Sunday, November 24, 2013

THE MOST IMPORTANT CALLING IN THE WARD: ONE PERSON’S EXPERIENCE

I was impressed with the comments of Sister Susan Curtis on Relief Society (see October13th entry “The Blessings of Relief Society: All I ever really needed toknow I learned in Relief Society”.  If you haven’t read it you should take the time to do so.  When I first read it, my memory leaped back 43 years, when I was first called to serve as a Bishop.   When I was called I felt it important to review some of the callings in the ward.  Some individuals had been serving for years in the same positions, and there were many others who would benefit by a new assignment.  The changing of a Bishopric provides an opportune time to seriously think about how the ward, and individuals, might be blessed anew by making some changes.
            The Bishopric was new and wanted to make certain that any changes made would be in the best interest of the ward and for the individual members of the ward.  We approached this task prayerfully.  We didn’t want to disappoint or discourage anyone, but felt that there could be exciting new growth opportunities for many. 
As we followed our impressions the Holy Spirit spoke, and the message and direction came very clear to me, that the calling of a new Relief Society President in our ward was, bar none, the most important of any changes we were contemplating.  There would be other changes coming, but the first and most important calling at that time was selecting the Relief Society President.  It was unmistakably clear to me that “as the Relief Society went, so went the ward.”  Just as the mother in the home brings a perspective and sensitivity to the home, so does the Relief Society do for the ward.  I felt keenly the Relief Society President, along with those who would be called through her inspiration, would be the heart and the soul of the ward.  If things were right in the Relief Society, many challenges within the ward, and within many families, could be avoided.  This is what happened.
            A few years later I was called as a Stake President to preside over a stake consisting of married students.  Again I had exactly this same impression.  The most important calling was selecting a good sister who would teach, and be a role model, for these eager young wives and mothers.  I felt the Relief Society to be the instrument to provide the heart and the stability in these relatively new families.  We searched valley wide and it became clear when the appropriate sister came to our mind.  Fortunate for us she was made available by a responsive stake president who felt the same as we did, and could see that she was the one needed in this assignment.    
            On a more personal note, seven of our first nine years of marriage were spent as students.  By the time I finished my graduate studies “trek” we had four of our six children.  I don’t ever recall that I let my studies, or graduate school commitments, interfere with my wife attending Relief Society.  In fact I could always tell when it was time for her to “be off” to Relief Society.  In our ward, where a large number of families were graduate student families, a weekly meeting for the Relief Society was held on a week-day night.  I would often say something like “well, I can tell that it must be time for you to go to Relief Society.”  My wife would come home thrilled with the opportunity of being with her sisters in the Gospel, receiving instruction, and being uplifted and rejuvenated from just being there.  She was ready for another challenging week of demanding children, graduate student poverty, and an often stressed out graduate student husband.  What a blessing Relief Society was for me, our children, and for her.    
            Thanks Susan for the reminder of the blessings which come to a family from Relief Society.  I hope that my observations about the importance of Relief Society will be a reminder to Priesthood holders to support and encourage their companions to attend Relief Society and attendant functions.  And to the good sisters, if my personal experience is worth anything, you will experience many returns by embracing the wonderful sisterhood of the Relief Society.

By: John R. Cragun 

   

God's Tender Mercies

Some years ago I was in Japan on a two week business trip. After many business meetings and many hard contract negotiations, I was ready to come home. I remember feeling spent spiritually and found myself on my knees praying to Heavenly Father for guidance and assistance. I prayed for an experience that day which would bring the Spirit into my life. I knew I had a long day ahead of traveling and hoped it would be a day of joy and encouragement.

My trip home started by traveling by bus for over an hour from my hotel to the Tokyo Narita Airport. I would then fly from Tokyo to Portland, Oregon, go through customs, and then take a final leg by plane to Salt Lake City, Utah. I boarded the bus and picked out a seat by the window and took from my briefcase my scriptures with the intent of reading them on the way. The bus would make one stop at Shinjuku Station and pick up more passengers before proceeding to the airport. As these passengers boarded the bus, the seat next to me and the seat across the aisle were two of a few seats open. A young teenage girl sat down next to me and an older woman, her mother, sat down across the aisle.

Soon after leaving Shinjuku Station, I fell asleep. Some time later I awoke to the smell of fish and the crinkling sound of newspaper. The young Japanese girl had just finished her lunch of some fish which had been wrapped in newspaper. She then proceeded to take a book out to read. I glanced over and noticed the Kanji characters and marveled on the complexity of the written Japanese Language. She then turned the page and to my amazement I saw a picture that I knew. I instantly recognized the large man of stature standing in water in the act of baptizing another man. It was Alma baptizing in the Waters of Mormon!

With great excitement I pointed to the picture and said "Book of Mormon" in my best English with a Japanese accent. I then pointed to my scriptures and said: "This is my Book of Mormon." Her eyes grew wide with great excitement and in her personal best English asked if I was a Mormon. I said yes and her excitement grew ever higher. For the next hour we chatted about the gospel and the Book of Mormon. Here was a sixteen year old girl heading to her cousin's wedding in Hawaii. She had met with missionaries and was reading the Book of Mormon in preparation to being baptized and becoming a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Upon arriving at the airport we parted ways and said goodbye. I couldn't help reflect on how the Lord had blessed me with an answer to my prayers by having one person in 50 million sit next to me with a Book of Mormon that contained a picture that I would recognize. What a sweet tender mercy!

I then proceeded to the gate for my flight. I boarded as soon as possible and sat in a window seat preparing to take a long nap as we flew across the ocean to the United States. I was quite tired and i fell asleep soon after sitting down. Some time later I awoke to find a Japanese girl in her early twenties sitting next to me. Not long thereafter she began to read a book and I pulled out my scriptures to read as well. I then noticed as she turned the page a picture of a muscular man in a cave setting holding what appeared to be golden plates. This was the picture of Mormon! She was also reading the Book of Mormon!

Again I pointed to my scriptures and told her I also had a Book of Mormon. I then found out she was going to Utah to live with a sister missionary that taught her the gospel. Her desire was to live with her and prepare to serve a mission a year later. Her English was good. She had studied in the USA and attended a college in St. George, Utah where she met missionaries from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. They taught her about the gospel of Jesus Christ. She then went back to Japan and looked up the Mormon missionaries, proceeded to learn more and eventually was baptized.

It takes nearly 22 hours to travel from the hotel to my house in Utah. For nearly that whole time the Lord placed in my path two sweet Japanese sisters who had a great love for the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. As an answer to prayer, He placed in my path people who lifted my spirit and helped bring His Spirit in to my life. I am so grateful for the tender mercies of God.

By: Kevin Curtis

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

"Mormon Helping Hands"- not just a church program but a way of life.

         In 1830 about 6 people met in a small farmhouse and organized the Church of Jesus Christ of Latterday Saints, often called the Mormon Church. Just sixteen years later, after much persecution and the murder of their leader Joseph Smith, about 14000 members were driven out of their homes and made the approximately 1,000 mile trek across the great plains to what later became the state of Utah. Here they established settlements which became towns and cities throughout the area. This great feat could not have been accomplished without divine leadership and much personal sacrifice.
        Although our church is still relatively small, we are now able to assist not only our own members but others who are suffering throughout the world. Some rather unique programs have been instituted to enable us to do that in an effective, organized way. For many years members of the church have observed "Fast Day". On the first Sunday of each month we abstain from two meals and make a donation called a "Fast Offering" which is used exclusively for humanitarian purposes, mostly within the church. In 1985 two special fast days were observed and more than 6 million dollars was raised for famine relief in Africa. That same year the church inaugurated the "Humanitarian Services" program for the express purpose of relieving suffering during times of emergency and addressing the needs of the chronically poor throughout the world. Every dollar that is donated to this program is used to help those in need without regard to race or religion. Most of the administration and distribution of this aid is done by volunteers and the church absorbs overhead costs. Since 1985 one hundred and seventy nine countries have received aid through this program.
         For many years church leaders have recruited volunteers from their congregations to provide assistance when there was a need in their communities or in communities near by. Recently groups of Mormon volunteers in South America who went out to serve began wearing yellow t-shirts with "Mormon Helping Hands" printed on them. In 1998 church authorities adopted these symbols church wide as a way of identifying Mormon volunteers. Hopefully it indicates that they are from a reputable institution, while also making more people familiar with our church. This year my son and his 16 year old son wore those t-shirts as they traveled from Rhode Island to spend some weekends helping the victims of Hurricane Sandy.
        This is a very brief and probably over simplified explanation of LDS charities. You can learn more and also read how the church is helping in the Philippines on the church website.

by: Nola Smith, a Mormon Great Grandma

Friday, November 15, 2013

Message From a Burning Bus?

Anciently, Moses received a message from God as He spoke from a burning bush.  Could I likewise get a message from a burning bus?

Right now I live within walking distance of the Mt. Timapnogos Utah Temple.  The Temple and the work that goes on there (special ordinances/sacraments for ourselves and our ancesters) were not always so convenient for our family.  In the late 80’s and early 90’s as we lived in Tampa, Florida, the nearest temple to us was the Atlanta Georgia Temple, which was about 450 miles away.  To make it easier for Stake members to get to the temple, every two or three months the Stake would arrange a temple bus trip where we would charter a tour bus for the weekend and make the trek to Atlanta.  We would meet at 9 pm on Thursday night at our Stake Center.  After traveling an hour north we would pick up some of the outlying members of our Stake and then settle in for an 8 hour trip to Atlanta.  We would do our best to sleep on the bus Thursday night.  Friday morning we would get to the hotel at about 6 am, change into Church clothes, and then spend the entire day in the Temple.  We would sleep in the hotel Friday night and then be back in the Temple by 6 am the following morning.  After doing Temple work until about noon, we would make a quick trip to the LDS bookstore and then head back home, getting back late Saturday night.

One of these bus trips my wife and I took was very memorable.  It was a wintery February, 1990 night and we were just a couple hours out of Tampa when a passing trucker flagged down the bus driver and had him pull off into an approaching rest area.  The back of the bus was on fire!  As it happened, we were sitting near the back of the bus and many of the older and more feeble members of our Stake were right at the front.  As we tried to wait patiently for these older people to “hurry” off the bus, visions of exploding buses from the movies raced through our heads.  We finally decided we could not wait for an orderly exit so we opened the bus window and jumped the 8-9 feet to the ground.  Everyone made it off the bus safely and some of the luggage was even rescued.  A volunteer fire crew from a nearby town eventually showed up but they were more equipped to fight a “brush” fire than to fight a “bus” fire and they were not able to help.  The entire bus burned to the ground.

I don’t know if this was the Adversary making it hard for us to go to the temple that night or just one of those things that happens with life.  But as we stood shivering in that rest area on that cold Florida night, many without any of their carry-on baggage (money, coats, Church clothes, Temple Recommends, etc.) we had a decision to make – do we wait for a replacement bus and try to salvage this temple trip or do we just go home and try again next time?  Logic would probably have said to just give up this night and try again next time but to a person, everyone felt compelled to continue on, in spite of the challenges it posed.  We did continue on and with some sharing, lending money, and generous accommodation by the Atlanta Temple workers, we ending up having a very spiritual, uplifting, and productive temple trip.

This experience is often at the back of my mind as I now live much closer to a temple.  Does my effort today to get to the temple match the effort required at that time to get to the temple?   Are temple visits ever put off to a “more convenient” time?  As Bishop of our ward I am blessed to be able to see the sacrifices so many of our members are making to serve in and attend the temple.  Many of our youth go to the temple often to do baptisms and confirmations – some of them every week.  It takes real sacrifice for a teenager to get up at 4:30 or 5:00 in the morning to go to the temple before school or to take a couple of hours out of their busy day in order to serve there.  On the other end of the age spectrum, many of our faithful ward members in their 70’s and 80’s are actively spending their retirement years serving in the temple as either patrons or ordinance workers.  One faithful brother in his 90th year is still working at the temple each week. 

I hope that my effort to go the Temple matches that of our youth and our older ward members and matches that of a bus-full of Florida Church members in a lonely rest area in the middle of a wintery Florida night.




By: Bishop Bruce Curtis

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Missionary with a great companion

A few years ago I was seated by a gentleman in a flight from Salt Lake City to Dallas.  As is often the case it didn’t take long before we were engaged in conversation.  After some casual talk I learned that he was a Scientologist, and he learned that I was a Mormon.  Before long we were talking about our beliefs.  Questions were forthcoming from each of us.  Much to my satisfaction I had in my briefcase, under my seat, a copy of the most recent General Conference edition of the Ensign.  I pulled it out and used it as a basis for our discussions about Mormonism.  It was an extraordinary visual aid.  I wrote internet addresses and phone numbers on the reverse side of the magazine.  I also provided information as to how I could be contacted, along with my invitation to do so.    I was also able to get his contact information. 

Being familiar with some of the talks, and by looking at the photos it was possible to draw his attention to topics specific to questions he had,  In addition, using the Ensign as a reference, and as a visual aid, it was possible to introduce topics and easily talk about many different things, including such things as:

  •          Families
  •          Temples
  •          The worldwide nature of the church
  •          The growth of the church.
  •          The Choir
  •          Priesthood authority and revelation
  •          The leadership and organization of the church (The Presidency, the Quorum of the Twelve, the      Seventy)
  •         Who the prophet is, and how he is called
  •          Jesus Christ and the Atonement
  •         Missionary work
  •          Priesthood, the Relief Society, and the other auxiliaries
  •          Our beliefs as shown in the Conference Topics index
By: John Cragun




Great Insights

Dear friends,

Do you know that you are now living in the Dispensation of the Fullness of Times—the greatest age in the history of the world?  Just look at the advancements that have occurred in so many fields of endeavor including medicine, manufacturing, electronic technology and many others.  More of the past history has also been revealed today than ever before.

Do you know that centuries ago, America was the home of an intelligent and enlightened race of people, who maintained a high state of civilization from 2200 B.C. to 420 A.D.?  They built magnificent cities, cast up great highways, were skilled in the arts and sciences, and attained as great a civilization as the contemporary countries of Egypt, Babylon, Assyria, Greece and Rome.  The Spanish invaders destroyed as high a civilization as they brought with them when they came to Mexico and Peru. Yet Cortes and Pizzaro found only a declining remnant of this wonderful people.

Are you interested in reading of the achievements of these early Americans?  Would you like to know how they came to this continent, why they came here and where they came from?  Would you like to learn of their great prophets, statesmen, generals and historians, who were equals of any the world has ever produced?  Read the Book of Mormon, a record kept by this people, written, preserved and hid up, to come forth in this day and age to bear witness of the Universal Mission of Jesus Christ.  Read how Jesus appeared to the people on this continent after His resurrection, in fulfillment of John 10:16, how He ministered among the people, how He taught them, and how His church was established; how “they had all things common among them, therefore they were not rich or poor, bond and free, but they were all made free partakers of the Heavenly Gift”.

The Book of Mormon is a New Witness for the Bible and the divine Mission of Jesus Christ.  It is the strongest corroborative evidence in support of the Bible God has given to the world.  It is the voice of the Western Hemisphere, proclaiming the sublime truth, that God did not leave Himself without witnesses among the races and nations of men who inhabited the Western world.

The Book of Mormon has been translated into over one hundred languages.  It is the most important book of the twenty-first century.  In it you read of the destiny of America, the greatest country on earth, THE LAND DEDICATED TO LIBERTY. (See Book of Mormon page 54, verse 7; page 490, verse 12; and page 501-502, verses 18-26)

We are making a special effort to place The Book of Mormon in the hands of every honest soul in America.  Millions of copies have been distributed over the years and yet  so many seekers of the truth still no not were to find it.  Let us provide you a copy of this great book.

We bear testimony to you that THE BOOK OF MORMON is the WORD OF GOD, and invite you read it with a prayerful heart.  (See Book of Mormon page 529; verses 3 – 5)


By: German E. Ellsworth and Bill Wilhite