More than a century ago in April of 1914, the ship Endurance set sail from Plymouth, England, to Buenos Aires, Argentina. At the time of her launch, the ship was among the strongest wooden ships ever built, with the capacity to travel in arctic conditions.
With polar explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton at the helm, the ship was part of the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition — a voyage meant to be the first transcontinental crossing of the Antarctic continent.
After porting in Buenos Aires, the ship set sail on Oct. 26, 1914, and made a stop at the island of South Georgia. Just days after departing South Georgia, disaster struck and the Endurance encountered ice, becoming trapped in ice located just 80 miles from the coast of Antarctica in the Weddell Sea.
With 27 men to take care of and his ship stuck in the floe, Shackleton and his crew tried to stay busy as they camped on the sea ice for months.
On the morning of Nov. 21, 1915, the bow of the Endurance began to sink, and the crew abandoned ship. For a few weeks, the men continued to live on the ice, waiting for the right conditions to leave on lifeboats. Recognizing they needed to leave, the crew made the harrowing trek to nearby Elephant Island. Shackleton soon realized there was no chance of rescue and gathered a small group to journey to South Georgia.
“Their only hope for survival would be for someone to travel during the brutal Antarctic winter, crossing one of the most turbulent seas in the world while battling hurricane-force winds and waves measuring as much as 60 feet in their 22-foot life boat, in search of help,” explained Bishop W. Christopher Waddell of the Presiding Bishopric in a commencement speech. “Leaving the majority of men camped in the snow and ice on Elephant Island, Shackleton and five crew members sailed for the tiny South Georgia Island, 800 miles away, the navigational equivalent of finding a needle in a haystack” (BYU-Idaho Commencement, Dec. 15, 2017).
Even more difficult than surviving the elements, was the challenge of navigating the open ocean in the James Caird — the 22-foot lifeboat — with only the use of a sextant, a hand-held instrument used to determine latitude and longitude.
In order for the instrument to work and keep the group on course, they needed the sun to determine their position.
“In other words, an old-fashioned GPS, but harder to use,” Bishop Waddell said. “For Shackleton, it had to work, for if they were to miss the mark and sail past South Georgia Island, they would be over 3,000 miles from the next land mass, and would certainly not survive.”
With the help of the sextant, after 15 days, the group made it to their destination and were able to secure the help they needed to return and rescue the rest of the original crew that had been left behind.
Not one of the men was lost.
Like Shackleton, who looked to the sun to guide his survival efforts, we look to the Son of God to guide us in our mortal journey home.
“Just as Shackleton had never made the trip from Elephant Island to South Georgia Island and needed a sextant to keep him on course, none of us have ever before traveled on this mortal journey and we also need help to guide us home, our own version of a sextant,” said Bishop Waddell.
In an Ensign article in April 1987, President Boyd K. Packer (1924-2015), who served as President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, said, “The spiritual sextant, which each of us has, also functions on the principle of light from celestial sources. The light will come through. Then you can fix your position and set a true course in life.”
The Holy Spirit acts as a guide to all who are worthy of His companionship and who are willing to fix their course on the Son and follow His guidance. That direction is crucial to a safe return home.
“Brothers and sisters, we live in a most difficult dispensation,” President Russell M. Nelson said in his April 2017 general conference talk. “Challenges, controversies, and complexities swirl around us. These turbulent times were foreseen by the Savior. He warned us that in our day the adversary would stir up anger in the hearts of men and lead them astray. Yet our Heavenly Father never intended that we would deal with the maze of personal problems and social issues on our own.”
Elder Ronald A. Rasband of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles taught in the April 2017 general conference, “Our Father in Heaven knew that in mortality we would face challenges, tribulation and turmoil; He knew we would wrestle with questions, disappointments, temptations and weaknesses. To give us mortal strength and divine guidance, He provided the Holy Spirit, another name for the Holy Ghost.
“The Holy Ghost binds us to the Lord. By divine assignment, He inspires, testifies, teaches and prompts us to walk in the light of the Lord. We have the sacred responsibility to learn to recognize His influence in our lives and respond.”
Every week, Church members around the globe have the opportunity to repent of their sins and partake of the sacrament. With that cleansing ordinance, we promise to take the Savior’s name upon us, and in turn are promised that we “may always have his Spirit” to be with us (Doctrine and Covenants 20:77).
“We can, if we live worthy of it, have the blessing of the Spirit to be with us, not only now and then, but always. To always have the Spirit with us is to have the guidance and direction of the Holy Ghost in our daily lives,” said President Henry B. Eyring of the First Presidency in the October 2015 general conference.
Let us fix our spiritual sextant on the Son of God, setting a true course in life that leads us safely home to our Heavenly Father.
Let the Holy Spirit guide;
Let his whisper govern choice.
He will lead us safely home
If we listen to his voice
(“Let the Holy Spirit Guide,” Hymns, No. 143).