Jan. 2019 update: Sadly, the story as told has major gaps, raising multiple red flags. A post at MormonDiscussions lists multiple issues. At the moment I don’t see a plausible way to resolve the concerns.
Listening to General Conference has been a profound pleasure for us over here in China, where this weekend one week after conference is designated as Conference Sunday to solve the time zone problem as we play the recorded sessions. This has been one of my favorite Conferences ever with so much to learn and rejoice over. So positive, so encouraging, so international, so inspiring. I’d like to share a story that I especially enjoyed, one that made me wish it had been published more widely years ago. It involves the terrible time of the Korean War which took away too much from my own father, yet was a time of numerous miracles that helped him develop his own testimony of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in spite of the repeated horror and trauma he faced.
|Ensign Frank Blair|
The story also involves engineers, in this case the engineer of a ship, and reminds us that even highly trained experts make severe mistakes (even some of us chemical engineers are fallible, I’ve been told). It further teaches the power of meek leadership, in this case a ship’s captain who would humbly ask the young temporary chaplain of his ship to pray in a time of emergency, and then later had the daring meekness to accept the prayerful recommendation that his LDS chaplain offered. It made the difference of life and death for the many men on board.
The story is shared by Elder Larry Y. Wilson of the Seventy in “Take the Holy Spirit as Your Guide” given Sunday afternoon. The story was told with the permission of Ensign Frank Blair, who was present at the Conference session as it was told.
Brothers and sisters, it is an extraordinary privilege to “have … the Holy Spirit for [our] guide,” as demonstrated by the following experience.
During the Korean War, Ensign Frank Blair served on a troop transport ship stationed in Japan. The ship wasn’t large enough to have a formal chaplain, so the captain asked Brother Blair to be the ship’s informal chaplain, having observed that the young man was a person of faith and principle, highly respected by the whole crew.
Ensign Blair wrote: “Our ship was caught in a huge typhoon. The waves were about 45 feet [14 m] high. I was on watch … during which time one of our three engines stopped working and a crack in the centerline of the ship was reported. We had two remaining engines, one of which was only functioning at half power. We were in serious trouble.”
Ensign Blair finished his watch and was getting into bed when the captain knocked on his door. He asked, “Would you please pray for this ship?” Of course, Ensign Blair agreed to do so.
At that point, Ensign Blair could have simply prayed, “Heavenly Father, please bless our ship and keep us safe,” and then gone to bed. Instead, he prayed to know if there was something he could do to help ensure the safety of the ship. In response to Brother Blair’s prayer, the Holy Ghost prompted him to go to the bridge, speak with the captain, and learn more. He found that the captain was trying to determine how fast to run the ship’s remaining engines. Ensign Blair returned to his cabin to pray again.
He prayed, “What can I do to help address the problem with the engines?”
In response, the Holy Ghost whispered that he needed to walk around the ship and observe to gather more information. He again returned to the captain and asked for permission to walk around the deck. Then, with a lifeline tied around his waist, he went out into the storm.
Standing on the stern, he observed the giant propellers as they came out of the water when the ship crested a wave. Only one was working fully, and it was spinning very fast. After these observations, Ensign Blair once again prayed. The clear answer he received was that the remaining good engine was under too much strain and needed to be slowed down. So he returned to the captain and made that recommendation. The captain was surprised, telling him that the ship’s engineer had just suggested the opposite—that they increase the speed of the good engine in order to outrun the storm. Nevertheless, the captain chose to follow Ensign Blair’s suggestion and slowed the engine down. By dawn the ship was safely in calm waters.
Only two hours later, the good engine stopped working altogether. With half power in the remaining engine, the ship was able to limp into port.
The captain said to Ensign Blair, “If we had not slowed that engine when we did, we would have lost it in the middle of the storm.”
Without that engine, there would have been no way to steer. The ship would have overturned and been sunk. The captain thanked the young LDS officer and said he believed that following Ensign Blair’s spiritual impressions had saved the ship and its crew.
Now, this story is quite dramatic. While we may be unlikely to face such dire circumstances, this story contains important guidelines about how we can receive the Spirit’s guidance more frequently.
First, when it comes to revelation, we must properly tune our receiver to heaven’s frequency. Ensign Blair was living a clean and faithful life. Had he not been obedient, he would not have had the spiritual confidence necessary to pray as he did for the safety of his ship and to receive such specific guidance. We must each be making the effort to align our lives with God’s commandments in order to be directed by Him.
Sometimes we can’t hear heaven’s signal because we are not worthy. Repentance and obedience are the way to achieve clear communication again. The Old Testament word for repent means “to turn” or “turn around.” When you feel far from God, you need only make the decision to turn from sin and face the Savior, where you will find Him waiting for you, His arms outstretched. He is eager to guide you, and you are just one prayer away from receiving that guidance again.
Second, Ensign Blair did not just ask the Lord to solve his problem. He asked what he could do to be part of the solution. Likewise we might ask, “Lord, what do I need to do to be part of the solution?” Instead of just listing our problems in prayer and asking the Lord to solve them, we ought to be seeking more proactive ways of receiving the Lord’s help and committing to act according to the Spirit’s guidance.
There is a third important lesson in Ensign Blair’s story. Could he have prayed with such calm assurance if he had not received guidance from the Spirit on previous occasions? The arrival of a typhoon is no time to dust off the gift of the Holy Ghost and figure out how to use it. This young man was clearly following a pattern he had used many times before, including as a full-time missionary. We need the Holy Spirit as our guide in calm waters so His voice will be unmistakable to us in the fiercest storm.
Prayers followed by action, seeking to do what we can and striving to learn what we can do, can be vastly more likely to bring results, even miraculous results, than merely uttering a wish. This will be increasingly important for all of us in the Church’s new emphasis of ministering rather than the old and often ineffective home teaching and visiting teaching programs. May we be more anxious to seek revelation on what we can do, how we can help, and who we can help, in our quest to live a Christian life rich in personal revelation.
One part of the story not emphasized in the talk deserves further attention. The real hero here may well have been the non-LDS captain. He first cared enough about the things of God to appoint a temporary chaplain when none was provided or seemingly needed. He then had the faith to turn to a young LDS man who knew how to pray and humbly ask for his prayers as the ship faced potential disaster. And then he had the courage, the faith, the daring meekness and undoubtedly the sensitivity to the Spirit to respect what his young chaplain told him, which was exactly the opposite of what his trained engineer was recommending. Wow. How many leaders of any faith would be able to make that call.
If any of you know the name of the man who was the captain, I’d love to share his name to publicly praise a leader for such courage and meekness. There are two heroes and many lessons in this powerful story.