My wife and I were directing a tour in Italy during General Conference, and I was unable to sit at the feet of the prophets and receive their direction as it was given. My daughter recorded the sessions for us and we are in the process of rectifying the loss we suffered by being absent, and trying to learn what we did not learn. But as I thought about conference while I was in Rome, I remembered the compass course at Fort Benning, Georgia.

Out of recesses of my mind came the recollection of tramping through the swamps and woods of western Georgia and Eastern Alabama looking for lettered sign posts in the dark. The memory came as I reflected on conferences and the opportunities they provide for us to take our bearings and to ascertain that we are where we are supposed to be on the strait and narrow path. In the midst of those thoughts, I remembered the compass course.


Our task was simple enough to explain. We were dropped off in groups of four at different starting points along a circular roadwith a compass and a sheet of instructions. The instructions went something like this: 1) Proceed 600 yards on an azimuth of 240 degrees. Turn to 170 degrees. Advance 500 yards. Write down here____ the letter on the sign post at this location. 2) Now proceed on an azimuth of 90 degrees for 400 yards, and then . . . and so on.

This sounds fairly simple, even interesting, in a classroom at Infantry Hall at Fort Benning, Georgia. It might even be entertaining in Kansas where you can see for 47 miles and nothing can slow you down but prairie dog holes. But in the swampy ravines and brush-infested quagmires on the border of Georgia and Alabama, we could not go in a straight line.

We had to take detours because of the areas of impenetrable brush, the profusion of trees, the pestilence of thorny wait-a-minute vines draping profusely from those trees, and the unexpected ravines where flash floods had torn through the area, leaving gullies wide enough and deep enough to swallowa truck. These all complicated our efforts.

We finished the course in two or three hours. The final checkpoint was on the same road where we had begun, but at different location. I think my group got most of the letters right. When we came out of the woods I discovered that I was no longer wearing my glasses. Somewhere along the way a thorny creeper or lurking bush had snatched them from my face without my being aware of the loss. But even my inability to see clearly (I was unaware that I had lost my glasses in the dark and the woods) did not prevent me from checking my compass and reading the signs along the way. And I had others with me to help.


These memories came as I was thinking about conference. Mortality is a swamp-a vine-infested, treacherous, deadly landscape where the unwary traveler can lose his bearings and his spiritual life in a hundred different ways. I remember still how comforting it was during the wet, exhausting night of the compass course, to get to a place where we were supposed to find a checkpoint, and to look around and find one.

Conferences are checkpoints. How comforting it is to attend. We can evaluate our progress, examine the checkpoints, and learn if we are still on course. Then we can take our bearings from the prophets once again and set off for the next destination.