Life-saving warnings

Simeulue Island in Indonesia was the closest inhabited land to the epicenter of a devastating earthquake that shook the Indian Ocean on Dec. 26, 2004.

But when the quaking stopped, islanders — who had been warned for generations of giant waves called semong — knew what to do. They fled to high ground.

Just 30 minutes after the massive tremor, a huge tsunami struck land at Simeulue. It was the first of literally hundreds of cities to fall victim to the semong — a wave that would ultimately claim the lives of more than 220,000 people in a dozen nations.

Casualties in Simeulue should have been high; yet only seven of the island's 75,000 inhabitants died.

Residents of the island, located 40 miles from the spot where the earthquake shifted the ocean floor, remembered direction passed down for generations from their elders. After the tremor, when the ocean waters began to recede, they ran to the hills. Villagers shared the warning as they ran: "Semong! Semong! Semong!" they cried.

When the 33-foot wave hit the shore, most of the people had fled. ("Islanders survived tsunami thanks to elders," USA Today, Feb. 28, 2005.)

Like the residents of Simeulue, Latter-day Saints have also received warnings that can protect us from the calamities of our day. Just recently, on March 31 and April 1, General Authorities and leaders offered counsel and direction during the Church's 182nd Annual General Conference.

"We live in troubled times," said President Thomas S. Monson at the close of the conference. "I assure you that our Heavenly Father is mindful of the challenges we face. … May you ponder the truths you have heard, and may they help you to become even better than you were when conference began."

Our leaders did not warn of giant waves; still they warned of things equally destructive — pride, envy and bitterness. They asked us to be kind, accepting and quick to repent.

In our "race of life," President Monson asked us to "pause for moments of meditation — even thoughts of timeless truths."

"Our Heavenly Father did not launch us on our eternal voyage without providing the means whereby we could receive from Him guidance to ensure our safe return," he said during the Sunday morning session. "I speak of prayer. I speak too of the whisperings from that still, small voice; and I do not overlook the holy scriptures, which contain the word of the Lord and the words of the prophets — provided to us to help us successfully cross the finish line."

In essence, much like the villagers on Simeulue Island, we have the knowledge — while facing the disasters of our day — to find a path to safety.

During the Saturday morning session of general conference, President Henry B. Eyring said all of us have "mountains to climb." And he promised us that if we have faith in Jesus Christ, the hardest as well as the easiest times in life can be a blessing.

"We have the gospel of Jesus Christ to shape and guide our lives if we choose it," he said. "And with prophets revealing to us our place in the plan of salvation, we can live with perfect hope and a feeling of peace."

Speaking during the April general conference in 1978, President Spencer W. Kimball said sometimes people let their hearts get so set upon things and the honors of this world that they cannot learn the lessons they most need to learn. His words still have impact today. "Simple truths are often rejected in favor of the much less demanding philosophies of men, and this is another cause for the rejection of the prophets," he explained.

Then President Kimball asked Church members worldwide to give heed to what had been and would be said by living prophets. "Let us assume the counsel given applies to us, to me. Let us harken to those we sustain as prophets and seers, as well as the other brethren as if our eternal life depended upon it, because it does!"

His message might well be translated into a one-word warning: "Semong! Semong! Semong!"

Speaking of Simeulue Island in Indonesia, one aide worker said, "Everyone ran to the hills. They took bicycles and motorbikes and wheelbarrows and piled the kids in whatever they could get them in."

The results were literally life saving.

Let's pay equal heed to the direction and counsel given by our leaders.

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