Mary Richards: What I learned from Air Force cadets about revelation and ministry to the one

Many years ago, my bishop challenged our ward to come 15 minutes early to church and sit quietly in the chapel before sacrament meeting. This way, he said, we would be more prepared to take the sacrament and feel the Spirit in the meeting. And I have done that ever since. I have brought our five children early, even during the times my husband’s Church callings have kept him from my side. It has blessed our lives in the ways our bishop promised.

Our stake president also gives our stake a few talks or scripture references to read in the weeks before a conference. He told us that by preparing ahead of time, we will get more from the speakers and receive promptings for how the messages can be applied to our lives. I have noticed that when I follow this counsel, I listen more carefully and learn more in those meetings because I am prepared.

These lessons were reaffirmed to me in a recent assignment for the Church News.

Early in the morning, my inbox dinged with a message from a Latter-day Saint cadet at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado. He was responding to my request to share any experiences from Elder Neil L. Andersen’s recent devotional in Polaris Hall.

Senior Conley Walters said the visit had a personal impact on him. He poured his heart out about the difficulties he was facing in a challenging semester at the academy and the efforts he was making since returning from a mission to prepare for medical school.

Walters said he had spent months in prayer asking for help through his personal, spiritual, academic, military and physical trials. Then he learned of Elder Andersen’s visit, and he learned he would be helping provide a tour. Walters knew he had to prepare.

“My mind immediately reflected back on the experience of Peter in Acts Chapter 5 and the faithful saints who brought their sick to be healed by merely his shadow passing over them,” Walters wrote to me. “I knew that in a few short weeks, I too would have the opportunity to interact with a modern-day Peter, and wanted to ensure that I did all I could to figuratively lay my bed in the street and be healed from personal anguish and tumult at his mere shadow.”

As they visited Oct. 22, Walters learned of all the connections they had in the gospel. Elder Andersen’s counselor when he was president of the Brazil South Area, Elder Paulo R. Grahl, later became president of the Brazil Missionary Training Center when Walters was there. And now Walters is engaged to Grahl’s granddaughter Gabi. Elder Andersen also set apart Walters’ mission president in the Brazil Porto Alegre North Mission, Dee Lon Jones.

“These shared connections and more only furthered my feelings of comfort and spiritual safety as Elder Andersen acted as a tool in the hands of the Lord,” Walters said.

After the tour, when the meeting began, Walters said he could immediately feel a difference in his life. He wrote about receiving deeply personal revelations and recognizing the love and personal interest from his Heavenly Father.

“I knew from the very beginning of the devotional that Heavenly Father had accepted my faith as sufficient to have not only placed my bed in the street nor merely touched his robes, but rather have the opportunity to meet and truly experience the spirit of a prophet and Apostle of Christ,” said Walters. 

U.S Air Force Academy cadets hear from Elder Neil L. Andersen at Polaris Hall, on Oct. 22, 2021.
U.S Air Force Academy cadets hear from Elder Neil L. Andersen at Polaris Hall, on Oct. 22, 2021. Credit: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Each cadet who reached out to me also spoke of the revelation and personal ministry they received in that meeting. And it became evident to me that this was due in part to the preparation they made before the meeting, in connection with the divine mission of an Apostle of the Lord who had also prayerfully prepared to speak to them.

The cadets told me about feeling blessed to meet and hear from an Apostle. Many of them had studied his book, “A Divine Gift of Forgiveness,” in their institute class this past year. They said they knew Elder Andersen’s remarks were inspired to address exactly what they were facing right then in their lives at the Air Force Academy. They learned again about placing their foundation of faith in Jesus Christ. Many felt deep impressions from different parts of his talk. All spoke about how they had come to the devotional with specific questions about which they had been praying. I learned from these cadets how important it is to come prepared.

Freshman Emily Cook had been praying for answers as she mourned the death of her best friend. She was touched by Elder Andersen’s testimony of eternal life after his mother’s passing.

“I could tell that he has a strong testimony that he will see her again and that what the Church teaches about what happens to our spirits after they leave our bodies is true. This provided some comfort that I have been looking for throughout the past month,” she said.

Cook also talked about the pressure of being a freshman at the academy. She feels like she is not enough. But Elder Andersen’s reassuring words gave her motivation, and a new sense of strength and confidence. 

“I know that I am not perfect right now, and that is all right. As long as I can keep trying my best, that is all the Lord asks of me,” she wrote to me.

I learned how sophomore Anthony Parra showed up early to be prepared for the meeting, and he was surprised to meet Elder Andersen on the way in and shake his hand. Later, at the end of the meeting, Elder Andersen went to each person in the meeting and shook hands. There were around 100 people there. 

“I’ll never forget that he had remembered my name,” Parra said. “He made me feel like he was glad to see me there, even though he had only previously talked to me once in his life.”

Sophomore Payton Rawson also felt a personal connection that evening, saying the gift of discernment was evident, which allowed for a ministry to each one of them there.

“[Elder Andersen] began by explaining how he would feel if he were in our shoes, or how he might expect us to feel right now. And let me tell you he went in detail. He described exactly how each of us felt at that very moment,” said Rawson. “Everything from deciding about a mission to the struggles of military life to future career choices to being involved with church to finding an eternal partner. He got everything spot on for our unique situation.”

Walters said he will rely on the knowledge and testimony he gained that night for the rest of his life.

“I know that my Heavenly Father loves me and that Jesus Christ truly understands all of my struggles, and that He has prepared a way for me to be happy and experience endless joy. Elder Andersen’s visit to the academy was an answer to months and years of sorrow-filled prayers and has truly changed my life.”

The cadets had prayerfully prepared before the meeting. They showed up early and listened carefully to the messages. And in doing so, they were able to receive personal revelation as Elder Andersen truly ministered to each of them.