Making Friends:

Joshua Dennis: A Treasure of Faith

By Shannon W. Ostler

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    It was ten-year-old Joshua’s turn to teach the family home evening lesson. It was on faith. When he finished, he told his family, “If you have faith, you can do anything.”

    His mother replied, “Well, almost anything.”

    “No, Mom.” Joshua said. “You can do anything.”

    Little did the Dennis family know that within days, their faith would be tested. On Friday, 22 September 1989, Joshua went with his dad and other leaders and members of a Boy Scout troop from Kearns, Utah, to explore an abandoned mine. After looking around inside the mine for some time, Joshua and some of the Scouts decided to turn back. They met Joshua’s dad and some other Scouts heading out of the mine, and Joshua gave his flashlight to his dad, who was leaving the tunnel with a visually handicapped boy.

    Then Joshua decided to follow some older Scouts back into the mine tunnel, but they did not know that Joshua was behind them. They began to run. Joshua couldn’t keep up with them and was soon left behind in total darkness. He couldn’t even see his hand in from of his face.

    He turned around and tried to feel his way back to the entrance, but he made a wrong turn and slid down a slope. He climbed back up but went too far and ended up in an ore stope—a cavity where ore has been mined out—about two meters wide and seven meters deep. The stope was almost impossible to see from the main tunnel below because of rocks.

    “I tried to find my way out for a long time,” Joshua recalled. He yelled, but his cries were muffled and no one heard him. By this time, he was tired and cold and his feet were wet. “I knew I was lost, and I realized I had better just sit down and wait,” he said.

    Joshua slept a lot. Sometimes he would stand up and stretch or just sit and think. For five days Joshua had no food or water and only his coat to keep him warm in the 10° C temperature.

    But he wasn’t afraid. “I prayed a lot that Heavenly Father would help me,” he said, and his prayers were answered with a feeling of comfort and with faith that he would be found. “I felt that I was being watched over by Heavenly Father.”

    While Joshua was praying, friends and family were also fasting and praying that he would be found in safety. His parents waited anxiously for reports on the search for their son.

    Many volunteers helped search the surrounding foothills, which are full of abandoned mines and air shafts. At least seven times some of them passed within forty meters of Joshua.

    The longer the search continued, the more certain many people became that Joshua was not in the mine but had wandered away from it. Search dogs, helicopters, and people on horseback and on foot searched the cliff-lined hills of nearby Dry Canyon. There was no trace of the boy.

    Inside the mine, Joshua waited calmly for someone to find him. To help pass the time, he sang “I Am a Child of God” and other songs that he had learned in Primary.

    As each day passed, the chance of finding Joshua alive grew less, but members of the rescue team were determined to not give up.

    When the search party came out of the mine after another unsuccessful rescue attempt on the afternoon of the fifth day, a Church member, John Skinner, persuaded the men in charge to let him go in with the other searchers for a final attempt. “I just had a feeling that he was still in the mine and that he was still alive,” he explained.

    John Skinner had explored the Hidden Treasure Mine 120 times and was very familiar with the dozens of passages that wind through the eight levels. He could picture in his mind at least three places where Joshua might be. One of those places was the ore stope.

    As the other searchers made another sweep through the mine, he, Ray Guymon, and Gary Christensen separated from the group, and John Skinner led them to the sections of the mine where he thought the boy might be. When they finally came to the ore cavity, they heard a faint cry for help but were not sure what it was. They remained still until they heard it again. The excitement grew as they and Joshua yelled back and forth, trying to find each other in the darkness.

    “My heart just started pumping and pounding,” recalled Gary Christensen, the first to reach Joshua. “I wrapped my arms around him, and he wrapped his arms around me.”

    “I felt like we were led there by the Lord,” Ray Guymon said.

    All three men said it was very difficult to describe the feelings they had when they found Joshua, whom they had never seen before.

    “I felt like he was my own,” Gary Christensen said. “I was just really happy inside.”

    “It was an overwhelming feeling when we found him,” John Skinner said.

    As Joshua was brought out of the mine, there were tears of joy and relief on the faces of many. Joshua, although excited, remained calm—he had not doubted that he would be found.

    Because there was no light inside the mine, Joshua had lost track of time. He was surprised when he found out that he had been lost for so long. Dehydrated from going so long without water, and suffering mild frostbite on his feet, he was flown to a hospital, where he rested and doctors examined him.

    At first the doctors thought they would have to amputate his little toes. But all he lost was some skin from his feet. He had to be in a wheelchair for about a week. Physical therapy strengthened his leg and foot muscles, and before long he was walking, running, and even riding his skateboard again.

    Joshua received more than a thousand letters, many from other school children who wanted to know more about him and his experience. While he was lost, the students at Fox Hills Elementary School, where he was in the fifth grade, tied yellow ribbons on the fences all around their school to show that they were thinking about him and hoping that he would be back soon. It really made Joshua feel good to know that so many people cared about him. He tells everyone, “Heavenly Father does answer your prayers. Have faith and don’t give up.”

    Left: Joshua holds one of the many yellow ribbons that friends had tied to their mailboxes and fences during the search. The ribbons were symbolic of their hopes for his safe return. Above: Joshua relaxes with one of the dogs that helped search for him. (Photography by Janeen Dennis.)