By Lillian Arp
Bees have always fascinated Brother Joseph Price of the Auckland New Zealand Papatoetoe Stake. He reads about bees in the scriptures – of how the ancient Jaredites carried honeybees (Ether 2:3), and how Lehi and his family ate wild honey (1 Nephi 17:5).
Joseph also enjoys singing about bees in a favourite hymn about the First Vision and he ponders on the miraculous purpose of bees in the world. “Without them pollinating plants,” Joseph says, “our farms would not survive.”
He dreamed about one day keeping his own bees, and then in 2018, Joseph – by now a grandfather – finally got his chance. He purchased two hives and eagerly set them up in his backyard and got a beekeeper suit to wear every time he visits the bees. Soon his interest in beekeeping became a passion.
“It’s a joyful way to appreciate Heavenly Father’s creations, and the bees don’t talk back to me,” he laughs. He is so devoted to his hives that his daughter often asks how his “bee children” are . . . and just like children do, the bees have taught him important life lessons.
“One day I visited the hives without my beekeeper suit,” Joseph recalls. “Our prophet, Russel M. Nelson, addressed a regional congregation in Auckland the next day – and I went to fulfil my calling at that meeting with a bee sting on my eye.”
That experience taught him it’s crucial to always keep himself protected, physically and spiritually.
The highlight of Joseph’s beekeeping adventure was when his hives yielded 60 kilograms of beautiful wild honey. He gave away dozens of jars and received rave reviews. “Even my friend who runs a honey business said that my honey tastes better than what they produce,” Joseph beams. He couldn’t wait to see how his hives would perform in the next harvesting season.
Then one morning, he found an entire hive was empty. The bee colony had left!
Joseph searched the neighbourhood, with no luck. “Sometimes the queen [bee] just decides to leave and take her colony with her,” he explains. “Sometimes you can find them, and sometimes you can’t.”
He knew once a colony has left its hive, it’s unlikely that it will ever return. Also, bees never take over another colony’s hive. For these reasons, beekeepers tend to keep many hives – but Joseph only had two.
Tragically, a couple of months later, his second beehive was also abandoned.
Joseph was heartbroken: “I was so sad. I really felt like I had lost something.”
He hung up his beekeeper suit and went to tell his wife, Atelaite, the bad news. “Our bees are gone,” Joseph said to her. She encouraged him to pray.
From that morning, the couple prayed fervently, every day, for their bees. They would thank Heavenly Father for the privilege of having raised bees, and for the joy the experience had brought them, and then they’d prayed for a miracle – that the bees might somehow return.
After almost two weeks, however, Joseph began to lose faith. He told Atelaite he was ready to take down his empty hives and just purchase new bees in the next season. “These things happen,” he said to her. “Let’s just let nature take its course.” But Atelaite wasn’t ready to give up. She had the words of Amulek in her heart:
Yea, humble yourselves, and continue in prayer unto him . . . Cry unto him over the crops of your fields, that ye may prosper in them . . . that they may increase. (Alma 34:19-20, 24-25)
She did not stop praying.
One Saturday morning, Joseph noticed bees hovering above the flowerbeds in his garden. With the eyes of a trained beekeeper, he saw that many were carrying pollen, and that their flight path headed towards his hives.
Joseph hurried to put on his beekeeping suit and went to investigate. Bees swarmed especially around one of his hives, and when he opened it, it was filled with thousands of busy bees.
Joseph shed tears and said a quiet prayer of gratitude. He looked for the queen bee and thanked her for bringing her colony to this hive. Then he ran into the house to tell Atelaite.
“I said, ‘Honey, guess what? The bees have come back!’” He hugged and kissed his wife, and then told her, “Your faith is greater than mine.”
To this day, Joseph doesn’t know if the bees in his hive now are the same bees that left it, or if a new colony took over the hive. As neither situation is likely, he only knows that a miracle happened, and it was preceded by faith.
“I almost doubted and just, ‘let nature take its course,’” Joseph says, “but my wife never did. I have learned to never give up on our prayers and to trust in Heavenly Father. A miracle won’t always happen, but when it does, it brings great joy.”