On one occasion, I received the assignment to visit a stake located in the beautiful mountains of the Peruvian highlands. This unit of the Church had not been visited by a General Authority for more than two years because of the dangers involved in traveling there. After obtaining proper authorization, and with the help of the mission president, we commenced the five-hour trip that took us to the beautiful Mantaro River valley.
When we arrived at the stake center, the president and his counselors were waiting for us. Upon seeing us, their faces lit up with happiness and we joined in a strong, brotherly embrace. Some three years previously, two of our beloved missionaries had been killed in this city. After embracing the president close to my heart, trying to communicate to him all my love, I asked, “Have you suffered greatly during this time in which we haven’t been able to come?” He answered with his eyes filled with tears, “Yes, we have suffered greatly, but we have kept the faith.” This simple phrase touched our hearts, and we could feel that the hand of the Lord had been with them.
As we met with them, we were able to distinguish at least five principles which aided them to overcome their difficulties.
First: They never stopped trusting in the Lord, and they placed all of their faith in him. This was the foundation for their assurance. They trusted in the fact that he would protect and guide them. The Lord has said, “If ye will have faith in me ye shall have power to do whatsoever thing is expedient in me” (Moro. 7:33).
Occasionally, in the midst of our desperation, we seek other ways, other guides. But those who counsel us are not always prepared to help, because they do not understand our spiritual needs. They are not prepared to give us the counsel and the revelation that we truly need.
We have the great example of the sons of Mosiah, who endured so much adversity and so many trials. Because of the trust they had in the Lord, “the Lord did visit them with his Spirit, and said unto them: Be comforted. And they were comforted. …
“Yet ye shall be patient in long-suffering and afflictions, that ye may show forth good examples unto them in me, and I will make an instrument of thee in my hands unto the salvation of many souls” (Alma 17:10–11).
Second: They remained faithful in prayer. Each member, whether adult, child, or adolescent, faithfully followed this holy practice each day, praying individually and as families with all of their faith. As we know, prayer is the means by which we communicate with our Heavenly Father. He listens to us because we are his children and he loves us, and he is anxious to bless us when we keep the commandments.
As the Savior instructed the Nephites, he taught them: “Therefore ye must always pray unto the Father in my name;
“And whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, which is right, believing that ye shall receive, behold it shall be given unto you” (3 Ne. 18:19–20). No one could have given them greater assurance that they would be heard by the Father than his own Son.
Third: They never stopped studying the scriptures. In the scriptures they found faith to overcome fear, solutions to their problems, divine comfort from the Master, the loving counsel of the Father, and especially the assurance of being guided in righteousness towards eternal life. “Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me” (John 5:39). They lived this commandment even in the midst of all their difficulties. One of them said, “We have never been as close to the Lord as when we were reading the scriptures.”
Fourth: They implemented priesthood programs. Due to the fatal incident that had taken place there, it was necessary to remove full-time missionaries. In order to make up for the help that was lost, it became necessary to organize the returned missionaries so that they could teach the gospel to those who wanted to hear it. References came in from member families. Home teaching increased. Nobody was overlooked. Just as they said, they kept the faith.
Fifth: They humbled themselves before the Lord. They purified their lives, they repented, they tried to live together as Saints, sharing much of what they had, fasting when problems arose or when they were threatened. The Lord, speaking to Solomon said, “If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land” (2 Chr. 7:14).
These simple yet powerful principles enabled them to sustain themselves, to be preserved, to remain faithful and active as members of the Church in that area.
What wonderful teachings we are able to find in these distant and isolated villages, where frequently it is difficult to sustain a religion or to live the principles of the gospel. Only their confidence in God and their faith in Jesus Christ sustain them, move them, and purify them.
Keeping the faith must also be a challenge for those who are alone in the Church, for those whose families are not converted, for those who have lost loved ones. Great courage is needed in order to continue onward, but we always have comfort from on high.
The faithful pioneers in the early days of the restored Church set a marvelous example of moving forward in faith despite adversity. It is difficult to conceive of the great loneliness of the people of the Church during those first years when they were a small group, the only Church members on all the face of the earth. They were persecuted, humiliated, rejected, and some were killed. The faith which they developed in the Lord, in the face of so much adversity, made them strong and humble at the same time.
President Kimball said regarding this theme, “Suffering can make Saints of people as they learn patience, long suffering and self-mastery. The sufferings of our Savior were part of his education” (“Tragedy or Destiny,” Brigham Young University Speeches of the Year, Provo, Utah, 6 Dec. 1955, p. 5).
Perhaps isolation makes small and distant towns and villages stronger and more pure.
At the close of the conference in that stake, I assured the members that God loved them, that the First Presidency and the Twelve Apostles were mindful of them, and that we were there to give them our testimony of the fact that they were part of the Church, that we had not forgotten them, and that we prayed for them. There was gratitude in their hearts, and again they smiled as humble members who had been comforted by the Spirit of the Lord. As he gave the closing prayer, a man nearly 80 years of age reminded the congregation that President Spencer W. Kimball had visited here, that he had blessed Mantaro Valley.
It made me think how fortunate so many of us are to be so often in the presence of the prophets of God and to receive their loving influence. But due to the worldwide growth of the Church, a large number of our good members have never had the privilege to be near one of these wonderful leaders at any time during their lives. But I testify to you that they love the General Authorities, that they are following their teachings, and that they await humbly and patiently the day in which they can be at the feet of the prophets.
The conditions of peoples and of nations change due to progress in the world; nevertheless, in many such places, be it in the frosty mountain heights, in the warm valleys, at the rivers’ edges, or in desert places, wherever members of our church are found, there will always be those who live these basic principles, and by so doing they bless the rest of the people. Let us face our earthly challenges courageously in spite of where we live, or through whatever difficult circumstances we may be called to endure. Let us keep the faith.