Tower of Refuge

“Tower of Refuge,” New Era, Oct. 1993, 20

Tower of Refuge

When life’s storms crash in with all their fury, LDS youth on the Isle of Man know a safe place to go.

People kept drowning.

That’s why Sir William Hillary built the Tower of Refuge. Sir William knew firsthand of the dangers of the sea. Not only had he founded the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, but during his lifetime he personally aided in the rescue of 305 people.

One stormy night in 1830, he joined a rescue he would never forget. The Royal Mail Steam Packet St. George was tossed onto Connister Rock by rough seas, spilling its crew and cargo into the harbour entrance at Douglas on the Isle of Man.

The Douglas lifeboat crew, with Sir William as a member, rushed to assist. But the waves were overpowering. Four men, including Sir William—who broke three ribs—were swept overboard, coming dangerously close to death themselves.

After this incident, Sir William and his wife, alarmed by the number of wrecks the rock had caused, decided to build a tower, as a place of refuge in which the shipwrecked mariner might outlive the storm. The tower stands to this day, a visual reminder that there is a place of safety for those in peril.

Talk to LDS youth on the Isle of Man today, and they’re familiar with Sir William’s Tower of Refuge, with its promise of shelter from the wrath of the sea. But they’ll also tell you about another tower of refuge—the gospel of Jesus Christ—and how it can save those adrift in spiritually threatening seas.

“Probably our biggest struggle here is isolation,” says Paul Christian, 15. “We’re geographically cut off from the rest of the England Liverpool Stake. We know they keep us in mind, but they can’t afford the money and time to come over here too often. And we only get over there maybe once or twice a year.” That involves a lengthy ferry ride to the annual convention (youth conference). It costs too much to fly.

“So you have that sense of physical isolation,” explains Daniel Johnson, 18, “and then you can have, as a Church member, a feeling that you’re different, religiously, from most everyone around you. The two can build on each other if you’re not careful.”

What to do?

“Well, the LDS youth are scattered all over the island, but we’re 8 young men and 12 young women, 20 overall, and that’s pretty good,” says Ruth Christian, 18. “We’re more like a big LDS family than just friends, and so we do hang out quite a bit together, at church on Sundays, at activities and seminary during the week.”

She speaks as a survivor. “When I was the only young woman in the Church here, I used to hang around with friends who aren’t members of the Church,” she says. “It wasn’t so bad then because they were younger and so they weren’t involved in anything very bad. But as they got older, they got involved in things like drinking, smoking, and stuff. And so now, I don’t really have as much in common with them as I did.”

At the same time, Church membership on the Isle of Man was growing, and “since we’ve got more young women now, I’ve been able to find strength in being with them. You know what each other’s standards are. You’re on the same wavelength.”

Daniel has similar feelings. He tells of a Manx legend that a giant in England and a giant in Ireland were fighting each other. The giant from England picked up a rock and threw it at the one in Ireland, and it landed in the middle of the sea. According to the legend, that’s how the Isle of Man came to be.

But for Daniel, that was life. More than a year ago, his family left a vibrant youth program in the Bracknell Ward, Reading England Stake. “We had something like 50 young people coming out to activities,” he says. Then because of his father’s business, the Johnsons moved to the Isle of Man, just like being picked up by a giant and thrown in the middle of the sea.

“They call us ‘comeovers,’” Daniel explains. “That’s the Manx phrase for someone who wasn’t born on the island.”

And as an LDS comeover, he had a bit of a rough go for a while.

“It’s difficult to uproot from somewhere that you’ve been most of your life, especially in that sort of age group. You’ve made friends that you think are going to be lifelong friends for you; then you leave them all and come somewhere new. It’s not that far, but it’s far enough that I can’t keep going back every weekend.”

What to do?

Daniel also speaks as a survivor: “Find the Church. Get as deeply involved in it as you can. You may be in a new place, but hang on. You’ll get used to it.” And you can tell from the respect the other youth show while he’s speaking that Daniel has made the transition to life on the island just fine.

Other Manx youth voice similar sentiments, that they find refuge in the gospel and strength in the Church.

“I started coming out to the Mormon meetings because she was my friend,” Clair Jewell, 14, says, indicating Kirsty Corlett, 15. “It was always friendly when I came. It was a feeling that was indescribable when you came into the church,” a feeling of warmth and safety that led her to be baptized.

“I like being here, too,” says Daniel Gibson, 13, who is busy cleaning the chapel grounds as part of a service project. “It’s an honour to hold the priesthood, to know that God is mindful of you and that you represent him. And part of that is helping other people.” Then he’s back to work, pushing a wheelbarrow, moving a tree stump, obviously enjoying working side by side with other youth and the leaders.

“I keep coming to church,” says Chris Scott, 15, “because it strengthens you if you have a tough week at school. It reminds you of who you are and what you stand for.” It’s a place to catch your breath, spiritually, before you dive back into the currents of life.

“I come because of the things we’re taught and the callings we get,” says Mark Watson, 17. “My sister went inactive because of pressure from her friends. I don’t want to do that myself.”

Kerensa Johnson, 16, says Sunday attendance reminds her to maintain standards where she works. “It would be easy to break the Word of Wisdom, because loads of people come in and smoke in the store. So you have to keep your standards high. And if anyone asks you why, you start telling them, and sometimes they get interested.”

And Rosanna Scott, 13, says the Church really is a tower of refuge. “If you’re not sure of the gospel,” she says, “you can come here to find out.

Clair adds, “It saves people, like it saved me. Before I joined, I was smoking and drinking and doing other bad things just to be part of the crowd. I don’t know what would have happened to me if the Church hadn’t been there.”

People kept drowning. That’s why the tower was built.

Many folks in Great Britain visit the Isle of Man each year. It’s the site of motorcycle and bicycle races famous throughout Europe. It’s known for cats without tails; a coat of arms with three legs; and for its own parliament, the House of Keys, which meets each July on Tynwald Hill. It has a heritage of castles, farming villages, and invasions that blend Celtic, Gaelic, and Norse history with folklore about phantom dogs and fairies called the Little People.

But for those who live on the Isle of Man, the first sight to greet them when they return home by ferry is the Tower of Refuge. And the LDS youth who live here will tell you it’s quite a fine sight to see.

Photography by Richard M. Romney

The Tower of Refuge is a symbol of shelter from the sea. But Church members who live here know an even stronger shelter—the friendship and truth of the gospel.

Many youth like Daniel Gibson, Kirsty Corlett, Clair Jewell, and Kerensa Johnson know how to find joy on their isolated island.

At a ward cleanup, youth talk about the Church. “If you’re not sure of the gospel, you can come here to find out,” one young woman says. “It saves people,” her friend adds, “like it saved me.”