The Twenty-Mark Note

Elder Boyd K. Packer


Brigham Young UniversityIdaho Devotional

March 12, 2002



After sitting here in this reverent room and seeing in my mind the rest of you in the other rooms, I am hesitant to break the spell.

Sir Winston Churchill, acknowledged as the greatest man of the Twentieth Century, gave a graduation address. He stood up and said, "Never, never, never, never give up!" And then he sat down.

I could say: Never, never, never forget the feelings that you had when you were sitting here surrounded and strengthened by all of the others who were here. It is, in this noisy world, a very rare experience to be sitting where you can just feel things.

I very seldom entitle talks, at least before I give them, but this one is entitled, "The Twenty-Mark Note."

That title comes from an experience that I had something over 30 years ago. I was assigned with then-Elder Thomas S. Monson to organize Servicemen's Stake Europe for the military servicemen in all of Europe. We met at Berchtesgaden, Germany, a resort high in the Bavarian Alps. Originally it was a headquarters built by Adolf Hitler in an incomparably beautiful place. High on a pinnacle, close to the other buildings, was an observation building that was called the Eagle's Nest.

When we had finished calling the leaders, we went to a downstairs room to ordain and set apart the stake presidency.

The room puzzled me. There was something about the size of it and the shape of it and the location of it that seemed a bit unusual. So I asked about it. I was told that room had been built under orders from Adolf Hitler. It stood on the spot and was a duplication in size of a cabin that had once stood there. Here he had gone in the early days of his wanderings. It was there he wrote Mein Kampf, which you German scholars would interpret as My Battle. That book caused the death of ten million people. Seldom has there been on this earth anyone who has duplicated in personality and purpose the adversary quite as much as did Adolf Hitler. I thought that we had come full circle where that had taken place on that site, and now we were gathered there to organize a stake of Zion.

The word stake in the Church comes from the word stake--a stick pounded in the ground. That word, as we use it, comes from the scriptures.

The meaning of it goes back to the Old Testament when the Israelites, after being rescued from Egypt, were wandering in the desert. They built for themselves, under the direction of the Lord, a tabernacle. It was a prototype of a temple, and it was called the Tabernacle of the Testimony.

It consisted of a building in which there were two rooms, the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies. In the Holy Place there were certain ceremonies that took place. There was a laver and some other things. Only the high priests went into the Holy of Holies. In there was the Ark of the Covenant, the breast plate, and the Urim and Thummin.

When they moved from one place to another, they could dismantle the tabernacle and move it about with them. When they set it up again, they put the tent-like building up, then they put a wall around it to form an outer court. The wall and the building were made of linen, leather, fabric, and acacia wood. In order to keep the building up and the wall up, they drove stakes into the ground. A stake was a supporting unit of their tabernacle or their temple.

When the Israelites had been in the Holy Land for generations, David was commanded to plan a temple. Later the Lord told him that because he had been a man of war he was forbidden to build the temple, although he had planned it. His son, Solomon, built it. The temple followed the pattern of the tabernacle that they had carried with them and then maintained for nearly 200 years.

After we had finished setting apart and completing that organization in Germany, we were assigned to go to Berlin to a stake conference. We needed to get from Berchtesgaden high in the Alps down to Munich to the airport.

Captain Bernie Fisher, a member of the Church who was a Congressional Medal of Honor winner in the Vietnam War, drove us down. He was stationed there. He drove us, my wife and myself and his family, down to Munich.

When we got to Munich it was foggy, and we got lost. We could not find the airport. We could not find anyone who spoke English. Finally, there was a policeman. Brother Fisher's boy, who I think was about a third grader, had learned enough German to ask him where the airport was. So the scripture was fulfilled that a little child should lead them.

We got to the airport in ample time for our plane, which as I recall left at about 10:00 in the morning, but it was fogged in. We sat there listening to the announcements for nearly 12 hours. They kept saying they thought the fog would clear. It did not clear.

That night near 10:00, two missionary elders came to the airport. We knew then that the planes would not fly. They told us there was a train leaving Munich for Berlin at midnight. They took us to the mission home. My wife rummaged through the kitchen, found some canned soup, and made us a quick supper. The elders took us to the train station, bought our tickets, and saw us aboard the train which would take from about midnight until about 10:00 the next morning to arrive in Berlin.

As the train was pulling out, one young elder said, "Do you have any German money?" I shook my head, no. He said, "You better have some," and, running along side, pulled from his pocket a twenty-mark note. He handed that to me.

At that time the Iron Curtain was very "iron." The train stopped at Hof on the border between West Germany and East Germany, and they changed crews. All of the West German crew members got off the train, and the East German Communist crew got on the train. Then it set out across East Germany toward Berlin.

They had just begun to issue five-year passports. I had a new passport--a five-year passport. We went to have my wife's passport renewed. They sent it back saying that the three-year passports were honored as a five-year passport, that she still had more than two years left on her passport.

About two o'clock in the morning, a conductor, a military-type soldier, came and asked for our tickets, and then, noting that we were not German, he asked for our passports. I always hate to give up my passport. I do not like to give up my passport, especially in unfriendly places. But he took them. I almost never dislike anybody, but I made an exception for him! He was a surly, burly, ugly man.

We spoke no German. In the car, the compartment, there were six of us--my wife and a German sitting to the side of her and then almost knee to knee in a bench facing us were three other Germans. We had all been conversing a little. When he came in, all was silent.

The conversation took place, and I knew what he was saying. He was denying her passport. He said, "Drei Jahren!"

And I said, "Five Jarhen!"

He went away and came back two or three times. Finally, not knowing what to do, I had a bit of inspiration and produced that twenty-mark note. He looked at it, he took the note, and handed us our passports.

The next morning when we arrived in Berlin, a member of the Church, who was the head of the Central Intelligence Agency for the United States in Berlin, met us at the train. I rather lightly told him of our experience. He was very sober, very suddenly. I said, "What's the matter?"

He said, "I don't know how to explain your getting here. East Germany right now is the one country in the world that refuses to honor the three-year passport. To them, your wife's passport was not valid."

I said, "Well, what could they have done?"

He answered, "Put you off the train."

I said, "They wouldn't put us off the train, would they?"

He said, "Not us, her!"

I could see myself having someone try to put my wife off the train at about two o'clock in the morning somewhere in East Germany. I am not sure I would know what to do. I am glad that passed.

I did not learn until afterwards how dangerous it was and what the circumstances were, particularly for my wife. I care a good deal more about her than I do for me. That intelligence officer convinced us that we had been in very serious danger. Those whose passports they would not accept were arrested and detained.

All of this comes to this point: the elder who handed me the twenty-mark note was David A. Bednar, a young elder serving in the then-South German Mission, who sits here on the stand as president of BYU-Idaho.

So, why was it that this young elder from San Leandro, California, handed me the twenty-mark note? If you understand that and understand what life is about, you will understand really all you need to know about life as members of the Church. You will understand how our lives are really not our own. They are governed--if we will and if we live as we should live--then we will be taken care of.

I do not think he knew the consequences of what he was doing. That twenty-mark note was worth six dollars, and six dollars to an elder is quite a bit! Perhaps he hoped to get it back from the mission president. But at any rate, it happened.

As you go through life, you will find that these things happen when you are living as you ought to live.

In 1976, I was here in Rexburg with President Spencer W. Kimball. Among my assignments then was supervising the Church in Idaho. On a beautiful Saturday morning the ordinary things were going on in this area. Here on the hill at Ricks College all was as it should be. Then the bells and sirens started to ring. They wondered what was the matter.

One man, who was a professor here at Ricks College, had come in on a Saturday to do some work. He went to find out what was the matter and learned that the Teton Dam had broken. The Teton Dam up the valley had sprung a leak. A man with a large Caterpillar was trying to make repairs on the dam when it broke loose. He ran for his life. That large DC Caterpillar--which is a very large and very heavy piece of equipment--was found many miles down the valley.

This college faculty member, I suppose, inside turned pale, because he knew that his wife and children were in Rexburg shopping except for one of the younger girls who was sick. She was upstairs at home, right in the path.

Interesting things happened. There were 11 deaths. One was a fisherman who was fishing just below the dam. Another was a 90-some-year-old woman who died of a heart attack. Another was a couple who were warned.

This old man said, "I have lived here for 60 years. Nothing like that has ever happened. You are not going to scare me." In due course, they could hear the thundering and the rumbling of the water coming down the valley. Seventeen miles of deep water had backed up behind that dam. Then they got in their car. They were among those that were lost. They found their bodies in their car, after digging it out of the mud.

We had a lot to do with the emergency personnel in the United States. By their rule of thumb--time of day, population, size of the catastrophe--they estimated that there should have been 5000 casualties, and there were 11. Why? Because they were warned.

Many of them told us that they were unusually on edge. When the warning came, they responded immediately.

We held the meeting in this room with President Kimball. He had talked to me. He said, "I understand you are going to Idaho. Do you think I could go with you?" And I let him come--he being the President of the Church!

We held a meeting here with the survivors, the refugees. There were two meetings, in fact. One meeting and then another later, in order to get them all in. Here they were with whatever they had on. A lot of them were very muddy. None of them were in Sunday clothes. It was Sunday, but no one was dressed in Sunday-go-to-meeting clothes.

President Kimball leaned over and said, "I cannot see an unhappy face among them." I looked, and that was true--not one unhappy face! Why?

There is a scripture that says, "If ye are prepared ye [need not] not fear" (D&C 38:30). There are other scriptures, more than one, that speak of warning, that we will be warned of danger.

As we visited with the people on that and other occasions, there were some things that emerged. They were alerted and had very little time, but they had the feeling. The thing they grabbed first was their family records and photographs. Think of that!

One of the questions was, How did they react? Speaking literally: someone heard about it, they stopped at their neighbors and knocked on the door, knew they were home, could not get them to answer. They took a chair off the porch, and threw it through the window to get their attention to say, "Run! Run!" They warned one another. That girl upstairs in that house was saved.

There were something like 900 homes that were destroyed or severely damaged. Many were washed for miles and miles down the Snake River Valley. There was a warning, and they heeded the warning.

Why did they heed the warning? Why did they warn their neighbors? "It [behooveth] every man who hath been warned to warn his neighbor" (D&C 88:81). Have you ever read that in the scriptures? They acted on that! It was just natural for them to warn the others.

And so, before the day was over, there were a large number of people here on the hill in Rexburg. The flood did some damage here in Rexburg, as well.

First we went to Wilford Ward and landed a helicopter there. Wilford Ward Chapel was at the mouth of the canyon. There were three bearing walls in the chapel, one in the middle and one on each end. Over the bearing walls was slung what was left of a roof.

As we went down the road from the chapel, there was a railroad. I marveled at the fact that it had bent those rails. The force of the water had literally bent them.

We stopped at the stake center in Sugar City. The water had come in one side, picked up all the benches and furniture and used them as an abrasive to churn the interior out of the building, and went out the other side.

Across the street we looked at what once was a beautiful home. There was the roof and the bearing walls, and there was one ceiling left and a beautiful crystal chandelier hanging above mud in the house.

That was a great experience. We learned a lot from it. We learned one thing that may surprise you. We learned that in one way the Church did not work at first.

When the stake president got the warning, he went right to work without relying on all the help he had. A few days after it had happened, I had a call from one of the stake presidents. He was not making sense. He had been up night and day trying to help people and now was wandering around. He got the bishops busy, but he did not call his high council together; he did not call the priesthood together; he did not call the Relief Society. The stake presidents and the bishops were going to do it all themselves. They could not get it all done themselves.

Now, this is the message: The Church did not work then as it should have. The gospel did! The Spirit did! The Spirit was operative. It was the Spirit that warned them that they must act and that they must act quickly.

One young man came up to me. There he stood in some dirty old levis and a dirty t-shirt and some tennis shoes. He said, "I am supposed to leave on my mission tomorrow. This is all we own." His mother was standing by him. He said, "Everything is gone. My scriptures and everything else is gone." That was easy to fix. He was in the Missionary Training Center in Provo in a day or two, completely outfitted, because finally the Church worked.

As you go through college and learn the difference between the Church--which is a container, a vessel, a domicile for the gospel--and the gospel itself and concentrate on learning the gospel and how the Spirit operates, then you will be wise indeed.

We do not have much time to prepare. I did not write a speech, because I have an eye problem. I was in an automobile accident in Brazil about 15 years or so ago. The most serious of the injuries was a torn muscle in the back of one eye. In due course, I began to see double. I saw two stop signs. I would look down and see two pieces of paper. I would see two words. That didn't bother me until I saw two wives. Then I thought, I am going to lose my job!

We went through for a number of years doing all that the doctors could do by way of prisms in my glasses. In due time, they said they had run out of options. I was going to have surgery. They operated on that muscle in the back of my eye. I will carefully spare you the details of that. But then, with causes incident to age, the same thing developed, and two weeks ago it had to be repeated. So if I had written a talk, I could not have read it anyway. Tomorrow when I get my new glasses, I will be able to read again.

If you can learn what the Spirit is, then you never need to be alone. In the 46th section of the Doctrine and Covenants verse two, it says, "Notwithstanding those things which are written, it always has been given to the elders of my church from the beginning, and ever shall be, to conduct all meetings as they are directed and guided by the Holy Spirit."

Let me repeat that for you. If you can learn that: "Notwithstanding those things which are written [no matter what is written anywhere], it always has been given to the elders of my church from the beginning [and it will always be that way], and ever shall be, to conduct all meetings as they are directed and guided by the Holy Spirit."

And so, I determined that I would rely on that. I wondered in my mind what I could tell you that would help you the most. You would expect that I ought to teach you some doctrine. The doctrine generally explained in the scriptures, the revelations, tells us that we are dual beings. We know there is a spirit and a body. "The spirit and the body [when they are eternally combined, become] the soul of man (D&C 88:15). So there are two parts of you sitting there. There is a spirit inside of a body.

Your spirit is eternal--existed forever. You have a spirit body; your intelligence existed forever. That is hard for even college students to get through their mind. If you will shake your heads and get your grey cells wiggling a little bit, you can understand that we are going to live forever. You believe that, don't you? In the Resurrection, we will live eternally. That cannot be unless that is true of the past, too, that we lived eternally in the past. We are in the middle of something eternal here.

The body and the spirit, eternally combined, constitutes the soul of man. There are a lot of scriptures and references that you can read about that subject. There are a lot of things that you can read about the carnal side of us and controlling it to make yourself behave.

I have wondered about when the day comes that my spirit will leave my body. It will be quicker for me than it is for you. In a way, I am looking forward to that, but I am not urging it to come right away.

When that "unwrapping" takes place and your body is set aside and we are looking at your spirit, what are you going to look like? What will your spirit look like?

Probably one or two of you here might be described as a perfect athlete--perfectly coordinated, able to do anything! So here you have a beautiful physical body. If we separated your body from your spirit, what would your spirit look like? You will live to learn, if you will study and pray and feel, that you could have a very beautiful body and a very shriveled, weak spirit. On the other hand, you can have a body that is limited in many ways, and yet in the eternal scheme of things, you can train and teach your spirit so that it becomes of imperishable worth.

A man I knew--one of the great men I have known--was in a bunch of roustabout boys. They were always where they should not be and never where they should be. Finally, a wise leader that was resourceful got them into a Sunday School class. There was this old man--just an ordinary, homely, old man. More than that, he was a convert from Europe, and he did not speak English very well. They giggled, "Our teacher? Him?" These boys, I suppose, had the reputation of running any teacher out.

Then my friend said that something happened. The teacher started to speak, and then it happened! They all began to listen. This friend said, "You could warm your hands by the fire of his faith." That meant that in that older, worn-out body that did not seem to be able to erase an accent, there was a powerful spirit.

In the Resurrection, the body--the dust of the earth, the carnal part of us--can be renewed and made powerful if it is to equal the spirit.

When President Heber J. Grant was a young man, his bishop once said, "What are we going to do with that Grant boy?"

His father, Jedediah M. Grant, had been a member of the First Presidency, and he had died early and left a widowed mother to take care of this boy. The bishop did not think he would amount to much--but he became President of the Church!

When he was in school, an English teacher assigned the class to collect some examples of bad English, to write down the mistakes. He went to Church and heard a speaker who was an immigrant and could not speak English very well. He did not say two sentences until he had made mistakes. This young Heber Grant thought, "I'll fulfill my assignment."

He did not have paper to write on. In those days the boys and the men wore shirt collars and cuffs that were made of celluloid, a kind of plastic. You could write on them. So he got his cuff out, and when the man made a mistake, he wrote it down. He was collecting mistakes in English. Then the same thing happened! He forgot the mistakes and began to listen. The power of the Spirit took over. He left the room both inspired and ashamed.

If you can understand how the Spirit operates, you will be all right. There is not enough evil put together--if it was all brought together as some kind of a dark, ugly laser beam and focused on you, it could not destroy you, unless somehow you consented to it.

You, as Latter-day Saints, have a protection. In the course of your learning, "wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom [here at BYU-Idaho]: and with all thy getting get understanding" (Proverbs 4:7).

"Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom: and with all thy getting get understanding." Well, get it!

You do not know how fortunate you are. Now, you are here. You are greatly blessed. Make sure you learn the things that you are not taught overtly. If all you know is what you read or what you can hear, you will not know very much. Learn to feel as we were feeling something during that reverent period of time before the meeting started. I hope I have not intruded into that spirit or erased it. Those moments of reverence are so precious when you think and feel. That is why temples are so important. You can go to the temple and be out of the world.

Someone was asking me about that earlier today. I said, "You have to learn to be alone in a crowd. You have to have such control." That is so important. We spend so much time in airports and in other noisy places. But I do not go there. I might be standing there physically, but I am not there spiritually, because I am thinking things and doing things in my mind. If you will learn to do that, then the Spirit will teach you.

The promise is that when you receive the Holy Ghost, "[it will] teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you" (John 14:26).

You will be doing some things automatically, almost unwittingly. Without thinking, you will find you have been prompted and guided by the Holy Spirit. That is why this young elder, without knowing why, took a twenty-mark note out of his wallet as he was trotting along to the side of the train and handed it to me as the train was pulling out. He saved us from great danger.

That is how you will do things and then later look back and know that you were guided. And also, that is how you will be warned. You will be warned, Don't go there! Don't do that! You will be warned, Don't go with him! Don't go with her! Don't be with them! And then, Do be in this company! You will be guided, and the Lord will watch over you.

I pray the blessings of the Lord upon you here in this wonderful school, under inspired leadership. I bless you that the Spirit of the Lord will guide you and help you to understand. You can look forward to the day when you are "unwrapped" and your spirit is separated from the body. Your spirit is young and vibrant and beautiful. Even if your body is old and diseased or crippled or disabled in any way, when the spirit and body are put together in the Resurrection, then you will be glorious, then you will be glorified.

I know that the gospel is true, that Jesus is the Christ, that He lives, that this is His Church. Find a place in the world where you can, without embarrassment, without any hesitancy, declare to yourself: first that you accept the gospel of Jesus Christ and that what you are is more important than what you do. What you do, if it is guided, will make you what you are and what you can be.

The Church is on the right course. It is righteously led. The power of the Almighty is upon it. As you move forward, you can look forward to a very happy, safe life, notwithstanding what the world is now and what it yet will be with trials far more than you face now.

As a servant of the Lord, I invoke His blessings upon you. I invoke the blessings first upon your parents, who made it possible for you to be here. Some of you come here with parents who are non-members. Write and tell them that we invoked a blessing upon them--upon your father and your mother and others who have made it possible for you to be here and are sustaining you with sacrifices you will not know about until you in turn are sending your children and trying to bless your children.

I invoke the blessings upon you that you will understand the power that you have from having received the gift of the Holy Ghost. I bless you that you can listen to it and follow the prompting thereof, that "[it may] teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever [He seeth fit that you should have].

I bear witness of the Christ. You will come to know the meaning and the fulness of and experience ultimately the fulness of the Atonement. For this I pray and invoke this blessing upon you, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

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