1976
When the Sun Broke Through
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“When the Sun Broke Through,” Ensign, Aug. 1976, 37

When the Sun Broke Through

In the summer of 1952 the young people from our branch were enjoying Girl Scout camp near Helsinki, Finland, and anticipating a visit from President David O. McKay. A beautiful grove surrounded by tall birch trees was chosen as the setting for welcoming the president, and since the summer had been lovely, we believed that this special day would be beautiful too.

As the time approached, and we talked of his visit, one of the girls suddenly asked, “What will happen to our testimonies if he does not act and look like a prophet?” Little by little, doubts began to creep into our minds. The darkness of these doubts seemed to be reflected even in nature, as dark, heavy clouds gathered above our heads on the day of his coming and the rain came down in torrents. I remember sitting under a large tree with a friend, watching the rain beat down on the lake, and again and again my thoughts returned to the gnawing fear that the president might not meet our expectations. I knew he would not appear in white robes like the prophets of old we saw in pictures, but that he would be dressed like an ordinary man. So strongly did I fear losing my testimony that if I could, I would have run away. But that was not to be, I had been chosen to give the welcoming speech.

As we walked toward the grove, the rain let up, but the sky was so gray and the clouds so heavy it was almost dark. Our Scout uniforms were wet, and we were drained of enthusiasm. In silence we formed a U-shaped line and waited. My place was in the middle of the line. I was supposed to take three steps forward, greet President McKay and his company, wish Sister McKay a happy birthday and give a flower to her.

Into this dark, damp setting drove a black car. And then, as President McKay stepped from the car, the sun broke through and suddenly the grove was a sea of light. The leaves and grass sparkled as the rays of sun hit the raindrops. We were stunned and momentarily blinded by this intense light.

I looked at the president but could not see him clearly. All I could see was his majestic silhouette against the sun, with the light against his beautiful white hair forming, it seemed, a shining halo around his head. We all gasped and stood in awed silence.

The time had come for me to take my three steps forward and welcome the president, but I could not move. I knew that if I took those three steps, he would immediately see the doubts and fears in my heart that had been tormenting me. Everyone waited, and I stood there helpless.

Finally we heard the mission president, Henry A. Mathis, prompting, “Sister Valkama, didn’t you have something to say to us?” I forced myself to take three very small steps. The tears streamed down my face and onto my uniform. President Mathis said, very patiently, “You’d better come a little closer. We can’t hear you.”

Again, three small steps, and again I tried to speak. Confused and embarrassed, I stood there and wept quietly. Then I heard President McKay’s voice.

“Come here, my child.”

I went to him and he took both my hands in his and held them while I gave my greeting. I was aware of his golden, tanned skin and the warm light in his eyes. I felt as though it was as important for him to help me as it was for me to give my message. A feeling of complete peace flowed from his hands into me. My fear of him judging me, which I had felt only a moment earlier, left me and an overwhelming feeling of love had taken its place. I knew he was the prophet of God who had come not to judge us but to love us.

Thus, I gave my greeting. Then the president asked if I would act as translator for him while he spoke. I felt honored, but past experience had taught me that it was difficult to retain the message while translating, as I concentrated on the individual words and their meanings. And this was one time I felt I would have liked to hear and treasure the message.

Still holding my hand, he then told us about his visit to the Holy Land where he had walked in the Garden of Gethsemane as Jesus did. To my surprise, as I translated, the words seemed to come effortlessly and I was able both to translate and to retain his words. Once more I was assured he was a prophet.

As long as I live, I will treasure the memory of that unusual day twenty-four years ago.

  • Piriko Petersen, a homemaker and mother of four, serves as mission Primary leader in the Finland Helsinki Mission.