SANTA ROSA, Calif. Elder Ronald A. Rasband had planned for months to be in Northern California during the last weekend in October to take part in a religious liberties conference.
But the Apostle is certain God wanted him here to pray, cry and serve alongside the many Latter-day Saints who are suffering following several disastrous wildfires.
Over a three-day period he met with dozens of members who had lost almost all they owned to this historic catastrophe.
Ministering in Santa Rosa
Hundreds of fire-weary Latter-day Saints gathered Oct. 27 in the Santa Rosa California Stake Center for a devotional presided over by Elder Rasband. The evening began and ended with two hymns they had surely sung many times before.
But for this congregation, those familiar songs — “Where Can I Turn for Peace?” and “Put Your Shoulder to the Wheel” — have taken on new, deeper meanings.
More than 50 Mormon families from the North Bay region lost their homes to the recent wildfires. Hundreds more stepped forward in myriad ways to help their devastated friends and neighbors.
Latter-day Saints were sustained during the recent disaster by, first, praying for peace — and second, by putting “shoulders to the wheel” and serving any and all in need.
Difficult days remain in Santa Rosa and neighboring communities, particularly for those who lost almost everything they own to the historic disaster. But better days also await, promised Elder Rasband.
“We can go forward with hope and with faith in our Savior, Jesus Christ,” he said.
Elder Rasband’s wife, Sister Melanie Rasband, offered assuring words at Friday’s devotional. Primary general president, Sister Joy Jones, and her husband, Brother Robert Jones, who are former residents of Santa Rosa, also shared remarks.
Santa Rosa California Stake President Gary Kitchen spoke briefly at the beginning of the devotional.
Elder Rasband said he had long known he would be in the area for a religious liberties conference in Sacramento.
“I did not know you would be devastated by these horrific fires,” he said.
But his presence in the Santa Rosa area was no coincidence. Elder Rasband said he could trace the Lord’s hand directing his visit.
He assured the Mormon families who had lost their homes — including many who attended Friday’s event — that they were loved by President Thomas S. Monson, the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.
The Brethren, he said, continue to pray for the Latter-day Saints in California’s fire-damaged regions.
Elder Rasband spoke of meeting with President Monson a few years ago before meeting with members in Oklahoma who had been severely impacted by tornadoes. He asked the Church president what he would say to those in crisis.
President Monson’s message for the Oklahoma members, said Elder Rasband, surely extend to the California members following the recent fires:
1. “Tell them I love them.”
2. “Let them know I am praying for them.”
3. “Thank all of those who are helping.”
Utilizing teachings from the scriptures, Elder Rasband counseled the Santa Rosa members to trust in the Lord, know that He visits His people in their afflictions, and look to the Lord to find hope, peace and purpose. He is eager to bless His followers.
And “continue to serve and care for one another,” said Elder Rasband. “Don’t stop doing the little things that add up.”
Sister Rasband said the Savior — who has suffered more than any other — knows well the suffering many have felt in Northern California.
“I have no doubt that in His heart He has cried for each one of you,” she said.
Because of the Savior’s Atonement, their hardships will end. Find hope by continuing to serve others. “We can do all things through God, who strengthens us,” said Sister Rasband.
Sister Jones marveled at the many emotions she felt being in Santa Rosa. It was joyful being among old friends and people she loved. “But my heart has been wounded these past few weeks” because of the disastrous wildfires.
The Joneses are mourning the recent loss of their 39-year-old son Trevor, who had fought a long battle with cancer. Watching Trevor suffer caused his parents great pain, but they never lost their gratitude for God. They fasted, prayed and welcomed the Lord’s revelations. They discovered eternal perspective through His clarifying comfort. They knew they could trust God even in their grief.
“The trials you have endured are an opportunity for your spiritual growth,” said Sister Jones.
Brother Jones spoke of the lifelong lessons he and his family learned when they lived in Santa Rosa. It was a blessing to be back among old friends.
“You are still our brothers and sisters in the Lord,” he said.
President Kitchen reminded those who had lost homes — and perhaps hope — to the fires that they are never alone.
“We want you to know that you are loved and that we are here to help,” he said.
Small miracles, he added, were witnessed during the disaster as folks stepped forward in “small but powerful” ways to help those in need.
Hopeful messages in rural Loma Rica
The Rasbands and the Joneses also participated in Sabbath-day sacrament services Oct. 29 with members from the Loma Rica Ward of the Yuba City California Stake.
The Latter-day Saints living in this rural, agriculturally rich area of north central California have endured their own fire-related tragedies in recent weeks. High winds and dry conditions prompted multiple wildfires in Yuba and Butte counties.
Eleven Mormon families lost their homes. Many others had homes or properties significantly damaged by the flames.
Meanwhile, members from across the region have stepped up to help.
“At any moment anyone had a need, [the members] mobilized” and served, said Yuba City California Stake President Stephen F. Hammarstrom.
In his remarks, Elder Rasband noted he’s no stranger to the Yuba City stake. He reorganized the stake 11 years ago. But Sunday was the first time he’d visited rural Loma Rica.
Given his broad ecclesiastical duties, he’s seldom able to attend sacrament meeting with Sister Rasband. “Just to be with you for your sacrament services is special — don’t ever take it for granted,” he said.
Elder Rasband assured the Loma Rica members that the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles — along with members across the globe — were praying for them.
He again shared President Monson’s message of concern: We love you. We are praying for you. We are thankful for all those who are helping.
Ultimately, he said, the greatest support they can receive is from the Lord. He desires to heal all who suffer from any affliction — be they physical, emotional or spiritual.
Priesthood blessings can help sustain and uplift people during these challenging times. “Brethren, be liberal in your offers to give priesthood blessings,” he encouraged.
Sister Rasband said it was God’s design for an apostle and the other visitors to be with the Loma Rica members during their struggles. She marveled at the unity that exists across the Church whenever Latter-day Saints gather together.
“In each place the sacrament will be the same,” she said. “The priesthood will be the same.”
Elder Paul H. Watkins, an Area Seventy, said that rich blessings often come from struggles. He spoke of his certainty in the plan of salvation. Through that plan, “we have a perfect opportunity to become like Him.”
His wife, Sister Dena Watkins, read a few lines from the hymn “Where Can I Turn for Peace?” Christ, she said offers His peace to all who suffer.
“Love is a great gift Heavenly Father has given us,” said Sister Joy Jones.
She added she was grateful for the many Latter-day Saints across the Golden State “who have put their shoulder to the wheel” and cared for others.
Experiencing disasters such as the recent wildfires can be frightening, she said. But hope in Christ and His gospel can replace fears.
The Lord wants to bless His people, she said. Not just during “severe and desperate” moments — but at all times.
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