And after this Summer, I can't even imagine why we would ever want to. And yet there are so many people around us who need help, who crave support, who silently are praying for friendship, love, acceptance and even deliverance. Maybe they don't know how to ask for help, or are simply afraid that no help is available. Are we going to leave them to carry their burdens alone? Are we, like those in the parable of the Good Samaritan going to stay on our sides of the "street" (or our jobs, our busy lives, our comfort zones) and pass them by?
As Paul so eloquently declared, "God forbid it!"
Most of us know that at 7:48 am on December 7, 1941, naval and air forces of Imperial Japan effected a complete surprise attack on United States forces in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. More than 2,400 Americans were killed on that "day of infamy." Over the next seven hours there were coordinated Japanese attacks on the U.S.-held Philippines, Guam and Wake Island and on the British Empire in Malaya, Singapore, and Hong Kong. The dark cloud of war quickly spread over the beautiful waters of the Pacific.
Among the first victims of Japanese aggression were 2,147 civilians that the Japanese gathered into an internment camp in the Philippines known as Los Banos. For four years, these men, women and children endured extreme hunger, depredation, illness, and deplorable conditions. I have tried to imagine how my heart and mind would handle such circumstances and at the end of the day, I can only say with humility that these 2,147 souls are deserving of our deepest respect. And yet, even in their strength of spirit, after four years some of these prisoners were beginning to lose hope. Would deliverance come? Did anyone know of their suffering? Would it (and the war) ever end?
Some of you reading this know of periods like this. Maybe it was after a divorce or a job loss or an illness or the death of a loved one or some other weighty, heavy pain of the soul. Whatever the cause, perhaps there was a crisis of faith, a breaking of the heart, a struggle of the mind or maybe deep loneliness and in the darkest of times, even despair. Please, know that my own heart goes out to you and that I wish to extend the kindest words of hope and healing that I can muster.
And that is what those 2,147 souls at Los Banos needed: hope and healing. Their plight was darker than you might think because as Allied forces began to retake the Phillipinnes with General Douglas MacArthur's famous "return", Japanese military forces indicated the posibility that the prisoners would be slaughtered before they could be rescued. So, my grandfather's division, the 11th Airborne, was tasked with an historic rescue operation that was executed flawlessly on February 23, 1945, nearly four years after Pearl Harbor. Those starved, sick and weakened prisoners watched as those brave, cocky paratroopers floated down on silk parachutes "like angels" as one of the captive nuns would later write. Alongside their Filipino guerilla brothers in arms, the 11th Airborne "Angels" rescued all 2,147 prisoners and led them back to safety. (You can read more about this amazing raid here)
I bring up this story because there are more than just 2,147 people in need around us. There are tens of thousands, if not millions. They may be lonely, afraid, overwhelmed, depressed, confused, heart broken or any one of those infinite number of pains we can go through in this world. Will we be like my Grandpa who when asked if he was scared to jump said, "Terrified; but you had to go", will we go to their aid? Will we rush to their rescue? Or will we, like those famous "draft dodgers" during the Vietnam War stay in our comfort and leave them to fight alone?
I believe that most of us have an honest desire to lift, to heal, to serve and to help others reach their highest potential in life. Given the opportunity we would gladly do what we could to heal a wounded heart, bind up a hurting mind and strengthen a tired body. And it is to that part of our nature's that I know wish to speak, to issue a challenge, to begin a movement that could potentially change the world.
I challenge you to go to the rescue. To reach out to those around you that need help, that need uplift, that need encouragement or support or even healing. I call on you to use your talents and compassions and intellect and strengths to make a difference. To bring back those who have lost their faith, to guide forward those who have lost their way, to share hope with the hopeless and open your heart's courage to help them find bravery in their own. I give you this mission, the same one given to those angelic paratroopers of the 11th Airborne: to rescue them and bring them home to safety.
If you are a Latter-day Saint (a "Mormon") then this concept will sound very familiar to you. When our pioneer ancestors in the Willie Handcart Company were trapped by heavy Wyoming snow and in dire straights with little warm clothing and rations nearly gone, Brigham Young, upon hearing of this group's plight (and never one to mince words) said in a conference, "I will tell you all that your faith, religion, and profession of religion, will never save one soul of you in the Celestial Kingdom of our God, unless you carry out just such principles as I am now teaching you. Go and bring in those people now on the plains... Otherwise, your faith will be in vain."
My beloved friends, we must do more. We must pray for more sensitivity to those around us. We must overcome selfishness and be careful how much time we waste in pointless pursuits when instead we could be "in the service of (our) fellow beings". I have deep desires especially to see more LDS midsingles reaching out to those in our age group who have lost their way, who are struggling, who are lonely or otherwise weighed down. With a 12-16% activity rate, I cannot believe that the Lord is pleased with our lack of missionary work to reach out, reactivate and rejuvenate darkened souls. But that is a topic for another day.
Suffice it to say, the need is great. When I look at the life of Jesus Christ I see act of service after act of service after act of service. If we who proclaim daily to be disciples of Him do not follow His example of loving service, of selfless service, of healing service, then we stand in need of change, even repentance.
To paraphrase Elder Jeffrey R. Holland (I know he won't mind):
When the light dawns and it finally comes to you that this gospel really is true and the (rescue) work matters and that God is not going to come down and do it Himself; we will realize that we are the only hands He has got, and that we are the only feet He has got. When somebody knocks on those doors (of those in need), it is with our knuckles.
When we work with the less-active (or lonely or hurting or afraid), Moroni and Mormon and Alma and Joseph Smith (and 11th Airborne Paratroopers) are not going to come down and...do that teaching (or loving); it is you and it is me. It is just people who get up, like we get up every morning and do the work of the Lord the way those men and their wives did it in the era and in their day and in their age, and in their time, but now it is our time. When we come to know this, then we will get on with the work.
My friends, let us get on with the work of healing, of serving, of caring, or making a difference in this world.