On Sunday morning, Nathan parked a large bus in the far end of his meetinghouse’s parking in Orem. He’d spent the past two days helping to retrieve buses throughout northern Utah that the Church had rented to take the Saints to the mountain refuges, so it was a relief to finally reach this point.
He’d been thrilled in their coordination meeting the day before at the Bishop’s Storehouse when Elder Miller had said, “Whenever possible, we’ve assigned you to your home ward so you can encourage your family and friends to gather if they’re hesitant about following the prophet’s invitation. This is the most crucial decision they’ll ever make.”
“How much can we reveal to them?” Chet asked.
“Not much,” Elder Miller said. “I recommend you simply tell them the same thing I’ve been telling my family—get on the bus. No matter what happens, get on the bus!”
There had been some conflict during that meeting, though, when Elder Miller told the missionaries they must ask each person boarding the bus whether they’d received the chip. If people had been implanted, they couldn’t board the bus.
“Why not?” one missionary asked. “That doesn’t seem very Christlike to me.”
Elder Miller quickly turned on him, his face grim. “Our sources tell us the government is already tracking people’s movements using their chip, and we can’t risk having our camps discovered that way. Besides, wouldn’t you agree the Church has clearly warned the Saints to never get the chip?”
“Yes, I do.”
“Then is it fair to other Saints if their camp is discovered by the enemy because of someone’s chip?”
The missionary was taken aback. “No, but that wouldn’t—”
Elder Miller held up his hand. “Don’t say it wouldn’t happen! It will happen! Do you think all of this preparation by the Church is just for fun? We’re in a spiritual war, and the chip is one of Satan’s tactics. Evil forces are among us. It might not be fully evident yet, but it soon will be.”
After locking the bus, Nathan walked to the meetinghouse just before the start of Sacrament Meeting. As he entered the building he was greeted by several ward members. Everyone seemed cheerful and upbeat, but he knew their moods were about to change.
He took a seat toward the back of the chapel and looked around for Marie’s parents, but they hadn’t arrived yet. He turned his attention to the bishopric on the stand and noticed they were unusually somber as they watched the congregation take their seats.
Bishop Tanner made eye contact with Nathan, who gave him a small smile and a thumbs-up. The bishop was aware that Nathan was working in some capacity for the Church, and suddenly everything clicked in his mind.
“You know?” the bishop mouthed to Nathan, who nodded.
After the opening song and prayer, Bishop Tanner stepped to the pulpit holding a single sheet of paper.
“We have a special announcement today,” he said. “I’ve been given a letter from our Area Presidency to read to the congregation. What it contains might come as a surprise to you, but I feel it is the will of the Lord and I’ll follow these instructions.”
Bishop Tanner then read the letter inviting the ward members to gather to a refuge in the mountains. As he read the letter, Nathan watched families begin whispering to each other, and some members appeared completely stunned.
Bishop Tanner finished reading the letter then said, “Our ward will be gathering with other stakes from Orem at a former girls camp in the mountains above Kamas, Utah. As the letter says, the gathering is taking place today. We’ve made copies of the letter and other instructions for every family in the ward, and we’ll pass them out to you in the foyer. We ask that all the home teachers make sure your assigned families receive a copy if they aren’t in attendance today.”
The bishop continued, “We’ve been told to have you return to your homes at this time. There will be a semi-trailer brought to the Church this afternoon. All families who choose to gather with the stake should bring their food storage to the trailer. A bus will leave from this building at 5 p.m. to take us to the camp. Just so you know, this announcement is being made in wards all along the Wasatch Front and also in surrounding areas. We know this will be a difficult decision, but we know that if you ask the Lord in humility about this invitation from our leaders, you’ll receive a confirmation about what you should do. I testify this is the Lord’s will for us at this time, and I close this meeting in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.”
Bishop Tanner led his counselors off the stand and exited to the foyer. Conversations erupted all over the chapel, and everyone seemed unsure what to do. Eventually they started moving to the foyer to receive their copy of the letter.
Nathan noticed the Shaws were now standing in the back of the chapel, and he went toward them. Carol gave him a hug.
“Have you heard from Marie?” Nathan asked.
“Yes, and she seems to be doing well,” Carol said.
“That’s good, right?”
“That’s all we can hope for,” Aaron said. “How’s your job with the Church going?”
“Good. I’m actually part of this gathering project that the bishop announced. I’ll be the one driving the bus to the camp.”
“Wow, you’re right in the thick of it,” Aaron said.
Nathan searched their faces. “So, are you two going to the mountain camp?”
They both looked at the ground for a moment. Aaron finally said, “We’ll be staying for now. To be honest, I can’t just leave my job that quickly. The government would get suspicious. Plus, if Marie came back, she wouldn’t know where to find us.”
Nathan was surprised at Aaron’s answer. He was sure the Shaws would’ve been the first ones on the bus.
“I guess I can understand,” he said. “I wish Marie was here as well. Please tell her hello from me when you talk with her.”
“We will,” Carol said. “Um, she said she tried to call you but couldn’t get through. Your number was no longer in service.”
“She really tried to reach me?” Nathan asked. “Tell her I’m sorry about our argument and that I’m eager to see her again. Hopefully this job won’t last forever.”
Carol smiled. “She’ll be happy to hear that. Please don’t give up on her. Hopefully this experience will help her appreciate the Church more.”
“I’m hoping for that myself,” Nathan said. “Well, I better get things coordinated with the bishop. If you change your mind, the bus is leaving at 5 p.m.”
He shook Aaron’s hand, and Carol gave him a quick embrace. “We care about you, Nathan. Stay out of danger!”
“You too,” Nathan said before stepping away, fighting off the first real pangs of homesickness he’d felt in a long time.
The rest of the day was a blur for him. He moved the bus closer to the meetinghouse, and soon a fellow maintenance missionary arrived in an 18-wheeler and unhitched the trailer next to the bus. Nathan stayed busy throughout the afternoon loading the trailer with food storage and other useful items that members were bringing from their homes.
The supplies from all three wards in the building were being put in the same trailer, and within a couple of hours two other buses arrived to transport members from the other wards that also met in the building.
As 5 p.m. approached, a line of people began to form on the curb alongside Nathan’s bus. He stopped loading the trailer, opened the bus door, then stood on the first step.
“I’m happy to see you all here right on time,” he said. “I want to assure you we’re not just dropping you out into the wilderness to fend for yourselves. I’ve visited your camp location several times, and it’s beautiful.”
One lady near the front of the line raised her hand. “I’m eager to get there! I’ve been waiting a long time for this day.”
Nathan smiled at her. “You knew this was coming?”
“Absolutely, and so did a lot of my friends. The Lord has been guiding us for several years to prepare for such an event.”
“I agree with you,” Nathan said.
Just then a minivan pulled into the parking lot, and an older couple let out cries of relief as a woman and her three young children hurried toward them. The man walked toward Nathan and said, “This is my daughter and her kids from Pleasant Grove. She’s a single mom, and she really wants to be with us. Would it be all right if they come to our camp?”
Elder Miller had discussed this possibility with the missionaries, and he’d said if extended families felt inspired to be in the same camp, it would be okay.
“Yes,” Nathan said. “The more the merrier.”
The man thanked him profusely, and the couple embraced their daughter while the others in line welcomed the new arrivals.
Nathan took a clipboard that held a list of current ward members and began checking people onto the bus. He asked each person if they had received the government’s microchip, and most simply said, “No.”
However, one feisty woman said, “Most certainly not! Besides, why would anyone who got the chip want to go to the camp? They already disobeyed the prophet once, right?”
Nathan raised his eyebrows. “I can’t argue with that.”
By 5:20 the bus was mostly full, but there were still a few seats left. Nathan checked in the last family and then looked through the list. There were about 60 people on board. As he looked at their faces, he wasn’t surprised to see many longtime stalwarts of the ward. It saddened him, though, that only six families with younger children were on the bus.
The other two buses soon departed, and Nathan motioned to Bishop Tanner, who was sitting with his family in one of the front seats. The bishop came forward, and Nathan handed him the clipboard. “Please look through this list and see if you expect anyone else to come.”
The bishop glanced through the names, shaking his head a few times. “Wow, there’s quite a few more that I thought would be here—including our ward clerk and his family—but I suppose we need to leave, right?”
Nathan shrugged. “The other buses have left, but I’ll wait as long as you want. I think we should get to the camp while there’s still some daylight, though.”
Bishop Tanner nodded as he peered out the front window of the bus looking in vain for more arrivals. “That’s fine. They knew what time we were leaving.”
“Very well,” Nathan said. “Let me shut the trailer.”
He hopped out of the bus and locked the semi-trailer that his colleague would retrieve that evening and take to the camp the next day. He was pleased to see it was filled with all kinds of cans and boxes. It would be a nice addition to the supplies he had already delivered to the camp during the past few weeks.
Nathan stepped back into the bus, and Bishop Tanner said, “While you were locking the trailer, I told the group that I’d like to leave with a prayer.”
“I think that’s wonderful.”
The bishop faced the bus passengers and offered a tremendous prayer that was filled with gratitude for their many blessings. Nathan felt the Spirit descend on the bus, and he sensed angels were already watching over them.
Soon they were traveling along 800 North in Orem heading toward Provo Canyon. The bus passengers were silent as they stared out the windows to take one last look at their hometown. They passed two other churches, where semi-trailers sat waiting for the maintenance missionaries to retrieve them. Otherwise, everyday life continued on, with people taking walks or riding bikes on the sidewalk. A few people even waved as the bus passed by.
As the bus entered Provo Canyon, the group seemed to let out a collective sigh of relief. Nathan smiled to himself as he heard one woman say, “I figured if Lehi’s wife Sariah could leave her home in Jerusalem, then so could I. The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.”
“Amen,” Nathan whispered.
They arrived at the camp with just a few minutes of sunlight to spare, but several other wards had already arrived and were making great progress on setting up the tents. Everyone pitched in to help in some way, and within a few minutes Nathan felt confident he could leave the group in the hands of the senior missionaries who were there. He found Bishop Tanner and shook his hand.
“It looks like you’re in great shape here,” Nathan said. “I better start back down the canyon and return the bus to Salt Lake, but I’ll be thinking of you.”
Bishop Tanner clasped his shoulder and said, “Thank you, Nathan. I know you’ll be busy, but please check in on our other ward members once in a while if you can. I’m elated to be here, but it breaks my heart that only a small percentage of the ward choose to accept the prophet’s invitation. I can’t believe the Shaws didn’t come.”
“Me too, but I think they’re worried about Marie,” Nathan said. “But I’ll keep an eye out for them and others in the neighborhood. I’m even going to give my dad a try.”
The bishop’s eyes got misty. “They’re good people, but they’ve allowed worldly things to block the Spirit from their lives.”
Nathan bid farewell to a few other ward members, then he headed down the canyon. He pondered the events of that day and realized America had reached a key point in history. The Lord’s faithful Saints were safely tucked away in protected refuges, and now the Lord would fulfill his own decrees. The words of D&C 45:32-33 came into Nathan’s mind:
“But my disciples shall stand in holy places, and shall not be moved; but among the wicked, men shall lift up their voices and curse God and die. And there shall be earthquakes also in divers places, and many desolations; yet men will harden their hearts against me, and they will take up the sword, one against another, and they will kill one another.”
Nathan shuddered, knowing the California earthquake was likely the start of many similar catastrophes across the nation.
“Oh, Marie,” Nathan said. “Please come home.”