A Miracle over the Pacific
Six hundred miles out beyond San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge, the freighter California Star rolled and heaved in forty-foot seas during a violent Pacific winter storm. As sailors scurried about reinforcing the restraints on the ship’s large metal cargo containers, two containers suddenly slammed together on the leg of a Filipino sailor, crushing and nearly severing it. The frantic sailors gave their anguished mate the best emergency treatment they could, but it was evident that he probably would not survive until the ship reached land.
I received an emergency call at my job at a Silicon Valley software company. As a reserve pilot for the California Air National Guard’s 129th Rescue Squadron, I was needed to fly an HC-130 refueling plane in support of a helicopter rescue mission. The helicopter would lift the injured sailor from the ship and rush him to emergency surgery at Stanford University hospital. Because the Blackhawk helicopter lacked the range to go six hundred miles to the ship and back, an air-to-air refueling tanker would be needed to refuel the helicopter twice each way. I looked out the window and saw rain pelting down, whipped by an angry wind. It was not a good day to fly.
We set out late in the afternoon. The flight to the freighter took more than four hours, and we were able to find the ship only with the help of electronic gear to penetrate the storm and the blackness of the night. Despite the conditions, both helicopter refuelings on the way to the ship went smoothly.
In an act of real heroism, the helicopter pilot hovered his craft over a hatch on the storm-tossed ship for six agonizingly long minutes as the critically injured seaman was brought up in a litter. The helicopter then headed again into the blustery night toward San Francisco, with the crew wearing night vision goggles. The four-hour return trip had begun.
On all of our minds was a similar rescue attempt in 1991 by the New York Air National Guard. That night the refueling hoses had not worked properly, and the helicopter had run out of fuel, forcing the pilot to ditch in the Atlantic. One of the pararescuemen had been swept away in the storm, never to be seen again.
Our next refueling went well despite the storm and the low clouds. About thirty minutes before the second refueling, however, the helicopter plunged into heavy clouds. Within seconds, my plane, too, entered the clouds. We could maintain only electronic contact with each other now. The visual contact necessary to refueling was lost.
I assumed that we would soon come out on the other side of the cloud bank, but the weather remained solid. Time crept by—we reached fifteen minutes prior to refueling, then ten minutes. Solid weather. A nagging anxiety was building in my stomach. I began to pray quite diligently, both that the seaman would hang on and that the weather would clear sufficiently for us to refuel. I suspect that other crew members were doing the same.
The five-minute mark came and went with no change in the weather. The helicopter pilot and I began to talk about our options, and I continued to pray silently. When the refueling moment arrived, we were still in the clouds.
Suddenly, the helicopter pilot called enthusiastically that he was in the clear. A few seconds later my airplane burst into the same clear area. There were absolutely no clouds to obscure our vision, and we could see all the way to the moon and stars. With a thankful heart, I maneuvered quickly in front of the helicopter, and we put out our refueling hoses so that the helicopter could take on fuel.
Finally full, the Blackhawk dropped back to break the connection with our hose and then moved out beyond our wing tip to resume the lead. At that instant we penetrated the clouds again and never emerged for the remainder of the mission. For about seven minutes—exactly the time needed to refuel—we had flown in an absolutely clear night sky. For seven minutes—just enough time to save a man’s life—we had been granted a miracle.
Upon arrival the helicopter was radar guided to the hospital, and the sailor was rushed into surgery. My family and I visited him the following Sunday, and he smiled bravely as he looked down at the bandaged stump a few inches below his hip. We learned that he was looking forward to being reunited soon with his wife and children in Manila. We gave him a copy of the Book of Mormon, and he promised to write and let us know how he was doing. Whenever I think of this sailor, I remember how the Lord made a place of calm amid the storm so that the work of rescuing a human being could be carried out safely.
“My Religion Forbids It”
In August 1987, I was serving in the United States Marine Corps as a lieutenant colonel stationed near the Red Sea at Aqaba, Jordan. As part of my assignment, I had developed a plan for port security and harbor defense. To test the plan, we needed the cooperation of the Jordanian coast guard and as little interference as possible from the Israeli gunboats patrolling nearby. Neither was a sure thing.
One of the Arabic social customs is drinking thick, dark Turkish coffee from communal cups. Often the Jordanians would offer visitors the coffee as a gesture of hospitality; to refuse it offended them, and they would withdraw the hand of friendship.
I knew that my time would soon come to be offered the Turkish coffee. I started rehearsing responses: “Sorry, the stuff keeps me awake,” or “I’d like some, but it gives me indigestion.” But these dishonest excuses felt flat on my tongue.
After a few days of working with a young Jordanian captain whom I’d grown to like, he handed me a cup of the coffee. As I looked from the viscous brown drink to his expectant dark features, all my excuses flashed through my mind. I hesitated, and then I told the truth: “My religion forbids it.”
I prepared myself for a look of hurt and rejection, but instead the captain put the coffee cup down and began a rapid-fire series of questions about this strange religion from America. Did I drink tea? What about alcohol? He’d noticed that I didn’t use tobacco—was that part of the religion too?
Rather than feeling offended, the captain respected the fact that I was trying to live my religion. He became my champion. Whenever the coffee was thrust at me after that, he explained in Arabic why I didn’t indulge in it. Such episodes always brought curious questions but never any hard feelings.
I’m not proud of the fact that my first inclination when faced with crisis was to resort to meaningless excuses—but I’m glad that I ultimately was able to do the right thing. Telling the truth blessed me because I kept a friend and completed my military assignment successfully.
Something to Live For
Not long after my wife and I arrived in the mission field, a mission leader asked us to meet with a young Jewish husband and wife who were studying the gospel. Just the month before, they had been running a prosperous business in New York, but they felt that something was missing from their lives. They decided to sell their business and move to California, where the wife’s older sister had gone two years before.
The night they arrived at the sister’s house, the couple was treated to a wonderful meal. Afterwards the sister said, “There’s something you need to know about what’s happened to us since we’ve come to California. We’ve joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”
Overcoming their cultural trepidations, the couple soon began taking the missionary discussions themselves. They were baptized the week after we met them.
About six months later I received another phone call from the mission leader. “Would you be able to come visit with this couple again?” he asked. “The husband has just been told that he will die within the next twenty-four hours from leukemia.”
We immediately went to help comfort them. They wanted to know whether they could be sealed in the temple before the husband passed away. I told them that they could not because they had not yet been Church members for a full year. They asked me to double-check, and that evening I confirmed that their sealing would need to be done vicariously.
“No, no,” the husband said. “That’s not the way it’s going to be. I just won’t die.” Two weeks later he left the hospital alive.
Eleven months after the couple’s baptism, I received another call, this time from the wife. “They’ve given my husband another twenty-four hours,” she said. “We don’t think he’ll come out of it this time. Can we be sealed in the temple now?”
I talked to the doctors and the temple president and made the arrangements. The young man was wheeled to the temple on a gurney, and the couple received their endowments together. For the sealing ceremony, we positioned the man so he could reach across the altar from his gurney and take his wife’s hand.
“That’s not what I came here to do,” he said. Painstakingly he crawled off the gurney and knelt with his wife for the sealing. Afterwards workers helped him back onto the gurney, and he was returned to the hospital. He died there several hours later.
I will never forget how, with the older of her two young children clinging to her legs, the young widow bore her testimony. “My husband left me financially secure for the rest of my life. But the gospel has given us something money can’t buy. I am so grateful to be unified with my husband and children for eternity.”
This couple showed us what it means to live—and die—with eternal perspective.
My Neighbor’s Chickens
At the year’s beginning, I had resolved to read the Old Testament all the way through. It was proving hard going, however. April was here, and I was still plowing my way through Exodus. What could I learn from all those pages of Mosaic law?
During that spring season, I was also spending time in my garden. Gardening is a social event on our road, with neighbors working side by side and swapping tips, cuttings, and seeds across fences. But since the time my husband and the man next door had disagreed about where the boundary lay between our gardens, angry words were the only things exchanged over our fence.
Just yesterday, my neighbor, Marian, had been sowing rows of seeds a few feet from where I worked, but we had labored in silence. She had rejected my friendly overtures for months now, and I was struggling to love my neighbor. Memories of accusations and harassment stung.
Working in my garden today, I was relieved that there was no sign of Marian or Jim, her husband. I could savor the smell of newly dug, damp earth and enjoy the sounds of an English spring with none of the tension I felt when my neighbors were nearby.
Suddenly, movement from their side of the fence caught my eye. Standing upright, I saw that a dozen of Marian’s hens had escaped from their run and were methodically scratching and pecking their way toward her rows of newly sown seeds. I knew the hungry fowl would make short work of Marian’s neat lines.
As I stood and watched the feathered horde advance, I thought of all the insults hurled at me by Marian and Jim. I must confess I felt a fleeting pleasure at the sight before me—but I quickly dismissed this feeling and instead wondered if I should go tell Marian of the hens’ escape. In light of her hostility, I felt fearful of approaching her. After all, I reasoned, she wouldn’t do the same for me.
As the hens neared the vegetable garden, a question formed in my mind: What would Jesus do? Now I knew I had to tell Marian. I walked up the yard toward my neighbor’s house and rapped on her door. My heart pounded.
Looking startled to see me, Marian heard my message, thanked me, and then pulled on rubber boots and ran down to her garden. I went back to my digging filled with relief and pleasure.
After lunch, I sat down and opened my Bible to the bookmark at Exodus 23. As I read verse 4, the Old Testament spoke directly to me: “If thou meet thine enemy’s ox or his ass going astray, thou shalt surely bring it back to him again.”
That day marked a turning point for me. Not only did I gain the courage to treat my unfriendly neighbor with love—an effort that did eventually bear fruit—but my testimony of the significance of all scripture became stronger. I learned that in the scriptures I could find gems of inspiration and revelation that applied very much to me.
Treasure from China
I first learned of the treasure on a beautiful Australian morning in October 1992. My husband, who is not a member of the Church, woke up and described a remarkable dream. He said that in his dream someone from my family had asked him for permission to let me go into mainland China to get my family’s genealogical records.
When I asked my husband what his response was, he answered that he did not want to be held accountable for not letting me go.
I was amazed. I had already planned to go to Hong Kong in a few months for my daughter’s wedding. It occurred to me that, after the wedding, I could travel to my family’s ancestral village on mainland China, where our records are kept. Because of my husband’s dream, I decided to make the trip.
Although I was excited to go to China, I was afraid to travel there alone. I was relieved when a son-in-law, who was also going to Hong Kong, offered to accompany me into China.
On 16 December 1992, we took a train from Hong Kong to GuangZhou, China. From GuangZhou, we took another train and traveled eleven hours to the city of MaoMeng; then from MaoMeng we rode a motorbike with sidecar three more hours to the village. When we arrived, my uncle was surprised to see us because he had received the letter announcing my visit only the night before. I recognized him immediately, for he looked just like my father. After we all got acquainted, I asked about the records.
My uncle brought out seven volumes that traced my family back nearly seven hundred years. Not only did they contain birth and death dates, but the records also contained a bit of history on each ancestor. I was thrilled.
However, I faced a major problem. The village was so remote that it had no running water, let alone a photocopy machine. Copying the records by hand would take months. When I expressed my concern, my uncle smiled. He said he had a spare set I could take. My son-in-law and I looked at each other in wonder. These people are not well-off; copying those records must have cost a lot of money.
For years I excused myself from doing family history work because I lacked records. Now there is no excuse. This experience has convinced me that many of my ancestors have accepted the gospel in the spirit world, and that is why the way was opened for me to secure their records—truly a treasure beyond price.