It was the evening of a Friday, pay day, at the U.S. Eighth Army Headquarters in Seoul, Korea. I had been on duty during the day, so I had a free evening to read, write letters, and enjoy some time to myself.
Pay day was always welcome, except that the extra cash available to the soldiers was used unwisely by some of them at the club. About bedtime that particular evening, three soldiers, obviously under the influence of alcohol, noisily came into the barracks.
The peace and quiet of our bare army accommodations built by the Japanese occupational army before World War II was shattered when these soldiers entered the room. I turned my head away from the noisy intruders and continued reading, determined to ignore the change in mood.
Despite these efforts to remain peacefully alone and by myself, one tall, handsome young man seemed determined to bring me into the party. He staggered over to my bunk. “What are you reading?” he said. “The biography of John Stuart Mill,” I replied. Looking up, I instantly recognized Alma Anderson (fictitious name) of our small but close-knit Seoul Korea church group. I could tell that Alma also recognized me.
Deeply embarrassed and distressed, he turned around and started to leave, then fell on my bunk. “I recognize you from our group meeting a few months ago, Alma,” I said.
“Yes, I remember you,” he replied without too much enthusiasm. By now he was in deep distress. “Do you know the Doctrine and Covenants?” he asked suddenly. “Would you read me the Word of Wisdom?”
I took out the Doctrine and Covenants, opened to section 89, and slowly read aloud every word of the revelation known as the Word of Wisdom, including the phrase “strong drinks are not for the belly” (D&C 89:7).
“This isn’t the worst thing I have done,” he said. “You know, my mother thinks I am going on a mission. I can’t go now.”
At this point I interrupted: “Alma, you can still go on a mission. Would you like to know how to do it?”
“Do you really think I could go in spite of what I’ve done? I have done just about everything I shouldn’t do. I think it’s too late for a mission.”
I knew what he meant when he said he had done everything. I watched as many of my army colleagues failed to show up at camp during the night. Their interests were elsewhere. Alma’s pattern of behavior was all too much like his friends’, but on the whole, members of our church group basically were free of these nighttime excursions.
Alma was going home next week. But, nevertheless, knowing of the probable sins he had committed and also knowing the gospel plan of salvation, without which we are all lost, I stated confidently, “Yes, you can go, but it isn’t going to be easy.”
We opened to Doctrine and Covenants 58:42–43 [D&C 58:42–43] and read about repentance. We talked of the need to confess serious sins to his priesthood leader. I suggested he go immediately to his bishop in California when he arrived home. There he could continue the repentance process we had started that evening. I also urged that he commit right then and there to forsake the grave sins of sexual transgression and never again repeat them. I urged that he be patient because time would be required. I suggested that he read Alma 39 to understand how serious his sins were in the eyes of the Lord. Finally, I explained that as a part of his repentance he must plan to serve his fellowmen for the rest of his life. We talked of the Savior, his mercy, and his atonement. I helped Alma understand that, though his sins were serious, he was not lost. “We have all sinned and are lost without the great mission of the Savior,” were my words of comfort. “But we must repent of those sins to be cleansed by the blood of Christ.”
“Tomorrow is Saturday, Alma. Let’s spend the evening together. Then if you would like to go to church services with me on Sunday be here about 8 A.M.” He promised he would be there both days and he was. On Sunday he was very quiet but he stayed with me all day. We enjoyed a spiritual feast, and Alma began to show signs that hope was returning. As our beautiful day of rest from army life came to an end, he returned to his unit.
On Monday, he came to say good-bye. Then he proceeded to the Inchon Harbor and the waiting troop ship, which took him back across the Pacific Ocean to the United States and his proud family. I often wondered what happened to him once he got home. Then one day, this letter arrived:
“Perhaps you will remember me. Although our associations were short, they will have and have had a lasting affect on my life. I have often wondered what made me talk to you that night, but I was very grateful that I did. Our conversation was a turning point in my life. From then on my life changed for the better.
“I learned the hard way which was the best way to live and am at present very happy with the Latter-day Saint life. Upon my return to California I had a talk with my bishop. Several months later I was interviewed for a mission by [Elder] Hugh B. Brown [of the Council of the Twelve] and he made it quite clear that he expected a lot of me to make up for my past mistakes. The interview ended with a positive decision on my part. I received my mission call Saturday and I enter the mission home soon. I’m not even going out of my home state, but I am very pleased with the call.
“I am very thankful to you for your encouragement and advice given that night. Although I didn’t feel very well I remember your words. Perhaps our meeting was meant to be. I think so. At any rate I send you deepest appreciation for your help and wish you the best of luck throughout your life.
“Please write and tell me how you are and what you are doing. I will be very happy to hear from you.
“With love, “A brother in the gospel.”
As I read these words, I realized that I had been in precisely the right place at the right time to help Alma begin the process of repentance. The Lord’s work is always accomplished through men and women—his sons and daughters. A moment of pure joy was my reward.
The next (and last) time I saw Alma was on a day in the Los Angeles Temple when I was waiting the start of an endowment session. Alma came into the waiting room, and we embraced as old army friends and, more importantly, as eternal friends. He briefly reported on a successful mission. It hadn’t been easy, but he felt a sense of pride and joy in having completed his full-time missionary service. Indeed, although he had thought it was too late for a mission, it was not too late.
The message for our great young people is clear. If you have the desire to return and qualify for the Lord’s work, it is never too late! The Lord is merciful and kind. Yes, when serious sins are involved there are some painful debts to be settled—the painful moment of recognition that you have sinned, the confession, restitution, patience, and a commitment to a lifetime of service. It would be better never to have engaged in activities which bring spiritual darkness. “I the Lord cannot look upon sin with the least degree of allowance; Nevertheless, he that repents and does the commandments of the Lord shall be forgiven” (D&C 1:31–32). But the Lord still loves you despite your sins.
Young people, we need you to serve the Lord. It may be hard, and you will experience pain if there are serious sins involved that have to be overcome; but you will never regret serving a mission. Those moments of joy when you help another realize he or she has sinned and needs to gain faith in the Lord, repent of sins and be baptized, will more than compensate for the hardships and pain. The flow of blessings you will gently bring into the lives of others will continue on into eternity. And those blessings will also fill your life with joy. That joy will never cease as the consequences roll onward, ever onward.
So repent and come back to serve. The Lord loves you, and the Church needs you. Rid yourself of false pride and make the appointment with your bishop or branch president to start the process of repentance now. Your reward will be peace in this life and eternal life in the world to come (D&C 59:23). I am persuaded that there are many of you who, through sin, guilt, and misunderstanding of the Lord’s desire to forgive the repentant sinner, have lost hope and decided against a mission. My earnest message to you is that it is never too late!