ST. GEORGE, Utah Since flood waters destroyed property and washed several dozen homes down the Virgin and Santa Clara rivers last January, some members here have kept their sense of humor by musing that the only thing flood waters didn't take was their mortgage.
After gathering with President Gordon B. Hinckley in a special member meeting Feb. 26, they realize that flood waters also failed to take their faith.
"My faith has been strengthened by what I've seen and heard," said President Hinckley in his opening comments. "I felt I had to come to meet with you, to tell you how much I love you and to invoke the blessing of the Lord upon you for your great works your tremendous faith."
In a hastily scheduled meeting in the Burns Arena on the campus of Dixie State College, President Hinckley addressed members of the Bloomington, Green Valley, Santa Clara and Ivins stakes, the four stakes most severely affected by the Jan. 10-11 flooding.
Heavy rains and a melting snow pack in nearby mountains combined earlier this year to swell the Virgin and Santa Clara rivers well beyond their banks. Twenty-two homes built a considerable distance from the generally gentle Santa Clara River collapsed into a torrent of muddy water. Another 76 were damaged or severly at risk, leaving an estimated $7-8 million in unpaid mortgages.
"Your valuable soil is now resting (downstream) in Littlefield, blessing those folks in Arizona," President Hinckley said with a smile.
President Hinckley told how he examined the area earlier that day with President Clifford V. Dunn of the Green Valley stake, and how he saw every destroyed home, or where each home had been.
"My heart reaches out with love and appreciation to those who have suffered so very much in the loss of their homes and the obligations they have before them," he said. "The bewilderment they face. They deal with very serious problems."
Commending the many hundreds, or perhaps thousands, who sacrificed their comfort and means to help others they didn't know, President Hinckley said, "This is a great testimony of the power and the effectiveness of the Church and its organization in times of crisis.
"Help," he continued, " has been extended regardless of religious affiliation."
Drawing on his comprehensive understanding of Church history, President Hinckley expressed appreciation "for all that's gone before."
"This area has had floods before," he said. "It's had drought for the last six years. Now come the floods the other extreme.
"This is a place of extremes," he said. "This is a place where things aren't done in half-measures. Whenever anything happens, it happens in an extreme way. This goes back many, many years."
President Hinckley recounted thoughts from the day before as he traveled to southern Utah from Salt Lake City. He thought of John D. Lee, an early settler in the area who built a fort made of adobe.
"Brigham Young said it was the best fort he'd ever seen built in the territory," said President Hinckley.
"But the rains came and the adobe melted like "hot chocolate." A wall fell and two children were killed.
"There were repeated building of dams to corral the water, when, just like that, a dam would go and canals disappeared and people would face trial again," he said.
"It's been that way, it seems to me, ever since.
"This place is like a vampire," he continued. "It's very attractive, but it turns around and bites you," he said to the amusement of the approximately 5,700 people in the Burns Arena and neighboring Cox Auditorium.
"We can't answer all the questions. I wish we had the answers as to why one person loses a home and the person next door doesn't lose a home. Why one person's prayer is answered and another's is seemingly unanswered," he said.
"But that's life and that's the way it goes."
He continued, "Through all this ordeal, may you keep your faith, love the Lord and (place) your trust in Him. Live the gospel, it's the only safety we have."
Members began assembling early in the afternoon of the meeting. Before long, a line of several thousand extended three or four-people across for the length and width of a football field.
"Home teachers told me Thursday night about this meeting," said one sister standing in line while waiting with a sense of anticipation.
Prior to President Hinckley's comments, each of the four stake presidents addressed the congregation, extolling the goodness of God in granting protection and guidance, and reminding members how blessings come in times of such life-changing adversity.
"We couldn't stop the river from destroying our homes," said David Watson, a member of the Church and president of the Virgin River and Santa Clara River Relief Fund. "But we can stop it from destroying lives."
Those interested in contributing to the relief effort may call: (888) 634-1114, or (435) 634-1114.
E-mail to: [email protected]