It was the evening of pay day at Eighth Army Headquarters in Seoul, Korea. I had been on the day shift in the adjutant general’s message center, so I had a free Friday evening to read, write letters, and enjoy some time to myself.
Pay day was great, 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 G.I.’s were in the barracks in high spirits under the influence of too much liquid refreshment.
The tranquility of our bare army barracks 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 on the otherwise peaceful scene and continued reading, determined to ignore the change in mood.
Despite these efforts to remain peacefully alone and anonymous, 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.
Alma, deeply embarrassed and distressed, wheeled about and started to leave, then fell to my bunk. “I recognize you from our group meeting a few months ago, Alma,” I said.
I pulled 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. You know, my mother thinks I am going on a mission. I can’t go now.”
At this point I interjected: “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 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 buddies failed to show up during the night. His pattern was all too typical, but our church group was exceptionally free from these nocturnal diversions.
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 these serious sins to his line 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 the balance 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, be here about 8 A.M. He promised he would be there both days and he was. On Sunday he did not open his mouth but followed me around all day. We enjoyed a spiritual feast, and Alma began to exhibit signs that hope was returning. As our beautiful day of respite 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 wondered many times about Alma. Then one day, this letter arrived:
“Perhaps you will remember me. Although our associations were short, they will have and have had a lasting effect on my life. I have often wondered what impelled me to go over to your bed that night, but I was very grateful that I did. Our conversation that night was a turning point in my life. From then on I was a pretty good boy.
“I learned the hard way which was the best way to live and am at present very happy with the LDS life. Upon my return I had my talk with the bishop. Several months later I was interviewed for a mission. I was interviewed by Hugh B. Brown and he raked me over the coals quite thoroughly and I ended up with a positive decision. I received my call Saturday and enter the mission home the 19th of September. I’m not even going out of the state, but I am very pleased with it.
“I am very thankful to you for your encouragement and advice given that night. Although I was under the weather that night I remember your words very well. Perhaps the 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 somewhat of yourself and surroundings. I will be very happy to hear from you.
“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 awaiting the start of an endowment session. Alma came into the waiting room, and we embraced as army buddies and, more importantly, as eternal friends. He reported his great mission ever so briefly. 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, it is never too late! The Lord is merciful and kind. When serious sins are involved there are some painful investments—the moment of recognition that you have sinned, confession, restitution, patience, and 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; 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 waves of blessings you will gently bring into the lives of others will continue on into eternity. And those waves will 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. Swallow your pride and make the appointment 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!