“Two Soldiers Gathered in His Name,” Ensign, Mar. 1997, 66–67
In January 1977 it was cold and bleak along the German-Czechoslovakian border where I was serving as a young enlisted United States Army soldier. We were out on maneuvers, and my job was driving an ammo carrier back and forth all day between the ammo dump and the range where tanks were firing at practice targets.
It had been a cold, exhausting, and lonely week. I had recently become active in the servicemen’s branch of the Church in Schweinfurt, Germany, and was forming new associations and friendships that were strengthening me in my rediscovered faith. Now, however, all those people were miles away and my loneliness turned to a gloom I could not shake. Adding to my depression, I had just spent another Christmas away from my family.
On Sunday I felt particularly depressed because I had hoped to have dinner at the home of a Latter-day Saint officer I had just met, but the demands of the field exercise kept me away. The day had been long and frustrating, and when I returned to the long huts in which we were billeted, most of the men were drunk and were passing around beer and other alcoholic beverages. They begged me to join them and to throw off my burdens in the same manner as they were doing. I had only been active in the Church a couple of months, and their calls to join them were a temptation—one that would have been easy to succumb to given my present mood.
Then I thought of Lieutenant Whitaker, the man who had brought me back into the fold and who had become a close friend. I knew how disappointed he’d be if I gave in. I also thought about some of the other young soldiers back at the base who, like myself, were feeling their way back into the Church. I could not let them down, so I turned away and sorrowfully headed back out into the cold German night.
I walked slowly through the dark, longing to be anywhere else in the world than where I was. Suddenly, headlights lit up the area in front of me and a jeep pulled up beside me.
“Peck! What are you doing?”
To my surprise it was Dennis Bryant, another member of the Schweinfurt Branch who had joined the Church about the same time I had come back into activity. I knew he was also on maneuvers, but we rarely met because we were in different companies. I was so glad to see a familiar face that I could not contain my joy. Although it was late, we agreed to get together for a sacrament meeting. We both held the Aaronic Priesthood, and our branch president had given us standing permission to administer the sacrament while out in the field whenever a few of us could get together.
I begged a piece of bread and a cup of water from the mess sergeant and met Dennis at the entrance to the motor pool. In silence we walked through the cold, muddy field to my ammo carrier. We opened the heavy metal door and climbed inside the empty cargo hold. Surrounded by cold steel, we seemed to have the warmth sucked right out of us. It was very dark, but we could see our breath, frosty and white, in the air.
We both felt awkward and uncertain about how to proceed, but we agreed that beginning with an opening prayer would be best. As I gave the prayer, a warmth seemed to come over my whole being, and I felt my loneliness lift. We sang “The Spirit of God Like a Fire” (Hymns, 1948, no. 213) for an opening song. Then I bore my testimony to Dennis and he bore his to me. The Spirit seemed to be striving with us, comforting us as we expressed our faith and belief in the Church and shared our budding testimonies of the Savior and his Atonement and our gratitude for his love and care.
We testified to each other of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon and the part it had played in our conversions. Then we sang another hymn, and I humbly broke the bread. We had no flashlight, so Dennis held a burning piece of paper up to my serviceman’s pocket edition of the Doctrine and Covenants to give me enough light to read the words of the sacramental prayer. As we partook, we both felt a strong witness of the Savior’s love for us. I then held a burning piece of paper up to the book as Dennis blessed the cup of water held reverently in his hands. He passed the cup to me, and I took a small sip and passed it back to him.
I have been in many sacrament meetings since that time, with congregations great and small. But the reality of the Savior’s love for his children has never been more strongly borne to me than on that night when two lonely soldiers knelt on the hard metal floor of a vehicle of war on a cold winter’s night and witnessed truly that “where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matt. 18:20).