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
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
Friday, January 17, 2014
On that momentous occasion at the opening session of the October 2012 General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, when President Monson announced the changes in ages for young Elders and Sister missionaries, my husband and I were in St. George, Utah for the burial of my 90-year-old mother. We were in a florist’s shop next to the cemetery just as the announcement was made, and we viewed it on a TV in the shop:
For some time the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles have allowed young men from certain countries to serve at the age of 18 when they are worthy, able, have graduated from high school, and have expressed a sincere desire to serve. This has been a country-specific policy and has allowed thousands of young men to serve honorable missions and also fulfill required military obligations and educational opportunities.
Our experience with these 18-year-old missionaries has been positive. Their mission presidents report that they are obedient, faithful, mature, and serve just as competently as do the older missionaries who serve in the same missions. Their faithfulness, obedience, and maturity have caused us to desire the same option of earlier missionary service for all young men, regardless of the country from which they come.
I am pleased to announce that effective immediately all worthy and able young men who have graduated from high school or its equivalent, regardless of where they live, will have the option of being recommended for missionary service beginning at the age of 18, instead of age 19. I am not suggesting that all young men will—or should—serve at this earlier age. Rather, based on individual circumstances as well as upon a determination by priesthood leaders, this option is now available.
As we have prayerfully pondered the age at which young men may begin their missionary service, we have also given consideration to the age at which a young woman might serve. Today I am pleased to announce that able, worthy young women who have the desire to serve may be recommended for missionary service beginning at age 19, instead of age 21.
We affirm that missionary work is a priesthood duty—and we encourage all young men who are worthy and who are physically able and mentally capable to respond to the call to serve. Many young women also serve, but they are not under the same mandate to serve as are the young men. We assure the young sisters of the Church, however, that they make a valuable contribution as missionaries, and we welcome their service.
Less than four months after President Monson’s announcement of the missionary age-change, on 29 January 2013, my husband was called to serve at the Provo MTC as a counselor in a branch presidency. The “tsunami” of new missionaries responding to the age-change was now beginning to arrive at the MTC, dramatically swelling the numbers. Additional branches, therefore, needed to be organized to accommodate their increasing numbers. Likewise, additional ecclesiastical leaders were needed to serve in those additional branches, and my husband was privileged to be among that number.
As a branch presidency wife, I was invited to participate in the branch in several ways. I would help in the orientation of new missionaries assigned to our branch; I would visit our Sister Missionaries in their residences periodically to encourage and assist them as needed; I would speak in sacrament meeting on a regular basis; I would attend district meetings and have an opportunity to bear testimony; I would attend the Tuesday night devotionals where the speakers were General Authorities; I would attend the MTC Relief Society meetings and New Sisters meetings. In short, I was to be a “missionary to the missionaries.”
Looking back, we are impressed with the Lord’s timing in our lives. We are grateful for the privilege we have been given to serve at the Provo MTC. The young Elders and Sisters are remarkable in their faith, their maturity, and in their desires to serve the Lord. We love them as we love our own children and grandchildren. We know the Lord is with them and will bless them and their families. ~PLH
THE FOLLOWING IS MY HUSBAND'S ACCOUNT OF HIS MTC CALLING:
The phone call asking us to come to the Provo Missionary Training Center for an interview was unexpected. We had no idea that we had been recommended to serve there by our Stake President. After my release as the Bishop of our Ward, I had been asked to return to the Stake High Council as the advisor to the Spanish Branch, together with the assignment to oversee the Spanish-speaking missionary work in the entire Stake. I had been serving in that capacity for three and one-half years when we were invited to become part of a Branch Presidency at the MTC. From the very beginning of our service, I have thought of our participation in this grand work as a capstone to all that had transpired in my life up to that point.
My first acquaintance with full-time missionaries had come while I was in Duluth, Minnesota, as a member of the Unites States Air Force. The young men who were anxiously engaged in preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ were all my age and I enjoyed their company on a regular basis as the work progressed in that part of the vineyard. I had not been there long before I determined that upon my discharge from the military that I, too, would serve in the same capacity somewhere in the world. I left for Southeast Mexico only a few days after my active duty came to an end. My two years and four months as a full-time missionary was a soul and life defining experience for me. I returned without regrets and a determination to press forward in faith through every challenge and adversity.
My academic studies clustered around my facility with Spanish and within three years after my return, I finished my course of study and began my life’s career as a Seminary and Institute teacher, a profession that would take me and my little family throughout the United States. Once again I was in continual contact with worthy young men and women who sought to do the Lord’s will to the best of their ability. This was particularly true at Purdue University and the University of New Mexico where I had direct contact with the Elders and Sisters who had been assigned to work with the students on campus. Throughout this time, my ecclesiastical callings centered on those who were preparing to enter into missionary service. I could not have asked for a more coordinated life.
During my time in the Church Educational System, I had infrequent opportunities to use my mission language. I have been counseled to keep my facility with Spanish fresh, but it had been difficult to do. There were occasional assignments in California and New Mexico in which I could use my gifts, but I was not immersed in the language. The same could be said of my direct experience with people who were investigating the truths of the restoration. I was acquainted with them, but not fully engaged in the conversion process.
In the fall of 2012, as part of a regular interview with my Stake President, I mentioned my concerns. I knew that I was as involved as anyone on the Stake level with speaking Spanish and directing missionary work, but it was an ancillary role. I said to him that if he were ever asked to recommend someone to serve in a more direct role in the missionary effort anywhere in the world, that I would like to be considered. I wanted to feel the spirit of missionary work; I wanted to be concerned with the salvation of those weltering in darkness and sin. Little did I know what was about to transpire in the Church and at the Provo Missionary Training Center. Within a few weeks of my interview with the President, the MTC Presidency issued a request to the surrounding Stakes in Utah County to make recommendations for ecclesiastical leaders who could serve with them there in light of the expanding number of new full-time missionaries.
The day that we received our call to serve in a Spanish Branch at the Provo MTC, we also had to make a visit to the Provo Temple. I had forgotten to take off my “Visitor’s Pass” that I had worn during our tour of the facility. When I paused at the front desk, the ordinance worker there said, “Oh, I see that you have been to the MTC. Did you receive an assignment?” I responded in the affirmative, that we have been called to serve there for the next four years. He smiled and said, “Well, after you are released, you might as well go ahead and die. You will have no greater calling in the Church afterwards.” I have thought about his remarks to me and I have concluded that the call to serve at the Provo MTC has not been the “greatest calling” that I have had in the Church, but it has certainly been a culmination of all that has been transpiring thus far in my life. It is the capstone. ~PNH