What I Learned at Carthage
How was the Prophet Joseph Smith able to accomplish what he did despite trials and suffering? What did Heavenly Father bless him with that allowed him to endure so much and at the same time strengthen others? Sitting on a bench outside of Carthage Jail in Illinois one autumn day, I reflected on these questions and on my own responsibilities as a priesthood leader.
My thoughts drifted to a family back home in Salt Lake City, where I served as a bishop. Ken and his wife, Miriam, had recently returned to activity in the Church, but Ken had died not long afterward. Having to travel east on business, I would not be able to attend the funeral service. My heart ached that I couldn’t be there to help nurture the family during their time of sorrow.
I expressed in prayer how much I loved Ken. As I did so, I was filled with an overpowering sense of love, and I realized that by saying the words “I love you” to others around me, I could share God’s love and touch their hearts. I reflected that God’s love must have been an essential source of the Prophet’s strength.
Tears rolled down my face as I sat there on the bench and reflected on the faithfulness of the Prophet and many of his associates. No matter what was done to them, the undeniable and unequaled love from God sustained them.
It became clear to me that any words I might speak and any leadership skills I might have would not be sufficient to sustain Ken’s family and the rest of the ward. What they would need to help them be equal to their struggles and hardships was the power of God’s love. I realized that to be an effective bishop, I would need to be an instrument through whom the Lord could manifest His love to the people I served. And I knew that the Lord’s love could help compensate for my own limitations and give me strength to face my challenges.
As I sat there, I reflected on the example of the Prophet Joseph Smith. He was instrumental in changing the lives of many because he allowed the Lord to manifest His love to the people through him. Many people who at one time were considered adversaries of the Church changed their thinking when they met the Prophet and felt of the peace and love that radiated from him.
How grateful I am to have had this realization that autumn day in Illinois. I know that when I am willing to express the words “I love you” to people, the Lord is more able to work through me to touch their hearts, lighten their burdens, and help resolve their problems.
“I Found Them!”
While serving a full-time mission in the Philippines, my husband, Robert, and I traveled to Cagayan de Oro to set up a Family History Center in the Cagayan de Oro East Stake Center and to do some training. We also invited members from the Malaybalay district to join us. Non-Filipinos are not allowed to go into some parts of the region, and Malaybalay was an area where we could not go. For almost a year, the Malaybalay district had had the equipment for a Family History Center; all they needed was some training to be able to set it up.
We made contact with the Malaybalay district president, Leandro Miole, and asked him if he and the Saints in Malaybalay could come to the Cagayan de Oro East Stake Center for our seminar. President Miole responded that they would be happy to come, even though it meant a drive of more than two hours on mountain roads. My husband wrote a letter to President Miole confirming the date, place, and time of our training session.
On the day of the seminar as I was doing my portion of the training, a man walked in and started talking with my husband. The man drew a letter from his pocket and opened it for my husband to read. I could see the conversation was quite serious.
At the end of our training session, my husband informed me that the man was President Miole from the Malaybalay district and that he and 10 members of his district had been waiting at the Cagayan de Oro Stake Center since 8:00 A.M. President Miole had shown my husband the letter stating the details of the training. To my husband’s chagrin, he realized he had forgotten to identify the place as the east stake center. We felt bad that these faithful Saints had waited hours for training that had never come, and we happily agreed to go to the Cagayan de Oro Stake Center to conduct the training session.
The Saints were happy to see us when we arrived. We opened with a prayer and a hymn, then launched into the training.
As I began demonstrating how to use the microfilm reader, I noticed that a film had been left in the reader. So instead of using the film I had brought for the demonstration, I used the film already in the reader. As my husband turned the crank and I showed where to look on the film for names, I heard someone crying softly. Looking up, I realized President Miole was in tears. I quickly asked if I had said something to distress him.
Through his tears he quietly said, “I found them!” Pointing to the names on the screen of the microfilm reader, he told us he had searched and prayed to find these names—the names of his ancestors—for more than three years. And now, there they were—on a microfilm reader he hadn’t planned to look at, in a building he hadn’t planned to be in.
That day we were reminded that “by small and simple things are great things brought to pass” (Alma 37:6).
“Give Us a Blessing!”
Otavalo, a beautiful city in northeastern Ecuador, is even more beautiful in my memory because of an experience I had there while serving in the Ecuador Quito Mission. One afternoon in September 1996, my companion and I were walking to a teaching appointment. Suddenly, some children ran out of a small, humble house, crying, “A blessing! A blessing! Give us a blessing!”
We were astonished and didn’t know what to think. We considered ignoring them and continuing on, but something prompted us to find out what was happening. We feared something terrible had taken place.
The children quickly ran back inside the house. We followed them and found a lady who was as surprised to see us as we were surprised to see her. We explained what had happened, and smiling, she told us, “The children were just playing.” We talked for a few minutes, took her name as a referral, then left.
Two days later we returned and discovered she was a member of the Church. She hadn’t gone to church for a long time, she said, mostly because she hadn’t felt anyone had encouraged her. Her children were not members of the Church. We sensed that she wanted the gospel of Jesus Christ to be part of her and her children’s lives.
We shared the message of the gospel with her children, and they were baptized two weeks later. At the baptismal service, one of the children began to cry with joy. He said his mother had changed, and he was very happy the Lord had sent the missionaries to their house.
Little did those children know that when they so playfully asked for a blessing, the Lord would answer them—in abundance. Today, the family continues to be strong and faithful in the Church.
Many people in the world are like those children. Without knowing it, they desire a blessing from our Father in Heaven. They simply need to ask, and He will answer. For as He said, “Ye are little children, and ye have not as yet understood how great blessings the Father hath in his own hands and prepared for you” (D&C 78:17).
Surrounded by Swearing
My wife and I were relieved when the call came to board the bus. We were on our way home to Canada, and while waiting in the bus station we had endured overhearing all kinds of foul language from people around us. After being seated on board, we felt happy to be leaving behind the scene of swearing.
As the bus pulled away, however, disappointment fell heavy on our hearts. From the seats behind us came many of the same words we had heard in the bus station. The filthy comments seemed to pound on my ears. I was getting frustrated and wasn’t sure what to do.
Finally, I closed my eyes and said a prayer in my heart.
Just as I finished my prayer, my wife turned to me and surprised me with the following question: “How do you recognize the promptings of the Spirit?”
We began to discuss ways that the Spirit of the Lord spoke to us personally. This soon led to our talking about examples from the scriptures of how the Spirit had touched others. As we discussed these things, I could feel the Spirit there with us, and it was wonderful!
Then something interesting happened. The gentleman sitting in front of us stood and turned around. He was rather tall and had the appearance of a businessman returning from a long trip. I worried that perhaps our conversation had spurred him to challenge us and our beliefs.
But the challenge did not come. Instead he introduced himself and apologized for interrupting us. Then he asked us, “What religion are you?”
When we told him, he said, “I thought so.” He explained that he had met some members of the Church before and was quite impressed. “Why are you the way you are? The members of your church always seem to be so excited to go to church. What makes you so excited to live as you do?”
Recognizing a wonderful opportunity to share the gospel, my wife and I spoke to him of the Restoration and soon gave him a Book of Mormon. We expressed our love for the book, explained the Prophet Joseph Smith’s calling, and spoke of the Savior’s divine mission. Then we told him about Moroni’s promise found near the end of the Book of Mormon.
It was exciting to see his interest grow. He was enthusiastic and sincere about reading the book. We invited him to pray about it, and he said he would. Again I felt the strong presence of the Spirit. Telling our new friend about the missionaries, we encouraged him to meet with them.
Before long we reached our friend’s stop. He was going home to his family. We bid him farewell and promised to keep in touch.
After our conversation ended, I sat for a moment and then realized something: the swearing around us had stopped. In fact, everything around us was silent.
The power of prayer and the influence of the Holy Spirit had transformed a distressing situation into one in which the gospel could be shared. I am thankful that Heavenly Father hears and answers prayers and that He is willing to bless us with His Spirit to guide, strengthen, and comfort us.
Rescued from the Darkness
The accident happened while I was riding home following a soccer game in a town south of Santiago, Chile. My younger brother had played for one of the teams, and while my parents waited for him I went ahead on my bicycle. My eight-year-old cousin asked if he could go with me, so I sat him on the bar of my bike and took off.
As I pedaled, I felt a twinge of guilt. The night before, after celebrating the triumph of my own team in another local game, I had ended up intoxicated. At 18 years of age, I wasn’t doing much with my life.
While the wind buffeted our faces, my cousin shifted uncomfortably. As he did so, he caught one of his feet between the tire and the front of the bike. The bike flipped forward, and I hit the rough asphalt face first. When I touched my face, I thought my nose was damaged beyond saving. Fortunately, my cousin was fine. My parents arrived shortly, then a police officer, and finally an ambulance. I was taken into surgery, where they stitched up part of my nose and grafted some tissue onto my forehead. After a few hours in the hospital under observation, I was sent home. That night I experienced an intense pain that kept me from sleep.
The following night the pain was even worse. Finally, exhausted from the intensity of the pain, I fell asleep. In a frightening dream, I seemed to see myself lying on the bed with my arms folded over my chest—the only position I found comfortable. Then I saw a dense vapor of darkness and felt a hand pulling me toward it. Terrified, I struggled to get free.
Suddenly I saw my younger brother on my other side, pulling me away from the darkness and into the light. But his help was not enough; I became desperate and cried out. As I did, I woke up. My father came in to calm me. The pain came back, and for the first time in my life, I saw my father cry.
I was moved into my parents’ room, next to Mama. Mama and my brother had been baptized into The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints a few months before, and I had seen how much she loved the Book of Mormon. She read to me from it as I fell asleep again.
Almost immediately, I had the same dream. This time when my brother started to pull on my arm, I understood the significance of it. The darkness represented the world in its fallen state, and my brother represented the gospel and a life of hope—the life he wanted for me. I knew I had fallen into bad habits. I had not opened my heart to what the missionaries taught us, and I had never prayed to find out if what they taught was true. At that moment, I promised my Father in Heaven I would be baptized.
I woke up crying. Mama cried too and prayed for me.
The pain continued the following day, and Mama asked the missionaries to give me a priesthood blessing. After that, I began to get better. Throughout my recovery, my desire to be baptized grew stronger.
I began to receive the missionary discussions again, and this time I opened my heart. I did not yet have a great deal of knowledge of the gospel—but the dream, combined with Mama’s faith and the priesthood blessing, helped me know God loved me and had provided a way for me to obtain eternal life. I took an important step toward that goal on the day I was baptized.
I used to think I had plenty of time to worry about finding the true Church, if it existed. But the accident helped me understand that we must not postpone making good choices.