During his vision, Lehi "beheld a tree, whose fruit was desirable to make one happy. . . . [and] I did go forth and partake of the fruit . . . it was most sweet, above all that I ever before tasted. . . . And as I partook of the fruit thereof it filled my soul with exceedingly great joy" (1 Nephi 8:10-12).
Lehi also saw many who "did lose their way" and were not able to find the tree. Others "clinging to the rod of iron" made it to the tree, but soon "were ashamed" and wandered onto "forbidden paths and were lost." The battle within their own souls and the "mocking and pointing fingers" of the world caused them to forget the joy of the gospel and their faith was destroyed. Nephi, in experiencing the same vision as his father, shared with us what the tree represented. Nephi declared the meaning of the tree to be "the love of God, which sheddeth itself abroad in the hearts of the children of men." The angel replied, "Yea, and the most joyous to the soul." (1 Nephi 11)
Ra Potaka is a good, kind, and gentle man. He was serving in the Waitara Branch presidency and always had an encouraging and supportive word for us as missionaries. When I arrived in Waitara the first part of November, 1980, his wife was less active, and his youngest son had not yet been baptized. I had been in the area nearly three months, getting to know and serve the good people of Waitara, when Ra invited us over for dinner.
Sister Potaka had fixed a beautiful meal and for a young missionary it was heaven to sit down to a well cooked, healthy meal. The discussion around the table turned to the Church as we had hoped and prayed it would. The Spirit was strong as we asked Sister Potaka to return to activity and for her permission to talk to their eleven-year-old son, Ross. We strongly felt through the Spirit that Sister Potaka knew the Church was true and would return to activity some day and desired their entire family to have the blessings of baptism.
A few days later we had a fireside at our small branch in Waitara that had been planned especially for Sister Potaka. The topic was the Prophet Joseph Smith and we hoped the Spirit would reconfirm to Sister Potaka that he was indeed a prophet of God. Sister Potaka was a little tough on us that night, but she did give us permission to talk to Ross about the Church. Ra was very happy about that. He had wanted to share the gospel with his son, but with his wife struggling with her testimony, it had been difficult. He was like Lehi of old at the tree, partaking of the fruit and desiring that his family also partake but being unable to find them.
It took a few days to catch up with Ross. He was a typical eleven-year-old boy with a lot of energy--places to go and things to do. We finally did catch up to him on what was my twentieth birthday and during what was to be a wonderful day for a missionary. My companion, Elder Johnson, and I spent the morning tracting and then had a birthday lunch with the two other Elders in our district. During the afternoon we gave a copy of the Book of Mormon to the sister of a lady we had recently baptized and did a little more tracting. But the highlight of the day was stopping at the Potaka's and talking to Ross. He was very excited to learn about the gospel, and we set his baptism date. My birthday was very different from the one the year before. This one was missionary special as we began to prepare for a baptism.
March 1, 1981, was a very special day. After Church we prepared for the baptism of Ross Potaka. We had taught him the missionary lessons during the previous couple of weeks, and he seemed to really grasp what we were teaching. My companion and I were very impressed with intelligence and spirit of this young man.
The baptismal service that afternoon was very special, and the Spirit was evident in the feelings and emotions of those present. I had the opportunity to speak on the first three principles of the gospel and then Ra had the blessing of baptizing his son. When Ross came up out of the water, he had a huge, amazing smile on his face. It was a wonderful baptism. President Bill White, the branch president in Waitara, then spoke and in an invitation filled with the power of the Spirit, invited Sister Potaka to return to the Church. Tears were shed and hearts touched. March 1st was a very special day. Ross was a very special young man.
I was transferred about six weeks later. Sister Potaka returned to Church activity. She and her husband are wonderful members of the Church. Ross has since grown and moved on with his own life. While each of us has struggled with the trials and difficulties of life over the years, I shall never forget the Spirit of that day and the smile on a young man's face as he came up out of the waters of baptism.
The Prophet Joseph taught, "Love is one of the chief characteristics of Deity, and ought to be manifested by those who aspire to be the sons of God. A man filled with the love of God, is not content with blessing his family alone, but ranges through the whole world, anxious to bless the whole human race" (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith, p. 330-331).
Alma taught us that if we desired to become the Lord's people we needed to be "willing to bear one another's burdens, that they may be light; yea, and are willing to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places" (Mosiah 18:8-9). If we were willing to do all these things we were invited by the Lord to enter into the covenant waters of baptism, "that he may pour out his Spirit more abundantly upon you" (Mosiah 18:10).
While the Spirit of the Holy Ghost speaks to our spirits and encourages us in becoming a person filled with love, obedience, and happiness, the natural man is fighting to discourage us and cause us to forget the feelings of joy and love that come from the Lord. While the "spirit indeed is willing, [the] flesh is weak" (Matthew 26:41) and because of the imperfections and temptations of earth life, we weaken and forget. While sin will cause the Spirit to leave, bringing unhappiness, just as damaging is forgetting who we are, what our righteous desires are, what the purpose of being here on earth is, and our responsibilities to each other-in families and in wards and branches in the gospel. The sins of omission are just as damaging as the sins of commission.
I am grateful for the opportunity to attend Sacrament Meeting each week to be reminded of the power of the Atonement in our lives and to remember what the purpose of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is all about. Each Sunday, if we truly listen, we hear the words of the Sacrament prayers that remind us of the sacrifice of our Savior and instills in us a commitment to live as witnesses of Him, "that they may always have his Spirit to be with them" (Doctrine and Covenants 20:77).
With the Spirit we are strengthened in our desires to live as Saints, to serve and strengthen each other, to lift one another's burdens. We forgive ourselves and forgive others and desire to share the Love of the Savior with all we come in contact with. The hope found in the Atonement of Jesus Christ will lift our souls, bring joy and happiness once again into our lives, and cause us to remember the great blessing the Lord has bestowed upon us. Blessings like the memory of the day Ross Potaka was baptized.
I firmly believe the smile and expression of joy on the face of Ross Potaka at his baptism was this "exceedingly great joy" talked about by Lehi and Nephi. The Spirit touched the hearts of all those in attendance that day and each felt the happiness that comes from partaking of the fruit of the tree.
The love of our Heavenly Father, and His Son Jesus Christ, filled the souls of all those present that wonderful Sunday afternoon. It was truly a "most joyous to the soul" experience for all who were there. After more than thirty years, remembering that day still brings joy to my heart and lifts my soul. It instills in me a greater desire to live so as to feel the "the love of God" and the "exceedingly great joy" more often in my life.
May we remember such moments in each of our lives, and be reminded of the love Father in Heaven and His Son Jesus Christ have for each of us. May we repent, forgive, and forget. May we stand strong against the "mocking" of the world and the weaknesses of the natural man, and remain true and faithful to the gospel of Jesus Christ. May we, through the Spirit, always feel the loving arms of the Savior encircled eternally around us and the great joy and happiness the gospel brings to each of our lives.
Barton Golding, editor