A Circle of Light


After the sacrament had been passed, my brother Robert took out a pencil and paper and began to draw. I worried about Robert, a 16-year-old priest, who should be outgrowing that kind of thing by now. I looked at my mother’s face. She seemed composed, as always. She ignored his behavior in church. “I’d rather have him come to church and draw than stay home,” she had told me once. “Someday something will change.”

She and I both knew Robert would rather have been in the hills this morning waking up in a cold sleeping bag. If we had left him at home he would have gone hiking with Juno, his trusty dog. “I get more in the mountains than I ever did in a stuffy old meeting,” he shouted once to my father.

“Nevertheless, we are a church-going family,” Father had said gently. “And you are part of the family while you live here, and you will go with us to church.”

I stared at Robert’s hands. They were roughened young hands, accustomed to chopping and whittling wood, tying knots, digging tent trenches. The fingernails were chipped off and dirty. He looked like he belonged in the mountains, not in church.

Sometimes I thought I could understand him. He wanted to worship out there where he said God really was. He had never read the Book of Mormon; he made jokes in Sunday School class. And I don’t think he ever heard anything that was said in sacrament meeting.

Robert continued to draw and I was watching and shouldn’t have been. I tried to concentrate on the woman who was speaking. She was talking about her son who had just returned from his mission.

“Most of you knew Brian before he left on his mission,” she was saying. “You remember that he wanted to be an individual. He would rather take off with his dog in the hills than go to church.”

I sat up and my eyes opened. I wished Robert were listening instead of making silly drawings.

“Sometimes he would disappear for days—take off in the hills with his dog,” she continued. “We would stay at home and simply pray that God would protect him, wherever he was.”

I thought at that moment that maybe Robert shouldn’t listen because he might be getting some ideas. But I noticed his hand had paused. He was listening! Now all I could do was pray he wouldn’t hear the wrong message in the mother’s speech, and go out with his dog for several days.

“Brian has always wanted to worship in his own way,” said his mother.

I looked over at Robert. He was listening all right. I wasn’t sure that was good. But the mother continued. Her boy had changed. He had gone on a mission. It had been a miracle.

Robert thought he had heard all of the rest of this before and returned to his drawing. And then it was time for the returned missionary to speak.

“I wasn’t going to be like everybody else and go on a mission,” he said. “I was different, and I knew I was all right without the Church. I thought I was happy not going to meetings, but hiking off into the mountains for days. Sometimes my parents didn’t know where I was. I know I gave them a lot of concern.”

Robert was not watching the missionary.

“But the time came when my friends were going on missions, and I had to make a decision,” the missionary continued. “It was one of the most difficult times of my life. I had never even read the Book of Mormon.

“And one of my friends who was going on a mission told me: ‘Sure, you’re supposed to go on a mission, but nobody will force you to go. Just give it a chance. Read the Book of Mormon. If you don’t want to go after that, at least you gave it a chance.’

“Well, you all know how that turned out.”

The ward members laughed. Even Robert smiled.

“But I want to tell you how it happened,” the missionary said. “I said okay, I’d take a couple of weeks in the desert with my dog and read the Book of Mormon. My friend drove me and my dog out into the desert 100 kilometers from any road. He left us out there with nothing but a little food and our survival equipment. I told him to pick us up in the same spot in about two weeks.”

I thought Robert would have loved a similar two weeks in the desert right during testing time at school, though I couldn’t imagine him taking the Book of Mormon.

“I finished the book in two days, and I knew it was true. I knew I wanted to go on a mission. I knew I wanted to tell the world that God still cares and that he provided this book for our guidance. I was ready now. But there I was, 100 kilometers from civilization, and my friend wasn’t going to pick me up for twelve more days.

“Well, I sat down on a rock and thought about what I should do. There really wasn’t any purpose for me to stay out there anymore. So I decided I’d try to walk out. I knew the direction I should go. I knew how far I was from the road. And, although when I look back on it I realize what a crazy decision it was, I thought I could reach the road in a couple of days if I left most of my food supplies and camp gear to retrieve later with a truck. So in the morning, I started out.

“I left camp in my jacket with only a couple of apples in my pocket, my knife, and some matches. I set out at a fast pace, probably covering almost thirty kilometers by mid-afternoon. But then it began to rain.

“It was not a usual rain. It flooded. The water fell in thick black sheets around me so that I could not even see landmarks to know where I was going. My dog and I were drenched within moments, and as the afternoon dragged on, we began to shake with the cold. I huddled inside my coat, overwhelmed with a dreadful feeling. What was I going to do?

“I’d heard enough about hypothermia—where the body gets too cold—to know that I needed to get out of the rain. It was February, and with evening so close, the rain would soon turn to ice. I needed to get dry, but I was too far away from my camp gear to turn back. Luckily, at that moment, I found some shelter in the crevice of some rocks. I crawled inside, and there was just enough space for me. My dog, wet and shaking with cold, stood outside wagging her tail. I wanted to wait for the storm to pass and stayed there for what seemed like hours. It became evident that we could not stay there in that rain. I needed to move and keep my blood circulating, yet out in the cold desert the rain was still pouring down. What could I do?

“I think it was the first time in my life that I really talked with God. I conversed with him like I never had before. I told him my dog and I were in great danger if we couldn’t dry off before the water turned to ice, and if the storm should last several days, we could not find food or build a fire.

“I told Heavenly Father that I now knew the Book of Mormon was true, and that I would serve a mission to tell others to read it so they would have the same confirmation.

“For a moment I stopped pleading with him and listened. I believe I thought he would stop the rain, but the rain continued to pour down in sheets.

“Never had I prayed like I did in those moments. Suddenly, the thought came into my mind that the Lord would do his part if I would just get out there and go. Maybe he would give me the strength to withstand the cold, but I just had to get out and get moving.

“In the moment that I left those rocks, I had a feeling of peace. My dog and I walked for a hundred meters or so in the drenching rain. I walked away from the rocks and into flat, open ground. My shoes, my clothes, my matches—everything was soaking wet, and the rain was still falling down on me in gray sheets.

“But as I continued, praying in my heart for strength, praying for purpose, a sudden soft light opened up above me. I looked around. There was no rain!

“I paused and looked at the blue hills. The rain had stopped only in a large area where I walked. On the edge of the great circle around me the dark rain was still falling, like a gray veil. I couldn’t believe it. The light came down softly around me. I felt warmer, drier, and was able to walk out of the desert.”

The chapel was hushed. I felt I was not there in the church, but with the missionary on those blue hills in the rain. And so was Robert.

I could hear my own breathing, and I could feel my own heart beat. The piece of the paper with the drawing on it fell to the floor. Robert moved closer to Mother, and she put her arm around him. It seemed that, sitting there in sacrament meeting, we were in our own circle of light.

[illustrations] Illustrated by Doug Fryer