The Lord has a way of turning tragedy into blessings, said President Gordon B. Hinckley March 13 to a vast congregation of Church members in the Pacific islands of Samoa and Tahiti.
Speaking from Salt Lake City, President Hinckley addressed 95,000 Church members in the South Pacific via the Church Satellite System, bearing testimony of the fundamental doctrines of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. Also speaking during the broadcast were Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve and his wife, Patricia, and Elder Ronald T. Halvorsen of the Seventy and his wife, Linda.
"My dearly beloved brothers and sisters in the far-flung islands of the Pacific, I greet you in the name of the Lord as dear friends and fellow members of the Church," he told them. "As you can appreciate, because of the tremendous growth of the Church, it is not possible to visit individual stakes as we once did."
President Hinckley said that, while he was preparing his address to the islanders, he recalled 40 years earlier, when he was a frequent visitor to the South Pacific.
"Some of the most memorable events of my life have occurred in that part of the world," he said. "And so, today my heart reaches out with love and respect for you."
President Hinckley said that when he thinks of the islands, his mind invariably reverts to an experience he had in 1963. Quoting from his journal, he recalled the experience:
"I came to Tahiti at the request of the First Presidency to dedicate the chapel on the island of Huahine. Kendall Young was then the mission president. We took a boat to Huahine and took care of the dedication. People gathered from other islands, including a chartered-boat group from Maupiti. After the dedication we returned to Papeete and on the next day held a district conference. We had just begun the meeting, with the opening song and prayer, when a telegram was handed to President Young saying that the boat from Maupiti had hit the reef and overturned and most of the passengers had drowned. The telegram was signed 'Claire.'
"We were told that she was a public health nurse on Maupiti. President Young asked what we should do. I told him I felt we should conclude the meeting and arrange to go to Maupiti immediately. It was Ascension Day, a French holiday, and all the businesses were closed.
"President Young spent a good part of the day finding a captain who had an old PT boat, and then a Chinese merchant who would sell us diesel oil and lumber for coffins. We gathered what food we could at the mission home and some blankets and at 10 p.m., set out across the sea for Maupiti. We had no beds, but lay on the deck through the night looking at the stars and reflecting on the tragedy that had occurred.
"We traveled all through the night on that chugging old PT boat, and at noon the next day arrived near the reef outside Maupiti. There lay the boat upside down on the reef. People of Maupiti came out in canoes to meet us, and we were guided through the pass into the lagoon and to the dock. Fifteen had drowned, including nine mothers who constituted the Relief Society in the branch.
"There was a great deal of mourning and grieving with tears. I walked up and down the road of the village and picked up the little children who had lost their mothers.
"We held a joint funeral service for all who had been lost. We then took our boat to Bora Bora and flew from there. We took with us Claire, the public health nurse, who was severely injured and who was bandaged. She was not then a member of the Church. Nonetheless, we gave her a blessing.
"Because of those events, Claire joined the Church. She married a member who was an officer in the Church. She became the Relief Society president in Tahiti, a gifted and faithful and wonderful leader.
"I learned on that sorrowful occasion that the Lord has a way of turning tragedy into blessings."
Elder Holland's remarks centered on times that are not always balmy or when the waves are not gently lapping upon the sand.
He said, "In recent months all of us have been made very aware of terrible tragedies that can strike in the world. Some of these are politically motivated like the terrorist attacks in New York or Madrid or Bali. Other tragedies come from more natural sources, such as the terrible southeast Asian tsunami that recently struck so near your part of the world or the flooding we have seen recently in California and Utah.
"These are the large, visible disasters that get a lot of attention in the press, and we are concerned for all such people. But today I am thinking of more private challenges, concerns of the heart and spirit challenges not documented by newspapers or TV cameras but which are challenges nevertheless, perhaps known only in your local ward or within individual families or in the privacy of individual hearts heartaches and fears, sorrows and challenges, perhaps more spiritual in nature than physical. Like natural disasters, we cannot always avoid or avert these moments of testing in life but we can be as prepared as possible for them when they do come, and we can go to places of safety when they strike.
"When the winds and waves of adversity swirl around you, do as the scriptures say 'stand in holy places.' Stand on the firm, high ground of gospel living and know that not even the forces of the devil can move you from spiritual safety. To the early saints the Lord said, 'Let your hearts be comforted . . . . Zion shall not be moved out of her place . . . .
Elder Holland identified three primary places of safety: the home, the Church meetinghouse and the temple.
Elder Halvorsen spoke of the sufferings of the Savior during the Atonement and counseled members regarding repentance, namely turning from the sin and confessing to the proper authorities.
"Confession is not to the village chiefs or to a friend or even in humble prayer, for the Lord already knew your sins at the moment they were committed," he said. "Confession is to the bishop, the humble servant of the Lord, the common judge in Israel, one who has the keys of authority to assist you through the process of cleansing before the Church and the Lord. . . .
"The forgiveness that we should seek is the forgiveness of the Lord. . . . The Lord said, 'Behold, he who has repented of his sins, the same is forgiven, and I, the Lord, remember them no more' " (Doctrine and Covenants 58:42).
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