I gave my mother a hard time as I was a premature baby of 7 months. My mother was told by the doctor that if I lived the year out it would be a miracle as my heart was weak. My parents said they were not afraid I would die as my mother had had a dream before she was pregnant, in which a heavenly messenger had told her that they would have 2 more children, a boy and a girl, and that they would grow up to be a joy to them. These 2 children were me and my sister, Agnes.
Even though I was LDS, as a young boy I was influenced to do things that were wrong by the other boys and girls with whom I played. One night in a dream a heavenly vision broke upon me and a voice out of a great light spoke to me. His voice was like thunder. I was afraid. I was told to stop what I was doing as it was wrong and the vision ended.
Some years later, Elder Stanford Smith arrived in South Africa as a missionary. I had known him when we were young boys while his father was the mission president. As was customary, the new arrivals had to go on a road trip without purse or scrip. The mission president asked if I would go with him and I agreed. I was ordained an Elder and we were sent forth for 14 days. We were instructed not to stay with the members. We had cards with names of friendly people and we were to visit them. Being without purse or scrip made us lean on the arm of the Lord. We never wanted for a place to sleep or a meal to eat. Soon after that I accepted a call to be a fulltime missionary. It was the greatest spiritual experience of my life.
I volunteered for military service in World War II and was assigned to the air force. I was on board a ship bound for Egypt when I had a remarkable experience. The senior NCOs on board kept watch to make sure that there were no lights shining in the dark. One night I was not on duty and was on deck talking to a friend. A voice came to me: “Go look at the front of the ship.” This happened twice. I went to the front and noticed a yellow ball of light on the water. Leaning far over the rail I saw an open porthole. I reported this and the porthole was shut. There were German submarines in the vicinity, and the light would have let them see us.
When I went to sleep on deck an hour later, I prayed for the safety of the ship and all on board her. I felt a responsibility as the only priesthood holder on board, especially after being warned about the light. I was woken early in the morning by a friend who had been on night duty. Our ship had turned a sharp left in the night, so sharp that it listed heavily and the troops panicked. Two torpedoes were seen at close quarters, just missing the ship. Heavy explosions were heard in the distance. I feel that the Lord protected us because of my prayer.
While in Egypt in the desert we ran out of water. The only liquid available for the troops to drink was beer, but being a Latter-Day Saint and wanting to live the word of wisdom, I refused to drink it, not knowing how long it would be before we received anything I could drink. I trusted in the Lord and wanted to obey Him, no matter what my fate would be. After 2 days in the desert with nothing for me to drink and only beer for the troops, we finally received water.
John Wilson served as the District President of Cape Town for 20 years. His faith inspired many and he was well loved.
Excerpted from Autobiographical Sketches of the South African Mission 1969 by Collette Burgoyne