In Saving Others We Save Ourselves

F. Burton Howard

Of the First Quorum of the Seventy


For many months I have been away from the headquarters of the Church. I have learned much and have come to understand better many things I had known before. I have observed firsthand the challenges which confront Church members as they endeavor to build the kingdom. I have seen the time and financial burdens borne by adults. I have sensed the preoccupation of parents for their children.

I have come to know that in this age of anxiety, and sometimes selfishness, there are not many of us willing to forego comforts or hard-earned security in order to concern ourselves with the welfare of others outside of our immediate circle of acquaintance. But some are—and some do. Everywhere I have been, I have met some faithful Saints who love, pray for, and watch over their fellowmen, both in and out of the Church. By means of a parable (I believe I can call it that), I would like to speak to that comparative handful of God’s children who have learned to live for others—and more particularly to those who have not.

In a desert region one day, a number of travelers set out on a trip. It was hot and the journey was long. They had little in common except their shared desire to arrive at a distant city. Each carried provisions and water expecting to replenish their supplies along the way. Not long after leaving their homes, a great storm arose. Dust clouds darkened the sun, and the wind brought swirling sands which quickly filled the low places in the road. What at first had seemed a pleasant outing suddenly became a hazardous undertaking. The travelers soon realized that the question was not merely when they would arrive at the city, but whether they would arrive at all.

Confusion and doubt affected the company. Some sought shelter, while others attempted to turn back. A few moved onward through the storm. The end of the first day found them scattered, with inadequate provisions, wanting water, and lost in the desert. A new day brought hunger, thirst, and despair. The storm still raged. Hope was in short supply. Familiar landmarks were gone. The road, which had been narrow and hard to find, at best, was hidden by silt and debris. No one knew where to go to find it. Many claimed to know the way, but as they could not agree, each traveler wandered in his own way in search of water or the shelter of a settlement.

At the end of yet another day, two of the group, half-blinded by dust and with their strength nearly gone, came unexpectedly, with something more than good fortune, upon an inn and way station. There in the sanctuary of walls and roof, they refreshed themselves and counted their blessings. There they replenished their stores and contemplated the remaining portion of their journey. The weather remained unsettled. The wind continued to blow. The poorly marked road wound ahead through hills where the sand piled deep and where it was said that robbers sometimes preyed upon unsuspecting travelers.

One of the two was anxious to reach his destination. He had important business in the city. He gathered his supplies and water and paid his account. Early in the morning he set out in haste in an attempt to cross the hill country by nightfall. But the windblown sand had blocked the road. He was forced to dig and detour. When night came, he was far from the city, exhausted and alone. When he fell asleep, thieves found him, took his supplies, and left him without strength and without water to face almost certain death.

The second traveler was also desirous of reaching his destination. But he remembered the others in the desert behind him. They were lost and would soon perish without water and without hope. He alone knew where they were. He alone knew their condition and their need. He likewise arose early and paid his account. He glanced at the hills with their promise of the city beyond, and then turned back down the road whence he had come. The sky was a little lighter now. He recognized some of the landmarks. He knew about where he had left his traveling companions. He called out to them by name, for he knew them. After hours of patient searching, he found many of them. He shared with them life-giving water from his own containers. He told them he knew the way. He spoke as if he had authority, so they followed him, and he brought them to the way station with him. There they rested and regained their strength. They were given directions regarding how to reach the city. They renewed their provisions, filled their water containers, and went out again to face the storm.

The journey was still difficult. The wind still blew and clouds obscured the sun. The road still wound through the sometimes deep sand, and thieves were still in the hills. But this time the traveler was not alone. The group was large. When sand blocked the way, work parties were organized to remove it. When some faltered, the strong shouldered the burdens of the weak. When night came, there were watchmen to man the watch. After many days, the second man and his friends arrived safely at their destination.

When they arrived there, those who had been rescued and given water gathered around the second traveler and said, “We could not have come to this place without you. We shall ever be grateful to you for searching for us, for finding us, for sharing your water and your bread. We know that you put aside your own journey and submitted to the hardships of the desert in order to help us when we were lost. What can we do to repay you?”

And the second man replied, “Thank me not, for by no power of my own did I find the way station. The water there would have been bitter had I not shared it with you. I know that I could not have arrived at the city without you. Your strength and encouragement enabled me to continue on. Your presence prevented robbers from attacking. I have come to realize that in order to save my own life, I had to save yours as well. I know now that it is not so much the haste of one’s journey but rather what he does along the way which determines whether he will arrive at his destination. Thank me not,” he said. “In truth, I have not brought you to this place, we have brought one another.”

And so it is. None of us could have arrived at the point where we listen to and enjoy this great conference without others. Our testimonies, our greatest blessings, our membership and activity in Christ’s church—all of these we owe to the often unremembered and always unnumbered hundreds who gave of their time and their patience and their love to us when we were trying to find our way in the desert. They brought living water to us, or to our parents, or to our parents’ parents. Whether we know it or not, whether we like it or not, whether we are grateful or not, we are where we are because of others. We cannot say, indeed we must never say, “It was a difficult journey, but I have arrived. Let others get here as best they can. I don’t have time now to take water to those who are lost. I have no obligation to those in the desert.”

The Lord is the director of the work in which we are engaged. He established the conditions upon which each man and woman will be privileged to return home.

He knows that sometimes clouds block the sun and that the road is hard to find. He must know how difficult it is just to get there. Can He reasonably expect us to try to bring others who are lost with us as well?

The answer is clear. To what else did He refer when He said, “All things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them?” (Matt. 7:12.) Surely He had in mind our obligations to others when He spoke of lost sheep and living water. If the parable of the good Samaritan has application anywhere, it must apply to one who, having the gospel, encounters another in need without it. But lest there be any doubt, the Lord has directed plain language to the Latter-day Saints. His words in the Doctrine and Covenants are pointed: “The gospel is unto all who have not received it. But, verily I say unto all those to whom the kingdom has been given—from you it must be preached unto them.” (D&C 84:75–76; italics added.)

What directions has He given to help us arrive at our destination? Once again, He has clearly spoken through a modern prophet: “And now, behold, I say unto you, that the thing which will be of the most worth unto you will be to declare repentance unto this people, that you may bring souls unto me, that you may rest with them in the kingdom of my Father.” (D&C 15:6; italics added.) For, as he spoke to the disciples of old, “As I have loved you, … love one another.” (John 13:34.)

My brothers and sisters, may we better understand the duties associated with our discipleship, I pray humbly in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, amen.