Our Prayers Took Flight
While stationed as a marine major in Da Nang, South Vietnam, I came across a message about an upcoming Latter-day Saint military conference at Mount Fuji, Japan. I hurried to the senior chaplain and asked him if our 180 Latter-day Saint servicemen could attend. The chaplain, who recognized that Vietnam was an arid spiritual environment, was enthusiastic about letting us participate. He soon obtained the commanding general’s permission.
Our sole obstacle was transportation: the men could go to the Fuji conference only if they could find spare seats on military flights to Japan. A member of the Church who worked at the Cam Ranh Bay flight operations building had recently promised to help any member find transportation from Vietnam, but when we reached the building, no one could find him. Our large group anxiously watched jets arrive and depart. Each plane to Japan was full to capacity.
After ten hours of disappointment, a Latter-day Saint colonel, realizing that we had been relying on the arm of flesh, suggested that everyone find a private place to pray. We quickly dispersed.
Soon, a miraculous chain of events occurred in Japan. As a certain jet prepared to depart for a round trip to Vietnam via Saigon, Cam Ranh Bay, and Da Nang, a sudden snowstorm covered the runway and caused a delay. Then a tire blew out and the plane had to be towed to a hangar. To make up for lost time, the repaired airliner was routed directly to Cam Ranh Bay, where we waited.
When our group was paged for boarding, we wondered how many of us they meant. To our amazement, the plane had 180 vacant seats. Combat-hardened veterans wept and hugged each other, shouting for joy. All of us boarded the flight and buckled our belts gratefully.
Only those who have experienced war know the physical sensation of leaving a combat zone: it feels like you are shedding a great weight. Tension flows out of your body as the plane gains altitude, and pretty soon you realize that you’ve made it out alive. After we were airborne, a flight attendant came down the aisle with a cart.
“Would you care for a beer?”
“No thank you, ma’am.”
“How about coffee or tea?”
After ten rows of such replies, she paused and asked, “What’s the matter with you guys?”
Several men shouted in unison, “We’re Mormons!”
The conference rejuvenated us spiritually, emotionally, and physically. Even after twenty-five years, I often recall my gratitude for being part of that divinely orchestrated exodus.
Nudged to Help
While I served as Relief Society president in our ward, I learned of one of our young mothers who was having some problems.
One morning after I got the kids off to school, I just couldn’t get this woman out of my mind. Finally I knelt and prayed about her. During and after the prayer, I felt that I needed to go see her. On impulse, I put some brownies on a plate and wrote a little note listing several things I admired about her and saying I really valued her friendship.
At the time, I didn’t feel I was acting under inspiration. I just felt a little silly as I took the brownies to her door and she reluctantly asked me into her house. She didn’t seem to want to talk, and it was rather obvious in her expression that she hoped I wouldn’t stay. On the way back home, I felt I had intruded and even felt embarrassed with my “do-gooding.”
Years later, after I had one of those bad days when I felt no one liked me, there was a knock at my door followed by the sound of running footsteps. By the time I answered the door, no one was there—but on my porch sat a canister of my favorite caramel corn and a brief but very special note.
After a little detective work, I was pretty sure the popcorn had been delivered by the young mother I had taken brownies to several years before. By this time she had worked out many of her problems and seemed happier. Soon afterward I had the opportunity to thank her, telling her how much her thoughtfulness had meant on that particular day; I told her I thought she had been nudged by the Spirit.
I was dismayed when she started to sob. After a bit, I found out that my brownies and note had been a similar inspiration to her. On that day several years earlier, she had planned to put her two young children down for naps and had thought out all the details for taking her own life before her husband came home from his work. I had come that day just as she put her children to bed, and I had not been a welcome visitor. But she couldn’t resist reading the note after I left—and after reading it, she decided life might be better tomorrow.
So much of the Lord’s work is done in small ways. We don’t always know when a subtle inclination to do something good—however insignificant it may seem to us—may be an inspiration of importance to someone else.
“More Special Than I Ever Imagined”
I broke my arm six weeks before my eighth birthday. Since I would have to wear a cast for eight weeks, I knew I would have to postpone my baptism a whole month. To an eight-year-old, a month can seem like forever, and I had looked forward to being baptized for a long time.
My dad knew of my disappointment, and we prayed together several times, asking that I would be able to wait without being too sad.
As anyone who has broken a limb knows, the adjustment to wearing a cast was difficult. With help I managed to dress myself, do my chores, and learn to eat with my left hand. It was a long six weeks until my birthday, and I grew sadder and sadder knowing I would have to wait to be baptized.
On my eighth birthday, a Friday, I went to see the doctor for a routine checkup on my arm. To my surprise, the doctor took off the cast, saying my arm had healed. I cried with happiness at the news, because for me it was a miracle that meant I could be baptized the next day after all.
Early the next evening, we drove to the stake center for my baptism. But as we pulled into the parking lot, we noticed there were no other cars. Perhaps we were early. We went into the chapel, but no one was there. Entering the baptismal room, we heard the last gurgle of water going down the drain of the font. The priesthood leader in charge of the baptismal service told us that the meeting had been over for an hour.
I sat down in a chair at the back of the room and started to cry quietly, unable to hide the disappointment I felt once again. As I wept, the man’s wife put her arm around me and tried to console me, explaining that there would be another service next month.
Up by the font, the man asked my dad why I was crying, and Dad quietly explained about my broken arm and the events leading up to this special day. He showed the man the recommend from our bishop that authorized my dad to baptize me.
The man could see my disappointment, and to my surprise, he began to fill the font again—just for me! His wife smiled and told me to take off my shoes and walk up to the font, since I was already dressed in the white baptismal clothing my mother had made me.
Soon, my father was dressed in white and leading me down the steps into the warm, clear water of the font. In the quiet of that evening, my family and the man and his wife looked on as Dad repeated the words of the baptismal prayer. I held my nose with my right hand, and Dad lowered me into the water and brought me back up again. After hugs from Dad and Mom, I went in and changed my clothes.
That simple service was unforgettable and made a solemn impression on me. There had been no special music, no talks, and no other children with parents and grandparents filling the room. But it was more special than I ever imagined, because I felt the Lord made it possible for me to be baptized that day. For the first distinct time in my young life, I felt humility and the outpouring of love it brings. I have sought to retain that feeling ever since.
The Power of Song
“Who are you?” asked the young man who had come up to me as I gathered my notes and visual aids at the end of Sunday School. As I hesitated, he repeated his question, “Who are you, really?”
“I am Brother Brown’s wife.”
He shook his head and asked, “What else?”
“Mother. Grandmother.” Again he shook his head.
This too he did not accept, still shaking his head. I tried again. “Please continue to come to our service—maybe we can find out together who I am.”
He gave me a small smile as we embraced, and my heart filled with love for him. “See you next week,” he whispered.
This is but one of many experiences my husband and I shared while serving as Sunday School teachers at the Idaho State Youth Center. At first we wondered why we were called to teach since we were both in our seventies and didn’t think young people would want to listen to us.
We began our assignment with more than a little trepidation. Between forty and fifty youth, ages twelve to seventeen, attended Sunday School regularly. These were young men and women who had detoured into the painful paths of the world. Some came from Latter-day Saint families, but many did not. Sunday School at the youth center provided many firsts for the students—many had never prayed or sung a hymn.
Attending Sunday School was a privilege at the center, and although initially the youth may have come to earn some reward, their responses told us that after a few meetings they came because they wanted to be there. The warmth of the gospel reached out to all of us involved in providing worship services at the center, and we were able to touch the hearts of the young people we met there.
As the students arrived each week, some paused to write numbers of favorite hymns on the chalkboard near the door. The first songs we sang each week were from this list. The young people sang with enthusiasm and happy countenances. Sometimes it was loud and perhaps off-key, but other times the singing had angelic overtones as the sweet messages of the gospel touched their hearts.
One day, a young man came for the first time, and his group volunteered him to sing “I Am a Child of God.” Never before had he been in such a situation. He looked at the words as Sister Therel Ricks played the song on the piano, but only a few soft sounds came out. Brother Rulon Ricks stepped up beside him, put his arm across the boy’s shaking shoulders and began to sing along softly. As the song progressed, the boy and his mentor increased in strength until they finished to cheers and clapping from the congregation. The young man’s participation helped him to understand that he is a child of God and that he can accomplish much.
Sunday after Sunday we witnessed and were touched by the power of song to tell the gospel story. The fellowship, love, sharing, and tears of these youth were evidences of attitude and behavior changes in the process.
Following much singing, we taught a twenty-minute lesson. One Sunday, we invited a father, deaf from birth, to bring his wife and baby to the center. He related how he learned to talk and explained how the young people at the center could also overcome their problems through prayer, goals, hard work, and living the gospel.
After we finished the service, the youth were reluctant to leave. We were all anxious to keep close the feeling of love and understanding.
I look forward to meeting a certain young man again, putting my arms around him, and saying: “I am a child of God, just like you. I, too, am trying to learn from mistakes, trying to turn weaknesses into strengths. I love you.”
The Mustard-Seed Teacher
It had been twelve years since I left my beloved California home and ward to remarry. With the Lord’s help, I had slowly rebuilt and achieved new goals. But I longed to visit dear friends who had shared the joys and the challenge of living in an area where Church members were a minority.
“Sometimes it isn’t good to relive the past,” my family members said. Nevertheless, I made the trip. At my old house, I marvelled that the seedlings I had planted years before were now large trees shading the property. Overwhelmed with emotion, I left the spot and drove down the street. Old landmarks were hazily familiar. What was I doing here?
When I sighted the spire of the local Church meetinghouse, I drove to my favorite parking spot. Though still not sure exactly what I was looking for, I began to feel more peaceful as I strolled through the grounds. Rounding a hedge, I nearly bumped into a young man who was pulling weeds. He jumped to his feet, and I noticed that he had a fresh missionary haircut.
As I apologized, he looked at me strangely and said, “Aren’t you the mustard-seed teacher?”
I looked at him in puzzlement.
“Yes, I think you are,” he said. “You were my first Primary teacher. I could never resist coming to your class because of the lesson clues you always taped to the door. The picture of the jar of mustard was my favorite. I remember obediently carrying home my bag of tiny mustard seeds after your lesson about the parable. After that, I always thought of you as the mustard-seed teacher.”
The memory flooded back to me of a recently baptized woman bringing her seven-year-old son, Chandler, to my CTR classroom. Here was the same boy, now a young man.
“Your lessons made me want to be a good Latter-day Saint,” he said.
I was thrilled to hear that Chandler had recently submitted his application for a mission. As we spoke, I realized that his testimony was another tree that I’d helped plant and nourish. As a young boy, his testimony was embryonic, perhaps even “less than all the seeds that be in the earth” (Mark 4:31). Now the strength of his testimony made him a mighty tree in the Lord’s vineyard.
“It’s my dad’s turn to be converted now,” Chandler said as he walked me to my car. “I’m ready to join forces with the Lord to baptize him.” Silently thanking the Lord, I vowed to keep sowing grains of faith and to trust in their promise and strength.