The Message:


by Elder John Sonnenberg

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    We could have headed straight to sea. But just offshore, the boats formed a small circle and we all bowed our heads.

    Recently we toured the Tahiti Mission and had several faith-promoting experiences with the Saints on the many small islands cradled by oceans of water.

    Tahitian nights are cool and clear, and while most of the islanders were sound asleep, a small group of Latter-day Saints began packing belongings into their suitcases at 3:00 A.M. to catch a small twin engine propeller plane to Makemo, a small island in the Tuomatu group.

    The plane with all 16 aboard taxied down the grassy runway and off we flew into the dark sky, where stars shone brightly and a full moon reflected on the water below.

    President Stephen L. Graham, the mission president, was eager to tell us about his mission and how the Lord had answered his prayers. He smiled, spoke softly, and we listened. The roar of the engines was constant, and after a few hours, the sky gradually became lighter as the rising sun brightened on the horizon.

    The plane gradually descended, and the short landing strip appeared. We slowly glided to a stop on the grass, gravel, and coral runway. As we arrived safely, we recognized that our prayers had been answered. Many people, our own members, were there to greet us warmly and wish us “Welcome, come and stay. We are happy to see you.” Greetings were exchanged as cheeks were kissed in friendly and familiar tradition. Handmade gifts of shells and flowers were hung around our necks. Their generosity and gifts brought tender feelings, and tears ran down smiling faces.

    The island has about 60 Latter-day Saint members, and all had come to greet their visitors. We went a short distance to their new meetinghouse, a beautiful new Latter-day Saint chapel. Many had been waiting for the fulfilling of a promise that their prayers would be answered and one would come by assignment from the prophet to dedicate their building. The chapel was filled to overflowing, and each one sat in solemn silence as a prayer was given. Over 187 attended, many of whom were not members of the Church but who had desires to know about its message.

    With that spiritual experience placed firmly in our hearts, we moved on to another assignment on a neighboring island. We approached the wharf. There the three small handcrafted, open boats, each about 20 feet in length with only outboard motors to propel them, were waiting. The mission president rode with us and looked after every detail. Ten to fifteen people crowded into each of these little wooden boats. The big surprise came when a 50-gallon drum was placed in the middle of the boat. We gazed, bewildered, and it was explained that that was our gas supply. An ordinary garden hose was dipped into the opening and a piece of Styrofoam, irregularly fashioned, held it in place. Three men had to sit on the bow, and then the signal was given to push off. The engines started effortlessly and all three boats headed out for the open seas as tearful Saints waved good-bye and anxiously asked, “You’ll come back, won’t you?”

    When we were a short distance from shore a remarkable thing happened: the boats met, as if by appointment, and formed a small circle. The engines were stopped. Hats, which shielded us from the heat of the sun, were removed. Then, in a very spontaneous and special moment, the occupants looked at the mission president and he invited one to be voice and petition the Lord for safety during our journey. What reverence and what a sweet spirit touched our souls as we felt the hand of the Lord watching over us—a small band of Saints upon the beautiful blue waters of the vast Pacific Ocean.

    Then the engines on all three boats were started, and one by one the boats moved out into the open, choppy waters. In a short time we were out of the harbor and the endless waves became larger and the skill of our skipper was felt. The relentless waves, one after another, persistently pounded our small boats. As the waves became more intense, the boat was tossed and rocked and we held on tightly. The salty spray soaked us, and we had to protect the gas barrel with a plastic cover. Flying fish were frequent sights as they swiftly glided past and narrowly skimmed the water. Land was nowhere to be seen. The salty spray was felt repeatedly and the sun was hot at noonday. The relentless waves tossed the beaten boat so forcefully that the boards on the bow broke and would need to be repaired.

    After several hours we finally saw a faint irregularity appearing as a silhouette, and our skipper announced that land was in sight. We approached the tiny atoll of Taenga.

    As we neared the island the engines were again stopped, hats were removed, and heads again bowed as President Graham called on one to offer a prayer of gratitude for a safe journey. You see, we were on His mission and He had truly answered our prayers.

    Excitement was again felt as we disembarked on this lovely island and more lovely people greeted us. Another new chapel was to be dedicated. Heads were again bowed and prayers of thanks were sounded. What a spiritual experience! Our prayers and their prayers were answered.

    The greetings of the Saints of Taenga, Makemo, and then Maniki islands, like those of the Saints throughout the Pacific Isles, were warm and wonderful. Shells, leis, flowers, baskets, handshakes, kisses, and hugs were commonplace, and the hearts of all of us were pounding in prayers of gratitude as heavily as the waves on the water.

    I recall yet another story from another setting that has convinced me of the power of prayer.

    A few years ago a young man named Dean from the Midwest was on a hunting trip with several Latter-day Saint friends from California. They met in Wyoming, drove up a mountain, and camped the night. When they awoke in the morning they found that during the night 14 inches of snow had fallen. The car was deep in snow near the edge of the road. Dean’s father-in-law, Roy, and brother-in-law, Ron, were skilled and rugged men, accustomed to adventure, but their skills could not help free the car. The snow continued to fall, and their chances of getting down from the mountain were slim.

    Another member of the group was a counselor in his stake presidency, and because of the seriousness of their situation he asked the small group to assemble in prayer and plead with the Lord for help. Dean was asked to offer the prayer, and in deep humility he petitioned the Lord for direction. At the conclusion of the prayer one member of the group who was not a Church member asked Dean, “Do you think the Lord will answer your prayer?” Reflective and thoughtful, yet with full faith, this young man answered, “Yes, he has never disappointed me yet.” What faith!

    Moments later Dean felt inclined to walk down the narrow, snow-laden path, and he stumbled upon a set of chains buried deep in the freshly fallen snow. They fastened the chains on the tires of the car, and the group slowly and cautiously made their way down the mountain.

    A thousand miles away Dean’s parents had knelt in like fashion to petition the Lord. Two prayers had been answered.

    In Doctrine and Covenants 88:119, the Lord tells us to “organize yourselves; prepare every needful thing; and establish a house, even a house of prayer.” [D&C 88:119] Again in Doctrine and Covenants 90:24, the Lord says, “Search diligently, pray always, and be believing, and all things shall work together for your good, if ye walk uprightly.” [D&C 90:24]

    It was a young man in sacred surroundings that received a divine discourse in answer to prayer. I have seen and heard people in the isles of the Pacific pray as well as those in any part of the world and have come to know that the beauty of prayer is found in the heart of each of us.

    I testify that God hears and answers our prayers and that we receive peace and strength, as well as courage and conviction, by our communion with him.

    Illustrated by Richard D. Brown