Hugh B. Brown (1883-1975) served as a mission president, an assistant to the Quorum of the Twelve, an apostle, a counselor to Pres. David O. McKay, and again in the Quorum.
Following missionary service as a young man, Elder Brown had just begun to prepare for a law career when he was called by his stake president to organize a Mormon squadron to serve in the military reserves of his native Canada. World War I soon followed, and Elder Brown went to England in command of a Canadian cavalry unit. Eventually summoned to the office of the general in charge of all Canadian forces, he expected his own promotion to general. Instead, his interview went like this:
He said, “Sit down, Brown.” Then he said, “I’m sorry I cannot make the appointment. You are entitled to it. You have passed all the examinations. You have the seniority. You’ve been a good officer, but I can’t make the appointment. You are to return to Canada and become a training officer and a transport officer. Someone else will be made a general.” That for which I had been hoping and praying for ten years suddenly slipped out of my fingers.
Then he went into the other room to answer the telephone, and I took a soldier’s privilege of looking on his desk. I saw my personal history sheet. Right across the bottom of it in bold, block-type letters was written, “THIS MAN IS A MORMON.” We were not very well liked in those days. When I saw that, I knew why I had not been appointed.
The lessons he learned from this experience are related in “Lesson of the Currant Bush,” a classic in LDS oratory.
He returned to his law career following World War I, a career interrupted first by a call to serve as mission president and again by a special call to coordinate services for LDS military personnel in Europe throughout World War II.
Near the end of that war, he met with a group of LDS servicemen in England for a testimony meeting. A visitor suggested that the men try to trace their faith back to the beginning. “Just when did you start to believe and from what source has your faith been fed? When you return home, where will you go for a renewal of that faith which has been so severely tested during these war years?” The men thought, then gave variations on the idea that their faith had been built by a thousand small experiences. “A little trickle of belief here, an anecdote or faith-promoting story there, a childhood prayer answered, a mother’s intuition confirmed and a tragedy averted, a Bible story in a Sunday School class, a testimony in a fast meeting.” All the little moments had combined to form the faith that had sustained them during the war.
Drawing on that experience and his own considerable military background, Elder Brown wrote to the church at home with advice on greeting servicemen when they could finally come home, advice that may be relevant to families and wards who welcome home servicemen and -women from 21st century battlefields:
These men who talked of home and of Church and of Sunday School are coming back with batteries badly in need of recharging. Spiritually they will be hungry men asking for bread. They will be thirsty men wanting a refreshing drink; wounded men yearning for the cooling waters of understanding, confidence and faith to lave their tired souls. When they come back to us, they must find dynamos at work supplying light after an awful night of darkness.
Sunday School officers and teachers have never had such a challenge. There will be a demand for time-tested truths and for teachers whose lives have been moulded by those truths; teachers with a technique suited to an age of precision and speed, an inquiring age, a disillusioned and sometimes doubting age, but a soul-hungry age.
These servicemen will follow memory back to the Sunday School from which they feel much of their strength has come. Their hopes and expectations will be high and they must not be disappointed. But they will also come prepared to make some contributions; they will bear testimony of faith-promoting experiences and will tell us how the gospel has stood up under the awful test of war. Their coming will be a blessing to us if we too are teachable and open-minded. …
We must be prepared to answer their questions when we can, but – and this is more important – we must help them to believe there is an answer though we may not be able to tell them precisely what the answer is. They and we will need the penetrating vision of faith if we are to give sight to the blinded and hope to those whose future seems so insecure. We must prove to them that the springs of faith have not run dry while they were away.
Tens of thousands of servicemen will crowd into our Sunday Schools this year and next, bringing with them many questions and some answers, some doubts and much reassurance. We and they must utilize an inexhaustible power of the gospel as we approach this task, must harness it to their fine skills and expert training and then we shall face the future unafraid. The master said “for their sakes I have sanctified myself.” No Sunday School officer or teacher can do less and expect to do his full part in this challenging undertaking.
[see “Hugh B. Brown, “Returned Servicemen and the Sunday School,” The Instructor,, July 1945, 296-298]