In the early 1950s the United States was at war on the Korean peninsula. Because of the draft policy of the government at that time, young men were not allowed to serve missions but instead required to join the military. Knowing this, I enrolled in the Army Reserve Officers’ Training Corps when I went to college. My goal was to become an officer like my oldest brother. However, during a visit home for the Christmas holiday, my home-ward bishop, Vern Freeman, invited me into his office. He advised me that a young Church leader by the name of Brother Gordon B. Hinckley had negotiated an agreement with the U.S. government permitting each ward in the Church in the United States to call one young man to serve a mission. This young man would receive an automatic deferment from the military during his mission.
Bishop Freeman said he had been praying about it and felt he should recommend me to serve as a full-time missionary representing our ward. I explained to him that I had already made other plans—I had enrolled in the Army ROTC and expected to become an officer! My bishop gently reminded me that he had been prompted to recommend me to serve a mission at that particular time. He said, “Go home and talk to your parents and come back this evening with your answer.”
I went home and told my father and mother what had happened. They said the bishop was inspired, and I should happily accept the Lord’s invitation to serve. My mother could see how disappointed I was at the prospect of not becoming an army officer right away. She quoted:
“Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding.
“In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.”
That night I went back to the bishop’s office and accepted his invitation. He told me to go to the Selective Service Office and advise them of my decision.
When I did so, to my surprise the lady who was chairman of the Selective Service Office told me: “If you accept a mission call, you will receive your draft notice before you can reenter Army ROTC. You will serve as an enlisted man, not as an officer.”
Despite this unexpected change, my mission was wonderful. It changed the course of my life as it does for those who serve. But, true to their word, the government sent an induction letter drafting me into the U.S. Army about one month before my mission release.
After boot camp and military police school, I found myself assigned to an army base to work as a military policeman. One night I was given an all-night assignment to escort a convoy of prisoners from one camp to another.
During the night the convoy stopped at a halfway point for a rest. The commanding officer instructed us to go into the restaurant and drink coffee so we could stay awake the rest of the night. Right away he noticed that I declined. He said, “Soldier, you need to drink some coffee to stay awake the rest of this trip. I do not want any prisoners escaping or causing trouble on my watch.”
I said, “Sir, I respectfully decline. I am a Mormon, and I don’t drink coffee.”
He didn’t care for my answer, and he again admonished me to drink the coffee.
Again, I politely refused. I took my place at the rear of the bus, my weapon in hand, praying in my heart that I would stay awake and never have to use it. The trip ended uneventfully.
A few days later the same commanding officer invited me into his office for a private interview. He told me that even though he had worried that I would not be able to stay awake during the all-night trip, he appreciated that I had stood by my convictions. Then to my amazement he said his assistant was being transferred and he was recommending me to be his new assistant!
For most of the next two years I had many opportunities for leadership and managerial assignments. As it turned out, the positive experiences during my military service were more than I had ever dreamed possible.
From this simple story—and many more like it over the course of my life—I have learned faith and obedience are the answers to our concerns, cares, and suffering. Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ is truly the power that can change our lives and lead us to salvation.
David E. Sorensen, “Faith Is the Answer,” Ensign, May 2005, 72