On a Monday in April 1964, several of us who were serving as missionaries in the Philippines traveled to Montalbon to visit a place called the Fairy Cave. We hiked deep into the cave, then stopped and blew out our candles and turned off our flashlights. We shared our feelings about being in the Philippine Islands at a time when the work of sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ was just beginning. We spoke of how dark it was in the cave and of how dark it had been in many places in the world for so many years as people waited for the truth. We spoke of light and of our opportunity to bring the light of the gospel to the wonderful Filipino people.
One of the missionaries suggested that we sing a hymn while we stood there in the dark and damp of the cave. The only one all of us could sing without a book was “We Thank Thee, O God, for a Prophet.” And so our little band of missionaries sang with much feeling:
We thank thee, O God, for a prophet
To guide us in these latter days.
We thank thee for sending the gospel
To lighten our minds with its rays.
We sang the entire hymn. It was sobering to sing that those who rejected the glad message would never such happiness know. The hymn had never had more meaning for me. I had sung it often without thinking very much about its message. But this time was different. The setting was different, and so was our experience. Our little team had been called and set apart to announce to the Filipino people that God had called a prophet to guide us in these latter days. He could lead us to the light of truth. He could show us the way back into our Heavenly Father’s presence.
I still remember how I felt as we stood in the darkness and sang. I remember the unity we felt with one another, and the strong, deep desire to share that unity with as many others as possible.
I also remember gaining a greater appreciation of the power of light. When we finished singing and sharing, we lit a candle. What a wonderful sensation it was to have that small light dispel so much darkness! I came to recognize as never before the power of light and truth and a living prophet—a man who could reveal the light of truth and say with authority, “Thus saith the Lord!”
Praise to the man who first was able to say those words in these latter days! On a recent visit to Nauvoo, Illinois, I felt a renewed sense of gratitude for this first and great Prophet of the Restoration, Joseph Smith. I tried to imagine all that we wouldn’t have or know without him. I remembered reading about how much Joseph was loved by those who knew him best. Brigham Young said, “I feel like shouting hallelujah, all the time, when I think that I ever knew Joseph Smith, the Prophet.” (Journal of Discourses, 3:51.) He also said: “I honor and revere the name of Joseph Smith. I delight to hear it; I love it. I love his doctrine.” (Ibid., 13:216.)
As a part of the great restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ in its fulness, Joseph Smith was visited by many who gave him instruction as well as authority. In his letter to John Wentworth, Joseph wrote that he had “received many visits from the angels of God unfolding the majesty and glory of the events that should transpire in the last days.” (History of the Church, 4:537.) George Q. Cannon said that Joseph Smith “was visited constantly by angels.” (Journal of Discourses, 23:362.)
On 15 May 1829, John the Baptist, under the direction of Peter, James, and John, came to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery to ordain them to the Aaronic Priesthood. (See D&C 13.) He promised that later they would receive the priesthood of Melchizedek. A short time later, the scripture records, the Lord sent “Peter, and James, and John, whom I have sent unto you, by whom I have ordained you and confirmed you to be apostles, and especial witnesses of my name, and bear the keys of your ministry and of the same things which I revealed unto them.” (D&C 27:12.)
On 3 April 1836, the Savior appeared to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery, followed by Moses, Elias, and Elijah, each of whom bestowed priesthood keys upon the Prophet and Oliver. (See D&C 110:1–16). Eventually, all of the ancient prophets who held specific keys and powers in the priesthood restored these rights and authority to Joseph Smith. (See D&C 128:21.)
Through Joseph Smith we have the Book of Mormon, another testament of Jesus Christ. We have the Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price. We have the blessing of joining with others of Heavenly Father’s children in a church that receives direction from his Holy Son through living prophets. We can receive ordinances and make covenants that help us come to Christ. We can repent and be forgiven. We can be baptized and enjoy the gift of the Holy Ghost. We can receive a patriarchal blessing and partake of the sacrament. We can obtain an endowment in the holy temple and be sealed to our families for eternity. We can communicate with God, knowing that he is our Father and that he and his Son have bodies of flesh and bone. All of these and many more blessings were restored through Joseph Smith.
Felixberto S. Ocampo helped deepen my testimony of the Prophet Joseph Smith. One morning in 1964 in the Philippines, my companion, Mary Jane Davidson, and I were tracting. We realized we weren’t in the right frame of mind. We’d had trouble getting a bus, and it was a very hot day. We stopped on the dirt road and prayed a silent prayer, asking that God would change our hearts and help us proceed with the right spirit. We came to an orange gate with the number 15 painted on it. We had a good feeling about knocking on that gate.
An older Filipino man with a kind and gentle face answered. We made our usual introduction. He hesitated, apparently reluctant to have us come in. A strong impression came over us that he was meant to receive our message. We explained the best we could (without knowing his language, Tagalog) that we had a wonderful message about God. He told us that many missionaries had knocked at his gate, but he had not invited them in. He hesitated again, but then finally invited us to enter.
We felt impressed to share with him the experience the Prophet Joseph Smith had in the Sacred Grove. Being aware that he was not fluent in English, we spoke slowly and simply. As we finished, he was deep in thought.
“Sisters,” he asked gently, “could you please tell me this beautiful story again?”
This time we felt the power of the story more deeply, too. As we finished, he again seemed deeply touched. He hesitated, then asked once more, almost apologetically, “Just once more, please?” And we did a third time. He listened carefully.
This time all three of us felt even more strongly and sweetly the witness of the Holy Ghost that Joseph Smith was a prophet and had literally seen the Father and the Son.
Our return appointment was a week later. We had trouble getting a bus, and Brother Ocampo was waiting outside his gate, looking for us. “Oh, sisters, I thought you weren’t coming! I have the most wonderful things to tell you!”
He had read word by word the pamphlet we had left with him containing Joseph Smith’s testimony. This had required frequent use of his dictionary. As we walked, Brother Ocampo began telling us the story of Joseph Smith! Soon afterward, he was baptized.
I recall that Brother Ocampo asked us what had happened to Joseph Smith. I said that he’d been murdered. Brother Ocampo was shocked. “They shot the prophet?”
“They didn’t understand.”
Brother Ocampo was upset. In his broken English, he said: “If I have been alive, I will protect his life with my life.” He meant it. This great, gentle soul helped me feel a deeper gratitude for the Prophet Joseph Smith and helped me have a stronger conviction that all the experiences Joseph Smith told about were real.
I thought of Brother Ocampo as I visited the Sacred Grove near Palmyra, New York, in the fall of 1987. It was a quiet, rainy morning, and I was able to spend about an hour in the grove alone. I thought deeply about what had happened in that grove in 1820. I found myself thinking, Oh, if people had just realized who he was and what an eternal difference accepting his message would make for them!
When I was a new missionary in 1962 I was assigned to work in Taiwan, which at that time was part of the Southern Far East Mission along with Hong Kong and the Philippines, where I also served. We didn’t have any language training at that time—we spent a full and fascinating week in the Missionary Home in Salt Lake City, and then away we went. My companion, Janice Bair, helped me learn Mandarin. We were serving in the city of Tainan, and we’d ride our bikes to the edge of the city, where I’d sit on a fence and practice speaking in Chinese, telling what happened to Joseph Smith. I remember that I’d move my head to indicate the tones I was trying to include with these “bursts of noise.” Mandarin wasn’t a language to me yet—it was one-syllable bursts of noise.
One morning my companion said, “You’re ready.” I pleaded that I wasn’t, knowing she meant it was time for me to put all the noises together. We were tracting that day, and I almost prayed no one would be home. But eventually we met a beautiful Chinese woman who invited us in, and my companion began to teach her. After a time everything became quiet. My companion looked at me and nodded. It was time.
And in that moment there was a miracle. I did the best I could. I shared all my bursts of noise, nodding my head to accentuate the tones. And the Holy Ghost took those attempts—my best effort—and bore witness to Sister Lin that a fourteen-year-old boy named Joseph Smith really did have a wonderful vision in a grove of trees. I have seldom been more convinced of the reality of the First Vision.
And it continues to happen. The Savior continues to direct his work through living prophets. He has the power to do so, and we have never been in greater need of his guidance.
In Doctrine and Covenants 1:14 we are told how important it is to follow those whom the Lord directs. “And the arm of the Lord shall be revealed; and the day cometh that they who will not hear the voice of the Lord, neither the voice of his servants, neither give heed to the words of the prophets and apostles, shall be cut off from among the people.” [D&C 1:14]
President Harold B. Lee taught: “We have some tight places to go before the Lord is through … in this dispensation, which is the last dispensation, which shall usher in the coming of the Lord. … You may not like what comes from the authority of the Church. It may contradict your political views. It may contradict your social views. It may interfere with some of your social life. But if you listen to these things, as if from the mouth of the Lord himself, with patience and faith, the promise is that ‘the gates of hell shall not prevail against you; yea, and the Lord God will disperse the powers of darkness from before you, and cause the heavens to shake for your good, and his name’s glory.’ (D&C 21:6.)” (Improvement Era, Dec. 1970, p. 126.)
“Today,” Elder David B. Haight declared, “the Lord’s church is guided by the same relationship with Deity that existed in previous dispensations. This claim is not made lightly. I know there is revelation, as I am a witness to sacred things also experienced by others who administer His work.” (Ensign, May 1986, p. 7.)
On 21 June 1988, the annual seminar for new mission presidents was being held at the Missionary Training Center in Provo. After President Ezra Taft Benson spoke to these presidents and their wives, he went to the multipurpose room, where close to two thousand missionaries waited for him. I was thrilled to watch these two thousand as President Benson came into the room, to see the love in their eyes as they sang “We Thank Thee, O God, for a Prophet.” Many of them had tears running down their faces. There was a feeling in the room as wonderful to me, I think, as if Moses or another prophet from the past had been standing before us.
Of the President of the Church, the Lord commands us: “Thou shalt give heed unto all his words and commandments which he shall give unto you as he receiveth them, walking in all holiness before me;
“For his word ye shall receive, as if from mine own mouth, in all patience and faith.” (D&C 21:4–5.)
Once as I was driving home to view a general conference session on television, I was behind schedule and still in my car when the session began. I had the radio on when the time came to sustain the General Authorities and officers of the Church. When a sustaining vote was called for, I raised my right arm to the square. Then I noticed that several people in other cars around me were doing the same thing! It was a very nice feeling—I felt a unity with all those other drivers who hadn’t been able to make it home yet but were still happy to add their sustaining vote to all the others throughout the world.
We don’t have elections to choose a prophet. Whenever I listen to debates in political settings where accusations and contention rule the day, I’m grateful that God does things in a much better way. On the occasion of the solemn assembly on Sunday afternoon, 6 April 1986, when President Ezra Taft Benson was sustained as the President of the Church, President Gordon B. Hinckley handled the business of the solemn assembly. When all the sustaining had taken place, he said, “Thank you, brothers and sisters, for your sustaining vote. We feel that you have sustained us not only with your hands but also with your hearts and your faith and prayers, which we so urgently need, and pray that you will continue to do so.” (Ensign, May 1986, p. 75.)
That is the way I want to follow those who are called as prophets, seers, and revelators. I want to sustain them with my hands, but also with my heart and my faith and my prayers. For me personally, this is the reality: There are men living who can say with authority, “Thus saith the Lord!”