One of the most memorable Olympic Athletes of all time came to the 1968 Mexico City Games. He was a marathon runner from Tanzania. His name was John Stephen Akhwari. He did not win any medals, he did not place, he doesn't get a mention in the record books. But that's not the point. In fact, I think that it is just possible that more people remember John Akhwari than the person who actually won the gold medal.
Half way through the race John Akhwari fell, badly cutting his knee and dislocating the joint. Most runners at that point would give up. As a matter of fact, only 57 runners out of 74 actually finished the race. But after a few minutes John Akhwari picked himself up, strapped up his leg and kept running.
A little more than an hour after the winner's ceremony had finished, and more than five hours after the start of the race, with just a few thousand spectators left in the stands, you can hear the sound of the police sirens and whistles as well as the motorcycle brigade echoing thought the night. Flashing red and green lights broke through the cold, dark Mexico City evening. The word was passed to the press box and filtered to the few thousand faithful spectators who had remained in the stadium. The last runner was coming in.
Into the stadium came John Stephen Akhwari of Tanzania. His leg was bloody and bandaged. Wincing with pain at every step, he pressed on and the thousands, who just a few minutes before had sat in silence, began a slow, steady clapping. John Akhwari made his way around the track in pain filled steps. The cheering grew louder the closer he came to the finish. Finally, he shuffled his last few steps across the finish line and the crowd roared as if he had been the winner.
He finished last among the 74 competitors.
"My country did not send me to Mexico City to start the race, they sent me to finish the race".
He knew who he was. He was an athlete representing his country, Tanzinia. He knew that his purpose was to finish the race. He knew that he had to endure the trials and endure to the finish so that he could honorably return to his country.
Who are you? What is your purpose here? Even when you feel the truth of the kindness and love of our Heavenly Father to deliver you in your trials, it may still test your courage and strength to endure. Remember the Prophet, Joseph Smith, cried our in agony in the liberty jail:
"Oh God, where art thou? And where is the pavilion that covereth thy hiding place? How long shall thy hand be stayed, and thine eye, yea thy pure eye, behold from the eternal heavens the wrongs of thy people and of thy servants, and thine ear be penetrated with their cries?"
The Lord's reply is there to comfort us in our own times of adversity. He said,
"My son, (or my daughter), peace be unto thy soul; thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment. and then, if thou endure it well, god shall exalt thee on high; thou shalt triumph over all thy foes." Our mission here is much the same as John Stephen Akhwari's. We were sent here to this race by our loving Heavenly Father. We were not sent just to be born, but to return back home to him in honor. We will all face great trials and difficulties. We will all stumble and fall. But I know that our Heavenly Father is there waiting for us to return home. We were sent here, not just to start this race, but to endure our trials with faith and finish it well.