Following a series of record-breaking wildfires in the Western United States this year, President Russell M. Nelson promised fire victims on Sunday that their “brightest days are yet ahead.”
“The Lord will perform some of His greatest miracles,” said the leader of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in a Nov. 15 video message. “And some of those miracles will be in your lives. If you wonder if happy days will ever return, I assure you that they will. Your children will yet have many opportunities to grow and progress, and your families may enjoy a promising future.”
President Nelson addressed members of 23 stakes in California, Washington, Oregon and Idaho after some 49,800 wildfires in the United States claimed dozens of lives, leveled tens of thousands of buildings and burned more than 8.7 million acres, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.
President Nelson said he had prayed repeatedly in recent months for those who were evacuated and for those whose homes were destroyed this fall by wildfires. In the aftermath of the disasters, he has continued to petition the Lord on behalf of the victims.
Heavenly Father is keenly aware of every wildfire victim, he said. “His love for you is unfailing. He and His Beloved Son ‘will not leave you comfortless’ (John 14:18). Through the healing, reassuring influence of the Holy Ghost, you will be directed to take steps that will help you move forward with your lives.”
Through it all, President Nelson said Church leaders have been inspired by the way fire victims have responded to the tragedies. “We have heard countless examples of your great faith, putting the needs of others ahead of your own, and of your ministering in higher and holier ways,” he said.
In addition to heavenly help, Latter-day Saints have inspired and loving leaders, as well as fellow Saints, who will continue to help, he said. “Faithful followers of Jesus Christ love and care for one another.
“Though you live in a time of commotion and many of you have experienced real hardships, you need not despair. Take comfort in these words of the Lord, penned by Isaiah: ‘Unto them that mourn in Zion, give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness’” (Isaiah 61:3).
“Yes, as we keep His commandments and stay on the covenant path, the Lord has promised to stand by us and bless us with a ‘perfect brightness of hope’ (2 Nephi 31:20) — even when circumstances are grim.”
The Lord always blesses and prospers those who put their trust in Him, said President Nelson. “Look forward to the future with hope. Embrace it with the assurance that the Holy Ghost will strengthen and direct you. Help your children understand that now is the time to manifest their complete faith in God and in His Son, Jesus Christ.
As thick smoke engulfed David Crandall’s neighborhood on Aug. 18, he and his wife, Kili Crandall, began gathering their belongings. Ten minutes later, with a few photo albums and legal documents in hand, they evacuated their home in Boulder Creek, California — part of the Santa Cruz California Stake.
“We didn’t really get anything,” Crandall said.
Two day later, fire claimed their entire community. There was nothing left of their home — where they had lived 22 years — but their fire place.
“It is pretty hard to take, losing all your valuables and personal items,” he said. “But, as everyone has told us, it is just stuff. And it really is just stuff. We are all safe.”
The couple moved in with Kili’s mother in Pleasanton, California — where ward members greeted them with gift cards to purchase clothing and supplies.
“We had never been to that ward,” he said. “We didn’t know anyone. It was just an outpouring of tremendous support.”
Now Crandall says he and his family are moving forward, thankful for what they have.
“It is absolutely a huge loss for our family, but the blessings have been overflowing,” he said.
As he listened to President Nelson’s message Sunday, Crandall said he realized there are many kinds of trials in life. Having the prophet acknowledge his trial was “absolutely incredible.”
“I sat there and couldn’t believe that was happening, that [President Nelson] found a way to reach out to our stake.”
‘With compassion and care’
Elder Kevin W. Pearson, a General Authority Seventy and president of the North America West Area, said the Church has responded “with compassion and care” to those impacted by the recent fires in California, Oregon, Washington and Idaho.
Church buildings have been opened up to those in need, food and clothing have been sent, counseling resources have been provided and Church members have opened their hearts, their homes and their personal resources to help those in need, he said. “The Church stands ready to help and support as those in need continue to recover.”
President Nelson’s desire to reach out personifies compassion, caring, kindness and love, said Elder Pearson.
Not only focused on those dealing with recent fires, President Nelson’s message comes two years after wildfires engulfed Paradise, California — destroying some 18,000 structures, including the homes of most the Latter-day Saints in two wards in the community.
Elder Pearson visited Paradise with President Nelson and his wife, Sister Wendy Nelson in January 2019.
“The devastation and destruction was so complete and so overwhelming that I could hardly speak,” recalled Elder Pearson. “The ash remains of home after home left an eerie and empty sense of loss. Hundreds left with only the clothing they were wearing. Years of memories and personal property were destroyed and lost in minutes. I have never forgotten the confused and devastated faces and expressions of those impacted. Their world was turned completely upside down. It was as if they didn’t know what to go or how to start again.”
Elder Pearson said he thinks President Nelson was also deeply affected by the Paradise fires and those he met during his visit there. “It was a deeply moving emotional and spiritual experience for all of us. He felt that same profound compassion and love for those impacted by the devastating fires over the past few months, and he was mindful of their pain and suffering.”
As he listened to President Nelson’s message, Elder Pearson said his heart filled with love for him and for those impacted for these terrible fires. “His reassuring message of hope increased my faith as I hope it will all who heard him. We do thank Thee, Oh God, for a prophet to guide us in these difficult and challenging times.”
Hope for the future
Local leaders said President Nelson’s message — shared by local stakes during weekly Sunday services, stake conferences or special devotionals — brought peace and hope to those who have lost much.
“It tells us that the struggles we face in our lives and corner of the world are not beyond the sight of our living prophet,” said President Matthew J. Hackwell of Santa Cruz California Stake, where 11 member homes were lost.
President Nelson’s words “were so reassuring and filled with hope for the future; along with cherished blessings promised as we continue in faith,” added President Kelly E. Thompson of the Central Point Oregon Stake. “I was, and continue to be, moved by his awareness of our needs and saying just the right words to bring us comfort and peace.”
President Kirk D. Hess of the Santa Margarita California Stake said members there are grateful “for the many prayers offered up on our behalf.”
“We are a worldwide church with worldwide challenges,” said President Hess. “Yet to know that the brethren were following the events happening in our small part of the vineyard with great concern and compassion is truly ministering in that higher and holier way. As Paul taught, ‘And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it…’” (1 Corinthians 12:26).
Members of the Redding California Stake have dealt with two wildfires — the Carr fire in 2018 and the Zogg fire this last month, said President Daniel S. Mehr of the Redding stake.
“One of the reasons we feel deeply connected to President Nelson is because of his genuine concern for our spiritual and temporal well-being,” said President Mehr. “This latest message shows how consistent he is in demonstrating this to us. It helps us see how aware the Lord is of our unique circumstances and needs. … Many have shared that they felt comforted and optimistic about the future.”
Oregon City Stake President Matthew J. Leptich reported some 400 members evacuated their homes this fall as a result of wildfires in the Oregon City Stake. Latter-day Saints there were touched that President Nelson would take the time to send a special message to their stake in response to their specific time of need and concern, he said. “I do not remember a message like this being sent before. Given all that we have faced in this particular area of the world this past year, it means a great deal to hear directly from those who lead and guide us.”
President Scott Haynes of the Vacaville California Stake also expressed gratitude that President Nelson would send a message of hope and love specific to the members of his stake. One member told President Haynes that President Nelson addressed “the needs of all as well as the one. I know I am not unique, but I heard counsel just for me that lifted my drooping spirits. I felt like I was in the room with him and his hands were upon my head. It was a very powerful experience for me.”
President Jordan W. Wright of the Anderson California Stake said President Nelson’s message left him “emboldened for the future.”
“I know that brighter days will come and that we can make a difference now for those who are struggling.”