March 26, 2014 by FHElessons
I hadn’t planned on doing another FHE in a Movie post so soon, but this week I was fortunate enough to be able to attend a fireside (a meeting held in the evening where speakers give a spiritual message) given by Travis Tuttle and Andrew Propst, the missionaries who were kidnapped and held for ransom in Russia in 1998. Their story is told in the movie, The Saratov Approach.
In preparation for this fireside our family watched the movie, and we totally loved it! It wasn’t at all cheesy like many “Mormon movies” are. The acting was good, and the movie kept you engaged and interested the whole time. In fact, we were pretty much on the edge of our seats throughout the entire time. Part of that may have been because we currently have a son serving a mission for our church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and we would picture him in the place of the missionaries being captured and suffering. But, really, it was a great movie, and I’m glad we bought it.
After the fireside, the Elders Tuttle and Propst (should I call them Elders? former Elders? Brothers? – I’m just going to keep it simple and call them Elders) offered to let people take pictures of them and to sign our copies of the movie. Unfortunately, I didn’t take advantage of their offer, so all I can show you is a photo of my DVD. You can easily Google them if you’d like to see what they look like today, though. They were great speakers – very funny and engaging – and they shared a wonderful message.
It was interesting to hear what parts of the movie were true to life and what parts didn’t happen exactly as pictured. But what was most inspiring were the lessons that they, as 20 year old young men, learned through this experience. I was so inspired by what they said, that I would like to share their message with you today. If you, in turn, would like to share it with your family, you can turn it into a Family Home Evening lesson by watching the movie and talking about the lessons that the Elders learned. Thus, I give you:
FHE in a Movie – The Saratov Approach
Spoiler Alert: This lesson talks about what happens in the movie. If you don’t want the plot to be spoiled ahead of time, watch the movie before reading this lesson!
Opening Song Suggestions:
- Be Still My Soul – Hymn #124
- I’ll Go Where You Want Me to Go – Hymn #270
- Called to Serve – Hymn #249
- Ye Who Are Called to Labor – Hymn #321
How to Pronounce the Title: The first thing Elders Tuttle and Propst taught us was how to pronounce “Saratov.” I know this doesn’t have spiritual significance, but it would be fun to teach your family how to say the word correctly. Most Americans seem to want to accent the first syllable, but the Elders said that the accent should actually be on the middle syllable. Also, you should roll the “r” as you say it. Click HERE to hear the correct pronunciation.
Lesson #1: Make Relationships a Priority. Elder Propst said, “When you think you are about to die, do you know what goes through your mind?” His answer:
- Your relationship with your Father in Heaven and
- Your relationships with your loved ones on Earth
He said those two things just keep repeating over and over again through your mind, and you just wish you had more time on Earth to work on those relationships and make them better. Both Elder Propst and Elder Tuttle admonished us to make the most of our time here on Earth, because you never know when any one day will be your last day. Spend time on your knees getting to know your Heavenly Father. Strive to be like Him and do His will. Always be kind to others, and work to improve your relationships with your loved ones. Basically, make the most of each day, and, in Elder Tuttle’s words, just BE AWESOME!
Lesson #2: Heed Spiritual Promptings. This wasn’t really something the Elders addressed in the fireside, but it was something that I gleaned from the movie while watching it. While the Elders are on their way to the appointment set up by Nicolai, Elder Propst pleads with Elder Tuttle to skip it. He reasons that they do not have an extra copy of the Book of Mormon with them to give to their prospective investigators, so they shouldn’t show up to the appointment unprepared. But Elder Tuttle is the senior companion (the Elders had a lot of fun with this fact at the fireside and were really quite humorous), and he doesn’t want to miss out on this chance to gain some new investigators, knowing that they don’t get as many offers to teach as they would like. After they have been beaten and kidnapped, Elder Tuttle says something like, “I should have listened to the Spirit! There was a warning there. It was quiet and small, but it was there. I should have listened.”
I think the same thing happens to us frequently in life. We receive a spiritual prompting, but because it isn’t what we want to do, we ignore it. The Spirit speaks to us in a still, small voice, and we need to practice to learn to hear it. The way we practice is by obeying when we do feel those promptings. And when we allow the Spirit to guide our lives, we will be protected, and we will be happy.
Lesson #3: Forgive. At the fireside, Elders Propst and Tuttle told us how they were able to forgive their kidnappers. I think the movie does a fairly good job of showing them doing this. They were able to think of their kidnappers as children of God and as the people of Russia who they had come on their missions to serve and teach. They testified that forgiveness brings peace to the person who has been harmed. So, that is the message. Forgive, because forgiveness brings peace.
Lesson #4: Be Willing to Sacrifice to Do God’s Work. During the time when Elders Tuttle and Propst were being held captive, there came a chance to escape. Elder Propst was able to get them free of their handcuffs, and they thought out some different plans that would allow them to get past their captors and get away. At the fireside, Elder Tuttle told how they basically were granted the gift of prophecy, because each time they would think up an escape plan, they would be able to see how that plan would end. In the movie, this is shown through a dream that Elder Tuttle has, but in reality, they just thought some scenarios through, and they knew that each one would end badly.
Finally, they decided on a plan of escape. They decided to ambush their captors and use whatever force necessary to escape, even if they had to kill the kidnappers. But as they were waiting to enact their plan, the Spirit directed them not to go through with it. In the movie, there is a theme of choosing to sacrifice, just as Christ sacrificed for us. While Elder Propst is waiting to ambush his captor, he thinks about this and about why he and Elder Tuttle decided to serve missions. He realizes they came to serve the people of Russia, and not to harm them or kill them and decides not to go through with it. But what actually went through his mind was, to me, even more touching.
Tears streamed down my face during the fireside as Elder Propst told us what transpired as they were waiting to ambush their kidnappers. He had a vision of the front page of the New York Times with the headline, “Mormon Missionaries Kill Russians.” He knew that if they went through with their plan, it would reflect badly on the Church and badly on the whole missionary program. He had committed himself to the Work and would make whatever sacrifice was needed for that Work to go forward, even if it meant he would sacrifice his own life.
So, understanding that missing out on his chance to escape would probably mean he would die, he got down from where he was waiting in ambush and went to talk to Elder Tuttle. They both agreed that the Work was more important than their own escape, and they were both willing to die to let the Work go forward unimpeded. They sat back down and locked their handcuffs back up, believing that the kidnappers would now kill them.
When the Elders were first kidnapped, they had been given a chance to write notes home. They both wrote to their parents to please send help and to do whatever the kidnappers asked of them. But after this incident, they were again given the chance to write to their parents. This time they wrote something like, “Please don’t be sad if we die. We are doing it for the benefit of other missionaries. So we are doing it for the Work.”
While listening to them, I thought of my own son who is serving a mission, and I thought of how committed he is to the Work. I can totally understand how two young boys could be so committed to Missionary Work that they would be ready to lay down their lives for it. What is our own level of commitment? What are we willing to sacrifice?
Lesson #5: Learn to Submit Our Will to God. This is a lesson I have had to learn many times in my life and am still learning. It can be so hard to give up what we want in favor of what the Lord wants for us. But each time I learn this lesson, I find that what God wants for me will always make me happier than what I want for myself. He knows all, and He loves me unconditionally. His plan is always the best one.
After Elders Tuttle and Propst chose to heed the direction of the Spirit and remain captive rather than escape, their captors set them free the very next day. Because of a law in Russia allowing kidnappers to receive a lesser sentence if they subsequently release their prisoners unharmed, the kidnappers received only light sentences. Elders Tuttle and Propst were able to continue serving the rest of their missions. Isn’t this outcome so much better than them harming or killing their captors and having to live with that regret for the rest of their lives? Not to mention that the kidnappers would not have had time on Earth to repent if they were killed, and Missionary Work could have been hindered.
The Lord always knows what is best for us! If we can learn to trust Him and to do His will regardless of our own desires, we will live much happier lives. Additionally, our will is really the ONLY thing we have that we can freely give to God. He has given us to much – He has given us everything! Everything we have is already His except our own free will. If we can give Him that, we have truly given Him a gift.
Elders Tuttle and Propst testified that submitting one’s will to God brings peace.
Finally, they testified that Jesus is the Christ and has atoned for our sins. By following His example, we can return again to live with Him and with our Father in Heaven. In the Name of Jesus Christ. Amen.