Search and Rescue

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Thomas S. Monson

Brethren, in our priesthood callings I am confident we at times wonder if we are affecting the lives of others in a favorable manner. The instructor in the quorum who prepares so diligently, the home teachers who put aside their own convenience and carry a message to the families upon whom they call, and the quorum officers who reach out to rescue perhaps will never fully know the far-reaching influence of their service. This is particularly true of the faithful missionaries who day after day carry on in the service of the Master. Never complaining, ever serving, always sacrificing for the benefit of others, these noble servants deserve our undying gratitude and our fervent prayers.

The simple words from Ecclesiastes, or the Preacher, carry an assurance that brings comfort and inspires effort: "Cast thy bread upon the waters: for thou shalt find it after many days."

Such was my experience as pertains to President George H. Watson, who today serves as first counselor in the Naperville Illinois Stake presidency.

Brother Watson wrote a letter to me, never mailed, dated 3 October 1978 which tells of his conversion to the Church and of his baptism, which took place in the summer of 1959 in eastern Canada, where I served as the mission president at that time. I did not receive this letter until this past year, when it was carried to me by Elder John E. Fowler, who discovered its existence while visiting with the Watson family following a stake conference in Naperville. Both Brother Watson and I have some modest reluctance in sharing with you his private letter, but feeling the impression that the account would help to encourage many of you brethren participating in this worldwide priesthood meeting this evening, we shall do so.

I will conclude by reading President Watson's own words. He wrote:

"Dear Elder Monson:

"This is a letter out of the blue. Its purpose is to thank you for the letters you wrote some twenty years ago—one to me and the other about me—and to let you know the effect they had on my life.

"My name is George Watson. In 1957, at the age of twenty-one, I emigrated from Ireland, where I had grown up, to Canada. The main purpose of going to Canada was to put together sufficient money to do postgraduate work at London University.

"The firm for which I worked was in Niagara Falls, and I found a room at the ridiculously inexpensive cost of $6.00 per week. The only drawback was that I had to drive the landlady—age seventy-three—to church each Sunday in St. Catharines, Ontario.

"I soon found this chore to be very annoying, as she used the twenty-five-minute drive to try to get me to see the missionaries from her church. I resisted this very effectively for better than a year, until one day she told me that there were two young ladies coming to supper, and would I care to join them. It is very difficult to be rude to lady missionaries!

"I did a great deal of thinking over the next few months and decided that although what eleven sets of missionaries were telling me felt right, I would have to give up too much, besides which I was fed up running my landlady to church. In order to stop her asking for the ride, I decided to take her half an hour late on the next Sunday and to go in and sit with her in an open-neck shirt, sneakers, and sports slacks. I thought this would embarrass her and she would not ask me again.

"My plan worked perfectly, except that she was not annoyed at being late, and I made as much impact as a damp squid. We arrived just as the Sunday School was splitting for class. I would not go into class and spent my time talking to a very fine man who was crippled and who 'understood' me. As I was to return to Ireland eight days later (July 1959), he suggested that I should join the Church on the Saturday before I left. He was to call and confirm this during the week, but I effectively countered this by not answering the phone all week. On Sunday, after a sleepless night, I phoned him to apologize and was baptized in Hamilton virtually on the way to the airport—knowing that I would never meet any Mormons in Ireland and that the Church would lose track of me.

"I have no idea, President Monson, where you found my address in Ireland, but on the Friday after I returned, I had a letter from you welcoming me into the Church, and on Sunday at 9:00 A.M. there was a knock on the door and a President Lynn stood on the doorstep saying he had had a letter from President Monson in Toronto asking him to watch over me.

"The next few months or years were traumatic. Three meetings on a Sunday were entirely unreasonable: no way I would speak in front of that group; they can't expect more than 10 percent. Even more traumatic: my girlfriend set out to show me how ridiculous I was. She ended up being baptized.

"We now live in Illinois with three wonderful children. I often sit and ponder why the Lord has blessed us so greatly. We have all had reason to feel His sustaining hand in difficult times.

"Although it is unlikely that we will ever meet, I would like to very sincerely thank you for taking the trouble to write those two letters. They have completely changed the course of our lives. I am grateful for the knowledge of the Savior's purpose in coming to earth, my relationship to Him, and what He expects of me. The courage and steadfastness of Joseph Smith, the Prophet, and the knowledge that he imparted to us will always be a source of inspiration to me. I am thrilled at the opportunity of serving in the Lord's church.

"May the Lord continue to bless you in His work, and thank you for the effect you have had on my life."

"[signed] George Watson"

This past Christmas, when George Watson and his beloved Chloe came to Salt Lake City to visit two of their children and a son-in-law, they came to my office, that we might formally meet. They expressed their testimonies and again conveyed their thanks for all who had participated in this human drama, this miracle in our time. Tears flowed, prayers were offered, and gratitude conveyed.

Thomas S. Monson, "Search and Rescue," Ensign, May 1993, 48 (Excerpt)