Baton Rouge Louisiana Temple

Baton Rouge Louisiana Temple

Sunday, July 27, 2014

A God of Miracles

Do these two young people look like your typical companion speakers for a high councilman visiting your Ward or Branch. Of course not! But they were. They came with their dad and both did very well--especially Mya, his 9 year old daughter.

Mya talked about the 13 Articles of Faith, how they came about, and the Wentworth Letter. Then she proceeded to recite Articles 1, 3, 4, 6 and 13 and talk about each of them. She bore her testimony of the truthfulness of them and challenged the congregation to memorize one each week. Well done, Mya!

Austin's talk was  brief, but still impressive. He used Alma 1:25 as the basis for his talk and spoke on faith. ("Now this was a great trial to those that did stand fast in the faith; nevertheless, they were steadfast and immovable in keeping the commandments of God, and they bore with patience the persecution which was heaped upon them.")

When Brother Bascom spoke, I wasn't at all surprised at how outstanding it was. But before he began he told us that it had been the practice in their home to allow their children, when asked to speak, to choose their own topics and write their own talks! Wish I'd made that a practice in our home 50 years ago.

I'm going to try to recreate a little of what he said, with a lot of help from the Deseret News. He started with Alma 37:6-7, (By small and simple things are great things brought to pass, bring about His eternal purposes, confound the wise and bring about the salvation of many souls.) Moroni 10:32 (Come unto Christ and be perfected in Him, love Him with all your might, mind and strength, then His grace will be sufficient for you that you may be perfect in Christ.") and Mormon 9:9 (God is the same yesterday, today & forever with no variableness.)

Brother Bascom spoke of great miracle from the past and particularly Noah and the Ark. Then of a miracle from today. This miracle occurred on and just after November 15, 2013. Following is the portion of the story he shared. A longer version can be read from the Deseret News, but this should be adequate for now.

Surviving the typhoon: Fear, faith and miracles for 10 LDS sister missionaries trapped in the Philippines

MANILA, Philippines — The water was rising fast. In the darkness of early morning, Amanda Smith moved away from the window to shield her face from the slashing rain. She had shut it just moments before to ward off the raging storm whipping through the palm trees outside.

But now the wind had ripped it open, and the wooden shutters were slamming violently against the wall again and again. Sister Smith, an LDS missionary from Elk Ridge, Utah, couldn’t see anything outside, but she could smell the sea, which seemed to be getting closer and closer. They had to get out of here.

She had heard about the storm three days before, from a driver of a pedicab. It was typhoon season, and tropical storms were common in the Philippines. Still, the last storm warning had produced nothing but blue skies. Some of the missionaries wondered if this time would be any different.

There were nine missionaries from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints with her in the house, a two-story structure made of cement blocks. They were young women from Utah and Alaska and the Philippines, all about her own age, 19. They had done what they could to prepare, hastily assembling 72-hour kits, and had even bought candles and rope, just like their mission president had asked, even though no one in the house thought either would be necessary.

Now, as water roared down the streets toward them, Sister Smith realized no preparations were too small. The worst storm in generations had just hit landfall.
She was with nine other sister missionaries, in a house quickly filling with a black, mucky water. As the storm worsened, she could feel the house shaking, metal poles outside snapping, animals howling and squealing.

At first, the sisters had all gathered in one central room on the second floor, thinking it the safest place in the house. But the water was now rising to their knees. Metal bars covered every window, preventing an escape outside. With no other choice they would have to go to the first floor, where the water nearly reached the ceiling, and try to open the front door to get out. They knew the current could pull them out into the ocean, but if they stayed where they were now, they would drown in what had essentially become a box of cement walls.

One by one the sisters slipped into the freezing water on the first floor. A few couldn’t swim; they held tight to their companions. Some of the women started to cry. Sister Smith was scared too, but she was determined not to let it show. She wanted to stay calm for the others.
The front door was locked with a metal latch on the bottom and the top. One of the sisters dived under the water and unlocked the bottom latch; another reached the top and did the same. But when they tried to open the door it wouldn’t budge. The water pressing from the outside and inside had sealed it shut.

What had been ebbing as a low level panic reached hysteria for some of the sisters, who began weeping and sobbing. Sister Smith could feel the panic rising in her chest too, but she had to stay calm. With a few of the other sisters who had become leaders of the group, she started to sing hymns, their voices muted by the stinky water rising to their chins. They quoted scripture. They prayed. Sister Smith put on a brave face, not daring to say aloud what she was thinking: “I never thought this is where my life would end.”

The sister missionaries worked together. Sister Schaap punched a hole through an opening in a flimsy wall, and the group of 10 swam through the murky water that would soon carry their journals and clothes and pots and pans out to sea. Those who couldn’t swim clung tightly to their companions.

The sisters used the rope to reach a nearby roof. Sister Smith stood on the rain gutter, the other nine sister missionaries shivering beside her, the rain still coming down in sheets. Hours had passed since the beginning of the storm, and yet the sky above Tacloban was still gray, shrouded by fog.

Sister Smith said thoughts of dying left her mind. But some of the sisters appeared pale and their bodies were shaking. The water was still rising and they feared it would engulf them. One of the sisters suggested they pray. They huddled closely together, bowed their heads, and with the rain dripping down their chins, asked God to make the water stop. And then, in what Sister Smith could only describe as the greatest miracle of her life, the sea stopped rising.

By the time Elder Ardern, first counselor in the Philippine Area Presidency, arrived in Tacloban four days after the storm, the water had receded, leaving a putrid scene of destruction in its wake. Bloated bodies lay exposed on the sides of the road, some covered by a blanket, or rusty corrugated roofing, others by a moldy piece of cardboard. The stench was sickening.

The city had descended into chaos and lawlessness. Survivors of the typhoon had broken into stores that hadn’t been flattened to steal televisions and toys, food, even light fixtures, despite the fact that there was no electricity.

Hours after the storm, the president’s two assistants had made the walk from the mission home to the house where the sisters had been staying. The house was destroyed but they had to kick through the door to get inside. When they found no one, they feared the worse, a sense that only heightened when a neighbor told them they’d seen four sisters leaving for a nearby elementary school.

“There were supposed to be 10,” one of the elders said.
They found all 10 at a nearby elementary school, and soon learned the story of the escape from the house and the hours spent on the roof, praying for someone to find them.

With the sisters now accounted for, the assistants and other missionaries assigned to the mission office fanned out through the city, trying to find the rest of their mission force. A dense cloud cover prevented even satellite phones from working, meaning the missionaries had no way to communicate with missionaries serving in outlying areas.
But these missionaries, they said guided by the spirit and survival instincts, made their way to the mission home. Some walked for four hours. Others hitched a ride on a motorcycle, relying on the kindness of strangers unsure how to feed their own children. One group of missionaries cobbled together more than a thousand dollars and made their way to Tacloban by boat. All 204 missionaries were now accounted for.

The two assistants to the president, one from Dallas and the other from Fiji, stayed with the 10 sisters and others at the mission home, supporting each other, especially at night when gunshots rang out.

With their own food running low, the assistants, under the direction of their mission president, decided they had to make their way to the airport. So before dawn, four days after the storm but again in pouring rain, they headed out with their flashlights pointing the way through the darkness.

“It was the hardest thing,” said one of the assistants. “People had gotten so hungry they had begun to attack each other. The worst part was the smell, the stench of death.”

Some sisters, their feet blistered, could barely walk. The looting had become more severe, and the missionaries had heard rumors that prisoners at the jail, which had lost its electricity and its guards, had simply walked out. The assistants stood at the front and back of the long line of missionaries — dozens and dozens — as they made the long march to the airport.

As they walked, Elder Ardern tried to arrange a flight out. He had booked flights in Manila, but thousands of other survivors had mobbed the Tacloban airport. The ticket agent told him if he wanted a flight out, he’d have to pay more to get his 204 missionaries to safety.

As Elder Ardern tried other options, the missionaries milled about what was left of the airport terminal, its walls blasted out by the gale force winds of the storm. And then, a final miracle.

An Army sergeant with a C-130 airplane, assigned by the U.S. government to fly Americans out of the disaster area, said he had a feeling he should walk through the terminal one more time. As he did, he saw out of the corner of his eye what looked like the nametag of a Mormon missionary. The sergeant, a Mormon himself, asked if the missionary was American. When he said he was, the sergeant told him he could arrange flights out for all the Americans and foreigners in his C-130.

Before the day had ended, many of the missionaries Elder Ardern had come for were flying out of Tacloban. By week’s end, all of the missionaries in the area would be evacuated to Manila, where they would await a new assignment in other missions in the Philippines.

God was, is, and always will be a God of miracles even though the world only sees it as chance. So, I didn't get anywhere near putting Brother B's talk down correctly, but it made total sense at the time. At least the story of the Sister Missionaries was available online, so it's complete.

Elder Browning came to Plaquemine on the last transfer when Elder Morrell became a Zone Leader and moved to Baton Rouge. Elder B is from Highland UT--went to Lone Peak HS where many of the BYU basketball players come from--and has been out for just over a year. When he's released he'll return to UVU for an undergrad degree then on to the University of Utah for a Doctorate in Physical Therapy. Everyone has told me that he's a great Elder and is loved wherever he goes. 

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