My history in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints began way back in 1959 when I was a Scout in the town of Magrath, Alberta. I was the right age, and I had earned all the requirements that made me eligible to attend the “Boy Scout World Jamboree Number 10.” The only thing that I needed was a certain sum of money to submit my application.
When the final day for registration came, however, I had not been able to save the necessary funds. It was one of the saddest days of my life. As I walked home through the school yard, nobody was around, so I knelt by some trees to pray. We had been taught that Jesus had promised in the Sermon on the Mount, “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened” (Matthew 7:7-8).
I think I was expecting the Lord to send an angel with a bag of money so that I could run back to the church and complete my application form. Of course, that did not happen. I sadly made my way home feeling very discouraged.
Serving as a Missionary for Christ
For the next four years of my life, I pretty much lived in the darkness that had surrounded me on the night that I prayed for a miracle and was not answered. Eventually, the light of the gospel again lit up my life as I prepared to serve as a full-time missionary. On the evening that Bishop Nyal Fletcher and I completed my application papers, he asked me where I hoped to serve. I replied, “Just send me someplace far away.”
My mission call was to the Southern Far East Mission, with headquarters in Hong Kong, China. To me, that sounded like a far-away place. I left with the desire to serve God with all my “heart, might, mind and strength” (Doctrine and Covenants 4:2).
When I and six other new elders first met our mission president, he was in a Hong Kong hospital in a complete body cast. President Qualey had recently been run over by an out of control police car and was recovering from numerous broken bones. We were not able to shake his hand but only able to touch fingers (similar to the greeting portrayed many years later in the movie E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial). Next, we all sang a hymn and had a prayer.
Then, President Qualey gave us our assignments: three elders were to work in Taiwan, and three were assigned to stay in Hong Kong. When he looked at me, he said, “Elder Cook, if you can’t sing, you will never be able to speak the Chinese language.” My poor singing abilities led to me being given the assignment to work in the Philippines.
A Prayer Answered in the Philippines
When I arrived in 1963, there were fewer than 100 members of the restored Church of Jesus Christ in the Philippines. One of my first experiences was to work on the missionary exchanges in an area called Quezon City. As my companion and I began going door-to-door that day, we noticed the names given to the streets: “Scout Lozano Street,” “Scout Santiago Street,” “Scout Delgado Street,” etc. We were intrigued, so when we knocked at the next door, my opening door approach was to ask, “Hello, why do all the streets in this area start with the name Scout?”
The reply I received went something like this: “Oh, these streets are all named after those boys who died when their plane crashed on its way to a Boy Scout jamboree. There are 24 streets here named after Scouts.”
Then, the lights came on in my mind as I recalled that dark night in the school yard where I had prayed to attend the jamboree. I remembered that the “10th World Scout Jamboree” was held in the Philippines. Suddenly, I knew that God had answered my prayer from four years earlier. I was so happy that I could not see a street with my name on it. There was a chance that I could have been on the airplane that had crashed.
Instead, I was serving as a missionary helping with a gathering of far greater importance—loving and teaching the Filipino people. At that moment, I knew that God hears our prayers and looks after us. Sometimes, he doesn’t give us what we pray for right away because our Father in Heaven loves us so much.
As Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve recently taught: “So while we work and wait together for the answers to some of our prayers, I offer you my apostolic promise that they are heard and they are answered, though perhaps not at the time or in the way we wanted. But they are always answered at the time and in the way an omniscient and eternally compassionate parent should answer them” (“Waiting on the Lord,” Ensign, Nov. 2020).