Just days after my husband, Larry, and I arrived in New York City in late July 2012 to begin our service as missionaries in the New York Office of Public and International Affairs, we learned from our predecessors that we would need to start making plans for the major event of the year. This event would be held on two successive Fridays, Nov. 9 and Nov. 16, 2012, for a large group of consuls and ambassadors and their families. Hosting this dinner required working out many details in a timely fashion. We needed to reserve a venue for the dinner, send out save-the-date cards and invitations, and choose a theme.
Together with our director, Ahmad S. Corbitt, and the other missionary couple, Elder Charles Jones and Sister Ann Jones, we brainstormed for a theme but couldn’t land on just the right one. The previous year’s theme centered on the 75th anniversary of the Welfare Department. One afternoon I suggested to our intern that she and I look through several issues of the Ensign. Almost simultaneously, we turned in different issues to photos of Mormon Helping Hands. We both exclaimed, “Here is our theme!” The rest of the office enthusiastically agreed.
Choosing this theme provided the structure for many of the other details. We gathered photos of Mormon Helping Hands service in many countries of the world and obtained logos of Mormon Helping Hands in numerous languages, both to be displayed on the dinner tables.
Brother Corbitt asked my husband and me to prepare remarks about Mormon Helping Hands to be given at the consuls’ dinner and the Joneses to speak at the ambassadors’ dinner. I researched the history of Mormon Helping Hands and worked on my presentation throughout October.
During late October, Hurricane Sandy roared up the eastern seaboard, wreaking havoc in its path. We watched the news on the evening of Oct. 29, 2012, with a good degree of anxiety as Hurricane Sandy moved closer and closer to the Manhattan area. Hurricane Sandy hit the New Jersey coast, the five boroughs of New York City, Long Island and surrounding areas with fury, causing storm surges, massive flooding, power outages for millions, fallen trees, wind-blown debris, destruction of homes, buildings, ships and vehicles, and at least 53 deaths.
In the days following this hurricane, Church members, especially young adults, and missionaries donned Mormon Helping Hands vests and quickly went to work. Many helpers traveled considerable distances to clean mud out of flooded homes, tear out saturated sheetrock, and haul away debris. The young single adult wards in Manhattan held brief sacrament meetings early on Sunday mornings prior to boarding buses for Far Rockaway, an especially hard-hit area of Long Island.
A week and a half later, we did host our event for the consuls and their families. Afterwards, many of them expressed gratitude for the service rendered by Mormon Helping Hands. Brother Corbitt had received permission from the Area Seventy to offer help to the consuls for their constituents. The Chilean Consul General, in particular, said that hundreds of Chileans on Long Island needed assistance. The following Saturday this consul general saw 40 yellow-vested missionaries from the New York New York South Mission cheerfully attacking the mess. The next time we saw this consul, he thanked us profusely and said what a difference these young people had made for his people.
Who would have known in August 2012 that our Mormon Helping Hands theme would be so timely and so appropriate? That’s what I know now that I didn’t know before my mission: I know that the Lord’s hand guides His work, even to the choosing of a theme for a social event.
Janet Peterson is a counselor in the Relief Society presidency in the Brighton 7th Ward, Cottonwood Heights Utah Brighton Stake.