“Following an Inner Compass,” Ensign, June 1994, 66–67
As he hung up the telephone, Bishop James W. Irey wondered how he could possibly do what he had just agreed to do. He had accepted the responsibility of immediately locating a place large enough to accommodate several thousand members of the Church who had volunteered as relief workers after Hurricane Andrew.
The eye of Andrew’s fury had struck Bishop Irey’s town—Leisure City, Florida. It had crumpled buildings, ripped out trees and power lines, and disrupted basic services. Tired and discouraged, the bishop knew he must search the devastated area for a place to house the helpers as they arrived.
He knelt in his office and poured out his heart to his Heavenly Father. As he prayed, the words of Nephi came vividly to mind, and he was led by the Spirit, not knowing beforehand the things he should do (see 1 Ne. 4:6). He recalls being certain that in this circumstance, the Lord would not expect him to find a place for the relief workers without help. As he thought of the words of Nephi, he knew the Lord would prepare a way for him to accomplish what was expected.
“I got to my feet,” he said. “My knees were steady, and a feeling of calm and reassurance came to me. I still didn’t have a clue where we were going to put all those people, but I knew it was going to happen.”
He walked outside, got into his car, and drove down the road to an intersection. He had no idea where he was going but concentrated on an inner compass that led him. Soon he found himself at the high school and wondered why he was directed to that place, since it was currently occupied by army troops.
Entering the double doors on the side of the building, he walked down empty, dim hallways that were lit only by daylight through the windows. At one point, an army sentry appeared and asked him what his business was in the building. The bishop looked him in the eye and honestly replied, “I’m on an errand.” Without another question, the guard told him to proceed.
Electric power had not been restored to the building, and there were few windows on the second floor. But he continued on through the dark hallways. Four more times he was confronted by army sentries and asked his business in the building. Each time, he gave the same answer with the same results.
At the end of a long hallway a single lamp, powered by a generator, illuminated a table around which an army staff meeting was taking place. An officer stood with his back to the bishop, addressing the group. Bishop Irey was prompted to move forward and tap that uniformed shoulder.
As the man slowly turned, Bishop Irey found himself looking into the eyes of a friend he had not seen for twenty years. They had served together in southeast Asia during the Vietnam War.
“Jim!” his friend exclaimed as they embraced. “What on earth are you doing here?”
The bishop responded, “I need a place to put several thousand Mormon relief workers.”
“You’ve got it,” said the officer, without a moment’s hesitation.
“But how … where?”
“We’ll move our helicopters and vehicles off the football field, and you can put your people there,” Jeff told him.
The way had been prepared to do what was necessary. “For me,” he recalls, “Nephi came alive that day. I felt such a close bond to him and felt as he may have felt when the Lord laid a seemingly insurmountable task before him.”
However, there was to be more to the bishop’s task. On the day when the largest number of volunteers were to arrive, a weather front threatened the relief effort with severe thunderstorms approaching. Most of the workers arriving at the football field had planned to sleep there, but the storm would drench them.
Bishop Irey and the local Church leaders prayed and exerted their faith to ask the Lord that the storm be turned. What was later called a split in the tropical wave then occurred. The storm front divided and deluged communities north and south; but in the areas that had been most affected by Hurricane Andrew, the next seventy-two hours were dry and clear.
The relief effort then moved into full swing as more than five thousand workers came from all over the Southeast. They camped on the football field after a day of patching roofs, removing debris, and distributing supplies to victims of the hurricane.
Latter-day Saint volunteers had helped bring relief to many who were suffering the effects of the hurricane. And once again, Bishop Irey had been reminded that through the power of prayer, the Lord can show us the way to overcome any problems if we open our hearts and minds. Faith can move mountains—and storm clouds. It can even find a football field.