Last night we had a very special evening here in our little Saipan Branch of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. We were visited by President Boyd K. Packer, the acting president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, and Elder David A. Bednar, also of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.
President Packer and Elder Bednar were on Saipan for a re-fueling stop on their way back from meeting with government officials in the tsunami-ravaged areas of Indonesia. They were scheduled to be on island for only 45 minutes, but they wanted to make the 15 minute trip to the chapel to meet with us and we were thrilled!
There were about 150-200 in the chapel for the 6 P.M. meeting, but we soon found out that their arrival had been delayed until 6:30. When they finally arrived at 6:45, we were all seated as we had been instructed and rose as they took the stand. We had been told no greetings, no handshaking, no photos, no questions because of no time...that was okay with us, we were happy just to have this opportunity.
After the opening hymn and prayer, Elder Bednar spoke. It was wonderful. He talked mainly to the young people and encouraged them to exercise their faith and not be afraid in this day of disasters and upheaval. He said that when he was young, the U.S. went through the Cuban Missile Crisis and he used to wonder if the world would end before he'd have a chance to meet the girl of his dreams or see what his children would look like. Then he instructed us to listen carefully while he read Helaman 5:12. That's such a powerful scripture...I don't know how the rest of the world gets by without the Book of Mormon. Anyway, he also made a point of speaking about agency and read Moses 7: 32-33. He reminded us that agency wasn't a free-for-all of doing whatever, wherever, whenever. We were given our agency in order to choose to follow God. He also talked to the young men about preparing now to be missionaries. He emphasized that he was not just talking about going on a mission--getting a mission call, wearing a white shirt and name tag--but being missionaries.
After the meeting, both Jacob and Mallory confided to us that they had often worried about the same things that Elder Bednar had talked about and his words were a great strength and comfort to them. I had no idea that they worried about those things and it has made me wonder how many other youth have those same concerns.
Next, President Packer spoke. He pointed out to us that it was a very unusual event to have two apostles at a meeting like this because their assignments just never allow them to do that. He told about a time a little more than 60 years ago when he landed on the island of Tinian during WWII. (Tinian is only about 3 miles from Saipan and we can see it easily from here--in fact, many people who live on Tinian take the ferry to their jobs on Saipan.) It was quite a dramatic story in which their navigator lost their way, they had to drop below the clouds to get their bearings and realized that they had flown into a typhoon, and they did a "square search" (a method of flying in a tightly controlled grid pattern) to try to find an island on which to land. When they did finally land, as they went down the runway there on Tinian, each of their engines cut out one by one as they ran out of fuel! The amazing thing about the story was that President Packer wasn't afraid during that flight because he had sung in his mind the words of a favorite hymn and that had strengthened him and helped him to stay calm. For those of us who are older, we know that this is a favorite counsel from President Packer, but since last night Kaitlyn, Sam, and Jacob have all picked out hymns to help them keep control of their thoughts.
Both of the Apostles said that the destruction in Banda Aceh is indescribable. President Packer said that he and Elder Bednar had decided that they wouldn't even try to describe it to the brethren because it was impossible. He said that the only other time in his life he had seen anything like it was in bombed-out Tokyo during the war. Elder Bednar said that the pictures in the papers and on t.v. don't even come close to portraying the reality.
Both of the Apostles also left Apostolic blessings on us. It's hard for me to remember all of the things they said, but the one thing that stood out most in my mind was that we were blessed with understanding. That is so important, especially here. Understanding the scriptures, the gospel principles, how to use them and integrate them into our lives. Understanding each others' cultures, speech, relationships--I was so struck when they said that! With understanding comes tolerance and brotherhood--it's so important. They also blessed us that we would not fear, but would be strong in the gospel.
We were so happy--and although they had already flown all that way, only had 45 minutes on the ground, and were due to speak at BYU Hawaii in just a few hours (that's still another 8-10 hours of flying ahead for them), these wonderful men had graciously stayed with us for 40 minutes! At the end of President Packer's talk, he looked back at Elder Bednar and said, "I would think that we would have the authority to stay a little longer!" I know that Sister Benson had encouraged her Institute class to pray that they would be able to stay longer than the 20-30 minutes that we expected and of course the Spirit was very strong as those prayers were answered, but there was more to come! After we had sung the closing hymn--"God Be with You till We Meet Again"--and many of us were a little teary-eyed, President Packer stood up again and with great emotion told us that he guessed they did have the authority and that they felt they wanted to shake hands with everyone there because of the great love they felt for us. Then, my friend Ann Cabael, gave the most beautiful and heartfelt closing prayer--I was overwhelmed; the simple, honest spirit of that prayer moved me very much. Everyone in the room got to shake hands with President Packer and Elder Bednar before they left and last of all they stopped at the piano on their way out and shook hands with me. In all, the Apostles had sacrificed an hour of their time for us.
Today, our CES supervisor and Area Authority Seventy, Elder Pita F. Hopoate, spoke to the Early Morning Seminary class. He reminded us of the feelings the Nephites had when it was time for the Lord to leave them, and that, as Christ's representatives, the blessings the Apostles gave us, including staying to shake our hands, were directed by the Lord. He said that he felt having two Apostles here was a direct fulfillment of the promises the Lord makes in 2 Nephi 29: 7 and 2 Nephi 10: 20-21 concerning the isles of the sea. He also pointed out that because everyone attending had been so obedient to the instructions we had been given, i.e., arrive and be seated ahead of time, no photos, etc., that we had been blessed to have the Apostles stay longer than their schedule allowed: Faith + Obedience = Miracles. I'm thankful that I was a witness to all of that equation last night.