Church News viewpoint: To the rescue

Hundreds of people stood on the shore of Panama City Beach in Florida on July 8 and watched a family struggling to free themselves from a dangerous ocean riptide current. Good Samaritans swam to their aid, only to find themselves stuck as well.

Soon the group in the riptide numbered nine beachgoers — including two boys, ages 8 and 11, and an elderly woman. The group frantically waved their arms and yelled.

A crowd gathered on the beach, unsure of how to help. Ocean waves seemed to be taking the group further and further out to sea, according to CNN.

Police and paramedics arrived on the scene but appeared helpless. They told the crowd on the beach that a boat was coming to help.

But those on the shore did not wait.

“I saw a group of people, a few at first, and then more and more, start forming a human chain,” witness Rosalind Beckton told CNN.

Soon 70 to 80 strangers, all holding hands and stretching to reach the trapped group, rescued all the stranded swimmers. Using boogie boards and surfboards, they assisted every member of the group back to shore (“Beachgoers form a human chain to save a family trapped in a rip current,”

Like the group who joined hands to physically rescue the group at Panama City Beach, Latter-day Saints can link arms to rescue those around us in spiritual peril.

President Thomas S. Monson, in his April 2003 general conference address, encouraged Latter-day Saints to “reach out and rescue those who have fallen by the wayside, that not one precious soul will be lost.”

I firmly believe that the Church today is stronger than it has ever been. Activity levels of our youth testify that this is a generation of faith and devotion to truth. Yet there are some who drop by the wayside, who find other interests that persuade them to neglect their Church duties. We must not lose such precious souls,” he said.

Sometimes, he said, “the task appears overwhelming” — just as it must have felt for those on Panama City Beach watching swimmers being pulled by a riptide further and further out to sea.

Former Relief Society general president Sister Linda K. Burton said Church members should offer hands to help and hearts to hasten Heavenly Father’s work.

“We are devoted disciples who reach out and help each other along the way,” she said in her April 2014 general conference address.

Just as the crowd who linked arms on Panama City Beach could not individually rescue those stranded, we must also work together to spiritually rescue lost souls.

In order to assist the Savior, Latter-day Saints have to work together in unity and in harmony, said Elder Chi Hong (Sam) Wong, General Authority Seventy, in his October 2014 general conference address. “Everyone, every position and every calling is important. We have to be united in our Lord Jesus Christ. …

“We can all help one another. We should always be anxiously engaged in seeking to rescue those in need.”

During his April 2001 general priesthood session address, President Monson reminded priesthood brethren of their responsibility to reach out.

“The world is in need of your help,” President Monson said. “There are feet to steady, hands to grasp, minds to encourage, hearts to inspire and souls to save. The blessings of eternity await you. Yours is the privilege to be not spectators but participants on the stage of priesthood service.”

President Monson spoke of visiting the famed Victoria and Albert Museum in London, England, where he viewed a masterpiece painted in 1831 by Joseph Mallord William Turner. “The painting features heavy-laden black clouds and the fury of a turbulent sea portending danger and death. A light from a stranded vessel gleams far off. In the foreground, tossed high by incoming waves of foaming water, is a large lifeboat.”

President Monson then issued a challenge: “Amidst the storms of life, danger lurks; and men, like boats, find themselves stranded and facing destruction. Who will man the lifeboats, leaving behind the comforts of home and family, and go to the rescue?”

The Church has a rich and meaningful tradition of rescue. During general conference in October 1856, President Brigham Young learned that there were hundreds of men, women and children on the pioneer trail west who were in desperate need of rescue.

“Many of our brethren and sisters are on the plains with handcarts, and probably many are now 700 miles from this place, and they must be brought here, we must send assistance to them. …

“I will tell you all that your faith, religion and profession of religion will never save one soul of you in the Celestial Kingdom of our God, unless you carry out just such principles as I am now teaching you. Go and bring in those people now on the plains” (LeRoy R. Hafen and Ann W. Hafen, Handcarts to Zion [1960], pp. 120–21).

President Gordon B. Hinckley said during his October 1996 general conference address that he is grateful that those days of pioneering are behind Latter-day Saints, yet there are people who still cry out for help and relief.

“My brethren and sisters, I would hope, I would pray, that each of us, … would resolve to seek those who need help, who are in desperate and difficult circumstances, and lift them in the spirit of love into the embrace of the Church, where strong hands and loving hearts will warm them, comfort them, sustain them, and put them on the way of happy and productive lives.”

As crowds watched the swimmers at Panama Beach in peril, they decided to act.

“These people are not drowning today,” Jessica Simmons told the Panama City News Herald. “It’s not happening. We’re going to get them out.”

We too can link arms and go to the rescue — just as the early members who worked together to save the pioneers on the plains, or as the lifeboat in Joseph Mallord William Turner's painting, or as the crowd on Panama Beach.

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