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Trials and Blessings

ALOHA! It is great to be with you and to be in beautiful Hawaii.

When I was invited to come today, I prayed and pondered, “What could an 89-year-old daughter of God say to you?” After deliberating for some time, I have chosen to speak about trials and blessings in mortality. Our trials and blessings are unique to each one of us. I wish to share a few of my personal life experiences hoping that in doing so, your faith can be strengthened to move forward in life.

When President Nelson was a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles he stated, “You who may be momentarily disheartened, remember, life is not meant to be easy. Trials must be borne and grief endured along the way.” He further stated: “...remember that ‘with God nothing shall be impossible’…know that He is your Father… It matters not that giants of tribulation torment you. Your prayerful access to help is just as real as when David battled Goliath.” [1]

My mind has envisioned what it must have been like for my family at the time of my birth. I was born at home in 1933, during the Great Depression, and I was the eighth child of my parents. My parents must have been shocked at my appearance for I was born with a severe cleft palate and a double cleft lip. This quickly presented challenges of finding proper medical help and paying for unplanned medical expenses.

Immediately after my birth I was given a name and a father’s blessing. I was then transported 60 miles away to Salt Lake City for medical evaluation. For the first ten days of life, I was fed with an eye dropper. My first surgery took place on day ten, and by the time I was nine years old, I had endured nine operations.

I was blessed in my childhood with loving and caring parents and siblings. Dad and Mother were always there when I needed them. Like my other siblings, I was expected to fulfill work assignments at home, and we learned to love and support one another.

In spite of my challenges, my childhood was the typical carefree, happy time that many children experience. However, at times life as a child was difficult when other children stared at me or mocked me by imitating my nasal voice.

At the age of eight, I wanted to be baptized, but I was frightened. I never told anyone, but since I had no upper lip and a palate that was still open, I knew that the water would rush into my mouth, and I could drown! Nevertheless, I was baptized a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and I did not drown! My childhood prayers were answered.

As I entered puberty, I wanted to be beautiful and have clear, perfect speech like my friends. I remember kneeling down on many nights and praying so earnestly for a miracle to take place during the night. When morning came, I realized my prayers had not been answered the way I wanted. So, what did I learn from this trial? I learned that God loves me as I am and someday, I will have a perfect body.

Upon graduating from high school, three universities with nursing programs accepted my applications. However, I was denied admittance into their nursing programs because of my facial disfigurement and impaired speech. This was not a happy time. I had always wanted to be a professional nurse. So, what did I do? I still attended BYU in Provo and took general education classes, enrolled in all the pre-nursing courses I could, and underwent intensive speech therapy.

The professors at the Speech Center indicated my speech would never be normal and gave me examples of how I sounded. I broke down and cried right then and there. I had never realized or accepted that my speech was as distorted as it was. The following week an actual recording of my voice was made so I could hear what others heard when I spoke. After preparing myself for the worst, it was still a shock. Even I could not understand what I had just said.

That night was one of the worst and yet one of the most spiritual nights of my life. Seeking peace and quiet in our garage, I seriously considered what I should do. I spent a long time questioning the value and purpose of my life. Did I truly have the courage to face the reality of my future? If it had not been for my pleadings with my Heavenly Father and my faith, I don’t think I would be here now. I did not hear His voice, but I felt His presence, His guidance, and His love. I could not give up. Heavenly Father was there for me.

During my second year of college, my zoology professor asked to speak with me. He inquired if I planned to have more surgeries. My quick reply was “No.” By then I had endured sixteen operations and my current doctor stated he had done all he could. My professor then told me of a plastic surgeon who had just relocated to Salt Lake City. This surgeon had taught plastic surgery at Duke Medical College and was a former student of my zoology professor at BYU.

An appointment was made to see the plastic surgeon. After a thorough examination he said he could help me, but it would take a series of operations. He must have seen the distress and concern on my face because he said, “June, God will work through the use of my hands in helping restore your mouth, face, and speech, but only with your faith will we accomplish anything.” Despite my fears, I underwent five additional surgeries while in college. I will not share details concerning these operations. The mind has a wonderful mechanism for not remembering exact pain and discomfort.

That fall while going through the registration process for new classes, I heard the BYU Dean of Nursing call out to me from within the room. She asked if I was the student who had previously tried to gain acceptance into the nursing program. When I responded affirmatively, she surprised me by asking if I still had a desire to study nursing. I responded, “YES!” I was admitted into the BYU nursing program. This was a miracle to me.

Nursing classes were challenging. It took an additional four years to complete all the requirements, but it was worth every minute! My dream of becoming a professional nurse had been accomplished. My first job was working on the surgical floor at LDS Hospital in Salt Lake City. Two weeks into my new employment I was asked if I would be the Charge Nurse of a support team to care for 40 patients. I loved hospital nursing.

Eighteen months later a nursing friend and I applied for a public health nursing position here in Hawaii. We received a two-year contract stating we had been hired to work on the Big Island. We did not know how to do public health nursing in Hawaii. Our college studies provided only a three-month rotation focusing on general public health nursing.

Mrs. Scott, the Nursing Director at the Territory of Hawaii Health Department, was most accommodating. She had outlined a detailed orientation for us. Prior to our orientation I had never seen a patient with tuberculosis; now I would have a case load of 120 patients. I had never seen a patient with Hansen’s Disease or leprosy; now I had 11 cases to follow. I had never handled a Child Care Clinic but soon I was conducting two clinics a week in small villages in rural Hawaii in addition to working in schools, plantations and making home visits and I loved it!

Many of you know that when you live in a branch of the Church, you become very involved in church responsibilities. I held callings in two branches, the Keei Branch in Kona, and the Opihaile Branch in the southern part of the Island. In the Keei Branch, I worked with the Young Women; in the Opihaile Branch, the district president asked me to start a Primary. I had never felt such joy!

On a Sunday in the middle of July 1959, at the Opihaile Branch, we had an unexpected visit from the mission president. This was truly a surprise since Opihaile was in the most rural part of Hawaii and this was his first time to the area. On a good Sunday we had seven adult members attend church. We relied on young missionary elders each week for assistance with the sacrament.

After those Sunday meetings, President Brooks called me by my full name and asked for my address and telephone number. On August 26, 1959, he phoned and asked me to fly over to Oahu to meet with him. He met me at the airport and lovingly put his arm around my shoulder and asked, “Do you know why you are here?” He went on to say, “You are going to be interviewed by Elder Spencer W. Kimball for a mission.” I had always wanted to serve a mission but knew because of my speech and appearance it was impossible.

How I wish I could remember all the specifics of this spiritual interview with Elder Kimball. First, he shared personal feelings and events from his life. Then I recall he asked, if the Brethren were to call me, would I be willing to stay in the Islands to serve a mission? I responded, “Yes.” After this, multiple questions followed:

“Would you be willing to serve back on the mainland?”

“Would you be willing to serve a mission immediately without going back to Salt Lake to the Mission Home for training?”

“Would your parents financially support you wherever you were called?”

I answered yes to every question. He then asked, “Would you be willing to go anywhere in the world – Australia, or the Far East?”

I responded, “Yes.”

His last question was spoken slowly and was most penetrating. He asked: “How would you react if the Brethren felt that you should not be called?” I responded by saying there was still much I could do in the Church.

Elder Kimball then said that he could not speak for the Missionary Selection Committee; however, he would be my “Spokesman.” With that, tears began to flow. An apostle of the Lord would be my “Spokesman.” Within ten days, I received my official call to the Northern Far East Mission (Japan).

My missionary letter from President David O. McKay stated: “The Lord will award the goodness of your life, and greater blessings and more happiness than you have yet experienced await you as you serve Him humbly and prayerfully in this labor of love among His children.”

On October 14, 1959, I bid a tearful goodbye to my beloved Church members and friends on the Big Island and flew to Oahu. Later that day I received my endowment in the Hawaii Temple. To be in the beautiful Hawaii Temple was a wonderful, choice experience and blessing in my life.

The following day I shared these thoughts in a letter to my parents: “Oh, how grateful I am to become a missionary! It still seems unreal, too wonderful to really be true. I am afraid, and yet I am calm…” I knew exactly ten words in Japanese – I could count to ten. That night the mission president set me apart as a missionary in the Northern Far East Mission and gave me a beautiful blessing. Since I would not be attending an MTC or have any language training, his words were most meaningful. After this blessing we left for the airport and the 15-hour flight to Japan.

My first day in Japan I received my books and supplies. I realized learning Japanese would take a lot of help from powers greater than my own. On the inside leaf of my language book, I wrote: “Don’t waste time wondering ‘Can I ever do it?’ You can! You have God on your side.” And He was on my side. I found that Japanese was less difficult for me to pronounce than English!

I could share hours about my two-year proselyting mission, but I shall be brief. At that time, the Northern Far East Mission covered Japan, Okinawa, and Korea. I served one year in Osaka, six months in Hiroshima, and six months in Tokyo.

By the end of two years, with the help of the Lord and good companions, we had 24 converts. I will share briefly concerning one special convert. We taught a young mother whose family had been wiped out by the atomic bomb. Fifteen years earlier her baby had died instantly and her two-year-old died 33 days later from terrible burns. Her husband died the previous October from the bomb’s lasting effects. However, she welcomed us into her humble home. She was ready to hear the Gospel. Sister Nakamura was baptized April 16, 1961, in a nearby mountain stream. The following day I was transferred to serve in the Tokyo area. I heard she became a beloved Relief Society president in the Hiroshima Branch. Many years have passed since I left Japan, but my love has only increased for those special Saints of God!

What blessings did my mission provide?:

  • First, it brought true joy in seeing investigators or [new friends] gain testimonies of the Gospel and join the Church. 
  • It strengthened my love for Heavenly Father, His Son, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost. 
  • It deepened my own testimony. 
  • It helped me to know that I can do hard things. 
  • It gave me courage. 
  • It helped me to “let God prevail” in my life. [2]
  • It helped me to accept and appreciate the blessings I do have. 
  • It helped me to accept and trust in the Lord’s timing. 
  • It taught me to have faith when prayers are not answered. 
  • My mission taught me to have more love for all of God’s children and yes, to know that trials and blessings are part of our mortal experience. 

Since my mission I have been abundantly blessed by the Lord.

A few of these blessings include:

  • Being invited by the Dean of Nursing at the University of Utah to complete my master’s degree in nursing education, and then teach at the university 
  • Finding a treasured friend, Char, who would become my roommate. She was not the husband I was hoping for, but she brought companionship, a lot of humor, and added more spirituality in our home 
  • Being invited to teach at BYU College of Nursing and complete a doctoral degree 
  • Being invited to meet with the then President Jeffrey R. Holland of BYU and asked to become the new Dean of the College of Nursing 
  • Developing a love for doing my Icelandic family research and doing their temple work 
  • Being given many opportunities to serve in the Church and serve others 
  • Developing a love of oil painting 

At one of our BYU Nursing Convocations, President Ezra Taft Benson was in attendance and seated on the stand. As I was concluding the convocation, I congratulated the graduates, challenged them to be the best nurses they could be, and to never forget our “adopted” nursing hymn, “Lord, I Would Follow Thee.” [3] When I returned to my seat and sat down next to the Prophet, he reached over, squeezed my hands, looked into my eyes and nodded his head as if to say, “yes.” I could feel his apostolic mantle. How many sisters are blessed to sit next to a prophet?

President Henry B. Eyring recently stated, “When the storms of life come, you can be steady because you are standing on the rock of your faith in Jesus Christ.”[4] Remember, with God, nothing is impossible. [5] DO NOT GIVE UP when you have challenges or trials, for God is there! I testify He is there! In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.


[1] Russell M Nelson, “With God Nothing Shall Be Impossible”, Ensign, May 1988.
[2] Russell M. Nelson, “Let God Prevail”, Ensign, November 2020.
[3] “Lord, I Would Follow Thee,” Hymns, no. 220.
[4] Henry B. Eyring, “Steady in the Storms”, Liahona, May 2022.
[5] See Matthew 17:20; Mark 10:27; Luke 1:37; Luke 18:27.