Hundreds of Latter-day Saints recently gathered at the Stake Center in Fort Walton Beach and at the Crestview Community Center to hear words of inspiration and advice from their stake leaders and fellow members. The speakers included Aiufi Matauaina Makaneole from Samoa, who became a convert while still in Samoa and whose message was that we are not ordinary and that serving others is a reward in itself.

Amanda Cooley spoke of hardships she was able to overcome through prayer and reading the scriptures. John Ward’s topic was family history and he announced that the stake will present a Family History Fair on March 3. The team of President Smith and his wife spoke of the joys of missionary work and their advice was to pray for the desire to have a missionary experience. Many small miracles were mentioned on the path to meeting people who were looking for the gospel. Both of the Smiths are converts to the church and gave credit to the influence of their high school friends who led them to the church.

President Joe Anderson taught the congregation about river pilots who guided the ships through dangerous or tricky waters and likened this experience to Jesus Christ guiding and leading us through the sometimes treacherous paths of our lives. Anderson also used words of the hymns “Master the Tempest is Raging” and “Jesus, Savior, Pilot Me” to illustrate these concepts.

The meeting was concluded by President Mike Roberts who taught about our area plan, which included using JustServe.org for service opportunities, doing family history and missionary work. He included stories about his family and how they came to be baptized. Music was provided by the Bracken and Lindsey Smith Family in the form of a lovely duet and the choir was under the direction of Jeannine Cochran. Ingrid Roberts provided many accompaniments and augmented the singing with her violin.

The next day, Thomas Wilson related a story of his family vacation going bad with glitches and illness along the way. Finally they gave up and decided to rise early and head home. Not even that was to be! They got a late start and were in Louisiana when they came upon a wreck with the cab of the truck submerged in a swamp. He plunged into the murky water and tried to find the driver. Another man stopped and suggested they try the passenger side and finally found a non-breathing person. They got him out and gave CPR. He finally began breathing again! The lesson from his story is that Heavenly Father places folks in our path so that we might help them and that timing is not an accident.

Sally Reynolds spoke of her own experiences as a military wife with four young children and Elder Nelson talked on making the Sabbath Day a delight. She mentioned many examples of their Sunday activities and their Family Home Evenings and included memories that her children had of those times. One of the most touching was when their family would visit a severely injured young boy who was in a Christopher Reeve-type wheel chair that would also breath for him. The Reynolds' eldest son would steady the young boy’s head while the dad would load him into the van to go visit other families. What an example. Many other services were provided and their homes were always filled with guests for Sunday dinner. Sally’s husband was always remembered by his children as the man who always attended church, even when he had to drive long distances through the desert while deployed.

Bishop Joseph Stockman’s topic was the law of the fast. He reminded us that the first Sunday of the month was a day of fasting. The money that would have been spent on food is donated to the fast offering fund to be given to the needy in that ward. As a bishop, he emphasized the blessings that can be given to the needy with those fast dollars. Burdens are eased in this way and those who donate can be edified by their fasting and donations and become closer to God.

Craig Miller spoke of his close connections with the many members of the stake and how his love for them has only grown over the years. The Book of Mormon prophets and their messages of love and service to our fellow man and the importance of following the Golden Rule was discussed. He read from the hymn “Come Unto Jesus” and used the book “Preach My Gospel” to list ways to follow Christ.

Tallahassee Mission President Smith taught us the many wonderful missionary stories including the story of one young man who is in his third year of being a missionary because of illness. Several times he had to return home for treatments and surgeries but he always returned to complete his mission. Smith also emphasized that the savior’s “ sheep” knew his voice and would follow him.

Stake President Roberts informed us that there were 15 missionaries serving from our stake and there were 421 missions around the world. Roberts recited the missionary scriptures of Doctrine and Covenants 4, which he memorized prior to serving his mission. In part it reads: “Therefore if ye have desires to serve God ye are called to the work.” He told of many conversion stories and sealings, which he experienced as a bishop and as a family member.

The meeting was concluded with the choir singing “The Lord’s Prayer.”

Libby McSheehy is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.