I Only Touched Ground Once

Elder Hugh B. Brown

Elder Hugh B. Brown

I would like to call your attention to what happens to a man in this church when he is converted to the truth. I hope you are all converts. I was in a meeting not long ago and I asked how many were converts. Probably fifty per cent raised their hands. I said, “I advise the rest of you to get converted.” You need to be converts. I would like to say this in passing, that in the years that have passed, and they are many, I have continued to be a convert to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; and for that I thank God. He has been good to me in that he has headed me off when I would have gone my own way. He has known better than I do what was good for me, and he has been willing and gracious to make provision for the things that he could see and I couldn’t…

In 1904 I went to England on a mission. President Grant sent me down to Norwich. When I got into Norwich the president of the district sent me down to Cambridge. He said, “I want you to go with Elder Downs (he was a man 45 years old and I was 21). Elder Downs will leave the morning after you get there for France, because his mission is completed. There is not another Latter-day Saint within 120 miles of Cambridge, so you will be alone.” He said, “You might be interested to know, Brother Brown, that the last Mormon elder that was in Cambridge was driven out by a mob at the point of a gun and was told the next Mormon elder that stepped inside the city limits would be shot on sight.” He said, “I thought you would be glad to know that.”

I wasn’t glad to know it, but I thought it was well that I did know it.

We went to Cambridge. There were great signs all over the city—they had heard we were coming. They had signs indicating their antipathy. That was their method of welcoming us. One big sign at the railway station was of a large man with a long beard, with a woman lying at his feet with her head on a block. Underneath it said, “Will you go into polygamy or won’t you?” That was the reception we received.

Elder Downs left the next morning after telling me how to prepare my tracts, and I went out on Friday morning and tracted all morning without any response except a slammed door in my face. I tracted all afternoon with the same response, and I came home pretty well discouraged. But I decided to tract Saturday morning, although it wasn’t required. I went out and tracted all morning and got the same results. I came home dejected and downhearted, and I thought I ought to go home. I thought the Lord had made a mistake in sending me to Cambridge.

I was sitting by that little alleged fire they have in England, with a big granddaddy clock at the side of the so-called fire. I was feeling sorry for myself, and I heard a knock at the front door. The lady of the house answered the door. I heard a voice say, “Is there an Elder Brown lives here?” I thought, “Oh, oh, here it is!”

She said, “Why, yes, he’s in the front room. Come in, please.”

He came in and said, “Are you Elder Brown?”

I was not surprised that he was surprised. I said, “Yes, sir.”

He said, “Did you leave this tract at my door?”

Well, my name and address were on it. Though I was attempting at that time to get ready to practice law, I didn’t know how to answer it. I said, “Yes, sir, I did.”

He said, “Last Sunday there were seventeen of us heads of families left the Church of England. We went to my home where I have a rather large room. Each of us has a large family, and we filled the large room with men, women and children. We decided that we would pray all through the week that the Lord would send us a new pastor. When I came home tonight I was discouraged; I thought our prayer had not been answered. But when I found this tract under my door, I knew the Lord had answered our prayer. Will you come tomorrow night and be our new pastor?”

Now, I hadn’t been in the mission field three days. I didn’t know anything about missionary work, and he wanted me to be their pastor. But I was reckless enough to say, “Yes, I’ll come.” And I repented from then till the time of the meeting.

He left, and took my appetite with him! I called in the lady of the house and told her I didn’t want any tea. I went up to my room and prepared for bed. I knelt at my bed. My young brothers and sisters, for the first time in my life I talked with God. I told him of my predicament. I pleaded for his help. I asked him to guide me. I pleaded that he would take it off my hands. I got up and went to bed and couldn’t sleep and got out and prayed again, and kept that up all night—but I really talked with God.

The next morning I told the landlady I didn’t want any breakfast, and I went up on the campus in Cambridge and walked all morning. I came in at noon and told her I didn’t want any lunch. Then I walked all afternoon. I had a short-circuited mind—all that I could think of was that I have got to go down there tonight and be a pastor.

I came back to my room at 6:00 and I sat there meditating, worrying, wondering. (Let me in parenthesis tell you that since that time I have had the experience of sitting beside a man who was condemned to die the next morning. As I sat and watched his emotions I was reminded of how I felt that night. I think I felt just as bad as he did.) The execution time was drawing near. Finally it came to the point where the clock said 6:45. I got up and put on my long Prince Albert coat, my stiff hat which I had acquired in Norwich, took my walking cane (which we always carried in those days), my kid gloves, put a Bible under my arm, and dragged myself down to that building, literally. I just made one track all the way.

Just as I got to the gate the man came out, the man I had seen the night before. He bowed very politely and said, “Come in, Reverend, sir.” I had never been called that before. I went in and saw the room filled with people, and they all stood up to honor their new pastor, and that scared me to death.

Then I had come to the point where I began to think what I had to do, and I realized I had to say something about singing. I suggested that we sing “O My Father.” I was met with a blank stare. We sang it—it was a terrible cowboy solo. Then I thought, if I could get these people to turn around and kneel by their chairs, they wouldn’t be looking at me while I prayed. I asked them if they would and they responded readily. They all knelt down, and I knelt down, and for the second time in my life I talked with God. All fear left me. I didn’t worry any more. I was turning it over to him.

I said to him, among other things, “Father in Heaven, these folks have left the Church of England. They have come here tonight to hear the truth. You know that I am not prepared to give them what they want, but Thou art, O God, the one that can; and if I can be an instrument through whom You speak, very well, but please take over.”

When we arose most of them were weeping, as I wisely dispensed with the second hymn, and I started to talk. I talked forty-five minutes. I don’t know what I said. I didn’t talk—God spoke through me, as subsequent events proved. And he spoke so powerfully to that group that at the close of that meeting they came and put their arms around me, held my hands. They said, “This is what we have been waiting for. Thank God you came.”

I told you I dragged myself down to that meeting. On my way back home that night I only touched ground once, I was so elated that God had taken off my hands an insuperable task for man.

Within three months every man, woman and child in that audience was baptized a member of the Church. I didn’t baptize them because I was transferred. But they all joined the Church and most of them came to Utah and Idaho. I have seen some of them in recent years. They are elderly people now, but they say they never have attended such a meeting, a meeting where God spoke to them.

(Leon Hartshorn, Outstanding Stories by General Authorities, Volume 1, “I only touched the ground once”. See also: Hugh Brown, BYU Stakes Fireside Address, “Father, Are You There?” October 8, 1967, pp. 12-15.)


About LDS Scripture Teachings

I write about ways scripture applies in our lives: LDSScriptureTeachings.org
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