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As Typhoon Haiyan was gathering strength in early November, CNN reported that the massive storm — 500-miles wide — would make landfall in the Philippines.
This is the “strongest storm to hit the earth this year,” CNN reported. The “typhoon is equivalent to a category 5 hurricane with winds 190 miles an hour.”
But Latter-day Saints in Tacloban, Philippines, never saw the report. They never heard CNN call Typhoon Haiyan “the strongest storm this year anywhere in the world.”
Their warning came from a different source.
Before the storm made landfall, Tacloban Philippines Stake President Richard A. Abon cautioned local Latter-day Saints about the storm and asked them to take refuge in Church meetinghouses.
Typhoon Haiyan struck the Philippines on Nov. 8, destroying more than 1.1 million homes. The deadliest typhoon on record in the country, the storm left more than 6,200 people dead, injured 28,000 and displaced 3 million. To date, some 1,785 people remain missing.
Everyone who heard and followed President Abon’s direction, and weathered the storm in a meetinghouse, survived the disaster.
President Thomas S. Monson said great strength comes through obedience. “There is no need for you or me in this enlightened age, when the fulness of the gospel has been restored, to sail uncharted seas or travel unmarked roads in search of a ‘fountain of truth,’?” he said. “For a living Heavenly Father has plotted our course and provided an unfailing map — obedience” (Strength through obedience, Ensign, July 1996).
President Monson taught in his April 2013 general conference address that obedience brings blessings.
“We learn obedience throughout our lives. Beginning when we are very young, those responsible for our care set forth guidelines and rules to ensure our safety. Life would be simpler for all of us if we would obey such rules completely. …
“The knowledge which we seek, the answers for which we yearn, and the strength which we desire today to meet the challenges of a complex and changing world can be ours when we willingly obey the Lord’s commandments.”
This doesn’t mean that those who are obedient will live a life free of trial and suffering. That was the experience of Bishop Constancio Lim of the Tacloban 1st Ward. He gathered with Church members and their neighbors in the Tacloban stake center during the storm. The refugees expected high winds and rain. What they didn’t expect, however, was a storm surge.
“It was very frightening to see black water rising” in the stake center, Bishop Lim said.
Panicked, Church members began climbing on tables and chairs. But the water kept rising. Then Bishop Lim remembered there was a ladder in the building’s electrical room. All 361 people in the stake center climbed into the ceiling and stayed there for 11 hours — where they were safe from the rising water below them.
The Lord will bless and help those who are obedient through the storms that come their way.
“I give you my witness that the leaders of this Church will never ask us to do anything that we cannot perform with the help of the Lord,” President Gordon B. Hinckley said. “We may feel inadequate. That which we are asked to do may not be to our liking or fit in with our ideas. But if we will try with faith and prayer and resolution, we can accomplish it.
“I give you my testimony that the happiness of the Latter-day Saints, the peace of the Latter-day Saints, the progress of the Latter-day Saints, the prosperity of the Latter-day Saints, and the eternal salvation and exaltation of this people lie in walking in obedience to the counsels of the priesthood of God” (“If Ye Be Willing and Obedient,” Ensign, December 1971).
The scriptures are full of examples of the importance of obedience.
In one such example, Naaman suffered from a terrible disease and traveled from Syria to Israel to ask the prophet Elisha to heal him. Yet, when Elisha instructed him to wash seven times in the River Jordan, it was hard for him to be obedient to the direction he received.
“Are not [the] rivers of Damascus better than all the waters of Israel? may I not wash in them, and be clean?” he demanded. Angered, he went away. But his servants asked him: “If the prophet had bid thee do some great thing, wouldest thou not have done it? how much rather then, when he saith to thee, Wash, and be clean?”
Naaman decided to obey and was healed (2 Kings 5:1-14).
We have been taught that we should be willing to follow direction given to us by our Church leaders and our Heavenly Father. The Prophet Joseph Smith said, “I made this my rule: When the Lord commands, do it” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith, p. 160).
It has been more than three months since Typhoon Haiyan struck the Philippines. Tacloban is still without electricity. There is rubble in the streets; trees and power lines lay broken and mangled. And foundations or empty shells stand as a reminder of the storm.
Yet members are still finding peace in their meetinghouses. The buildings, once physical refuges from the storm, are now spiritual refuges. Sacrament meeting attendance in the Tacloban stake is higher today than before Typhoon Haiyan.
“Obedience is a hallmark of prophets; it has provided strength and knowledge to them throughout the ages,” said President Monson in his April 2013 general conference address. “It is essential for us to realize that we, as well, are entitled to this source of strength and knowledge.”