The Remarkable Journey of Elder Gene R. Cook’s Lost Scriptures
Elder Gene R. Cook recounts this powerful experience in his book Living by the Power of Faith
On July 29, 1977, Sister Cook and I had just finished visiting the Bolivia Santa Cruz Mission and were stalled in the Cochabamba, Bolivia, airport for some five hours. I recall that we were very tired, having had few hours of sleep the night before. We were both delighted to have a few hours of rest in the airport. As I was drifting off to sleep, I had a very strong feeling that I should awaken and write down some ideas. The desire to sleep was strong, but the promptings of the Spirit were more powerful. I did write; in fact, I wrote for nearly three hours, solving some organizational problems I had struggled with for a number of years previously. I felt a great outpouring of the Spirit on that day and excitedly wrote down each inspired thought. The experience took most of the time of the delay.
We were then off to La Paz, Bolivia. We were graciously met by President and Sister Chase Allred at the airport and driven in their van to the mission office. We left our luggage and briefcase in the locked van.
Upon entering the office, the president was confronted with the difficult case of a woman whose husband was dying. While President Allred and I assisted with her needs, Sisters Cook and Allred left in a car for the mission home.
When the president and I returned to the van, I realized immediately that all of our goods were gone but assumed that Sister Cook had taken them with her to the mission home. While we were driving toward the home, I discovered that the right front wind wing had been damaged and began to fear that our goods had been stolen.
Arriving at the mission home, we found that our luggage had indeed been stolen. The loss of a substantial amount of money and all our clothing created an immediate but only temporary problem. More disheartening was the fact that my scriptures were in my briefcase along with the inspired ideas I had just received in Cochabamba. The overwhelming sensation of discouragement, anger, and inability to do anything about the situation was overpowering.
My wife and I prayed alone. We prayed with those present. We tried to enjoy our dinner but could not. Who could know of the great loss I personally felt? The scriptures had been given to me as a young man by my parents, a sacred inscription placed in one of them by my mother and in the other by my since-deceased father. I had spent literally thousands of hours marking and cross-referencing (and loving every moment of it) in the only tangible earthly possessions I had ever considered of much value. I had on many occasions instructed my wife that if there were ever a fire in the home, she should first remove the children and then, if there were time, save my scriptures and not worry about anything else.
The president and I had much to discuss as we were to be together only that evening. However, I felt a strong impression that we must do all in our power to recover the scriptures. After supper, all present knelt in prayer once again. We determined to search the immediate area near the mission office and a nearby field, hoping that the thief or thieves might have kept only the salable items and discarded the books because they were in English.
In the prayer we pleaded that the scriptures would be returned, that the persons who had taken them would be led to know of their unrighteous act and repent, and that the return of the books would be the means of bringing someone into the true church.
Eight to ten of us then loaded into the van with flashlights, and warm clothing and drove to the mission office in the central city. We scoured vacant lots across the street, and adjacent streets and alleys; we talked with guards and anyone else we could find and exhausted all possibilities. No one had seen or heard anything. Finally we returned home, dejected, able only to pray individually and wait. President Allred and I worked late into the night to finish our business, and the next day Sister Cook and I flew back to Quito, Ecuador, where we lived.
During the next few weeks, the missionaries searched the lots again. They looked in hedges and garbage cans, searched a nearby park, placed a sign on a wall near where the books were stolen, requesting their return, and kept a watchful eye to see if the books might show up in some unexpected place nearby. In sheer desperation, trying to do all in their power, the missionaries decided to place an ad in two daily newspapers, offering a reward and giving explicit information concerning the books.
In Quito, Ecuador, I went through a spiritual struggle that was a very difficult one for me. For nearly three weeks, I had not studied the scriptures at all. I had tried on numerous occasions, but every time I read a verse I recalled only a few of the many cross-references I had made over the past twenty years. I was disheartened, depressed, and had no desire whatsoever to read. I prayed many times, expressing to the Father that I had never tried to use my scriptures for any purpose other than glorifying his name and trying to teach others the truths that he had taught me. I pleaded with him to do whatever had to be done in order to have them returned. My wife and little children prayed incessantly for the same blessing. Even after two or three weeks they continued praying every day, “Heavenly Father, please bring back Daddy’s scriptures.”
After about three weeks, I felt a strong spiritual impression: “Elder Cook, how long will you go on without reading and studying?” It seemed to me to be a test or a trial and to have something to do with the “cost” of the blessing I desired. The words burned, and I determined that I must be humble and submissive enough to start all over again. With my wife’s permission to use her scriptures, I began reading in Genesis in the Old Testament, marking and cross-referencing once again.
On August 18, a friend, Brother Ebbie Davis, arrived in Ecuador from Bolivia and laid my scriptures on my desk along with a manila folder that contained the papers that I had written in Cochabamba and some recently prepared mission budgets that were also stolen. He indicated that they were the only things recovered, that he had been given those items by the mission president in La Paz as he boarded the plane, and that he did not know how the books were found, but that I would be told when I arrived there in the next few days to tour the mission.
The joy I experienced that day is indescribable! To realize that my Heavenly Father could, in some miraculous way, lift those books out of the hands of thieves in a city like La Paz and return them intact, with not one page removed, torn, or soiled, is still a miracle to me. How the faith of our family and many Bolivian missionaries was rewarded! That day I promised my Father that I would make better use of my scriptures and my time as instruments in his hands for teaching the gospel.
On Sunday, August 21, I flew to Guayaquil, Ecuador, and on to La Paz, Bolivia, arriving on August 22. Upon arrival I was given the following account:
A woman had been in one of La Paz’s hundreds of marketplaces. She saw a drunk man waving a black book around. She had a strong spiritual impression that something holy was being desecrated. She approached the man and asked him what the book was. He did not know but showed it to her. She asked if he had anything else. He pulled out another black book. She asked if there were more. He removed a folder full of papers that he said he was going to burn. She offered to purchase those things from him, to which he agreed, for the price of 50 pesos, or about $2.50 in U.S. currency.
After the purchase had been made, she felt totally taken aback by what she had done. She realized the books and papers were in English—she didn’t speak, read, or understand English—and she had no desire to have any English books. She had paid nearly 10 percent of her monthly income to buy some books in a language she could not read. She immediately began to search for the church that was named in the front of the books. After approaching a number of other churches, she finally arrived at the mission office in La Paz, directed by the hand of the Lord. She had not heard of the reward nor of the ad in the newspaper, which was to appear that very day. She did not ask for any money, not even to reclaim the 50 pesos that she had paid for the books and papers. The elders received the books and folder with rejoicing and paid her the reward anyway.
She told the missionaries that she was associated with a Pentecostal sect, but she listened very intently as they unfolded the gospel to her. She recalled reading something about Joseph Smith from a pamphlet she had picked up in the street two or three years earlier. After their first discussion with her, they reported, “She is a golden contact.” After the second discussion, she committed to baptism. Two weeks later, September 11, 1977, on a Sunday afternoon in La Paz, Bolivia, Sister Maria Cloefe Cardenas Terrazas and her son, Marco Fernando Miranda Cardenas, age twelve, were baptized into the true church of Jesus Christ by Elder Douglas Reeder.
Who could describe our deep, discouraging, depressing, disheartening, overpowering feelings of helplessness when the scriptures were lost? Who could describe our great feeling of joy and rejoicing when we saw the power of heaven revealed in this miraculous way? Our Heavenly Father does hear and answer the prayers of his sons and daughters if they exercise faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. The Lord said: “For verily I say unto you, That whosoever shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; and shall not doubt in his heart, but shall believe that those things which he saith shall come to pass; he shall have whatsoever he saith.