In the video of LDS Apostle L. Tom Perry’s comments for Special Witnesses of Christ, I am deeply touched by his story of working with other soldiers in post-war Japan to help rebuild Christian churches for the survivors in Nagasaki. They did this in their free time while other soldiers were partying. As these Christian soldiers were about to leave the area, they were mocked by their fellow soldiers for missing out on all the fun. Then something quiet but dramatic occurred that I think stands as a powerful metaphor for the joy that will be experienced by those who served God and their fellow men on this earth, who then begin their journey on that train that takes us beyond mortality.
Here is the text of Elder L. Tom Perry’s comments, one of twelve statements from the Apostles in the 2001 video, Special Witnesses for Christ.
There was an experience in my life which has often reminded me of the joy resulting from asking the question “What would the Savior do in this situation?”
I was among the first wave of Marines to go ashore in Japan after the signing of the peace treaty following World War II. Entering the devastated city of Nagasaki was one of the saddest experiences of my life. A large part of the city had been totally destroyed. Some of the dead had not yet been buried. As occupation troops, we set up headquarters and went to work.
The situation was very bleak, and a few of us wanted to give more. We went to our division chaplain and requested permission to help rebuild the Christian churches. Because of government restrictions during the war, these churches had almost ceased to function. Their few buildings were badly damaged. A group of us volunteered to repair and replaster these chapels during our off-duty time so they would be available for the holding of Christian services again.
We had no command of the language. All we could accomplish was the physical labor of repairing the buildings. We found the ministers who had been unable to serve during the war years and encouraged them to return to their pulpits. We had a tremendous experience with these people as they again experienced the freedom to practice their Christian beliefs.
An event occurred as we were leaving Nagasaki to return home that I will always remember. As we were boarding the train that would take us to our ships to return home, we were teased by a lot of the other Marines. They had their girlfriends with them saying good-bye to them. They laughed at us and indicated that we had missed the fun of being in Japan. We had just wasted our time laboring and plastering walls.
Just as they were at the height of their teasing, up over a little rise near the train station came about 200 of these great Japanese Christians from the churches we had repaired, singing “Onward, Christian Soldiers.” They came down and showered us with gifts. Then they all lined up along the railroad track, and as the train started down the tracks, we reached out and just touched their fingers as we left. We couldn’t speak; our emotions were too strong. But we were grateful that we could help in some small way in reestablishing Christianity in a nation after the war.
I know that God lives. I know that we are all His children and that He loves us. I know that He sent His Son to the world to be an atoning sacrifice for all mankind, and those who embrace His gospel and follow Him will enjoy eternal life, the greatest of all gifts of God. I know that He directed the Restoration of the gospel again here upon the earth through the ministry of the Prophet Joseph Smith. I know that the only lasting joy and happiness we will ever find during our mortal experience will come by following the Savior, obeying His law, and keeping His commandments. He lives. This is my witness to you in His holy name, even Jesus Christ, amen.
Here is an image from the video (rendered in sepia tones) to remind me of the parting of the Christian soldiers just moments after being mocked for wasting their time in selfless service.