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15 Unexpected Stories from General Conference


Singing in Japanese

Boyd K. Packer, "An Appeal to Prospective Elders," April 1975

I never thought I would get the chance to hear Boyd K. Packer sing a nursery song in Japanese. To watch the song, skip to 6:13 in the talk.

During World War II, I was a pilot in the Air Force. After service in the Pacific Islands, I spent a year in Japan with the occupational forces. It was, of course, advisable to learn a few words of Japanese. We needed at least to be able to ask directions, ask for something to eat.

I learned the common greetings and a few of the numbers and the salutations, and like many other members of the Church, I spent all my off-duty hours in missionary work among the Japanese people; and I learned from them those few words of what I thought was a very difficult language.

In July of 1946 the first baptisms took place in Osaka. Brother and Sister Tatsui Sato were baptized. And while they had been taught for the most part by others, I was privileged to baptize Sister Sato.

Though we were not unhappy in Japan, there was really only one thing on our minds, and that was home! I had been away for nearly four years. The war was over, and I wanted to go home.

When that day finally arrived, I supposed never to return to Japan, and I just closed that chapter.

The next years saw me busy getting an education, raising a family. I was not around Japanese people and had no occasion to use those few words that I had learned. They were left in the dim and very distant past, erased by 26 years of forgetting—gone, as I thought, forever. Then came an assignment to Japan.

The morning after my arrival in Tokyo, I was leaving the mission home with President Abo when a Japanese elder spoke to him in Japanese. President Abo said that the matter was urgent and apologized for the delay.

He went through some papers with the elder, discussing them in Japanese. Then he held up one of the letters and, pointing to a sentence, he said, “Korewa …”

And before he could complete the sentence I had completed it in my mind. Korewa nan desuka. I knew what he was saying. I knew what he was asking the elder. Korewa nan desuka means “What is this?” After 26 years, having been back in Japan but overnight, a sentence had come back into my mind—Korewa nan desuka, “What is this?”

I had not used those words in 26 years. I had thought that I should never use them again. But they were not lost.

I spent ten days in Japan and concluded my tour in Fukuoka. The morning I was to leave, we drove to the airport with Brother and Sister Watanabe. I was in the backseat with their children practicing my long-lost words of Japanese on them. They, in delight, were teaching me some new ones.

And then I recalled a little song that I had learned those 26 years before, and I sang it to those children:

Momotaro-san, Momotaro-sanOkoshi ni tsuketa kibi dangoHitotsu watashi ni kudasai na

I think that may make Brother Ottley restless, but …

Sister Watanabe said, “I know that song.” And so we sang it together to the little children and then she told me the meaning of it, and as she did so, I remembered that also.

It is the story of a Japanese couple who were childless, and they had prayed for a son. One day, in the stone of a large peach, they found a little boy and they named him Momotaro. The song recounts his heroism in saving his people from a terrible enemy.

I had known that song for 26 years, but I didn’t know that I knew it. I had never sung the song to my own children. I had never told them the story of it. It had been smothered under 26 years of attention to other things.

I have thought that a most important experience and realized finally that nothing good is ever lost.

Marshmallow Experiment

Dieter F. Uchtdorf, "Continue in Patience," April 2010

What an interesting study as well as a refreshing way to begin a talk. Do you think you could have waited? 

In the 1960s, a professor at Stanford University began a modest experiment testing the willpower of four-year-old children. He placed before them a large marshmallow and then told them they could eat it right away or, if they waited for 15 minutes, they could have two marshmallows.

He then left the children alone and watched what happened behind a two-way mirror. Some of the children ate the marshmallow immediately; some could wait only a few minutes before giving in to temptation. Only 30 percent were able to wait.

It was a mildly interesting experiment, and the professor moved on to other areas of research, for, in his own words, “there are only so many things you can do with kids trying not to eat marshmallows.” But as time went on, he kept track of the children and began to notice an interesting correlation: the children who could not wait struggled later in life and had more behavioral problems, while those who waited tended to be more positive and better motivated, have higher grades and incomes, and have healthier relationships.

What started as a simple experiment with children and marshmallows became a landmark study suggesting that the ability to wait—to be patient—was a key character trait that might predict later success in life. 

Waiting can be hard. Children know it, and so do adults. We live in a world offering fast food, instant messaging, on-demand movies, and immediate answers to the most trivial or profound questions. We don’t like to wait. Some even feel their blood pressure rise when their line at the grocery store moves slower than those around them.

Patience—the ability to put our desires on hold for a time—is a precious and rare virtue. We want what we want, and we want it now. Therefore, the very idea of patience may seem unpleasant and, at times, bitter.

Nevertheless, without patience, we cannot please God; we cannot become perfect. Indeed, patience is a purifying process that refines understanding, deepens happiness, focuses action, and offers hope for peace.

Stranger in the Night

Spencer W. Kimball, "The Rewards, the Blessings, the Promises," October 1973

I like the gothic, mysterious flourish this story brings to President Kimball's talk. The story begins at 1:00.

A story is written by Roy H. Stetler, publisher of a religious journal in the East:

“It occurred outside the Crimean Castle of Livadia. The castle was aglow with lights. A soldier was pacing in carefully measured steps back and forth, guarding the castle, which, at the moment, housed within its walls a most momentous conference of world men. The soldier appeared proud of his task, for what soldier would not like to tell his children, and grandchildren, that he had once done guard duty for the momentous meeting of the ‘Big Three.’

“Suddenly, out of the darkness, like a phantom, a figure appeared on the path that led to the entrance of the castle. As the figure approached, the guard commanded, ‘Halt! Who goes there? Come hither and make yourself known!’ And with that the guard quickly took his gun from his shoulder and poised it for any emergency.

“The stranger spoke. ‘I wish to meet with the men who are in the castle.’

“‘Preposterous!’ exclaimed the guard. ‘You cannot enter the castle. Do you not know that the “Big Three” are meeting to decide the course of the whole world? No one is permitted to enter.’

The man replied, ‘You say it is the “Big Three”? Why are they called the “Big Three”?’

“‘They are they,’ said the guard, ‘who shall say how this world shall be ruled.’

“The stranger looked intensely at the guard. His eyes flashed as he said, ‘That is why I must be with them, because I can help them. I have a plan that will really work, and will keep the peace of the world, if they will only adopt my plan.’

“The soldier laughed. ‘Go on your way, man; you have no credentials.’

“The man replied, ‘Credentials? Perhaps not—here.’ And he raised his hand in salute as he left. The guard saw an ugly scar in his hand. Then he looked at the other hand, and it, too, had a scar.

“‘You were in battle?’ he asked, a little more gently. ‘I see wounds in your hands.’

“The stranger turned again. ‘No, I did not think you would notice,’ he replied. ‘No, I did not receive these wounds in battle.’ With that, he disappeared suddenly, as if the darkness had enveloped him.

“The guard looked after him, and marveled. ‘I should have known!’ he exclaimed. ‘If only I had let him in!’ And he slumped to the ground in dismay.”

This was he who brought blessings to all the inhabitants of the earth. This was he who spoke of those who would ask the stranger this question:

“What are these wounds in thine hands and in thy feet? Then shall they know that I am the Lord; for I will say unto them: These wounds are the wounds with which I was wounded in the house of my friends. I am he who was lifted up. I am Jesus that was crucified. I am the Son of God.” 

Can You Hear the Music?

Wilford W. Andersen, "The Music of the Gospel," April 2015

Profound and filled with melodic and musical imagery, this entire talk is one worth listening to again and again!

Years ago I listened to a radio interview of a young doctor who worked in a hospital in the Navajo Nation. He told of an experience he had one night when an old Native American man with long braided hair came into the emergency room. The young doctor took his clipboard, approached the man, and said, “How can I help you?” The old man looked straight ahead and said nothing. The doctor, feeling somewhat impatient, tried again. “I cannot help you if you don’t speak to me,” he said. “Tell me why you have come to the hospital.”

The old man then looked at him and said, “Do you dance?” As the young doctor pondered the strange question, it occurred to him that perhaps his patient was a tribal medicine man who, according to ancient tribal customs, sought to heal the sick through song and dance rather than through prescribing medication.

“No,” said the doctor, “I don’t dance. Do you dance?” The old man nodded yes. Then the doctor asked, “Could you teach me to dance?”

The old man’s response has for many years caused me much reflection. “I can teach you to dance,” he said, “but you have to hear the music.”

Sometimes in our homes, we successfully teach the dance steps but are not as successful in helping our family members to hear the music. And as the old medicine man well knew, it is hard to dance without music.

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