Have you ever been asked a question about the gospel, the Church, or any of the commandments and didn’t have a good answer? Maybe you didn’t know the “why” behind it? Sometimes we are called to a calling and we wonder why. Sometimes there are aspects about the gospel to which we don’t have clear answers.
We had the missionaries over for dinner last week. These two elders both are delayed from going to their final mission destination. One is going to Japan and has a missionary tag in Japanese. The other one, fresh out of the home MTC due to Covid, is eventually heading to Toronto, Canada, Mandarin Chinese speaking. His missionary tag is in Chinese. I have been so impressed as I’ve seen the missionaries over the past year obediently quarantine, stop visiting members and investigators, and move their efforts to Facebook, and other creative ways. Now that we are vaccinated and they are vaccinated, it is so nice to be able to have them over again and it’s always such a blessing to have the missionaries in our home. I was telling them how we don’t always know why things happen in our lives, but the Lord knows, and I suspect that there is a reason that they are here in Port Angeles, Washington.
I’ve been thinking a lot about obedience over the past few days. When I think of obedience, I often think of Adam being questioned by an angel about building and alter and offering sacrifices. I’m paraphrasing Moses 5, but the angel said, “Why are you doing this?” And Adam replied that he didn’t know exactly, except that God had commanded him to. Sometimes that is all we have. We don’t know the why in every detail.
When I lived in England, my boss was questioning me on the word of wisdom. He said that he could understand how tobacco, coffee, and drugs were bad for us, but he couldn’t understand why tea would be included. I’m sure he is not the only one to have questioned this.
I think it comes back to obedience. If I believe Joseph Smith was a prophet, and I believe that we are guided today by a prophet of God, and that this is The Church of Jesus Christ, and that he leads His Church, then I will be blessed by being obedient. I don’t need to be a scientist or a doctor and know all the science behind it. It may be more important spiritually than physically.
Several years ago at a stake conference in Highland, Utah, we had a general authority, Elder Peter F. Evans, visit. He told us a story of the saints in Sierra Leone. The first convert baptisms in Freetown, Sierra Leone, were held in June 1988. By 1991, the Church was growing in Sierra Leone, a branch had been formed, and the branch president, Brother Mustafa Touray oversaw three houses where groups met for worship. They had signs outside that said, “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Visitors Welcome.” These members did not have much. Most had very simple homes with dirt floors. They loved their little meeting houses. They loved the gospel. Five months after the branch was organized, to their surprise, in January 1991, mission president, Miles Cunningham, received a letter from President Ezra Taft Benson, the prophet at that time. They were to close all the churches and start meeting again in their homes. They were to take down the signs. They were not to gather there anymore. They were instructed to stay home and read the scriptures and pray in their homes. This was the direction of the prophet. But some were offended that the prophet all the way over in Utah would do this. Some said, “He doesn’t know our needs! He doesn’t know anything about us!” They felt that the prophet was out of touch with them. Some of the members of the church left the faith. Others had a testimony that he was the prophet and were obedient and did as the prophet said. They had also come to trust their mission president whom they loved. President Touray spoke of those days with grateful appreciation. He said that he was sad and discouraged, but “recognized that they had been given a formal commandment and that they had to obey. He realized it would be very important for them to obey although they did not know why at the time.” The chapel doors were closed. They stayed home. They read the scriptures as a family. They prayed. But they didn’t gather together. They missed their meeting houses. They missed the association with the other members. But they were obedient.
In March 1991, civil war erupted in Sierra Leone and this little nation became engulfed in a fiery battle. Rebels and the army fought all over the land. It lasted more than a decade. Communities collapsed, infrastructures deteriorated, banks were shuttered, food was in scarce supply and repeated military coups left uncertainty as to who was a friend or foe. Churches were frequently targeted by the rebels with bullets and firebombs, and thousands of people lost their lives while sitting on pews hoping to pray and worship. The civilians weren’t accidental deaths. They were the targets. The churches were targets. The rebels burned churches down and started locking churches while people were worshiping, then they could easily kill everyone inside. Every other denomination in Sierra Leone left.
But the members of the Lord’s Church were safe from this harm for they were home worshiping in obedience to a prophet’s counsel.
President Touray spoke of the miracle that had come to the people because of their obedience. “No member of the Church died in Bo during the war — not one. The LDS Church was the only church that continued operating during the war in Bo — the only one. Every other church closed its doors. It was too dangerous for the people to walk to church and too dangerous to sit and. None of us (the Latter-day Saints) had any problem during the war. We worshipped through the whole war no matter how grave the situation was. Because we were obedient, our members received this great blessing.”
They had listened to a prophet of God, when they had no idea why, when it didn’t make sense, but they had faith that the prophet of God would not lead them astray. They were blessed with their very lives.
It takes humility when we don’t know the why. Adam was humble and obedient. The saints in Sierra Lione were humble and obiediant. When we don’t have clear answers about the gospel or church-related questions that we might have, if we are humble, we can get peace through prayer and receive blessings from God as we follow His commandments and follow His ordained prophet. Following the prophet is so important.
The great and spacious building which the prophet Lehi spoke about was full of people who mocked the faithful who were partaking of the fruit of the tree of life. I feel like we are experiencing this so much today. Those who mock would say that we are blind sheep if we follow the prophet. I’m convinced for myself, that I will always be on the side of God if I follow the prophet, even when I don’t understand why. As a father and a bishop of our ward, there are questions that I can’t answer. And that’s OK. I pray for peace and move forward in Faith.
I want to end with one of my favorite hymns.
We thank thee, O God, for a prophet, To guide us in these latter days.
We thank thee for sending the gospel, To lighten our minds with its rays.
We thank thee for every blessing, Bestowed by thy bounteous hand.
We feel it a pleasure to serve thee, And love to obey thy command.