Be Not Afraid

by Ellie Hancock

In the Gospel of Matthew, we learn of the disciples being tossed to and fro on the waves of the sea. On the fourth watch of the night Jesus approached them walking on water. The disciples were troubled and cried out in fear thinking that the Savior was a spirit. In reply, the Savior answered, “Be of good cheer; it is I; be not afraid.”1

“Walking on Water” by Yongsung Kim, Havenlight

On a ship centuries later, Wilford Woodruff and several other Apostles, making their way home from their missions to England, faced a treacherous journey of their own. Wilford wrote, “There have been some fears that several children would die on board being very sick. We got together and prayed to the Lord to have mercy upon us all and spare the lives of our company, and the sick began to amend . . . thank God we are now on our return home and are still alive and through the mercy of God are like to live.”2

But two days later, Wilford wrote that the ship faced strong headwinds and a “tempest which scenery I have not language to describe.” He recorded that while the sea was “piling up into mountains” and the ship was “rocking tremendously . . . the cry of help was heard in our cabin. I rushed to the scene and found the ropes giving way and breaking which held the whole mass of baggage . . .  consisting of heavy trunks, chests, boxes and barrels which if once liberated from their confinement would with surge be hurled with all their force into the berths of the men, women, and children which would endanger the lives of all.” Wilford immediately “sprang to this place of danger” and kept the baggage from breaking free.3 Miraculously, all lives were spared and no bones were broken. Wilford stated, “This was a day that caused many mixed sensations of pleasure and pain, grandeur and solemnity, hope and fear to many. To me it was a day that satisfied mine eyes in many respects.”4

The satisfaction that Wilford felt on that day shows his ability to act in faith instead of being stifled by fear. In a similar manner, Peter showed this same empowerment when he walked on the water towards the Savior. It was only when Peter began to focus on his fear of the storm that lay ahead that he began to sink. Yet, the Savior was there to immediately stretch forth His hand and catch Peter, asking, “O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?”5

Choosing to be empowered by faith in Jesus Christ does not mean that there will not be tempests in life that will cause us to doubt. When Wilford Woodruff returned from his mission to England, he went on to face the death of friends and family members, sickness, an exodus from his home in Nauvoo to the valley of the Great Salt Lake, and persecution from the federal government. However, Wilford was blessed and guided as he continued to have faith in Jesus Christ. We may not know what will lie ahead in life, but with absolute surety we can know that the Savior will have His hand stretched out to catch us when we doubt. We may “be not afraid”6 if we keep our focus on and faith in the Savior.

Ellie Hancock, Historian for the Wilford Woodruff Papers Project, graduated with a BA in History from BYU in April 2022. Ellie loves being able to learn from the life, teachings, and  testimony of Wilford Woodruff and is grateful to be a part of a project that gives new insight into the Restoration of the gospel.

Some original text has been edited for clarity and readability.

  1. Matthew 14:24–27.
  2. Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, April 26, 1841, p. 73, The Wilford Woodruff Papers,
  3. Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, April 28, 1841, pp. 73–74, The Wilford Woodruff Papers,
  4. Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, April 28, 1841, p. 73, The Wilford Woodruff Papers,
  5. Matthew 14:29–31.
  6. Matthew 14:27.