Do you believe that miracles can occur? I do. As I have studied my family history, I have run across three events which demonstrate vividly to me that “signs shall follow them that believe” (Mark 16:17; Morm. 9:24–25).
When my grandfather James E. Fisher was set apart as a missionary in 1892, he was told, “The Lord will provide food, raiment, and shelter for you.”
At age 19, grandfather had traveled 160 miles by horse and wagon from Meadow, Utah, to St. George to be married in the temple to Elizabeth Stewart. They returned to Meadow where they lived as farmers for the next six years. It was then that James E. received his mission call to New Zealand. It was common at that time to ask young married men to leave home and family to serve for two to five years.
For the next three years and four months, his young wife not only raised three children and (with the help of his brother Joseph) ran the farm; she also kept him on his mission by milking cows, selling eggs, and doing whatever else she could. They understood hardship and sacrifice better, I think, than we do today. But the Lord was mindful of them and blessed them according to his wisdom.
In New Zealand, Elder Fisher and his companion no doubt wondered and worried about their loved ones back home. In a new land with new customs, often relying on the kindness of others for shelter and sustenance, they must have felt out of place at times and in need of reassurance. The food commonly used by the Maori people was much different than that to which they were accustomed.
One day as the missionaries rode along on their horses, they talked about how much they missed the good, homemade bread so common back in Utah. Money from home had not yet arrived and they were, quite simply, hungry. Elder Fisher’s companion suggested that they were alone and could dismount. They went into the woods and prayed. They expressed their desire to serve, as well as their love and concern for those back home.
The two elders felt better, got back on their horses, and continued on their way. As they rode along, they noticed something just off the road. They dismounted and to their amazement found, wrapped in a white cloth, a fresh loaf of bread, the same kind of homemade bread they had talked about in their prayer. They rejoiced as they ate it, although it wasn’t the bread that was so important, but the reassurance that Heavenly Father knew who they were and where they were, that they had faithful wives and that the Lord’s kindness and goodness was over them all. Later, they both wrote home and told their wives of the incident.
At that time, it took six weeks for a letter to get from Utah to New Zealand, and it cost 50 cents for postage, which was then an enormous sum of money. Therefore letters were sent only about once a month.
About three months after the elders found the bread on the trail, Elder Fisher’s companion received a letter from his wife. She wrote that on that same day they made their discovery, she had been baking bread.
When she opened her oven to remove it, one of the pans was empty and a white cloth that had been on the table was gone. She had been home all the time and saw no one come or go.
Two missionaries in New Zealand had received an answer to prayer. The loaf of bread came to symbolize for them that it was Heavenly Father who had sent them to New Zealand and that he was supporting and watching over their families.
Incidentally, when James E. returned home, the farm had prospered and he and his wife owned more cattle and sheep and had more money than before.
When my grandfather James E. Fisher, born in 1865, was set apart for his mission, he was told: “You may have the gift of tongues if necessary, that you shall use the language fluently that is foreign to your mother tongue, that those who listen to you may listen in their own tongue.”
Within a few weeks after his arrival in New Zealand, a Maori boy came running to him and excitedly speaking in Maori said, “Come quickly, my father is ill. He is possessed of an evil spirit.”
Elder Fisher understood every word the boy said. He and his companion quickly followed the boy to his house and found a frightening situation. The man was entirely out of control, screaming, cursing, and leaping high into the air. When the missionaries entered, he shrank away and said in Maori, “You can do nothing. Go away.”
James E. Fisher took hold of the man and said quietly, “Be calm.” The missionaries laid their hands upon his head, blessed him, and commanded the evil spirit, by the authority of the holy priesthood, to depart. The man then thanked them for their assistance.
From that time on, James E. Fisher could understand the Maori language and rapidly learned to speak it fluently. He never lost his ability to speak the language. More than 40 years later, he met some Maori people at general conference in Salt Lake City and carried on a conversation with them easily and fluently in their native tongue.
My great-grandmother Ann Stewart, born in 1833, had an older sister Elizabeth. She and her grandmother, known simply as “Granny,” brought the rest of the family into the Church as a result of a remarkable experience they enjoyed together.
When the Mormon missionaries came to the home of my great-great-grandfather Archibald Stewart in Ireland, Elizabeth, the third child, immediately felt the truthfulness of their message. She began to study and search for more assurance of the things she felt within. Her feelings and study stirred an immediate response in Granny, who was the real matriarch of the Stewart household.
Elizabeth spent many hours explaining to Granny, through written material, that a new prophet of God, Joseph Smith, had been called to bring back to earth the simple message that Christ was alive and had appeared to man.
Elizabeth felt a testimony burning within and asked her parents for permission to be baptized. But because of the unpopularity of the Mormons, her parents objected. Then, when Elizabeth was about to give up, Granny came to her rescue. “Let the child alone,” she said. “I have read all her books, and I do believe the child is right.” Granny was not one to be overruled, so her parents gave their consent.
On January 9, 1841, a wintry day, as Elizabeth left home with her baptismal clothes she found Granny by her side. The two walked to the river where the elders planned to hold the services. A hole had been broken in the ice. When the elders came forward to baptize Elizabeth, Granny said, “Watch your manners, child. Never step in front of your elders.”
Granny was baptized. She had brought nothing to change into, but even though she walked home in wet, frozen clothing, she didn’t take cold. She didn’t change her clothes until all the other family members had gone to bed. She said nothing about her baptism, but went about her usual tasks as though nothing had happened. After the others were asleep, she hung all her clothing near the fireplace.
When Elizabeth’s father, Archibald, got up the next morning, he saw the clothes drying. He began to joke to the others about Granny having been dipped in the river along with Elizabeth. Granny surprised him though, when she said, “Archibald, if you don’t want people to hear, stop shouting so loudly. You can’t talk about Granny now, for she can hear better than any of you.”
Granny had been deaf for 20 years, but a miracle had occurred. Her hearing had been restored at the time of her baptism. From that day until her death, she heard distinctly. In fact, Archibald laughingly said she heard too much!
This manifestation of the power of the Lord through his appointed servants made the family think seriously. They studied the gospel and as a result most of them were soon baptized.
Do you believe in miracles? I do. Miracles are a part of the heritage of my family, although no one should ever seek for signs.
The manifestations of the many gifts of the Spirit were common in the days of the Redeemer. They were common during the days of the restoration of the Church in the 1800s. They usually happen quietly and privately, and they are not something we brag about or share openly to convince the world. We do not ask for signs or search for them. But be assured that, according to our faith and need, miracles still happen today.