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Deliverance

To introduce my topic, let’s review a list of the top 15 highest grossing films1 of all time and identify a common thread among them:

1. Avatar
2. Avengers: Endgame
3. Titanic
4. Star Wars: Episode VII—The Force Awakens
5. Avengers: Infinity War
6. Spider-Man: No Way Home
7. Jurassic World
8. The Lion King
9. The Avengers
10. Furious 7
11. Top Gun: Maverick
12. Frozen II
13. Avengers: Age of Ultron
14. Black Panther
15. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2

    What do most of these movies have in common? These are stories of action and adventure. These are stories about heroes coming to the rescue. To use language common in the Book of Mormon, these are stories of deliverance.

    What don’t we see on this list? We don’t see straight comedies. We don’t see many dramas, love stories, or rom-coms. Sorry, no Jane Austen. The financial takeaway is straightforward: if your objective is to make as much money as possible in Hollywood, then make a story about deliverance. Production studios such as Marvel have clearly figured this out. Since 2008, when Iron Man was released, Marvel has produced 29 stories of deliverance.

    Why do we love stories of deliverance? Why do we keep going back for Ant-Man number five? (It’s coming, and many of you will see it.)

    I don’t think it’s for the capes and masks. I don’t think it’s for the visual effects. When you’ve seen one explosion, you’ve seen them all. (I’ve been to Scout camp—I’ve seen them!) No, I think we love films of deliverance because we are living in the ultimate deliverance story here on earth.

    From day zero, deliverance is a central and recurring theme of this film called mortality. After all, we cannot even enter mortality and take our first breath without being delivered by someone. And then what? We find ourselves unable to do anything on our own until we are at least, say, 14 years old. We are entirely at the mercy of our first heroes—mom and dad, grandparents, and guardians. As we get older, we realize that we are in a fallen world and that each of our character arcs includes periods of serious trial and struggle. At times we are even pushed so far as to say, “Well, this movie isn’t very good and certainly isn’t worth the price of admission. The floor is sticky, and the popcorn is stale.”

    But I testify that hope comes through the gospel of Jesus Christ. There is a Savior. There is a Redeemer. There is One Who Is Mighty to Save. There is a Great Deliverer.

    I wish to share a few thoughts on deliverance. As with any proper epic, I will proceed in three acts.

    Act 1. The Bolivian Gas War: A Deliverance Story

    It is important to recognize that trials and challenges are what we signed up for. The road was never going to be easy. We learn from Lehi that “it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things”2 and from the Doctrine and Covenants that “my people must be tried in all things.”3 President Russell M. Nelson has said, “You who may be momentarily disheartened, remember, life is not meant to be easy. Trials must be borne and grief endured along the way.”4

    Yet at the same time, the Lord promises that “if [we] endure it well,” He will “exalt [us from] on high” and we will “triumph over all [our] foes.”5 And the Psalmist proclaims, “The righteous cry, and the Lord heareth, and delivereth them out of all their troubles.”6

    Now I don’t know what specific trials and challenges you face—we each have our list. But what I do know is that when Jesus walked on the earth during His ministry, He didn’t spend very much time—if any at all—with people who were worry free, struggle free, or trial free. “Have ye any that are sick among you? . . . Any that are lame, or blind . . . , or that are afflicted in any manner? Bring them hither and I will heal them.”7

    To illustrate our Lord’s power of deliverance, I want to share with you a modern-day deliverance story—the story of a miracle that occurred when my parents were serving as mission leaders in the Bolivia La Paz Mission. I share this story because it gives me hope and reminds me that there is a God in Israel, there is One Who Is Mighty to Save.

    In October 2003, Bolivia was experiencing a period of significant civil unrest that is now known as the Bolivian Gas War. The details of this conflict are beyond the scope of my message, but suffice it to say that the label of war is appropriate.

    One of the goals of the protesters was to shut down all transportation in the cities of El Alto and La Paz—cities that are located about 12 miles apart. To accomplish their goal, the protesters erected barricades and scattered broken glass in the streets to limit transportation inside of and between the two cities. Their leaders vowed that no goods, including fuel, would come in or out of the cities.

    Violence soon broke out, and the government responded by declaring martial law. The news reported that three thousand miners from the rural areas of the country were on their way to El Alto armed with dynamite to reinforce the protesters. The danger was real and getting worse by the hour; it was clear that the missionaries needed to get out of El Alto and into the safety of the mission home in La Paz.

    But there were two massive problems.

    First, the two mission vehicles each had less than one-fourth of a tank of gas—not enough to pick up all the missionaries. Furthermore, the news had reported that no gasoline had entered the city of La Paz for the past five days.

    Second, both my parents and their car would be targets for the protesters—my parents because they were foreigners with possible ties to the US government and their large white Toyota vehicle because that vehicle was commonly used by government officials.

    It was in this context that very early in the morning, my father—after a night spent almost entirely in prayer—received the following impression: “Leave now and you will find gas.” Now this was a particularly tricky endeavor because in order to find gas, they would need to use gas.

    With this risk in mind, my dad turned to my mom and said, “We must leave right now if we want to find gas.”

    Without a word, my mom jumped up from bed. Off they went, like Nephi, “not knowing beforehand the things which [they] should do.”8

    My parents recorded the following in their journal:

    After a time, we came across a parked car with two men in it. We stopped and asked, “Do you know where we can find gas?” The men simply told us to drive another block and look left. We followed their advice, and when we looked down the street, we saw a gasoline tanker driving slowly.

    My parents followed the tanker to a gas station and filled up their car to about half a tank, limited by a quota imposed by the station. They then called the assistants and told them to leave that minute to try to find gas for the other vehicle. The assistants were also successful and were able to fill up their car to half a tank. Both gas stations closed soon thereafter, having run out of their limited supply of fuel. But both mission vehicles now had enough gas.

    The stage was now set for the evacuation of the missionaries. Because the missionaries were scattered throughout El Alto in their various areas, different rendezvous points were determined as pickup locations. Now I do not have time to share all the amazing stories that happened to get each missionary out, but I will share one.

    During one of the evacuations, my father and his assistant needed to drive on an extremely dangerous six-mile stretch of highway between La Paz and El Alto. As they approached the highway, they noticed an enormous convoy entering the highway ahead of them. This convoy consisted of military and police vehicles, including troop carriers with armed soldiers. To my father and his assistant’s surprise, they also noticed that many of the vehicles in the convoy were large and white, and some were Toyotas. My father recorded that without being invited, they “slipped in behind the lead troop carrier. No one said a thing. We looked very official in our big white car.”

    They had thought that driving a very conspicuous big white Toyota would be a dangerous weakness. But instead, it turned out to be precisely the vehicle they needed to drive to be inconspicuous within the convoy.

    What they didn’t know at the time was that they were now part of the military convoy evacuating the president of Bolivia and his family out of the city of La Paz to the airport in El Alto. This powerful military escort was not only protecting the president of the country of Bolivia but was also protecting the president of the Bolivia La Paz Mission.

    My father and his assistant drove inside the convoy for as long as possible and then proceeded to the rendezvous point. When they arrived, they found a group of armed soldiers standing there, and in the midst of these soldiers, they found five very anxious missionaries. My dad hugged each of the soldiers, who explained that when they had seen the missionaries in such a dangerous location, they knew they had to protect them.

    Miraculously, every missionary was safely evacuated that day.

    Act 2. “Wait, Where Is My Deliverance?”

    But what about when deliverance doesn’t come? When there is no convoy, no rescue? This can seem unfair. And while I don’t understand why deliverance sometimes doesn’t come or is delayed, I do know that this unfairness is a feature of mortality and that some of the Lord’s most elect and chosen have experienced it. I also believe that there are lessons to be learned while we wait for deliverance.

    I will make my point here using several jailbreak stories. Perhaps nowhere is the theme of deliverance more clear in scripture than in the case of prophets who found themselves in jail.

    Jailbreak Number 1: King Herod threw Peter in jail. Peter was asleep in his cell when an angel appeared, filled the room with light, and essentially said, “Put on your clothes. Don’t forget your shoes. We’re out of here.” The prison gate opened on its own, and Peter and the angel walked out.9

    Jailbreak Number 2: Alma and Amulek were thrown in jail. After three days, they had had enough: “Alma cried, saying: How long shall we suffer these great afflictions, O Lord? O Lord, give us strength according to our faith which is in Christ, even unto deliverance.”10 Then what? Their jailbreak was made easy when the jail was literally broken to pieces. Alma and Amulek simply walked out.11

    Jailbreak Number 3: Years later, brothers Nephi and Lehi had a jailbreak experience similar to that of Alma and Amulek. After a few days in prison, fire surrounded them, the prison walls came down, and they, too, walked to freedom.12

    These are important faith-promoting accounts, and like the stories I shared about Bolivia, they have happy, miraculous endings. But let’s consider another prisoner’s experience. Joseph Smith was imprisoned in Liberty Jail. The conditions were terrible. Three days went by, then three weeks, then three months. Four months. Five months.

    Joseph knew of Peter’s jailbreak. He knew that the walls came tumbling down for Alma and Amulek. And we know from a letter Joseph wrote to the Church while he was in jail that he wondered, “Wait, where is my deliverance?” He wrote, “O God, where art thou? And where is the pavilion that covereth thy hiding place?”13

    At times we feel like Joseph. We ask, “When will this end?” Like you, I struggle inside of my own prisons with challenges that lead me to say, “Okay, I’ve had enough here.”

    For reasons that I do not fully understand but that I believe are part of the test of mortality, deliverance is sometimes—perhaps even often—delayed. However, there is hope. Elder Dale G. Renlund taught:

    In the eternities, Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ will resolve all unfairness. . . .

    . . . If we let Him, Jesus Christ will consecrate the unfairness for our gain. He will not just console us and restore what was lost; He will use the unfairness for our benefit.14

    While waiting for deliverance, we can ask ourselves, “What lessons can I be learning that I couldn’t learn otherwise?” While in Liberty Jail enduring the delay of his deliverance, Joseph received some of the most powerful and important revelations of this dispensation, including revelations that are now sections 121 through 123 in the Doctrine and Covenants.

    Just as with any important life lessons, those we learn while waiting for deliverance will draw us closer to the Savior and help us to understand His love and His plan more fully.

    Act 3. Deliverers on Mount Zion

    As disciples of Jesus Christ, we have made promises and covenants to participate in the work of salvation, to be saviors on Mount Zion.15 In other words, we have made promises to be deliverers. And all around us are people in need of deliverance.

    We can pray to know who to help, how to help, and when to help. This can be challenging, but it will get easier, and our efforts will be more effective if we pray to see others in the way the Savior sees them. And sometimes, like Esther, whose courage saved the Jewish nation, we may be the person uniquely suited to help. As Esther’s cousin Mordecai observed, “Who knoweth whether thou art come to the kingdom for such a time as this?”16

    I needed to learn this principle during my grad school years. A new student arrived; let’s call him Dave. Right from the start I had a challenging time being around him. I chalked it up to personality differences. Dave was struggling in his first year and was at risk of washing out. So what did I do? I am ashamed to say that I took the easy course and simply avoided interacting with him.

    Then one Sunday my ward mission leader approached me with an invitation. Now before I get to the invitation, it is important to know that this particular leader had been well trained in the martial arts. He was a master, and at one point he held—and may still hold—the record for breaking the most wooden boards with his bare fist. He broke eight boards with no spacers. His invitation for me was this: “Mike, you are going to have a missionary experience this week and then report on it in quorum meeting next Sunday.”

    Joseph Smith taught, “When the Lord commands, do it.”17 Well, I would add, when someone who can break eight boards with his bare fist invites you to do something, do it. What were my options? My response was simple: “Yes, Sensei!”

    I immediately started thinking about people I could potentially invite to church. The first name that popped into my head was Dave, but I pushed it away. His name came again. I pushed it out. It came a third time. I accepted the challenge.

    Then something unexpected happened. From the very moment I made the decision to extend the invitation to Dave, I started to feel differently about him. My heart softened.

    That next week I had two nice conversations with Dave before I invited him to attend a church activity. He sincerely appreciated the offer, though in the end he was not that interested.

    So what came of all of this? Dave didn’t join the Church. But those interactions did help both of us get to a better place. We were each delivered, even if just partially, from our own challenges. Dave found in me someone who could uniquely help him, particularly with learning some of the more technical research skills required to be successful in our program. And I was delivered from my shameful attitude.

    To summarize the key points of my message:

    First, we are all living in a deliverance story, and the Lord our God is the Great Deliverer.

    Second, it is left to the Lord to know the when and how of our deliverance. And while we wait, there are important lessons to be learned—our personal section 121s to receive, if you will.

    Third, we can participate in the work of deliverance together with our Savior to ease the sufferings and burdens of others. We can pray to see others the way the Lord sees them. We can ask what we can do to help.

    And now for the really good news (massive spoiler alert): We know how this movie will end. While we don’t know the character arc of each player, we know the grand story arc. We know who the Great Protagonist of the story is, and we have His promises. He removes our chains of grief by taking the chains upon Himself. He frees us not only by opening the gates of our prisons but also by taking our place there. He does not deliver us remotely or from a social distance. He is there suffering with us.

    He is the Great Deliverer and the Hero of each of our stories.

    ______

    Speech by Michael Drake
    Illustrations by Greg Newbold

    This speech is adapted from a BYU devotional given October 4, 2022, by Michael S. Drake, an accounting professor at BYU Marriott.

    Notes

    1. “Box Office Mojo: Top Lifetime Grosses,” IMDbPro, as of September 30, 2022.
    2. 2 Nephi 2:11.
    3. Doctrine and Covenants 136:31.
    4. Russell M. Nelson, “With God Nothing Shall Be Impossible,” Ensign, May 1988.
    5. Doctrine and Covenants 121:8.
    6. Psalm 34:17.
    7. 3 Nephi 17:7.
    8. 1 Nephi 4:6.
    9. See Acts 12:1–10.
    10. Alma 14:26.
    11. See Alma 14:14–29.
    12. See Helaman 5:21–52.
    13. Doctrine and Covenants 121:1; see also verse 2.
    14. Dale G. Renlund, “Infuriating Unfairness,” Liahona, May 2021; see 2 Nephi 2:2; Job 42:10, 12–13; Jacob 3:1.
    15. See Doctrine and Covenants 103:9–10; see also Obadiah 1:17, 21.
    16. Esther 4:14.
    17. Joseph Smith, History of the Church 2:170 (November 1834).

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