SANTA ROSA, California — The hundreds of fire-weary Latter-day Saints who gathered Friday in the Santa Rosa California Stake Center for a devotional with Elder Ronald A. Rasband began and ended the evening with two hymns they had surely sung many times before.
But for this congregation, those familiar songs — “Where Can I Turn for Peace?” and “Put Your Shoulder to The Wheel” — have taken on new, deeper meanings.
More than 50 Mormon families lost their homes to the recent wildfire. Hundreds more stepped forward in myriad ways to help their devastated friends and neighbors.
Latter-day Saints were sustained during the recent disaster by, first, praying for peace — and second, by putting “shoulders to the wheel” and serving any and all in need.
Difficult days remain in Santa Rosa and neighboring communities, particularly for those who lost almost everything they own to the historic disaster. But better days also await, promised Elder Rasband, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.
“We can go forward with hope and with faith in our Savior,” he said.
Elder Rasband’s wife, Sister Melanie Rasband, offered assuring words at Friday’s devotional. Primary General President, Sister Joy Jones, and her husband, Brother Robert Jones, who are former residents of Santa Rosa, also shared remarks.
Santa Rosa California Stake President Gary Kitchen spoke briefly at the beginning of the devotional.
Elder Rasband said he’s known for several months that he would be in northern California on October’s final weekend for a religious liberties conference.
“I did not know you would be devastated by these horrific fires,” he said.
But his presence Friday in the Santa Rosa area was no coincidence. Elder Rasband said he could trace the Lord’s hand directing his visit.
He assured the LDS families who lost their homes — including many who attended Friday’s event — that they were loved by President Thomas S. Monson, the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.
The Brethren, he said, continue to pray for the Latter-day Saints in California’s fire-damaged regions.
Elder Rasband spoke of meeting with President Monson a few years ago before meeting with members in Oklahoma who had been severely impacted by tornadoes. He asked the Church president what he would say to those in crisis.
President Monson’s message for the Oklahoma members, said Elder Rasband, surely extend to the California members following the recent fires:
1 - “Tell them I love them.”
2 – “Let them know I am praying for them.”
3 – “Thank all of those who are helping.”
Utilizing teachings from the scriptures, Elder Rasband counseled the Santa Rosa members to trust in the Lord. Know that He visits His people in their afflictions.
Look to the Lord to find hope, peace and purpose. He is eager to bless His followers.
And continue to serve and care for one another. “Don’t stop doing the little things that add up,” said Elder Rasband.
Sister Rasband said the Savior — who has suffered more than any other — knows well the suffering many have felt in northern California.
“I have no doubt that in His heart he has cried for each one of you,” she said.
Because of the Savior’s atonement, their hardships will end. Find hope by continuing to serve others. “We can do all things through God, who strengthens us,” said Sister Rasband.
Sister Jones marveled at the many emotions she felt Friday being in Santa Rosa. It was joyful being among old friends and people she loved. “But my heart has been wounded these past few weeks” because of the disastrous wildfires.
The Jones’ are mourning the recent loss of their son, 39-year-old son Trevor, who had fought a long battle with cancer. Watching Trevor suffer caused his parents great pain, but they never lost their gratitude for God. They fasted, prayed and welcomed the Lord’s revelations. They discovered eternal perspective through His clarifying comfort. They knew they could trust God even in their grief.
“The trials you have endured are an opportunity for your spiritual growth,” said Sister Jones.
Brother Jones spoke of the lifelong lessons he and his family learned when they lived in Santa Rosa. It was a blessing to be back among old friends.
“You are still our brothers and sisters in the Lord,” he said.
President Kitchen reminded those who lost homes — and perhaps hope — to the fires that they are never alone.
“We want you to know that you are loved and that we are here to help,” he said.
Small miracles, he added, were witnessed during the disaster as folks stepped forward in “small but powerful” ways to help those in need,