Monday, March 17, 2014
Bold but Loving
Marcos A. Aidukaitis and his wife Luisa were the speakers at the March 4, 2014 MTC Devotional. During the past year, they also spoke on March 5, 2013 and then again on November 19, 2013. Elder Aidukaitis is a delightful speaker with a huge grin and a contagious laugh. I believe they said that he currently is serving as the Assistant Executive Director of the Missionary Department.
In his talks last year, he urged the missionaries to make “the BIG decision” – to choose which Kingdom they wanted: Telestial, Terrestrial, or Celestial – and, to write their destiny of choice in BIG letters in their journals that night. Writing it in big letters signified a bold decision, not a timid one. “After you make the BIG decision,” he said, “all other decisions are easy and simple.” He also told the missionaries that if the Celestial Kingdom was not their destination of choice, then they were “doing too much.” (Logically, the criterion for admittance into the Telestial or Terrestrial Kingdoms requires little or no effort.)
At the March 4th devotional this month, he expounded several missionary scriptures, iterating the promises and the requisites listed for each scripture. The promised blessings always follow the missionary’s faithful obedience to the requisites, he said. Take, for example, Alma 26:22:
Yea, he that repenteth and exerciseth faith, and bringeth forth good works, and prayeth continually without ceasing—unto such it is given to know the mysteries of God; yea, unto such it shall be given to reveal things which never have been revealed; yea, and it shall be given unto such to bring thousands of souls to repentance, even as it has been given unto us to bring these our brethren to repentance.
In this scripture, the missionary is promised the blessing of bringing thousands of souls to repentance. The requisites are that the missionary is repentant, he exercises faith, does good works, and prays without ceasing. By doing these things, he may know the “mysteries” of God—such as where to go to find those thousands of souls, and what to say to them to bring them to repentance.
Elder Aidukaitis told them that it did not matter that they may have been called to a very difficult mission where converts traditionally have been very few. The promise stands: if you do the requisites, the blessings will follow. Especially now, in this day of the hastening of the work, any missionary can exercise faith in the promises of that scripture, and baptize every week!
Elder Aidukaitis also admonished the missionaries to be a “trumpet” and not a “timid instrument.” He explained the need for the boldness of a trumpet because of the confusion in the world—for there is a war going on—a violin or flute would not be heard above the noise and confusion. “Be bold but loving,” he said. He demonstrated those qualities throughout his talk.
We departed rejoicing.
MY HUSBAND'S TAKE
The Cheerful Reaper
As my wife stated above, Elder Aidukaitis has an infectious laugh and an ebullient personality. I believe that it would be virtually impossible to sit through one of his talks without smiling… a lot. It would take a somber soul indeed to not chuckle at some point. He has, as the prophet Joseph Smith said of himself, a native cheery temperament. He exudes enthusiastic optimism. In his address to the missionaries in 19 November 2013, he quoted from the Gospel according to John: “These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) He is the living manifestation of one who has completely embraced that commandment.
In concert with the Savior’s instruction to have not fear, but believe joyfully, Elder Aidukaitis also cited Doctrine and Covenant 31. As a Branch Presidency, we use this section with the newly arrived missionaries on their first Thursday with us.
Lift up your heart and rejoice, for the hour of your mission is come; and your tongue shall be loosed, and you shall declare glad tidings of great joy unto this generation. You shall declare the things which have been revealed to my servant, Joseph Smith, Jun. You shall begin to preach from this time forth, yea, to reap in the field which is white already to be burned. Therefore, thrust in your sickle with all your soul, and your sins are forgiven you, and you shall be laden with sheaves upon your back, for the laborer is worthy of his hire. Wherefore, your family shall live. (D&C 31:3-5)
We review with the Elders and Sisters the promised blessings for faithful missionary service. Paramount is the commandment to rejoice, because the subsequent blessings can only lift up our hearts. One’s sins may be remediated while aiding others to put off the natural man and partake of the divine nature. We point out to the missionaries in addition that their families will be blessed while they serve the Lord.
In the first two talks we had the opportunity to listen to, Elder Aidukaitis spoke of the three degrees of glory and the blessings that attend exaltation in the Celestial Kingdom. How does one receive a fullness of joy, the sort of happiness that God the eternal Father experiences in eternity? It is when we find ourselves in complete harmony with His will that we begin to know Him, that we begin to perceive the nature of eternal life.
As he spoke, I was reminded of another wonderful passage in the Doctrine and Covenant, this time in Section 18.
Remember the worth of souls is great in the sight of God; For, behold, the Lord your Redeemer suffered death in the flesh; wherefore he suffered the pain of all men, that all men might repent and come unto him. And he hath risen again from the dead, that he might bring all men unto him, on conditions of repentance. And how great is his joy in the soul that repenteth! Wherefore, you are called to cry repentance unto this people. And if it so be that you should labor all your days in crying repentance unto this people, and bring, save it be one soul unto me, how great shall be your joy with him in the kingdom of my Father! And now, if your joy will be great with one soul that you have brought unto me into the kingdom of my Father, how great will be your joy if you should bring many souls unto me! (D&C 18:10-16)
To the ancient Israelites, the time of the harvest was a joyful hour; great celebrations were held throughout the land of promise when the crops were gathered in. The harvester enters into the field and encircles an armful of wheat stalks and then quickly cuts them near the ground with his sickle. He then uses another bit of stalk to tie the bundle together. This constitutes a sheave. Many sheaves would indicate a bounteous harvest, indeed.
In his talk a few weeks ago, Elder Aidukaitis spoke of the sickle itself, the effective instrument of the harvest in the hand of the harvester. He testified that it represented nothing less than the Book of Mormon itself and that the Elders and Sisters needed to hone the edge of their comprehension of that book in order that they might be at their most effective in teaching the principles and ordinances of eternal life.
I had always thought of the Book of Mormon as the key to conversion, but it had not occurred to me before that evening to consider it as the sickle itself. I was delighted at the thought; I pondered it over and over in my mind and in my heart. By the time he finished his address I was completely convinced that he had spoken the truth of the matter. No one in this dispensation will attain to everlasting life and salvation without a witness of the Book of Mormon, a book, by the way, that provides the means by which one can know of its surety.
I have been reading the Book of Mormon for more than fifty years. I have studied it from every angle, comparing it with the other sacred works of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. No one man could have composed that text on his own; there is no way that it could be false. The world has been compelled to discredit the Book of Mormon and has tried to do so since it first saw the light of day in the spring of 1830. They have utterly failed to do so. It cannot be explained away. It stands a bright and burning witness of all that Joseph Smith said from the beginning of his ministry is true. No one can come away from a reading of that book without being stunned at its consistency and clarity, its indisputable continuity as a narrative. For a missionary, it is the means by which the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ may be taught. For the investigator of the truth, it is the very key that opens an otherwise inaccessible fountain of divine truth and light. ~ PNH
Sunday, March 9, 2014
On the first Sunday of almost every month at the MTC, is “Mission Conference.” During this two-hour meeting, President Lon Nally and his wife Kaye always speak, and one of his counselors and his wife, along with one of the District Presidency members and his wife, also speak to an audience attended by all of the missionaries and all of the Branch Presidency members and their spouses—upwards of 2000 people. Uplifting and edifying discourses consistently characterize these meetings.
During Mission Conference on Sunday, February 2, 2014, the following story was told:
“Elder Nelson Cordova—a member of the Seventy who resides in California—was just finishing his evening shift as a recorder in the Los Angeles Temple. The phone rang; it was the LAX airport control tower. The obviously stressed man on the phone asked, ‘Where is Moroni?’ Apparently the light that shines on the Angel Moroni atop the temple had gone out—and without Moroni as a beacon, some of the pilots were worried about landing safely.
“Elder Cordova and others climbed to the top of the temple to start the light again with a generator they kept on hand to use during power failures. He said he was amazed that the caller actually asked for Moroni by name—and that he learned a lesson that night—‘The temple is not only a beacon in the lives of the Saints, but for others as well.’ ”
In the context of the talk, the story was used as an attention getter for the theme of the talk, “beacons of righteousness.”
At this month’s Mission Conference on March 2, 2014, President Nally mentioned, in passing, that the New York Times had posted the day before on the front page of the internet edition, a lengthy article about two LDS Sister missionaries serving in Korea. He indicated that he’d not had time to read the entire article yet; he was merely commenting on its front page status.
My response on hearing the Los Angeles Temple story was surprise that pilots and air traffic controllers would know by name the Los Angeles Temple and the Angel Moroni.
My response to the New York Times article, which I read online Sunday afternoon after Mission Conference, was also surprise—why did the New York Times think that their readership would actually be interested in LDS Sister missionaries? As for accuracy, although their premise was somewhat flawed, so that what followed was slightly off, the tone was neutral rather than negative. To judge for yourself, go to:
Another surprising article, titled “The Facebook of Mormon” appeared earlier this year in The Atlantic magazine:
Why was I surprised in each case? Mostly because for the majority of my life, people of other faiths whom I have encountered in the world have either never even heard of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints or Mormons, or, they have heard only the distortions or skewed representations circulated by enemies of the Church. Mocking, scoffing, and outrageous misrepresentations from the world are what I have come to expect.
In January’s Mission Conference, President Nally told us about an experience his granddaughter had recently had while serving her mission in the Philippines. One day, she and her companion were accosted by a North American man who viciously spewed so much hatred at them and at the Church that they were brought to tears. Afterward, their tears were replaced by smiles because of the smiles and friendly greetings of the warm Filipino people, and by the comfort that came to them from the Spirit.
The monumental task of the MTC is preparing the missionaries for such varied experiences. Sometimes, as they serve their missions, the missionaries will be “beacons,” and sometimes they will be “targets.” And sometimes they will be surprised . . . . ~PLH
My Husband’s Take:
One of the liabilities of being assigned at the Provo Missionary Training Center, is that one loses contact with the residential Ward and Stake within which one resides. I miss the members of the Ward where I once presided as Bishop. I want to know how they are doing; my affection for them has not diminished one whit during the past year. I feel the same way about the members of the Stake with whom I worked closely while I served on the High Council. I miss my former Stake President, Richard K. Wilson, whom I love like a brother. I know that I am missing something of the leadership blessings that I might have had with the recently called Stake President, Jeff Robinson, whom I have known almost since the day that we moved into our home here in Orem.
What I have felt for these two great men, I have felt elsewhere in my travels with the Church Educational System. I have enjoyed the fellowship and confidence of Stake Presidents for more than fifty years and I am a better person for having known and worked with them. When I have had eyes to see and ears to hear, I have invariably been edified by those who preside in the Church and Kingdom of God. I have seldom gone to a Stake Conference or a Stake Leadership meeting where I have not been edified and blessed for having been in attendance. This has been pointedly true as I have listened and conformed my life to the teachings of the various Stake Presidents with whom I have served.
I knew that when I accepted the call to serve at the Provo MTC that I would be distanced from people that I knew and loved. That was one of the sacrifices that I was expected to make. I had watched others make the same sacrifice when they had received similar calls that took them outside of the Stake. I have to say that I grieved just a little as the truth of what I suspected came to be realized. I was, however, not abandoned by any means. I had simply changed venues.
For the past year, my wife and I have sat at the feet of the MTC Presidency, rejoicing in the teachings that have been presented to us as we tried to serve the young men and women who had responded to a prophet’s call to serve. There have been training meetings of various kinds, visits to our particular Branch where Presidency members have spoken, and, of course, the monthly Mission Conferences that traditionally take place on Fast Sunday. These have been rich experiences and I have taken copious notes on all of the addresses that have been made. Of all of the speakers, the one I have enjoyed the most has been President Lon B. Nally. In part, I think that I have been particularly attentive to him because he essentially serves as my Stake President, at least as far as my weekly experiences in the Church are concerned.
I decided that I would review my notes from these various conferences and training meetings so that I might share some of the tremendous insights that I have gained as I have sat at President Nally’s feet. Alas, I discovered that my notes are few, and those that appear are almost unintelligible. As I turned the pages, I sorrowed at the lack of adequate stimulus to remind me of the wonderful things that he had said, principles that had touched my heart deeply. I decided to see if this lapse in recording had affected the rest of my notes on the various talks that had been given by others. To my surprise, I discovered that much of what had been said by others had been preserved by my pen. Why had I not treated President Nally’s words better?
As I have pondered the lack of detail in my journal, I have settled on a couple of possibilities. First, during the President’s talks I may have been so enthralled by what he was saying, the sublime nature of his insights, that I simply could not take the time to write them down for fear that I might miss something of what he was saying while I tried to write. Frequently our visitors at the MTC will ask us not to take notes that we might more readily feel the spirit of the Lord. I had not understood what they had been suggesting until now. Perhaps the strength of the spirit on those occasions was so strong that I unconsciously chose to abandon my journal for a greater good.
Secondly, I have thought that maybe some of the things that the President communicated to me personally, that is to say, those things which I learned by the spirit, were too sacred to record. Perhaps they were some of the unspeakable things of the Kingdom, things that could not be written down, because there are no human words into which those thoughts and feelings might be translated. The oddity was that I thought that I had written them down, that I would find them when I perused my journal afterward.
Yet, for all of my ruminating on the matter, I had not been able to intellectually explain why my circumstances are the way they are . . . until this morning, the day after I began writing my portion of this posting. I have concluded that the messages and instruction that President Nally has delivered to the missionaries and their leaders are written down, but in my most personal journal, upon the fleshy tablets of my heart. I am a different man for having been in those meetings, just as I have become a different man for having hearkened to my Stake Presidents throughout the years. I cannot explain what specific doctrines or teachings have influenced me, I just know that I am more determined than ever to be the kind of person that the Gospel of Jesus Christ defines as a disciple of the Son of God. It is a wonderful experience to be entrusted with what I think now are unspeakable things.
In the light of this morning’s epiphany that I had about my journal and the teachings and testimony of President Nally, I finally understood what happened to me several months ago, as President Wilkins and I walked out of a Mission Conference together. I turned to him and exclaimed, “President Nally did it again! He hit the ball right out of the park!” The President turned to me and asked, “In what way? What did he say that made you feel that way?” I tried to explain myself and found that my usual glibness had failed me. I felt like I had just had a stroke. I could not articulate in any satisfactory way what I had been feeling and thinking as a result of President Nally’s address. I have since decided that my heart does not have a playback feature. I know how I feel; I know when I am being blessed; it is as real to me as anything I experience in life. But for the present, I am unable to share what I have gained in this particular venue. Perhaps these things are too sacred to share; perhaps they are impossible to share with others for the time being. All I know for certain is that I am looking forward to the next three years; I am confident that they are going to prove as joyous and as precious to me as the last twelve months have been. ~PNH
Tuesday, March 4, 2014
On a cold, snowy Tuesday evening in December, the scheduled speaker for the Provo MTC Devotional was unable to travel from Salt Lake City to Provo because of the extremely hazardous driving conditions. Remarkably, the MTC Presidency managed to find a stand-in at the last minute! It was Bruce C. Hafen, an emeritus General Authority. How they managed to find him and how he managed to be prepared to speak on such short notice seemed like a miracle to me.
The feeling of the presence of the Spirit came into the auditorium as he spoke. It was palpable.
During his talk, Elder Hafen recounted his own missionary experience as a senior companion in the early 1960s in West Germany with a new junior companion who had just arrived from the MTC. That first day in the mission field, this junior companion, whom I will call “Elder Green,” went on “splits” with another junior companion, while their respective senior companions were in a day-long meeting with the Mission President. Elder Hafen and the other senior companion had thought that the two inexperienced missionaries would be “safe” tracting in a huge complex of apartment buildings.
At the end of his day tracting, Elder Green ecstatically reported to Elder Hafen that he had found a woman who would become a member of the church. “We have to go back and find her!” he said. Elder Hafen had been on his mission for at least a year by that time, and had become somewhat cynical—“frozen over” was how he described it. Nevertheless, he decided to humor his starry-eyed junior companion. Alas, because of his inexperience, Elder Green had neglected to note the woman’s name and address. All he was sure of was that she lived on the fifth floor.
So, the next day, Elder Hafen and Elder Green spent hours climbing to the 5th floor of countless nondescript apartment buildings that all looked the same to try to find her again. As the day wore on, Elder Hafen was convinced that the search was futile. But Elder Green would not give up even though Elder Hafen was obviously skeptical and reluctant to continue. After several difficult hours, they finally located the woman.
Elder Green’s confidence in the spiritual assurance he’d received concerning this woman turned out to be entirely justified. She and her family joined the church. The woman’s husband later became a sealer in the Frankfurt Germany Temple.
Elder Hafen’s message to the missionaries was this: serving a mission is going to be hard; try to not let yourself become cynical or “frozen over,” try to remain hopeful, “be realistic but stay open to promptings from heaven.”
In the most recent issue of the Church News (March 1, 2014), there was an article about the biography of Neal A. Maxwell, which was written by Bruce C. Hafen. To read this article, go to:
As he wrote the book (at Elder Maxwell’s request), Elder Hafen reflected on the question, “Why do we read and write biographies?” His answer was, “When we tell our own stories to each other, we realize that the cosmic quest to overcome evil and find God is a very personal quest for each of us,” he said.
In telling his own personal missionary story at the MTC, Elder Hafen was sharing that sacred moment during which he recognized that the Spirit really had directed his junior companion. In that moment of recognition, he experienced a change of heart, and was rescued from his “frozen over” condition. ~PLH
My Husband's Take:
The Length and Breadth
I, too, thoroughly enjoy the stories told by the Brethren about their missions when they were young men. It is wonderful to me that they frequently speak of their foibles, as did Elder Hafen and his “frozen over” moment as a senior companion in West Germany that was mentioned above by my wife. Last Tuesday’s devotional featured Elder Steven E. Snow of the Seventy. He recounted how difficult his mission had been in the late 1960s in northern Germany. He and his companions spurred themselves on, however, with little quips like: “Let’s keep tracting Elder; for every door we knock on, someone gets baptized in Mexico!”
Elder Snow went on to talk about other missionaries who had seemingly not performed well as young Elders. He referred to President Joseph Fielding Smith’s mission in Great Britain, where the future prophet, seer, and revelator handed out 10,000 pamphlets and visited in over 4000 homes, yet no one received the Gospel at his hands while he was there. He performed no baptisms, and the whole time that he served in England, he helped confirm only one person into The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Yet the experience proved to be no detriment to his character or to his later service in the Kingdom of God.
This past Sunday, as part of Mission Conference, President Nally spoke in a similar vein, and then went on to relate the experience of President James E. Faust during the early 1940s as a new missionary in Brazil. The whole time that he served there with his companions, only three people were baptized and none of them were at his hands. During his first day on the streets of the city where he and his companion, William Grant Bangeter, were working, Elder Bangeter told him that the next door would be his. He knew little Portuguese but made a valiant attempt to communicate with the woman who answered the door. They did not teach her; they did not baptize her. Thirty years later, however, while President Faust was visiting Brazil, this same woman came up to him and wept into his hands in gratitude for his service to her in preparing her and her family for the fullness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
As I listened to President Nally, I reflected upon my own mission to southern Mexico. I had been one of those missionaries who baptized a person for every door that Elder Snow knocked upon. I knew that I had served well, and that the Lord was pleased with my labors. That was as certain as certainly itself. However, I did not know how lasting any of my efforts had been. Were any of those families who received the Gospel during my tenure there still active in the Church? Were their children and grandchildren faithful members of the Kingdom of God on the earth? I did not know. I have not returned to my former fields of labor to find out how things have gone with these people that I loved. I suppose that I will not know until I pass out of this life and proceed into the next. Will I have to seek them out, or will they be waiting for me?
President Nally played an audio clip of one of President Faust’s talks at one of the Mission Presidents’ Seminar held at the Provo MTC. President Faust began by stating, “You cannot know the length and breadth of your labors as a minister of Christ”. I marveled at that. How fruitful had my mission been? Was it fruitful because of the things that I could outwardly point to in the records that I kept? Were there other things heretofore unmentioned and unrecorded by human hands that had contributed to the building up of the Kingdom of God in that part of the Lord’s vineyard as I labored throughout southern Mexico? I rather hope that there are. ~PNH
Elder Hyde 1964-1966
Tuesday, February 25, 2014
On May 14, 2013, Elder Russell M. Nelson and his wife, the former Wendy Watson, were the MTC Devotional speakers. During that Devotional, Sister Nelson said, “Pray to be led to those whose ancestors pray for you on the other side of the veil. They are eager to receive their ordinances; ask for angels to help you.”
I was especially interested in and touched by her words because of my own remarkable experiences while doing family history research. I knew the truth of those words.
After she spoke, Elder Nelson underscored her words when he stated: “Ancestors are praying for you to find their posterity. The Spirit of Elijah is on your side. People on both sides of the veil are praying for the missionaries.” He went on to suggest that the missionaries enlist the Family History Consultants in the wards they serve in to help investigators to find their ancestors.
I was astonished. Uniting family history work with missionary work was a new and unique vision. However, these Devotional talks by Elder and Sister Nelson turned out to be a mere glimpse of things to come.
About one month later, on June 23, 2013, a Worldwide Leadership Broadcast from the MTC occurred, titled “The Work of Salvation.” In that broadcast, we were presented with an enlarged vision of “hastening” the Lord’s work with Church members and missionaries working together. (“Hastening the Work of Salvation—a united effort in conversion, retention, and activation” is available on lds.org for your edification!)
Fast forward to February 4, 2014. The MTC Devotional speakers on that date were Elder David F. Evans, executive director of the Missionary Department, and his wife, Mary. Elder Evans began his talk by mentioning that he had had a meeting that day with Missionary Council members, including Elder Russell M. Nelson, Elder David A. Bednar, Bishop Gérald Caussé, and Elder James B. Martino. The rest of Elder Evans’ talk gave us a glimpse of what had been discussed in that meeting.
He spoke of “new things” happening in our world that would present challenging conditions and situations for the missionaries in the mission field. He said they would be called upon to defend the family and traditional marriage, and they must be prepared to answer unique questions of the soul.
Almost as an aside, he shared that two general authorities had been somewhere in the world together the previous week when they were warned by a strong spiritual impression that they should not proceed to their planned destination. The important part of it was that the Spirit had warned them and that they had heeded that warning, not knowing what might have occurred. It was a “type” for the missionaries to follow—to recognize and trust in spiritual impressions that would keep them safe.
He also shared a person experience. He said that some years earlier the “eyes of his understanding were opened” in a “most profound experience” that “changed forever” the way he felt about his wife and children, so that ever after he tried harder with his children. Here was another “type” for the missionaries to follow—to seek life-changing understanding that would help them to live according to God’s will.
Elder Evans admonished the missionaries to embrace truth, cling to truth for safety, and that these truths will resonate with sincere seekers of truth.
That we live in perilous times can readily be seen. That the Lord is not surprised by world events, and that He inspires His chosen servants in the things that they should do is also readily seen. Our day was foreseen. The safety and well-being of ourselves, our families, our fellow Church members, as well as that of society as a whole, depends on our heeding the promptings of the Spirit and the counsel and teachings of the Lord’s servants.
At the end, Elder Evans suggested that there would be “additional training coming” . . . . ~PLH
[My husband's "take":]
I Have No Desire to Perish
Two scriptures have come to my mind during the last little while. The first comes from the writings of the prophet Amos:
Surely the Lord GOD will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets. (Amos 3:7)
The import of this particular passage to me during the last little while will become apparent momentarily.
One of the most delightful aspects of serving at the Provo Missionary Training Center has been the frequent appearance of the General Authorities of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. For the past year, Pat and I have been able to attend the Devotionals held on Tuesday evening, take copious notes on the addresses given by the Brethren and their wives, and then have the opportunity to mutually share what we have learned with one of the Districts in our Branch. I always come away from these evenings edified and more determined to live as I ought to, according to the light and knowledge which has just been abundantly given to me. The Brethren have also visited the MTC on other occasions when I have been instructed directly as a member of a Branch Presidency. I have been grateful for the guidance, and I have invariably been benefited when I have taken the counsel to heart.
The instruction has been timely. One of the most apparent aspects of the activities transpiring at the MTC has been the number of changes that have taken place. When we were first called to serve in our Branch, we were housed on the Main Campus, one of sixty branches that had been established there. Adapting to our new surroundings was a challenge but we achieved that with some grace. Someone asked me what it was like serving with the missionaries. I replied that it was like coming out of retirement and being called as a Bishop on the same day. We have been fully occupied. In the beginning we had to learn a considerable amount of policies and procedures, some of which we had never encountered before in our service in the Kingdom of God. These were specialized instructions and guidelines that had come about as the MTC had grown and expanded. In the process of time, we mastered these and were feeling somewhat comfortable.
Then a new set of guidelines came about with new manuals for both the missionaries and for their ecclesiastical leaders. Much was the same, but some changes revealed an improved approach to the whole process of preparing missionaries for their fields of labor. The number of branches at the MTC had increased to over one hundred. About this same time, the leadership of our Branch changed. The president with whom we had served for six months was released and a new President sustained. The first counselor was released to become the President of another Branch, requiring another counselor to be sustained. There was a flurry of activity as all of us began to adjust to our new circumstances. Administrative assignments changed and I soon found myself deeply immersed in learning heretofore unknown aspects of how a Branch should function. About the same time, our Branch was reassigned to the West Campus; all of our meeting places and times changed radically. In some respects, we were once again starting at square one. As time passed, other changes took place, all about the time we had just finished absorbing the previous changes. We found ourselves almost in a constant state of flux. It was a little unnerving, but we pressed forward in faith.
Throughout all of these disorienting events, there was a steadiness. Underpinning all that was going on were the calming voices of the General Authorities and the Mission Presidency. They assured us, with convincing evidence and not platitudes, that they understood what was going on and that there was a purpose to all that was transpiring. We were counseled to hold fast to the rod of iron, as it were, and continue in our assignments. They also assured us that the changes and adjustments that had been going on were not going to cease any time soon. In every instance these assurances have proven to be justifiable, and our trust and confidence in the midst of seeming turmoil has increased and strengthened. On reflection, I would not choose to have any of the episodes changed one whit.
For one like me, who is decidedly a conservative of the classic type, the fluctuations of our assignment have been just a little disturbing. At the heart of the matter, however, the reason why we persist in our callings, is the principle of preternatural vision, the ability to see through the seeming chaos to the goals that divine providence has mandated for our time and place. We have been strengthened and sustained by those whom we love, those who gladly serve us, until our own eyes have been appropriately opened as theirs already are. What more could anyone hope for in such an assignment? I am grateful beyond expression that there are yet three years remaining to us that our spiritual horizons might continue to expand.
The second scripture came into my mind as I have contemplated what might have happened to us had we chosen to ignore the counsel we have been given during the past year, if we had succumbed to the flurry of activity instead of finding refuge in the revelations being poured out upon those who preside in the Church and Kingdom of God.
Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he. (Proverbs 29:18)
May we always find refuge in the word of the Lord, for whether by His own voice or by the voice of His servants, it is the same. ~PNH
Thursday, February 6, 2014
On Tuesday, January 21, 2014, Bishop Gérald Caussé of the Presiding Bishopric and his wife Valérie were the Devotional speakers at the Provo Missionary Training Center.
First of all, I loved listening to their French accents. They could have gone on for another hour and I would not have tired of it.
Sister Valérie Caussé shared her feelings of inadequacy and trepidation that occurred in 2008 when President Monson phoned them in Paris and asked her husband Gérald (at age 44) to “be a Seventy until he was seventy.”
She said she knew that “Life would not be the same forever.” She felt incapable of leaving children, parents, friends, French food, and her home on the outskirts of Paris: “Why would I do this?” She said that she retreated into the bathroom alone and wept. She said that she felt almost desperate, but then she felt the Savior close to her, she felt his loving presence. So she said yes when she wanted to say no. She said she wanted to be able to say to Jesus Christ when she meets him, “I did my best.”
Bishop Caussé said that during his time as a General Authority he has toured 40 missions and has collected 100 pages of missionary stories. One of his favorite stories is of two Sister missionaries in Spain. As they were passing by a bank one day, a big security guard standing at the entrance of the bank called to them. They described him as having “one and half yellow teeth and a big machine gun.”
Two remarkable things then transpired, first this somewhat intimidating man asked them for a copy of the Book of Mormon; he also went on to tell them that his wife had died and that he was working two jobs to care for his children. The second remarkable thing that happened was that the Sister missionaries instantly were filled with pure and unconditional Christ-like love for this man with the one and a half yellow teeth and a big gun. Bishop Caussé explained, “Instant love is a gift given to Disciples of Christ.”~PLH
Why did I say yes…
As I sat in the Devotional, listening to Bishop and Sister Causse, I was struck twice by statements that they made. The first had to do with the phone call that the Causses received from Salt Lake City extending the call to serve in the Church and Kingdom of God, to leave all else behind and follow the course of life that the Savior pointed out to them. For a moment I was a little envious. What would it be like to be called as a Seventy until I was seventy? I said to myself, “Well it’s a little late for that, now that you are seventy-one.” Being somewhat whimsically minded, I still pursued the thought. “What would it have been like?” Then the answer came: “You already know.”
More than forty-five years ago, I received a phone call from Weldon Thacker, one of the administrators of the Church Educational System, asking me if I would accept a position with the Department of Seminaries and Institutes. I had waited a long time for the phone call and I had almost despaired that it would ever come. In my impatience I had made substantial plans to pursue my Master Degree in English Language and Linguistics at Brigham Young University, even accepting a Teaching Assistant assignment with the English Department. The call to serve as a Seminary teacher came pretty late in the game. I had almost resolved to not allow such an assignment to disrupt what I spent a considerable amount of time setting up. “Why did I say ‘Yes’ when I wanted to say ‘No’?”, I ask, just as Sister Causse had asked, when it was her turn to address the missionaries.
For the next thirty-five years I had the joyous experience of associating with the youth of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, teaching principles that were near and dear to my heart. Every day, I was immersed in the scriptures, learning and growing, that I might be able to present properly the truths of eternity to the sons and daughters of God. Could I have possibly received a more magnificent assignment in time or in eternity than that? I was twenty-seven years old when I began my career; I was sixty-two when I retired. When Bishop Causse is released from his role as a General Authority, he will have served full-time in the Church for twenty-six years. I have no need to be covetous.
Why did I say “Yes” to Brother Thacker on that late winter day in 1969? For the same reason that the Causses said “Yes” to President Monson. It was the right thing to do. The Spirit of God entered into our hearts and spoke peace to us. He encouraged Elder and Sister Causse to press forward in faith. In my case, he softened and purified my almost embittered soul.
I retired from full-time employment with the Church Educational System in 2004. I have rejoiced in the freedom, in being able to leave the house at any time and go anywhere that my wife and I have desired to go. Admittedly, I have missed the classroom and from time to time I have thought about teaching on the side, at the University or at one of the Institutes of Religion in Utah Valley. At those moments there has been a little part of me that has said, “Why in the world would you want to do that? Why would you want to tie yourself down again, now that you are free?” So I continued to enjoy my freedom.
When the call came from the Provo MTC, we willingly went to the interview. The assignment involved several hours on Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday, and almost the entire day on Sunday. This would be every week, fifty two weeks a year, for four years, with a few exceptions. Someone asked me after we had accepted the call, “What is it like to be at the MTC?” I replied, “It’s rather like coming out of retirement, and on the same day being called as a Bishop.” Why did I say “Yes” when I wanted to say “No”? Because it was the right thing to do, because once again the Lord softened my stony, selfish little heart. ~PNH
Wednesday, January 29, 2014
On Sunday, January 19, 2014, Sister Rosemary Wixom, General Primary President of the Church, was the speaker for the Sisters in Relief Society at the Missionary Training Center.
During her talk, Sister Wixom told the story of an Elder in the Washington DC South Mission who was attacked by a dog. In a self-defensive reaction, the Elder thrust his Book of Mormon toward the dog. The dog chomped down on the book; its teeth marks penetrated all the way to 2 Nephi 22 [page 93]. Sister Wixom inspired laughter when she quipped, “Even the dog stopped at Isaiah!”
She then went on to use 2 Nephi 22:2 as the theme of her talk.
Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and not be afraid; for the Lord JEHOVAH is my strength and my song . . . .
As part of her talk, Sister Wixom included the video of the Savior appearing in the Americas at the temple in the land Bountiful, healing the blind and the lame, and blessing the children. The video, titled “My Joy Is Full,” has only background music and no dialogue as it focuses first on the Savior’s hands gently and lovingly touching and embracing the people, then on his tender expression as he looked into their faces, and his smile of love and joy as the children surrounded him.
Words cannot do justice to the emotional and spiritual impact of this video. It has been shown in the MTC Relief Society meetings during the past year on no fewer than three occasions. It unfailingly engenders deep feelings of reverence, gratitude, and love.
When the film ended, Sister Wixom admonished the Sister Missionaries to “keep this feeling with you as you enter the mission field; minister in kindness and love, as the Savior did.”~PLH
Because he loved us first
Needless to say, my wife was quite ebullient when she related the experience that she had had at Relief Society on the 19th of January. We spoke about the video in particular which had deeply moved her. On a sudden it came into my mind that the Lord Jesus Christ had given his disciples among the Nephites at Bountiful, a striking and sobering challenge.
And know ye that ye shall be judges of this people, according to the judgment which I shall give unto you, which shall be just. Therefore, what manner of men ought ye to be? Verily I say unto you, even as I am. (3 Nephi 27:27)
Those who preside in the Kingdom of God are frequently called upon to judge their fellow mortals. Jesus taught his servants during the Sermon on the Mount that they were to “judge not unrighteously, that ye be not judged; but judge righteous judgment” (JST, Matthew 7:2).
I thought about men whom I had known during my career in the Church and in the Church Educational System. Many of them were attempting to live their lives in such a fashion that they might interact with their fellow men in the same way that the Lord Jesus Christ did. From my perspective, I knew that these were brethren who loved me, not for who I was at the time, but for what they saw in my potential as a son of God. How could I not love them in return?
On that same day that my wife was attending Relief Society, perhaps at the very moment that she was watching that inspiring video, I was preparing myself to be taught in a Branch Presidency Training Meeting conducted by the Mission Presidency. There are a goodly number who attend these meetings, usually in excess of 300 priesthood leaders. I have long forsaken my practice of sitting in the front row of a congregation, so I was sitting in room B-145 in back of the first partition where I could easily see the stand and watch a nearby monitor if necessary. President Wilkins was out of town and Brother Marcov was away on assignment, so I was sitting by myself, waiting for the meeting to begin, writing in my journal. I was painfully aware that I had to take copious notes on the meeting so that I might bring the other two up to speed when we next met.
Suddenly, President Roach, the Second Counselor in the MTC Presidency, was standing before me with his infectious smile, his hand extended to me in greeting. I smiled in return and said, “My Bishop says ‘Hello’”. He asked, “Well, who is your Bishop?” I replied, “David Harmon. I believe that you and he served together in the Philippines as young Elders.” “Oh yes,” he said, “and he was a magnificent missionary.” We chatted amiably for a minute or two and then he passed on to another of those in the audience.
A few minutes later, another person stopped in front of me with hand extended. It was Lonn Nally, the President of the Provo Missionary Training Center. He greeted me cheerfully, “How are you doing?” I replied that I was fine, when in fact I had been feeling just a little blue because I was by myself, and responsible for all that would be taught during the next hour. As he took my hand in his affable way, however, any clouds that may have been hanging over me were completely dispelled. They had been thinned a bit by President Roach’s good cheer and then torn completely asunder by President Nally’s wholesomeness and kindness. I knew that he loved me, although I cannot say what convinced me that that was the case. My whole soul was filled with light and joy.
I have given some thought to the experience and I am confident that John the Beloved clearly describes the effect that both my wife and I felt that Sunday.
Herein is our love made perfect, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment: because as he is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love. We love him, because he first loved us. (1 John 4:17-19)
I came away from that meeting wanting to be a better man, not so much because of the material presented, but because of the manner in which I had been treated. I love those two men, President Nally and President Roach, together with the many others who have helped me to realize who I am and what I am capable of. I want to be as they are; I want to be like Him whom they represent. ~PNH
Monday, January 20, 2014
On the evening of January 14, 2014, Elder David Bednar and his wife Susan spoke at the Provo MTC Devotional (it was also broadcast live to 6 other Missionary Training Centers worldwide). Only three weeks before, the Bednars had visited the MTC on Christmas Day. On that occasion, they had distributed 200 cell phones so that the missionaries could text their questions to Elder and Sister Bednar. Simultaneously, from the International MTCs the missionaries sent emails with their questions. At that time, they received about 1000 questions. Adding the answers given on Christmas Day to those given on January 14th, 15 questions have now been answered. “Only 985 to go,” said Elder Bednar, with a smile.
The first question addressed at the Devotional on January 14th was, “What is the difference between faith and belief?” Elder Bednar, citing the “Lectures on Faith,” said that faith entails action, while belief is passive. He said the best example of faith in action is found in the Old Testament: the feet of the Israelites were wet before the waters of the Jordan River were parted (in faith, they walked into the waters of the Jordan River, not waiting for the miracle to occur first). Similarly, said Elder Bednar, the Lord will give you words to say after you open your mouth. The trial of your faith is always will you go and do (or act)?
As an aside to the topic of faith, Elder Bednar spoke of an “inordinate desire for miracles” among the missionaries. He strongly cautioned: don’t press for them; don’t demand them. Instead, pray for eyes to see and ears to hear the miracles that are happening every day. Pray for faith; there are plentiful miracles every day, he said.
Another question was, “Why does God let good people go through hard things?” Elder Bednar’s answer was, because God trusts them to learn from the experience of opposition. He read from Doctrine and Covenants 122:5-8, which is about the opposition that Joseph Smith endured. Then he alluded to the trial that the Savior endured during the Atonement. Finally, he retold the account of opposition in President Kimball’s life – his needing surgery for throat cancer and then in learning to speak again. Elder Bednar pointed out that the thing that a prophet needs the most is his voice. Nevertheless, Heavenly Father let President Kimball have this trial of his faith for a purpose. Elder Bednar recounted how, after Elder Kimball’s surgery, President Lee asked Elder Kimball to speak during each session of that particular Conference in spite of Elder Kimball’s earnest pleas that he not be asked to speak. At first he could only “croak and squeak” into the microphone. But by the end of that Conference, however, Elder Kimball was on his way back to being able to speak again.
Sister Bednar addressed the question, “What is the worth of women in the Lord’s Kingdom?” After referring to Biblical accounts of women and the Savior’s regard for them, she said God “divinely designed” men and women to be different. Thus they are different, but equal. Equal does not mean they are the same. She recounted a personal story of one of their sons who became ill, and how a priesthood blessing by Elder Bednar and Sister Bednar’s prayers and faith combined to help the boy to recover. As a follow up on Sister Bednar’s remarks, Elder Bednar alluded to the question about women and the priesthood. Elder Bednar gave the following analogy: The priesthood is not male. The priesthood is like an umbrella under which all members of the Church – men, women, and children – are blessed. Men hold the priesthood—like holding the handle of the umbrella.
Among the questions was a request that Elder Bednar bear his testimony about the Book of Mormon. In doing so, he said he had received a witness of the truth of the Book of Mormon by the Power of the Holy Ghost. He then expanded on the outward evidences that refute the notion that Joseph Smith made it all up. He talked about the 90 days of writing time to translate the Book of Mormon, comparing it with his own personal two year task of writing an 800 page book. He noted that he has held in his hands and looked through the pages of the manuscript of the translation of the Book of Mormon. It was translated as one continuous stream with no punctuation and no revisions. He compared that writing with his own writing task which employed many editors and revisions, only to discover to his dismay after it was published, that there were still mistakes. He, as a writer, is a well-educated man with advanced writing skills and tools such as computers. Joseph Smith had a second grade education and only scribes to assist him.
He also pointed out the internal evidences in the Book of Mormon. For example, how the tree in Lehi’s dream of the Tree of Life in 1 Nephi chapter 8, is echoed [some 275 pages later] in Alma’s discourse in Alma 32 about planting the seed of the Word that becomes a tree springing up unto eternal life (v.41). Here is just one example of how intricately woven are the ideas in the Book of Mormon: Joseph Smith could not have written the book. No man could write the book.
Additionally, the Book of Mormon clarifies such doctrines as Faith and Works which the Bible presents incompletely. Elder Bednar referred to such clarifications as “nuggets of truth” – of which there are many. Furthermore, he spoke of the Bible as one nail that pins the truth. However, with only one nail, the truth can be made to “spin.” The Book of Mormon is the second nail that pins the truth, and thus it prevents spinning.
In answer to a question about spiritual gifts, Elder Bednar pointed out that to desire spiritual gifts in order to “show off” is priestcraft. Spiritual gifts are given to you in order to bless other people. You will receive spiritual gifts only if God trusts you. You must focus on others in love and service. For example, the gift of tongues is given to you so that others may hear the gospel preached unto them in their own language. ~PLH
MY HUSBAND'S TAKE:
If you live long enough, you get to know everyone
Watching Elder Bednar in action was a delight. I first met him many years ago when he and I were both working on our Doctorates at Purdue University. His course of study was in Organizational Behavior and mine was in English Language and Literature. I was the Director of the LDS Institute of Religion at that time and had a fair amount of interaction with the students, whether undergraduate or graduate. He finished his degree in 1980, and I two years later.
As his star rose in the Church and Kingdom of God, I was one who always watched that ascent with some pleasure. When he was called to serve in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, I sent him a short note, reminding him of our brief association in West Lafayette, Indiana. I suggested to him that while I had had an opportunity to serve as his teacher for a time, I would spend the rest of my life being his student. He, in turn, sent a short, kind reply that acknowledged that brief crossing of paths.
Yesterday, I was again reminded of the connections that we make during our mortal sojourns here upon the earth, ones that seem to surprise and delight us. Because of some heating problems in the “Bubbles” on the West Campus of the Missionary Training Center, our Branch has been temporally merged with another for the past three weeks. We have alternated in our assignments in presiding, conducting, and teaching in Sacrament and Priesthood Meetings. A couple of weeks ago, for example, I had the assignment to teach Priesthood meeting. One of the counselors in the other Branch Presidency came up to me afterwards and asked if I have been an Institute teacher at some point in my life. When I acknowledged that fact, he said “I thought so, You have that way about you when you teach.” I was a little flattered, I suppose, and mentioned it to my wife later that day.
This past Sunday morning we met again together in the Wyview chapel and between meetings this same counselor sat down next to me and asked again, “You did say that you taught Seminary and Institute, didn’t you?” When I confessed again that that was the case, he said, “Where did you teach?” I said that I had begun my career at Bountiful Seminary, north of Salt Lake City. He brightened and said, “I knew it! I was one of your students.” I looked at his name tag which had his last name on it. I laughed out loud, saying, “And your first name is Mike…” I almost burst out in tears when he nodded his head.
We had but little time to share, so many experiences had happened to us since we had last been together. But as Priesthood Meeting began, a session during which my former student was going to teach the Elders in the two Branches, I asked leave to say a couple of words. I told the missionaries about my brief association with Elder Bednar that I described above. I then related the exchange that the two of us counselors had had just a few moments before. I said, turning to my newly found friend, “More than forty years ago you sat at my feet as my student; for the next forty minutes I will sit at yours.”
I had occasion during the rest of the day to talk about the life-long, and certainly eternity-long, connections that we make with others, just as Elder Bednar and I had momentarily connected, just as my former student and I were reconnected. Two of our Districts left for Mexico today, fully half of our little Branch. Some of them will not see each other during the remainder of their mortal lives, but I testified to them yesterday that there already existed connections between them, indestructible connections, that will be rejoiced in at some future day. I have loved all of my students, the hundreds that passed through my classroom during my thirty-five years as a religious educator. I have felt much the same toward the scores of missionaries who have passed through our Branch during the last year. We are linked together for good. I believe that in the end of time, all of that good that we have shared will bring us together again, never more to be separated. ~PNH