Isaiah 41 & Ministering in the Lord’s Way

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“Fear not, I am with thee; oh, be not dismayed, For I am thy God and will still give thee aid. I’ll strengthen thee, help thee, and cause thee to stand, Upheld by my righteous, upheld by my righteous, Upheld by my righteous, omnipotent hand… The soul that on Jesus hath leaned for repose, I will not, I cannot, desert to his foes; That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake, I’ll never, no never, I’ll never, no never, I’ll never, no never, no never forsake!” How Firm a Foundation

My wife Linda and I have the great privilege of serving as Temple and Family History Consultants for the Coordinating Council of Osorno in the south of Chile. On 21 April 2018, we participated in a discovery day in the Valdivia Stake, which was about three hours from our home in Llanquihue. We strongly felt the Spirit of Elijah at that beautiful meeting. Several brothers and sisters prepared delicious dishes with family recipes and also shared memories.

We said our goodbyes with strong feelings of gratitude towards the local members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and traveled back home. Typically, my wife drives. We took advantage of the opportunity to talk about our upcoming travels, to delight in the hand of the Lord and in His work, and to make calls related to our calling.

When we were less than an hour from home, the right front wheel fell off into what seemed like a hole (there was only one lane as the other had been closed for repairs). It was dark and it had started to rain.

Linda tried to control the vehicle as it began to spin first to the left and then to the right. A few seconds later the car flew out toward the right side leaving the road behind. It is interesting to consider everything we think about at times like these. I considered, “This cannot be happening as I had specifically prayed for Father’s protection.” I felt the Spirit reassuring me that the Father was still protecting us.

We flew through the air doing a full turn and eventually landed with the driver’s side on the ground. No one must have seen us fly off the road since no one came to rescue us. We were trapped.

My cherished eternal companion and I reassured each other. We had suffered a good scare but were fine. Soon, we realized that because of the darkness and the distance from the highway, that no one would see us.

I made several calls and sent our location via GPS through WhatsApp. When we thought that perhaps no one would find us, my wife started crying. We were in a hole about ten to fifteen meters from the road, with the headlights pointing away from the highway and obscured by bushes of some kind.

Linda had suggested that I get out of the car to try and fetch help. I could not even open my door. The weight of my body was against the seat belt, with the force of gravity making it impossible for me to move.

After 45 minutes, which seemed like an eternity, I could discern that someone was aiming a flashlight at the car. “They’re here!” I told my wife, “they’ve found us!”

The paramedics asked if we were okay. With one hand against the window, I signaled that we were fine. I was surprised when they managed to open the door, as I thought it was stuck shut. It was the force of gravity that had not allowed me to open it.

After the paramedics opened the door, I saw the face of a ministering angel, our Puerto Montt Stake President, Sergio Vargas.

President Vargas looked at me in a most penetrating way, offering his muscular arm and his help. And then he uttered the words which penetrated deeply into my soul:

“Jamás lo soltaré”. (“I’ll never, no never, no never” let you go!)

At that moment, I wept. It was not for fear, but because I felt the Savior speaking to me. Telling me He would never ever let me go. 

The word jamás is very special and not found in all languages. In English, the closest word is “never.” Jamás is a Biblical expresión, לְעוֹלָם לֹא, not ever. The best way to translate it is to repeat the word never, as in I’ll “never, no never, no never.” In Hebrew, the double repetition of a word gives it force, and a triple repetition (emphatic Semitic triplet) gives it the deepest profundity.

President Vargas had pronounced the words with power and authority. I felt the presence of not only my dear President Vargas, but I also perceived that at that moment it was my Savior and Redeemer speaking to me. I immediately remembered one of my favorite scriptures from Isaiah:

“Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness… For I the LORD thy God will hold thy right hand, saying unto thee, Fear not; I will help thee” (Isaiah 41:10, 13).

Back in the car, President Vargas offered me the strength of his arms. Helping him, in turn, was my dear brother Cristian Carrillo. When I took off my seatbelt I fell towards my wife, but I extended both hands to President Vargas who took them in his and lifted me with strength.

The Savior extends His arms towards us continually, inviting us to turn unto Him (שׁוּבוּ). But we must accept that invitation if we wish to be redeemed. We are always given that moral agency to accept or decline. Our Savior, if we accept that tender invitation, tells us: “I’ll never, no never, no never forsake!

Without help, I could not have left the car. Similarly, on our own merits, we cannot be saved. Once I was free of the car, I was able to walk to the ambulance where I had to wait for Linda to arrive. I wanted to offer moral support to my wife but was not permitted to leave. The rest of the cavalry would arrive soon. Also present were my dear branch president President Ferroggiaro, Sister Carol Mansilla and brother Lucho Piña. They had all come to the rescue despite the dangerous weather and road conditions. Many others had been praying for us from Llanquihue and elsewhere—prayers that were answered.

The paramedic had had an interesting and positive encounter with LDS missionaries that day (“they are always smiling,” he shared), and I had the chance to share the Gospel with him while we waited for Linda. Another 45 minutes elapsed before she was released and came to the ambulance, which she also did walking. What joy! The Church members accompanied us to the hospital, took us back home, helped us, and ministered to us in various ways. We felt loved, we felt ministered.

At the April 2018 General Conference, Elder Larry Y. Wilson taught that when we are in the midst of a storm, on a ship that is about to sink, that this is not the time to try to recognize the voice of the Spirit for the first time. When I saw my beloved President Vargas, one of the reasons I was so touched by the words “I’ll never, no never, no never let you go!” is because the person who pronounced them had repeatedly extended his ministering arms to us, especially during the years leading up to our oldest son’s death from Cholangiocarcinoma (liver cancer). It seemed that every time we got news of David’s deteriorating health, President Vargas “just happened” to call.  

When a brother or sister needs to be rescued either physically or spiritually, that may not be the best time to start ministering. It is vital that we really manage to love those people we minister to. In the new program announced by President Russell M. Nelson, we must learn to be ministering angels so that when a brother or a sister needs to be rescued, we may say, “I’ll never, no never, no never forsake!

[Translation note. I wrote this article immediately after the accident. I feel this experience was a gift from Heavenly Father and an opportunity to speak of the Savior’s love. As I began to translate into English, I made the connection with the hymn, “How Great a Foundation.” I was thinking, how can I possibly express the idea of “Jamás” into English? So I began with “never, oh ever.” And as I did, I thought of the favorite LDS & Christian hymn, one which is based on precisely the verses in Isaiah I had quoted in my Spanish original.]

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Gregorio Billikopf belongs to the Llanquihue Branch, Puerto Montt Stake, in the south of Chile. He is the author of Isaiah Testifies of Christ and an emeritus academic of the University of California and professor of the University of Chile; author of Party-Directed Mediation: Facilitating Dialogue between Individuals and other books. Gregorio’s paternal grandparents are Lithuanian Jews and German Jews and on his mother’s side of the family he is Chilean. He found Christ through reading the Book of Mormon. You may contact him through bielikov2@yahoo.cl.

2 COMMENTS

  1. In days gone by, in the Ensign Magazine, I would turn to the Mormon Journal to read convert testimonies. Your story has been that same kind of witness for me. Thanks for sharing.
    Gregorio, this riveting tale has left its mark on me. I’ll never, no never, no never will sing “How Firm a Foundation” the same way again. Growing up in the Church, as boys we used our version of the words and music to play games with ward member names. Because of that, over time I have missed the real message of this hymn. Shame, shame, shame on me.
    And, it was just this month I learned about the emphatic Semitic triplet. I had not known that Hebrew had neither comparative nor superlative forms, but your modern use really brought it home.

  2. Dear Darryl, I was so very touched by your kind words. Indeed, we have so much to be grateful for and our Savior has truly done so much for us. Love, Gregorio

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