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15 Wadham Road in Preston, England does not appear to be a place where anything of significance ever happened. It is a forgettable building on a forgettable street, much like many other streets in the city.
Yet here the choice of a young, discouraged missionary made all the difference for him and millions of others. At a time of mounting frustration, he wrote his father that he felt he was wasting his time and his father’s money. His father wrote back simply, “Dear Gordon, I have your recent letter. I have only one suggestion: forget yourself and go to work.”
President Hinckley wrote, “With my father’s letter in hand, I went into our bedroom in the house at 15 Wadham Road, where we lived, and got on my knees and made a pledge with the Lord. I covenanted that I would try to forget myself and lose myself in His service.
“That July day in 1933 was my day of decision. A new light came into my life and a new joy into my heart. The fog of England seemed to lift, and I saw the sunlight. Everything good that has happened to me since then I can trace back to the decision I made that day in Preston.”
It was his day of decision and true to his word, holding to his sacred covenant, he gave the rest of his life without holding back or hesitating, without resistance or excuse, to the Lord. How can we even calculate the power of that decision?
My husband, Scot, and I were in the White House on June 23, 2004 when President Hinckley received the Presidential Medal of Freedom. We were there with computer and camera in hand to cover the ceremony for Meridian. That day, receiving his medal, President Hinckley thought of that other prophet, Joseph Smith, whose reception with an earlier U.S. president, Martin Van Buren, had been so much less warm and welcoming. He noted how far the Church had come since that time.
Those receiving medals that day were supremely noteworthy, and, of course, the East Room was jammed with the press covering the event. We were squeezed in the back of the room next to a ladder that the AP photographer had brought in order to get the perfect photo.
When it came time for President Hinckley to receive his medal, the AP photographer motioned to Scot to climb up the ladder and take his place so he could get the best photo possible. The AP photographer said kindly, “I know he’s your guy.”
“Oh, he is our guy,” Scot answered, and behind that simple statement was a well of emotion. How could we measure the gratitude we felt toward this prophet who had made a decision as a young missionary to give his whole soul to the Lord? We had seen the marvels of that decision and his leadership on so many counts.
This steady, insightful, hardworking, inspired President Hinckley wrought miraculous things. For instance, it took the Church 167 years to build the first fifty temples and 40 months to the day to build the next 50 under his leadership. The 50th temple was the St. Louis Temple, dedicated June 1, 1997 and the 100th was the Boston Temple dedicated October 1, 2000.
We saw him announce on his 95th birthday that he was planning to take a round the world journey to visit the Latter-day Saints. Where did this resilience and dedication come from? How did he do it?
We asked that question of Clark Hinckley at President Hinckley’s viewing. We wept as we talked to the prophet’s son for this man we loved so much. We knew that President Hinckley had worked at his office until the Thursday before his death three days later on Sunday.
“How did he do this?” we asked Clark, who answered with words that inscribed themselves forever on our souls with a gesture of his hand to make it even more emphatic. “My father had extraordinary self-discipline.”
He had come to a day of decision almost 80 years earlier and he had never wavered.
Have we come to our day of decision—and if not why not? What is holding us back from the possibilities and power that awaits, from that decision where finally we say to the Lord, ‘I am yours. I know that this world is faint and trivial compared to what you want for me.’
God has said to us “mine is thine,” yet why are we so frightened to reciprocate and answer that all we have, we’ll give? Why are we sometimes afraid to submit with all of our heart to the Lord?
Elder Neal A. Maxwell said, “I do not apologize for trying to speak about one of what Paul called “the deep things of God,” (1 Cor. 2:10), only for my inability to go deeply enough. While we see this quality in the quiet but spiritually luxuriant lives of the genuine, spiritual heroes and heroines about us, the lack of it keeps so many of us straggling in the foothills and off the peaks in the adventure of full discipleship. I refer to our hesitancy and our holding back in submitting fully to the Lord and His purposes for us.
“This holding back is like leaving Egypt without journeying all the way to the Holy Land, or waiting in Nauvoo for the railroad to come through, or staying permanently at Winter Quarters.
“Though possessed of other fine attributes, we may still lack this one quality. Such was the case with the righteous young man who knelt sincerely at Jesus’ feet. Lacking one thing, he went away sorrowing and unsubmissive when a particularized challenge was given. (See Mark 10:21–22; Luke 18:22–23.) Whether it is walking away without looking back from “great possessions” (Mark 10:22), or from a prominent place in the secular synagogue (see John 12:42–43), or from proud but erroneous attitudes accrued over the years, or merely “straightway” from fishing nets (Mark 1:18), the test is always the same.
“With honest, individualized introspection, each of us could name what we yet lack—and in my case more than one thing.”
Elder Maxwell said, “Suppose Enoch had demurred when called by the Lord? He would have gone on being a good person, serving the Lord part-time, living in a city which was a slum compared to the glorious City of Enoch; nor would Enoch be a part of that scene of glorious greeting yet to come. (See Moses 7:63.)
“Suppose Peter had not left his nets “straightway”? (See Mark 1:18.) He might have become the respected president of the local Galilean fishermen’s association. But he would not have been on the Mount of Transfiguration with Jesus, Moses, and Elias and heard the voice of God. (See Matt. 17:4.)
The spiritual power that comes with true submission to the Lord sings from our history and scripture. In 1840 when the Quorum of the Twelve was called to serve missions in the British Isles, Wilford Woodruff went right to the heart of industrial England to the Staffordshire potteries, where in their gray factories, the people sweated their lives away creating bone china.
There he found a branch of sixty members under the direction of a potter, Alfred Cordon, who labored six days a week and preached five evenings a week and three times on the Sabbath. Interest in the gospel had taken hold of the people there and Wilford preached to crowded congregations, then on Sunday, March 1 an unusual thing happened.
Wilford recounted, “I…met with a large assembly of the Saints and strangers, and while singing the first hymn the spirit of the Lord rested upon me and the voice of God said to me, ‘This is the last meeting that you will hold with this people for many days.’ I was astonished at this, as I had many appointments in the district.”
I might be tempted at this point to hesitate, pointing out to the Lord that these appointments were important to me, and I didn’t think this was the best time to leave such a promising field of labor. I might have held back, asked if I could just leave a few weeks later when I could work it into my appointment book.
This is what Wilford actually did. “In the morning, I went in secret before the Lord, and asked Him what was His will concerning me. The answer I received was that I should go to the south; for the Lord had a great work for me to perform there, as many souls were waiting for His word.”
That prayer was on Monday, March 2 and by Wednesday March 4 he had already traveled the considerable distance to Herefordshire where he stayed with a brother of one of his friends from Staffordshire.
That man happened to be John Benbow, a wealthy farmer and member of the United Brethren—a group of 600 hundred members, including 50 preachers, who had been praying with much eagerness in their search for the truth.
Wilford captures the electricity in his journal, “On Saturday the 7th, I spent the day in preparing a pool for baptizing, for I saw there was much to be done. Sunday the 8th, I preached at Br. Benbow’s before a large congregation and baptized seven, four were preachers. On the 9th I preached at Standly Hill and baptized seven, two were preachers. On the 10th, I preached again at Br. Benbow’s and baptized twelve, three were preachers. “
Look at that timing. He had just had the impression to leave on Sunday, been given directions to head south on Monday, and by Wednesday night he was at the Benbow farm. By Saturday he was clearing a pool for baptisms.
He said, “This people universally felt willing to hear a matter before they condemned it.” They opened their doors for me to preach, and searched the scriptures daily to see if the things which I taught were true.”
Astonishing work flew across the countryside and stirred the minister in Frooms Hill to action. He sent the constable to arrest Wilford on the only count he could think of—preaching without a license, but according to Wilford, he sent the wrong man. As the constable waited for Wilford to conclude, he was touched by the Spirit and requested Brother Woodruff to baptize him.
Next the preacher sent two clerks. They two were baptized.
Wilford said, “In fine I never had seen such a work before, and the like had not been known in the last days. It was not the work of man but the work of God, the power of God was among the people, and his spirit was like a rushing mighty wind in our midst from time to time until multitudes were stirred up to inquire into these things. If anyone asks why these things are so, I answer, because the Lord is about to make a short work in England.”
Of the 600 United Brethren, all were baptized but one. Wilford’s day of decision to trust the Lord and follow him exactly had yielded eternal dividends.
He wasn’t the only one. John and Jane Benbow had only been baptized a month when they came to Wilford and said they had read in the New Testament how in the days of the Apostles, church members had sold all their possessions and laid them at the apostles’ feet, and they felt it was their duty to fulfill that law and do the same thing.
It was a moment Wilford would never forget, though he refused their offer. Still that spirit continued to animate their lives. The Benbows would substantially finance the printing of the Book of Mormon in England, pay for at least forty of the United Brethren to make their journey to Zion, and later put up bail to help keep the Prophet Joseph out of jail. They had come to a day of decision to give their lives to the Lord and they kept it.
Alma was so clear about his decision to give his all to the Lord, that though he was reviled, spit upon, and ridden out of Ammonihah on a rail, he did something remarkable. On his way out of town, when he must have been feeling much relieved to be away from such assault, an angel appeared to him, telling him that he must return to the very city where he had just been attacked.
If I were Alma, I’d be tempted to say, “Other towns look much better. Do you see these scuffs on my soul from abuse?” I would be tempted to pull out a map and say, “You can’t mean this city.”
Instead, he returned “speedily.” Oh that word. Not with reluctance or asking perhaps for a day or two to nurse his emotional wounds. No, he returned “speedily.” He was acting on a day of decision he had made long before to belong whole-heartedly to the Lord.
We may have many fine qualities. We may be doing good things. Gordon B. Hinckley, after all, was already a missionary before his day of decision. Yet, there has to come a day, that we quit putting off, when we kneel with whole soul energy and give ourselves to God.
Only we know what part of us we are holding back. It may be a lack of faith. It might be fear that he might ask too much of us. Or we might be like the father of the son with a dumb spirit who sought the Lord to heal him, “Lord, I believe, help thou mine unbelief.”
We might not yet have really learned beyond lip service who God really is. Elder Maxwell said, “Required, in particular, is meekness of mind which recognizes God’s perfect love of us and His omniscience. By acknowledging these reassuring realities and accepting that God desires our full development and true happiness, we are readied even as the learning experiences come.”
He added, “It is so easy to be half-hearted, but this only produces half the growth, half the blessings, and just half a life, really, with more bud than blossom.”
There may be something more that awaits us; there may be joy beyond our imagining. But to find that we have to come to that day of decision as did Gordon B. Hinckley, Wilford Woodruff, Jane and John Benbow, Enoch, Peter, Alma and all our spiritual heroes who point the way. Why not make that day of decision today?
garyAugust 3, 2016
I believe the Lord guides each of us on our spiritual journey. I believe I was suppose to read this article at this time. I had never heard of Meridian Magazine until yesterday and it was a most unusual set of circumstances that brought this article to my attention. My thanks to Maurine Proctor for writing it.
Jeri BlackJuly 29, 2016
I serve in the Washington Kennewick mission office. A painting of the Benbow farm is on the wall above my desk. I knew the farm had a part in Church history, but didn't know the story. Thank you for this article about many who came to a day of decision. I can now share the story of the Benbow family with my fellow missionaries.