When Thomas Monson, the Mormon prophet, was about twelve or thirteen years old, he had an opportunity to save someone’s life. For him, it was a lesson in how God does His work through others, placing them where they are needed, and also in the importance of being prepared to serve wherever God needs you.
His family spent summers in Provo Canyon in Utah. He learned to swim in the Provo River and often enjoyed leisurely afternoons floating down it in an old inner tube taken from a tractor. He knew every bit of the river and so was not afraid of it.
For those less familiar with the river, however, there were sometimes dangers. The Greek-speaking people in Provo held an annual picnic along the river and some enjoyed taking time to swim. This particular year the swimmers entered the water late in the day, when everyone else was gone. Their swimming experience was with swimming pools, not rapidly flowing rivers and one woman fell from a rock. No one with her could swim well enough to go after her, since this was the fastest spot in the river.
Thomas Monson was just entering the areas when he heard people shouting for help. She went under twice before he could reach the woman and just as she started to go under the third time, he was able to grab her with his hand. He pulled her into his tube and delivered her to slower part of the river to her waiting family. He was, as most boys that age would be, embarrassed when they began hugging and kissing him, thanking him for saving her. As quickly as possible, he escaped their praise and continued his journey. He began to realize that he, just a young boy, had been given a chance to save a life.
Of this experience, he wrote:
Heavenly Father had heard the cries, “Save her! Save her,” and permitted me, a deacon, to float by at precisely the time I was needed. That day I learned that the sweetest feeling in mortality is to realize that God, our Heavenly Father, knows each one of us and generously permits us to see and to share His divine power to save (Thomas S. Monson, “Who Honors God, God Honors”, October 1995 General Conference).
In years to come, Thomas Monson would have other opportunities to save lives, most often through his priesthood. The Mormon church has a lay ministry and all boys and men ages twelve and older who are worthy may receive this priesthood. This is why President Monson referred to himself as a deacon in the above quote. That is the first priesthood office a young man holds.
Older priesthood officers are given the gift of the laying on of hands. When a person is sick, injured, or in need of comfort or guidance, priesthood holders may place their hands on that person’s head, and through the priesthood power given to them by God, may offer a prayer that can bring, through God, healing. Not all who receive a blessing are healed, of course. Everyone must at some time die and sometimes our trials are for our own good or serve another purpose. However, the blessing places the recipient firmly in God’s hands and brings assurance that all will be as God plans it.
He tells the story of the first time he was called on to use his priesthood to heal someone:
During the final phases of World War II, I turned 18 and was ordained an elder—one week before I departed for active duty with the navy. A member of my ward bishopric was at the train station to bid me farewell. Just before train time, he placed in my hand a book which I hold before you tonight. Its title: The Missionary’s Hand Book. I laughed and commented, “I’ll be in the navy—not on a mission.” He answered, “Take it anyway. It may come in handy.”
It did. During basic training our company commander instructed us concerning how we might best pack our clothing in a large seabag. He then advised, “If you have a hard, rectangular object you can place in the bottom of the bag, your clothes will stay more firm.” I thought, “Where am I going to find a hard, rectangular object?” Suddenly I remembered just the right rectangular object—The Missionary’s Hand Book. And thus it served for 12 weeks at the bottom of that seabag.
The night preceding our Christmas leave, our thoughts were, as always, on home. The barracks were quiet. Suddenly I became aware that my buddy in the adjoining bunk—a member of the Church, Leland Merrill—was moaning in pain. I asked, “What’s the matter, Merrill?”
He replied, “I’m sick. I’m really sick.”
I advised him to go to the base dispensary, but he answered knowingly that such a course would prevent him from being home for Christmas. I then suggested he be quiet so that we didn’t awaken the entire barracks.
The hours lengthened; his groans grew louder. Then, in desperation, he whispered, “Monson, aren’t you an elder?” I acknowledged this to be so, whereupon he pleaded, “Give me a blessing.”
I became very much aware that I had never given a blessing. I had never received such a blessing; I had never witnessed a blessing being given. My prayer to God was a plea for help. The answer came: “Look in the bottom of the seabag.” Thus, at 2:00 a.m. I emptied on the deck the contents of the bag. I then took to the night-light that hard, rectangular object, The Missionary’s Hand Book, and read how one blesses the sick. With about 120 curious sailors looking on, I proceeded with the blessing. Before I could stow my gear, Leland Merrill was sleeping like a child.
The next morning, Merrill smilingly turned to me and said, “Monson, I’m glad you hold the priesthood!” His gladness was only surpassed by my gratitude—gratitude not only for the priesthood but for being worthy to receive the help I required in a time of desperate need and to exercise the power of the priesthood” (Thomas S. Monson, “The Priesthood—a Sacred Gift”, April 2007 General Conference address).
Today, as the Mormon prophet, Thomas Monson is involved in an even more important role as a life saver. Today, his primary responsibility is to lead people to be saved in the kingdom of God. He is specifically called to testify of Jesus Christ and to encourage people to love and follow Jesus.
One of the many testimonies Thomas Monson has offered of the Savior is this:
With all my heart and the fervency of my soul, I lift up my voice in testimony as a special witness and declare that God does live. Jesus is His Son, the Only Begotten of the Father in the flesh. He is our Redeemer; He is our Mediator with the Father. He it was who died on the cross to atone for our sins. He became the firstfruits of the Resurrection. Because He died, all shall live again. “Oh, sweet the joy this sentence gives: ‘I know that my Redeemer lives!’” May the whole world know it and live by that knowledge, I humbly pray, in the name of Jesus Christ, the Lord and Savior, amen (Thomas S. Monson, “I Know That My Redeemer Lives!”, April 2007 General Conference).