“The Red Starfish,” Ensign, June 2004, 12
In 1994 I was serving as a missionary among the Hmong people in the California Roseville Mission. The work among the Hmong people in Eureka was new, and my companion and I had only one family in our teaching pool. No one else seemed interested.
This family had already had all six discussions twice, but they were unwilling to make commitments regarding church attendance, prayer, and baptism. Since the Book of Mormon was not yet available in Hmong, it was difficult for the family to grasp its teachings. I felt very discouraged and powerless to make anything happen.
One afternoon the stake had a celebration near the coast. I had invited the family we were teaching to come, hoping that some fellowshipping might help. I waited and waited. Finally the children arrived, but no parents. I became increasingly discouraged during the celebration, for I knew if the work remained stagnant, missionary work among the Hmong people in Eureka might soon be closed.
My companion and some of the other missionaries wanted to see the ocean after the activity, so I joined them. We stopped at a gigantic rock formation overlooking the sea. The sun was blocked behind darkening clouds. My heart felt as heavy as the gray sky above me, and I cried silently, “What am I doing wrong?”
I began to share with my Father in Heaven the disappointments of the last few months. I felt my heart sinking further with every sentence. I gazed at the ocean waves, then bowed my head.
As I looked down I noticed jagged black boulders near the bottom of the rock formation. The waves slammed against these rocks, swirled around with frigid bubbles, and then hurried back out to sea. As I watched, fascinated, my eyes spotted a small red starfish hanging onto one of the rocks. Even though the cold water crashed against it with salty severity, the little starfish did not move.
Then I felt the Spirit whisper, “I love you. Be of good cheer. Be like the starfish and just hold on. I will take care of everything.” At last I felt hope. I knew the Lord loved me, my companion, and the family we were working so hard to teach. I understood that He has a plan and that I needed to exercise faith in Him.
We did not give up on the family. We continued to love them and teach them the gospel of Jesus Christ. We prayed with them and for them. And about a month later, they agreed to be baptized. There was no gray in the day that my companion and I watched the first Hmong family in Eureka enter the waters of baptism.
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland has taught: “I know some of you do truly feel at sea, in the most frightening sense of that term. … It is not without a recognition of life’s tempests but fully and directly because of them that I testify of God’s love and the Savior’s power to calm the storm. … Christ knows better than all others that the trials of life can be very deep and we are not shallow people if we struggle with them. But … He rebukes faithlessness and He deplores pessimism. He expects us to believe!”1
I realized that day at the beach that despair is not from heaven. Whenever I think about that red starfish holding on under difficult circumstances, I feel my load lighten—not because the pressures of life are alleviated, but because I know there is power in putting my trust in the Lord. If we hold on, we will find peace.