For many years, the signal SOS has been used internationally to identify distressed ships at sea. Perhaps the most celebrated maritime disaster occurred in 1912, when the great ship Titanic sank in over 13,000 feet of water on her maiden voyage from Southampton to New York. The largest and most luxurious ship afloat, the Titanic was considered unsinkable. Shortly before midnight on April 14, however, she collided with a gigantic iceberg 400 miles off the Newfoundland coast and sank in just over two hours. More than 1,500 people lost their lives.
There were many scenes of heroism and courage aboard the Titanic that dreadful night. Many willingly gave up their places in the lifeboats to save others. But perhaps no scene grips the heart more than that of the lonely telegrapher calmly tapping out his distress signal, over and over again, hoping against hope that help would come, that souls would be saved.
There is another signal for help. It too uses the call letters SOS. It too deals with the saving of souls, symbolizing the way we may be saved in the kingdom of God. The letters stand for service, obedience, and sacrifice.
Service is the hallmark of a Christlike life, President Spencer W. Kimball reminded us, the highest expression of Christian stewardship. Service drives out selfishness, the great enemy of spirituality.
History is filled with numerous examples of men and women who wore out their lives in service to others. One such person was Florence Nightingale, the founder of the modern nursing profession. Born in 1820 in Florence, Italy, where her well-to-do parents were temporarily residing, she grew to womanhood in England. A child of privilege, she could easily have spent her life in the mindless pursuit of pleasure. But she felt deeply that God had a mission for her to accomplish. She trained in Germany as a practical nurse and became the superintendent of nurses at a hospital in London. It was not an easy task. Nursing at that time was a profession with little prestige.
In 1854, when war broke out in the Crimea, Florence took a party of nurses to work in the military hospitals in Turkey. When she arrived she found that wounded men were being kept under appalling conditions of filth, degradation, and gross overcrowding.
Blessed with an iron will and unflinching courage, Florence fought the hostility of the medical establishment and the army bureaucracy to obtain supplies needed for proper nursing of desperately wounded soldiers. Prodigious efforts were made to clean the wards and bring to the injured some of the amenities of civilized life. The wounded began to receive nourishing, well-cooked food and the comfort of clean linen. Wounds were dressed regularly, and the men were bathed and given clean clothing.
Florence drove herself hard. She worked 18-hour days, making her rounds through the wards late at night, a lamp in her hand, giving comfort and solace to thousands. She became idolized by the soldiers, who called her “the Lady with the Lamp.” Her unstinting service paid off. In a few months the mortality rate among the wounded fell from more than 40 percent to just over 2 percent.
The justly honored position held by the nursing profession today throughout the world has resulted in no small measure from the example of Florence Nightingale’s extraordinary life of unstinting service. I believe she would have agreed with King Benjamin, who knew that “when ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God” (Mosiah 2:17).
Obedience has been termed the first law of heaven—the law upon which all blessings are predicated (see D&C 130:20–21). Isaiah wrote, “If ye be willing and obedient, ye shall eat the good of the land” (Isa. 1:19). Jesus, whose life was a shining testimony of obedience to the will of His Father, knew that obedience signifies our love for divinity. Said He: “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven” (Matt. 7:21).
The life of the prophet Nephi illustrates the relationship between faith and obedience. While Nephi was still in his youth, the Lord spoke to him: “Blessed art thou, Nephi, because of thy faith, for thou hast sought me diligently, with lowliness of heart” (1 Ne. 2:19). So great was that faith that Nephi did not hesitate when asked by his father to return to Jerusalem, at considerable personal peril, to obtain the brass plates of Laban. Obedience to God’s commandments led to success in his assignment.
Nephi’s life underscores the fact that it is not necessary to be aged to have spiritual power. Faith and obedience are not limited to adulthood. What a great message it is for youth of today to learn that you too can receive such great spiritual blessings. Through faith-inspired obedience you may receive strength, as did Nephi, to face your difficulties; to overcome problems of self-image, depression, and temptation; to cast your burdens on the Lord and be “filled with the power of God” (1 Ne. 17:48).
In our congregations we often sing a great hymn about the Prophet Joseph Smith, which contains the memorable line “sacrifice brings forth the blessings of heaven” (“Praise to the Man,” Hymns, 1985, no. 27). That sacrifice may take many forms, from the physical hardships suffered by the early pioneers to social ostracism or the loss of employment, friends, or even family associations. Those who yield “their hearts unto God” (Hel. 3:35), soon find that what they have given up was no sacrifice at all. They feel no sense of loss, but rather a deep rejoicing in the knowledge that their feet are planted firmly on the path which leads to broad sunny uplands of celestial joy.
Sacrifice, though it tugs at our heartstrings and stretches us almost beyond what we think we can bear, does indeed bring forth the blessings of heaven. The following story from Africa illustrates this principle.
A Protestant minister named Baende Isukongola, with a strong congregation in Kinshasa, Zaire, began to have serious misgivings about the teachings of his church. As he searched the scriptures, Baende noted numerous teachings and practices which were missing from his church. He became concerned that his church did not practice tithing. He investigated the teachings and practices of other churches but found them also to be incomplete.
One day a friend mentioned to Baende that a group he knew only as “the Mormons” preached and practiced tithing. He enlisted the assistance of the U.S. Embassy in Kinshasa, which directed him to the Zaire Kinshasa Mission of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
One day Baende arrived on the doorstep of the mission home, anxious to learn about our doctrine. Each week, armed with a long list of penetrating questions, he met with the missionaries. The Spirit bore testimony to Baende, and he was baptized. Later, his wife and two sons joined the Church.
One problem, however, had arisen. Knowing what he now knew, Baende could not remain as a Protestant minister and so resigned his position. In so doing he gave away a guaranteed income, a secure source of livelihood. He was glad to do so, realizing that he had found a pearl of great price, a splendid treasure. But it took great courage, in a country with unemployment rates of over 80 percent, to give up a job with no assurance at all that he’d ever work again. Then a miracle happened. Baende obtained a job, a permanent, secure job with the government. In the midst of all the unemployment in Zaire, he had again secured his temporal future. Two weeks later one of his sons also secured employment. The good brother recognized the hand of the Lord in his life and testified often of God’s goodness to him. He and his family remain faithful members of the Church.
Our Father in Heaven, who loves us, has provided a timeless, universal signal, to help bring us home to Him. Through service, obedience, and sacrifice, we save our souls and reach out to save others as well.