Doing what’s right isn’t always easy. Even for future prophets.
When Ezra Taft Benson was serving as President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s Secretary of Agriculture in the 1950s, he often defended policies and programs that were unpopular with Congressmen and members of the press. He would say, “I feel it is good strategy to stand up for the right, even when it is unpopular. Perhaps I should say, especially when it is unpopular.”
President Benson knew what he was talking about. Experiences in his life had taught him that doing what’s right wasn’t always easy. But the rewards were great.
Prior to his mission young Ezra fell in love with a vivacious young coed. He first noticed her when he and a cousin were standing on a street curb in Logan, Utah, and an attractive woman drove by in a Ford convertible. A few minutes later she drove by a second time. “Who is that?” Ezra asked. “Flora Amussen,” his cousin replied.
Though Ezra was a homespun farm boy from Whitney, Idaho, who had rarely been off the farm, he asked Flora for a date. She accepted. Wearing his blue serge suit, shiny from much wear, he pulled up in front of her large, three-story home, took a deep breath, and wondered what he’d gotten himself into, calling on the most popular—and apparently one of the wealthiest—young women on campus.
Many of his friends were amazed that Flora even gave him the time of day. She was very popular at Utah State Agricultural College (now Utah State University) and involved in everything from tennis to drama. But once they became acquainted, their courtship proceeded smoothly, and it wasn’t long before Ezra felt he’d found the woman for him. Marriage, however, wouldn’t come immediately. First there was a mission for “Elder” Ezra Taft Benson to serve in Great Britain, and before he knew it he was saying good-bye to Flora at the train station and heading for Europe.
Two-and-a-half years later when he returned, Ezra was delighted and a little relieved to find Flora still available. Their dating resumed, and it wasn’t long before he felt ready to settle down on his Idaho farm with Flora as his wife and begin to rear a family.
Flora seems to have liked the attention of this handsome young farm boy and had entertained thoughts of marriage herself. At 23, she was certainly of marriageable age. But something held her back. For some reason she felt the timing wasn’t quite right for their marriage. She saw in Ezra Benson more than a hard-working farm boy who would make a fine husband and father; she had the impression that Ezra had potential that might not surface if he returned to the farm immediately.
Flora didn’t discuss her feelings with Ezra, but “prayed and fasted for the Lord to help me know how I could help him be of greatest service to his fellowmen. It came to me that if the bishop thought I was worthy, [he would] call me on a mission. The Church came first with Ezra, so I knew he wouldn’t say anything against it.”
Without telling her beau about her plan, Flora talked with her bishop. And before Ezra had a chance to formally propose, she made her own announcement: she was going to Hawaii, where she’d been called to serve a mission. Ezra was shocked. Another separation from Flora? It seemed too much to ask of him. “I was ready to settle down on the farm,” he recalled. “And I didn’t have too much briefing as to why she was leaving. It was really tough. She was the light of my life.”
Flora knew she was taking a calculated risk. Though convinced her boyfriend needed to finish his education and that both of them would profit by maturing spiritually before tying themselves down, she also recognized the possibility he might not wait two years. Nevertheless, she felt she needed to serve this mission.
On August 26, 1924, Flora and Ezra boarded the westbound train in Salt Lake City, and he rode with her as far as Tooele, where he said good-bye. It tore at him for her to leave, but he knew, somehow, that things would work out. Later he wrote in his journal, “We were both happy because we felt the future held much for us and that this separation would be made up to us later. It is difficult, though, to see one’s hopes shattered. But though we sometimes had a cry about it, we received assurance from Him who told us it would all be for the best.”
Things did work out. When Flora returned from Hawaii, Ezra lost no time in proposing, and on September 10, 1926, they were married in the Salt Lake Temple.
It was through experiences such as these that the young Ezra Taft Benson gained confidence in the Lord, and confidence in what happened when he tried to do what was right—even when it wasn’t easy.
It wasn’t necessarily easy when, in December 1945, President George Albert Smith chose Elder Benson to serve as president of the European Mission. This was not just any mission assignment. World War II had only been over for a few months, and the Saints in Europe had largely lost contact with the Church during the war. Many of them had been scattered from their homes, had lost everything, and were in desperate need of welfare supplies. President Benson’s assignment was to locate members of the Church throughout Europe, get welfare supplies to those in need, and generally reestablish order in the Church organization there.
This was a demanding, even dangerous assignment. He knew he would be in Europe for at least one year. He could not take his family with him. Food was in short supply and being rationed in many parts of Europe. Bridges, roads, and buildings throughout the continent had been destroyed, and transportation was difficult to obtain. Even housing was hard to come by. Almost everything about his assignment was unusual and challenging. Aware of the odds he would face when he got there, Elder Benson headed for Europe with the belief that if he worked his hardest, even when things got difficult, the Lord would assist him.
And things did get difficult. On one trip to Paris, for example, President Benson’s objective was to gain access to the Occupied Areas of Germany. But when he requested permission from the U.S. Army colonel in charge of communications with Germany, the officer blurted incredulously, “Mr. Benson, are you crazy? Don’t you realize there has been a war here? No civilian travelers have entered these areas. All travel is restricted for the military.”
Elder Benson quietly asked if he might obtain permission if he could purchase his own car. Cars were impossible to get in America, let alone Europe, the colonel retorted. Elder Benson countered, “If I could arrange transportation, food, and military permission, do you think we might make it?” Annoyed but amazed, the colonel agreed. In a matter of days Elder Benson had purchased two of the first new Citroen autos off the production line and arranged for everything else the colonel required.
Elder Benson’s travel throughout Europe revealed one shocking sight after another. The scenes in Germany were sickening, like a vivid horror movie. Beautiful cities were in twisted, blackened ruins. Haunted-looking people shuffled along streets and children fled as his car approached.
Berlin, for example, was indescribable. Miles of the city lay in utter waste, and Elder Benson marveled that anyone had escaped war’s wrath at the epicenter. “I faced in a cold, half-wrecked 3rd floor auditorium off a bombed street 480 cold, half-starved but faithful Latter-day Saints.” In spite of the harrowing experiences they related—murder, rape, and starvation of loved ones—it was inspiring for Elder Benson “to see the light of faith. There was no bitterness or anger but a sweet … expression of faith in the gospel.”
Elder Ezra Taft Benson was a strong, determined man. Those traveling with him struggled to keep pace. But at times the privations of the Saints were almost too much for him to bear. As the weight of his responsibilities pressed upon him, Elder Benson suffered frequent insomnia. Wherever possible, he arranged for private sleeping quarters. “From my observation,” wrote Fred Babbel, an assistant who traveled with him, “He not only talked matters over with the Lord, but the Lord was not unmindful of him and was pleased to reveal to him things beyond the normal comprehension of man. After each such experience he appeared to gain new strength.”
Throughout the ten months he spent in Europe, Elder Benson encountered one difficult situation after another. Again and again he was faced with tough assignments that seemed impossible to perform, and repeatedly he found ways to get the job done.
By the time Elder Benson returned home he had accomplished a great deal. In a little over ten months he’d traveled 61,236 miles by plane, train, ship, automobile, bus, jeep and droshky, a two-wheeled, horse-drawn conveyance. He had located thousands of Saints throughout Europe and distributed tons of welfare supplies to those in need. Mission presidents were functioning in most European missions, and missionaries were proselyting in many countries. And the Saints had a renewed spirit of hope.
But none of it had been easy.
After Ezra Taft Benson became President of the Church, he said this: “Men and women who turn their lives over to God will discover that He can make a lot more out of their lives than they can.” President Ezra Taft Benson spoke from experience—and from experiences where he’d learned that the best and most important parts of life aren’t always the easiest. But in the long run, they’re the best.