward directory and map, and walked down to the stricken area. Police let him into the area because he explained that he was looking for members of his church. Finding none of them at home, he joined rescue efforts, then helped at the Marina Middle School until 2:00 A.M.
The following day, he and a friend joined the search for survivors and bodies. “What struck me while searching these buildings was the suddenness of it all,” he said. “Stereos and VCRs were being tossed aside. Money was lying in the open—things that [had seemed] so important to people’s lives. All these worldly things that people spend a lifetime getting didn’t matter any more. Nobody gave a second thought to saving those things.”
OAKLAND—Jeff Hintz rode the Nimitz Freeway down when it collapsed. An assistant ward clerk in the Alameda Ward, Oakland California Stake, Brother Hintz was on his way home from work, eager to watch the World Series. He was driving the new car he and his wife had recently purchased after their old one had been wrecked.
He had just come off the Bay Bridge onto the upper deck of the freeway when his car began to feel as though all four tires had blown, and the steering wouldn’t respond. His first impression was that the new car was falling apart. Then he noticed “the road rolling up and down like ocean waves.” His car catapulted over a section of freeway that had suddenly raised up, and he was tossed around, breaking his nose in the process. Then he braked to a stop and sat, engulfed in thick dust. “What I remember most was the silence,” he says. “It was unearthly.”
Dazed, he nevertheless walked around helping others escape from their vehicles, following the impressions he felt. When the opportunity came to climb down a ladder supplied by residents living near the freeway, all he carried away from his car was his set of scriptures. It was while he was descending the ladder that the full import of the freeway collapse struck him. He could hear the cries of people trapped in cars sandwiched between the freeway decks.
“I feel as if I’ve been given a second life,” he said. “Before the quake, I thought since I’m a young man I’d have plenty of time to correct all my little sins before I die. Now I realize I must begin immediately. This quake showed me you never know if you will have more time.”
HOLLISTER—Over the years, Ray Montero of Hollister, public communications director serving both wards in the city, has developed a strong relationship with other churches in the community. Working with local clergy, he has helped develop food and shelter programs for emergencies, as well as for the ongoing needs of the homeless and others in the community. “We were already pretty well prepared for the quake,” Brother Montero said. “We were able to handle our own needs without much outside assistance.”
Pastor Bill Habin had already turned much of the property belonging to his Southern Baptist Church into a family shelter that feeds and houses about one hundred people per day. In the past, Reverend Habin said, he was no friend to the Latter-day Saints. But he has changed his mind after working with them. “I think they have done as much to help our town as anyone. I know they have put as much effort into the shelter at my church as anyone.” His relationship with the Latter-day Saints had progressed to the point that Derek Nordstrom, an LDS stake missionary in Hollister, had been invited in to teach about Christ at Pastor Habin’s church once a week.
Looking back on his experiences with members of other faiths in Hollister, Brother Montero commented, “It’s nice to know that when a quake or other community emergency comes, we’re working together already.”
SAN FRANCISCO/OAKLAND—Missionaries of the California Oakland and California San Jose missions put in literally tens of thousands of hours as volunteers after the quake. One group helped serve food and provide support for workers tearing apart the downed freeway in Oakland in search of survivors. Others helped unload and deliver emergency supplies and perform other tasks in Red Cross shelters.
President Leo Douglas of the San Jose mission received a call one night from a man who identified himself as one of the top three Red Cross officers in San Francisco. “Where are you getting all these wonderful volunteers who just keep showing up?” the man asked. “Where do you get so many clean minds and strong backs?”
ALMA, SANTA CRUZ MOUNTAINS—President Allan Nelson was probably hit as hard by the quake as anyone in the branch. His house was destroyed. Fortunately, his family members were on the top floor when the bottom one collapsed. He has spent much of his time since the earthquake seeing to the needs of branch members. Many, in turn, have helped with his family’s needs while he has been away serving others.
President Nelson expresses gratitude for the immediate help of regional welfare agent Leo Haney, who saw the need for water and sent it in fifty 50-gallon drums. Some members wondered where they could safely store belongings they had salvaged; soon there were lockable storage units in the parking lot of the branch meetinghouse, brought by Brother Haney. Then came tarps to protect members’ belongings from torrential rains that came not long after the earthquake.
President Nelson was deeply impressed by a blessing on members pronounced by Santa Cruz stake president Brad McDonald at the recent stake conference. “He promised us in the name of the Lord that we’d all be able to get back on our feet again. It was one of the most spiritual experiences of my life. I can’t tell you what a blessing like that means at a time like this.” Assessing his own situation—needing work, home destroyed—President Nelson nevertheless was buoyed up by that experience in stake conference. “I don’t know just what we’ll do, but I know after this blessing that the Lord will take care of us somehow until we are able to take care of ourselves again.”
Rex E. Lee Inaugurated as BYU President
Rex Edwin Lee, who had accepted the appointment and had already functioned in it for weeks, was officially inaugurated as president of Brigham Young University on October 27.
President Gordon B. Hinckley, First Counselor in the First Presidency, conducted the convocation at which President Lee was inaugurated, and President Thomas S. Monson, Second Counselor in the First Presidency, officially installed him. United States Supreme Court Justice Byron R. White, for whom President Lee once served as law clerk, gave the inaugural address.
Elder Boyd K. Packer, Elder Neal A. Maxwell, Elder Russell M. Nelson, and Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve all attended the convocation. Elder Oaks was president of BYU when Rex Lee served as founding dean of its J. Reuben Clark Law School.
Also in attendance were Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the First Quorum of the Seventy, Brother Lee’s immediate predecessor as university president; Bishop Henry B. Eyring, First Counselor in the Presiding Bishopric; President Barbara W. Winder, Relief Society general president; and President Ardeth G. Kapp, Young Women general president.
As he installed the new university leader, President Monson charged him with a threefold responsibility.
First, he said—including President Lee’s wife, Janet, in this charge—reach for heavenly help. “Since you are now on the Lord’s errand, you are entitled to his help,” President Monson explained. “Do not forget that a man never stands taller than when he is on his knees.”
Second, he called on President Lee to strive for excellence. “You can lift your faculty and the student body to higher attainments and loftier levels of competence.”
Third, President Monson urged President Lee to teach and to promote teaching by the Spirit. Students taught by the Spirit and motivated by testimony should and will excel in their fields, expanding the borders of knowledge, and perfecting their ability to love and to serve.
President Lee responded: “There is nothing I would rather do over the next few years than to devote myself to filling the charge you have just given. I recognize that it is given not just to me personally, and I accept not only for myself, but also on behalf of the faculty, the staff, and the students.”
President Lee noted that progress has been BYU’s historical hallmark “and will continue. It would be inconsistent not only with our history, but also with our religious beliefs to level out now.”
“More changes and more progress lie ahead of us,” he said. “But while change is inevitable, so also is constant adherence to the foundation on which we built in the beginning and on which our house still stands—and will stand as long as there is a Brigham Young University. For this is a house of study and also a house of faith, a house in which we teach by the Spirit.
“Working together, we cannot fail, and we will not fail.”
In his address, Justice White pointed out that a modern coalescence of philosophy, religion, and politics in the United States placed the individual “at the center of our cultural universe. Man’s moral and religious salvation and the nurturing and development of his powers have become our major preoccupation. Hence, the central role of education.”
He said education to develop human resources is a lifelong process. But in order to meet the challenges of today’s society, “I suspect that a whole new order of insight and intellect will be necessary,” he added. President Lee is “up to the job” of helping provide that intellect and insight, Justice White commented.
Prophets’ Lives Teach Us, President Monson Says
Students must not only learn to earn, they must learn to live lives worthy of eternal blessings, President Thomas S. Monson, Second Counselor in the First Presidency, said October 10 at the first Brigham Young University devotional assembly of the school year.
He told the students that the Savior provided the guide to a life worthy of exaltation in his Sermon on the Mount. In the Beatitudes, “He taught his disciples the way to live.”
“Today,” President Monson said, “I would like to suggest some beatitudes that will be helpful to you and helpful to me as we contemplate our purpose here.” He then drew one beatitude from a quality exemplified by each of the Church Presidents with whom he has been associated, from President Heber J. Grant through President Ezra Taft Benson.
From President Heber J. Grant: Be persistent. He cited the well-known story of young Heber Grant’s persistence in practicing baseball until he was prepared to play on a championship team.
From George Albert Smith: Be compassionate. “This great leader had a compassionate heart.”
From David O. McKay: Be considerate. He told of President McKay’s accepting a gift from a woman who thought she had painted a picture of his boyhood home in Huntsville, Utah. Actually, it was a painting of a neighboring home. President McKay hung the painting in his office and enjoyed it, never letting her know of the error.
From President Joseph Fielding Smith: Be studious. “He was not only a student, he was a scholar.”
From President Harold B. Lee: Be in tune. Be responsive to the whisperings of the Spirit. President Monson spoke of some of the visionary accomplishments of President Lee for the Church—in correlation, welfare, and leadership training, for example—which came because President Lee was in tune with the Spirit.
From President Spencer W. Kimball: Be dedicated. President Kimball was “totally, completely, and unequivocally dedicated to the Lord, dedicated to living the gospel,” President Monson said. “Oh, what a determined soul.”
From our current Church leader, President Ezra Taft Benson: Be loving. “This man is one of the most loving, kind, tender individuals I have ever known,” said President Monson. He noted that the children of the Church feel the genuine love President Benson has for them, and from throughout the Church, they return it, in letters that come daily.
Temple Square a Top Attraction for Visitors
Temple Square continues to draw visitors in record numbers. Visitors exceeded 3.5 million as of 1 November 1989.
Thousands of Salt Lake City visitors are drawn to the square each month to savor its historical flavor, but it is almost impossible for them to come away without learning something also of the culture and beliefs of Latter-day Saints.
The visitors come from all over the world, including many tour groups from Europe and the Far East. Most of them come in the summer months, said Ralph O. Bradley, Temple Square director. More than 2.2 million people visited the square during the summer this year. If visits continue at the current pace, he said, more than 4.2 million people will visit the square during 1989.
Tabernacle organists have also noticed a marked increase in the number of people attending daily organ recitals and weekly Tabernacle Choir broadcasts this year. An average of more than ten thousand visitors per week attended during the summer.
Diplomats’ Wives Learn of Church at N.Y. Center
Sixty-eight wives of United Nations ambassadors, diplomats, and consuls spent the morning of November 1 at the New York City Visitors’ Center learning about Latter-day Saint families and how the gospel helps them meet challenges.
Representing thirty-four nations from areas as diverse as China, the U.S.S.R., Africa, Guatemala, and Fiji, the women also became acquainted with the Family History Center.
Those attending expressed surprise at the international breadth of the Church, as described by Beverly Campbell, public communications director for the Church’s Washington, D.C., office. After a panel discussion that explored the six areas of family preparedness, there were questions such as “How can I keep my family together?” “How do Mormons maintain the respect of their children?” “Do you have a lower divorce rate?” and “Why is your church growing so fast?”
Panel members Jody H. Davis, Linda Inouye, and LaWynn Murphy and moderator Dorothy Bench gave personal insights into their own family experiences and the role of the Church in their lives.
David and Lilia Seegmiller, directors of the New York facility’s Family History Center, conducted a “hands-on” tour. Some three hours after the main body had left, two of the international visitors were still at the microfilm readers. One proudly showed her notebook with fourteen pages of family names she had gleaned from the films. Many of the visitors expressed a desire to search out family lines.
A luncheon provided opportunities for personal discussion. Arrangements were also made to enroll visitors’ children in Boy Scout troops, to invite their teenage children to various youth activities, and to pick up some of the visitors themselves for Relief Society meetings.
The visit to the New York Center was under the aegis of the International Council of Women.
Update: Seminary Enrollment
Seminary enrollment passed the quarter-million mark in 1988. This represents a growth of almost thirteen thousand students since 1987, and a growth of more than forty thousand students during the last five years.
Elder Oaks Defends Religious Liberty
Public education that ignores the role of religious liberty in United States culture and history is incomplete and overlooks one of the most significant influences in the shaping of the country, Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve told an educational group on October 13.
He spoke during the U.S. West Educational Symposium at Boise State University in Boise, Idaho.
Elder Oaks decried the omission from history textbooks of references to religion and its “significant role in American history.”
Political, educational, business, and religious leaders met to discuss the Williamsburg Charter, a document Elder Oaks signed in 1988 as a representative of the Church. Its purpose is “to celebrate and reaffirm religious liberty as the foremost freedom of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.
“Religious liberty is the motivating and basic civil liberty because faith in God and his teachings and the active practice of religion are the most fundamental guiding realities of life.”
Signers of the Williamsburg Charter, he said, “are seeking to offset the symbol and pattern of hostility to religion or indifference to religious liberty that have characterized many court decisions, much media publicity, and some public understandings for over a quarter of a century.”
The Williamsburg Charter Foundation proposes a public school curriculum with an academic, rather than a devotional, approach to religion. It “would sponsor study about, not practice of, religion” and would “expose students to a diversity of religious views but not impose any particular one.”
One cannot understand great music, art, and literature of the Western world “without understanding the religious beliefs and traditions of the people by whom and for whom those works of art were created.”
He also severely criticized efforts to ban denominational public prayers, particularly by use of the threat of lawsuits to intimidate school districts or government bodies into banning all prayers.
“Much of the controversy over prayer in public places suffers from a failure to distinguish between what is government and what is merely public,” he said.
A decision outlawing prayers in tax-supported public school classrooms, he said, does not forbid prayers “in settings that are merely public, such as town meetings, patriotic programs, PTA functions, and even high school graduations.”
The first United States Supreme Court school prayer case brought a decision that it was “no part of the business of government to author prayers to be offered by its citizens,” he explained. “Before we invoke judicial power to indicate what words cannot be included in a prayer, we should remember that if it is no part of the business of government to write a prayer, then it is no part of the business of a court to censor a prayer.”