California drought prompts fasting, prayer

The prophet Isaiah taught, “And the Lord shall guide thee continually, and satisfy thy soul in drought…and thou shalt be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters fail not” (Isaiah 58:6,7, 9, 11).

Those divine words of comfort — written long, long ago — have taken on new, contemporary relevance for many California Latter-day Saints and their neighbors.

In recent years the “Golden State” could be aptly renamed the “Bone Dry State.”

An ongoing drought in California has been called the worst in state history. The governor recently declared a drought emergency. Reservoirs have dropped to frighteningly low levels. And local farmers have been left to wonder if there will be sufficient water to sustain tens of thousands of acres of thirsty crops.

A warning buoy sits on the dry, cracked bed of Lake Mendocino near Ukiah, Calif. Gov.
A warning buoy sits on the dry, cracked bed of Lake Mendocino near Ukiah, Calif. Gov. | AP

The impact and reach of the historic drought stretches far beyond the state line. Much of the nation’s fruits, vegetables and other agricultural goods are, of course, produced in California.

Weather forecasts in the early days of 2014 offered little promise of significant moisture — so members recently came together in prayer and fasting to humbly petition the Lord for rain.

After gaining approval, local priesthood leaders in California organized a special fast and day of prayer for Sunday, Feb. 2.

The special fast was not limited to LDS congregations. Stake presidents, bishops, local Relief Society leaders and rank-and-file members reached out to their neighbors and other religious groups, inviting one and all to join their fast and prayer for moisture.

Many say they then witnessed a miracle. In some parts of California, the rain started to fall even as Latter-day Saints worshiped together during their Sabbath-day fast and testimony meetings. Then the rainfall continued in many more areas for several days.

California won’t emerge from drought any time soon. Extended periods of snow or rain are needed to replenish reservoirs and waterways and put farmers and civic leaders at ease. But the recent, unexpected rainfall did provide precious moisture — and an equal measure of faith-building hope to the many who fasted and prayed.

“It has been a sweet experience,” said Elder Zachary Smith, an Area Seventy. “In the days following the fast there were significant amounts of rain in many parts of California.”

Elder Smith is an attorney who specializes in water issues facing the state’s farm-rich Central Valley. His professional duties have offered him a sobering perspective of the dire situation in California. Local meteorologists, he said, had projected continued parched weather.

“Their forecasts were quite contrary to the rain we received after the fast.”

Elder Robert Packer, an Area Seventy, said he and many others witnessed the hand of the Lord in the days following the special fast. Several weeks ago, a high-pressure ridge had settled off the coast of northern California and prevented rain clouds from moving into the dry inland regions.

“But on the second of February — the day of the fast — that high pressure ridge lifted,” he said.

The rains in many areas of northern California began to fall and continued throughout the next week.

“The Lord did listen to our prayers and we were very grateful.”

Local priesthood leaders also told the Church News they will never forget the support that the day of fasting and prayer received from others in their community.

Morgan Hill California Stake President Steven C. Merrill invited members of his Rotary Club to join. Many immediately accepted his invitation. “The response from the community was great,” he said.

Meanwhile, President Robert L. Davis, who presides over the Laguna Niguel California Stake, delivered letters to local clergy members inviting them and their congregants to join with Latter-day Saints “in a special fast and day of prayer to petition the heavens for moisture.”

Such prayerful unity “was a great experience,” he said.

Menlo Park California Stake President Dow Wilson commented on the remarkable spirit that could be felt on the day of the special fast as folks of all backgrounds joined in prayer and asked their Heavenly Father for the blessing of rain.

“There was a great sense [of] purpose felt between the Latter-day Saints and the rest of our community,” he said.

Elder W. Mark Bassett, an Area Seventy who lives near Sacramento, shared a sentiment offered by many local priesthood leaders: the blessings of the special fast extend far beyond rainfall and reservoir levels.

Elder Bassett began his fast by kneeling in prayer with his two young sons. The rain began to fall a short time later — and each of the Bassett boys witnessed, firsthand, the power of fasting and prayer.

Rainfall may have been the desired result of the day. “But the reality of the miracle,” said Elder Bassett, “is that our Heavenly Father listens to His people.”

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