EL CAJON, California It's been some two weeks since wildfires claimed the houses of dozens of LDS families in Southern California, yet a smoky stench remains. Also lingering is the sting of losing family heirlooms, beloved treasures and the security and comfort found only inside one's own four walls.
Still, history has shown Church members to be a scrappy lot. LDS victims of the 2003 California wildfires will survive, learn, and move forward, promised President Boyd K. Packer, acting president of the Quorum of the Twelve.
"You'll discover you have a strength, resilience and resourcefulness that you didn't know you had," President Packer told hundreds of fire-weary, San Diego-area members gathered for a special Sabbath meeting Nov. 3 in the El Cajon California Stake Center.
Elder Henry B. Eyring of the Twelve presided over a similar meeting at the Highland California Stake Center near San Bernardino. President Packer was accompanied by Elder Lynn G. Robbins of the Seventy and president of the North America West Area. Elder Eyring was joined in San Bernardino by Elder Ned C. Roueche of the Seventy, Elder Robbins' second counselor.
The Church leaders also toured areas visited by the recent devastation, stopping at the burned-out remains where member houses once stood.
President Packer and Elder Eyring used the historic gatherings to offer comfort and counsel. They then invoked apostolic blessings of faith, happiness and peace upon their respective audiences.
During the El Cajon meeting, President Packer emphasized that "houses" are mere shelters that can be claimed by fire and catastrophe. A "home," however, is that priceless possession of family and gospel that can stand strong against the world's flames and perils. Homes should be carefully guarded.
"You don't have a house at the moment, but keep your home together. Keep your family together," President Packer counseled those whose houses burned.
For fire victims who ask "why?" remember, life on earth is defined by tests and trials, President Packer said. "But you can take it. You do take it; and you begin to comfort those around you."
He recalled accompanying President Spencer W. Kimball on a tour of Rexburg, Idaho, in the aftermath of the Teton Dam tragedy in 1976. Hundreds of LDS families lost their homes to the floods, but President Packer recalled the happiness of many who had suffered great temporal loss. They were grounded, he suggested, in the gospel and "home."
Still, some Teton flood victims would demonstrate inappropriate opportunism, building new houses that were twice as big as the ones lost to flooding. "The element of greed seemed to move in," said President Packer. He admonished California fire victims to "be wise" in future rebuilding decisions.
President Packer then counseled parents of young children and teens impacted by the fires: "Listen to [your children.] Counsel them and talk them through it."
Elder Robbins thanked those who demonstrated charity in the destruction's aftermath. Life's problems, he said, offer precious service opportunities. "It is only through a problem that Good Samaritans are able to rise to the surface."
Meanwhile in San Bernardino, Elder Eyring said the restored Church has learned to cope with difficulty since its beginnings. He recalled the trials endured in Kirtland and later in Nauvoo.
Elder Eyring echoed President Packer's counsel that members who lost their homes should exercise caution during their rebuilding and not overspend.
He also spoke directly to the children: "Heavenly Father loves you. He loves Church members but He doesn't protect them from all difficulty. He knows the larger picture. Just be assured God knows you and loves you."
Elder Eyring counseled affected families to remain loyal to their pre-fire pattern of family home evening, prayer and observing the Sabbath.
Growth can be realized, even amid hardship, Elder Roueche said.
"Sometimes an outward loss opens the door to an inward gain."
Garry Flake contributed to this story
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