Sunday, October 11, 2015

Singing with The Mormon Tabernacle Choir

As a relatively new member of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, I have had the wonderful opportunity to sing in the past four General Conferences of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter–Day Saints. During one of those Conference addresses we were reminded of the importance of lifting up our voices in praise to God.

Having had watched General Conferences throughout my life, I was always drawn to the music that was sung by the choir. Now as a choir member, I have to say that the thing that thrills me as much as anything else, is lifting my voice and joining it with the voices of my brothers and sisters in the audience and throughout the world as we sing the intermediate hymns.

We are a choir of 300 voices, who sit behind the Apostles and the other General Authorities. From our vantage point we are looking into the faces of the approximately 20,000 faithful church members in any given session. And of course, the meeting is being broadcast throughout the world. After opening the session with a hymn and prayer, and after listening to some talks by our leaders, we have the opportunity to sing together. The member of the First Presidency states, “And now at the signal from the conductor, the choir and congregation will join in singing, . . .”

Then the organist begins to play an exciting introduction to the hymn on the organ and we are ready to unite our voices. I feel the music emanate through my whole body as each verse of the song is added. As the music fills the room, I can feel the vibrations from my head to toe as they are produced through the gigantic organ pipes that surround me. The Tabernacle choir organists bring the music to life.

As the membership sang together this week at General Conference, I was again filled with the Spirit. The words and music that we sang filled my soul and were so meaningful. During the first session we sang, “We Thank Thee O God for a Prophet.” I marveled that in that room alone, 20,000 fellow saints were bearing testimony that we indeed have a living latter-day prophet who leads and guides us. We were all reminded of the joy of the gospel and of the importance of accepting and not rejecting its precepts.

During our second session we stood and sang, “How Firm a Foundation.” Collectively as a choir and congregation we were reaffirming our love for the Savior, Jesus Christ. We testified that Christ will succor us in our trials and afflictions. We testified that we can lean on Him for repose. Finally in the last session it was announced that we would all sing the hymn, “Rejoice, the Lord is King.” We continued to praise and adore the Lord, Jesus Christ. “Lift up your heart. Lift up your voice. Rejoice again I say rejoice.”

To rejoice is to be glad, to take delight and to be joyful. As I sing the songs of Zion it brings me great joy. One of the aspects of singing with the Tabernacle Choir is that I am a musical missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Another oft sung hymn is “I Believe in Christ.” I am grateful for the opportunity to “raise my voice in praise and joy, in grand amens my tongue employ,” because I do believe in Jesus Christ. I know He lives and that He is our Savior and Redeemer.


Susan Curtis

Thursday, October 1, 2015

20 Years with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir

I was blessed for 20 years to sing with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.  This time of year, as we approach the October General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,  brings back wonderful memories and feelings.  I loved singing for 3 sessions of every General Conference. I loved the overwhelming Spirit of God that permeated the Tabernacle and later, the Conference Center.  Each building was filled to overflowing with faithful Saints who had come to hear the word of God taught by modern day Prophets of God.  And that is what we heard.  We were taught at the feet of Prophets and heard their sacred witness of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.   They know the Savior!   I was amazed how often our music fit in perfectly with the talks for a particular session.  I could see the Lord’s hand in the proceedings of each Conference.  I felt very humbled to partake of those blessings.

Each member of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir is set apart as a musical missionary.  We get to bear our testimonies through song as we sing the weekly broadcasts of Music and the Spoken Word.  The Choir also travels the globe giving concerts that bring the Spirit of the Lord to thousands and thousands of people.  We sing so people can feel the Holy Ghost.  The Holy Ghost brings peace and happiness and bears witness of the Lord’s love for His children.

The greatest missionary tour that the Choir ever took was a three week tour to Eastern Europe and Russia in 1991.   We traveled to 8 countries:  Germany, France, Switzerland, Austria, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Poland and Russia.   Four of these countries had been behind the Iron Curtain until shortly before our visit.  But then Velvet Revolutions occurred and the Berlin Wall fell.  We were there to sing to people who had lived for 40 years under oppression and hardship and finally had a new-found freedom.  We could tell as we watched these people that they were hungry and we brought them food—not meat or fruit, but the bread of life—the light of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The audience response was incredible. We were given standing ovations at every concert and in many of those country’s audiences never give stand ovations.   Many people had tears in their eyes and enthusiastically applauded us and waved until every choir member had filed off stage at the end of our performances.  They didn’t want to leave the concert halls and the special Spirit or feelings they felt there.  We knew that for most of these people, it was the first time they had felt the Holy Ghost.  They didn’t know what they were feeling and they didn’t have a name for it, but they felt it just the same.

My husband accompanied me on this tour and he would always take the opportunity to speak to people when he attended our concerts.  He spoke German, thanks to serving a 2 year mission for our Church in Germany as a young man.  He befriended a couple in Dresden, Germany and gave them a tape of Choir music. They corresponded with us for a while.  This is from their first letter we received after we returned home.  “Your concert was for us a big experience.  The whole auditorium and the choir was like a family and we went home with a good feeling and were very happy.  With great enthusiasm we told our friends about this event.  Thank you for this marvelous evening.  Often we listen to the choir—music from the cassette, this nice gift from you.  Enclosed you will find the criticism from our newspaper.  It is full of praise, not only about the high quality of the performance, but also about the special human atmosphere.”  They were describing the Holy Ghost.

We spent a week in Moscow and St. Petersburg and the strongest impression I had as we traveled through those cities, was that the people never smiled.  I guess there wasn’t a lot to smile about in their lives.  I felt that they were spiritually dead.  I kept thinking to myself, “They need the light of the gospel.”  When we had a chance to talk to the people one on one, I could see that I was wrong.  They had wonderful strong spirits and were beautiful people, but they had been kept in a spiritual prison by their government.  The Choir gave firesides for church members along with our concerts, because many of them couldn’t afford tickets to our concerts.  Steve’s ticket to our St. Petersburg concert cost the equivalent of 18 cents in our money, but the local members still couldn’t afford that much.

We met a beautiful young woman, in her late 20s, after the fireside in St. Petersburg.  She was standing alone and so we approached her and luckily she spoke English.  She had heard about the fireside the night before at our concert and had decided to come and see what the Church was all about.  She said, “What is it about you people?  I feel so warm and good when I am around you.”  I gave her a hug and told her it was because we love her.  She replied, “ You are so entirely different from what I was taught about Americans in school.  What makes you so different?”  At this point I spotted a pair of sister missionaries standing close by.  I pulled them over and said,  “You have to meet her.  She’s golden.”  I was reminded of the Savior saying, “My sheep know my voice.”

Five hundred people traveled on this tour and every one of us had different experiences and opportunities to touch people’s lives.  In Alma 5:7 we read, “Behold, he changed their hearts; yea, he awakened them out of a deep sleep, and they awoke unto God.  Behold they were in the midst of darkness; nevertheless, their souls were illuminated by the light of the everlasting word…”  I am so grateful that I  had the opportunity to participate in these miraculous experiences and see Light come into people’s lives.

Jan

Sunday, August 30, 2015

What We Believe About Marriage and Families

We, the 16 and 17 year-old youth of the Cedar Hills 10th ward, believe and solemnly testify that:

Marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God and necessary to His eternal plan for our happiness here on earth and in the world to come.  We believe in chastity before marriage and complete fidelity after marriage.

The family is essential to God’s plan and we take earnestly his commandment to multiply and replenish the earth.  Children are entitled to birth within the bonds of matrimony and to be reared by both a father and a mother who love each other and who care for their children. 

As spirit children of loving Heavenly Parents, God provided a plan for our happiness and our eternal destiny of which gender identity plays an essential part.  In families here on earth and in the world to come fathers are uniquely qualified and primarily responsible to preside over their families in love and righteousness and to provide the necessities of life.  Mothers are uniquely qualified and responsible for the nurture of their children.   It is vital, however, that fathers and mothers work together as equal partners in rearing their children. Together they are like the right and left hands on the piano; each hand plays its own unique part yet together they compliment each other and are greater than the sum of their parts.

We believe that someday we will be held accountable before God for our roles as husbands and wives, fathers and mothers.

See: The Family:  A Proclamation to the World
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints



Thursday, August 20, 2015

“I WAS IN PRISON AND YOU CAME UNTO ME”

Matthew 25:35-43

We have had the privilege of serving 13 years visiting or writing to incarcerated men and women in many places throughout the world.  For a few of those years it was as much as 20 to 30 hours per week, now it’s just 5 or 6 hours one day a week.  The LDS Correctional Services office of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has provided us this opportunity.

It has been an enlightening experience to say the very least.  It has proven several facts to us; the most inspiring simply put is that those who embrace the love of Jesus Christ and endeavor to follow Him are less likely to return to prison.  This is called the rate of recidivism.  There are other things that reduce this rate but the process of coming unto Christ seems to be the most obvious to us.   

One inmate was taught that “My life would change if I would read the Book of Mormon.  When I got out of prison I went back to church, but I still had the urge to return back to my old habits.  As I continued to read the Book of Mormon, I learned about the people of King Lamoni in Alma 19:33, whose hearts had been changed; that they had no more desire to do evil. I began to pray for this change of heart.”  He found answers to his prayers in Helaman 15:7, which teaches that “faith and repentance bringeth a change of heart.”  As he continues “As I laid my sins at the Savior’s feet, I received a true change of heart.”

The sad state of being incarcerated is that so much of one’s life can be lost and bitterness sets in because of the unfairness that often accompanies being caught up in the judicial system.  So many inmates claim their innocence, but most are not; and yet some are. Family experiences are missed; relationships are strained and often broken never to be repaired.  Loneliness sets in and often depression. There can be mistreatment from guards and other inmates; safety becomes a vital concern. 

Attitude becomes a key to survival for every inmate. Help from others like cellmates, good guards, a chaplain or volunteers is so welcomed.  Another inmate came to prison frightened about everything so he prayed that he would be acquitted; he was not. He prayed that his father would live until he got out of prison, but he did not. He prayed that the parole board be lenient; but they were not continuing his matrix recommendation.  He was humbled and discovered that these were good experiences for him. He said “when we pray for what we want, our Heavenly Father gives us what we need because he knows us and knows what we need to make us happy”

Joseph Smith was falsely accused and imprisoned for months along with several of his friends and church associates.  He pleaded with God for relief when he said in prayer, “how long shall we suffer these wrongs and unlawful oppressions.”  The answer came: “My son, peace be unto thy soul; thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment; and then, if thou endure it well, God shall exalt thee on high; thou shalt triumph over all thy foes.”
Whether guilty or falsely charged, relief of the accompanying pain of prison time can come from humbly asking God to carry our burdens that they may be light.  “…the Lord did strengthen them that they could bear up their burdens with ease.” (Mosiah 24:10-16)
This would apply to all of us who struggle with some burden or another.


Bill Wilhite

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Haven’t you noticed..? So bring water and drink it!

A couple weeks ago our young women youth group headed to Moab. Every year we do a week long camp trip to provide the girls with some outdoor experiences. We love to see them get away from their electronic devices, enjoy the outdoors, learn how to cook, cleanup, set-up tents and see Gods creations. It’s always a great experience. We decided to switch things up a bit and do a river rafting trip! I’m so glad we did, it was amazing!


We managed to convince the young women that a hike in 100 degree weather was going to be worthwhile! Miraculously, after it was all done and over with, I think they all agreed. One of the many things we try and accomplish at camp is to learn that we can do hard things. It would be nice if life was easy but there wouldn’t be a lot of spiritual/mental growth. Haven’t you noticed that you learn the most when life is the hardest? This life is about learning, growing, and becoming a better person-which means you better be prepared for some hard times!

We tried to help the girls be prepared for the hike. We provided them with an empty water bottle and water. All they had to do was fill it up. It was a simple task but their action was required. If they took off on that hike without water, in 100 degree temperatures, it was not going to be a positive outcome. 

Just like our own lives, the Savior is the water. He is there for us, ready to quench our thirst at a moments notice. All we have to do is fill up the bottle. We need to be the ones that take the first step of action. The water can’t get in the bottle unless we initiate the first step. We need to go to Him, humble ourselves and He will lift us up.

We took off on our hike with all different levels of excitement. There was the “I’m happy to go” group and the “I do not want to be here” group and everything in between group! In life, we have to be prepared to help others along the way. Sometimes we’re going to be the upbeat/ready to take on the challenge and other times we will be the one needing someone else who’s ready for the challenge. It was good for the young women to see we each play a role in someone else’s journey. Heavenly Father wants us to be there for one another.

It was not your typical “fun” but the hike gave them all a sense of accomplishment. Even though the hike was hot and physically exerting, the end result was a magnificent sight. The journey to get there was not easy but usually the things that are the most worthwhile require the most effort.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

"Father of Lights", the Constitution, a Land of Liberty

We recently celebrated the fourth of July, which is a holiday commemorating a pivotal point in our nation’s history, leading up to it becoming a land of liberty. During such holidays, we typically feel a heightened sense of patriotism. We may demonstrate this patriotism by flying the flag or going to patriotic events. We may even spend some time remembering the countless numbers of individuals who sacrificed everything to preserve this land and give us the freedoms we enjoy. We may even consider ways in which we can go beyond our typical civic responsibilities and contribute to the maintaining of this land as a land of liberty.

As worthwhile as such activities may be, I would suggest that there is something we can do, which has more power and is more effective in maintaining this land as a land of liberty. It is also the best thing that we can do for ourselves and is also the greatest contribution we can make to our fellow citizens. To introduce what I wish to speak about, I want to tell you of an experience I had, while serving as a missionary in Germany.

My companion and I were tracting out a rather large high-rise apartment building, going door to door without any success, which was typical back then. On one of the upper floors, we knocked on a door and a man opened it. In our best German, my companion and I told him who we were and why we were there. Sensing something in our accents, a smile crossed his face and then his whole face lit up with excitement. He said “you’re Americans aren’t you.” We told him that we were. Then he enthusiastically invited us into his home.

At this point, I was thinking that he might perhaps be someone we could teach the Gospel to, but that is not why he invited us in. He extended his hospitality to us, providing us with a very wonderful meal, then listened politely to what we had to say. When we had finished, he told us that what he really wanted to do was to tell us why he had invited us in and extended his hospitality to us. He was eager to tell us his story. This, then, is Karl’s story.

Karl had been a soldier in the German army during WWII and early in the war; he and several others were captured. They were sent to POW camps in America. Karl was first sent to Louisiana, where he admitted that he had some fear as to how he would be treated, seeing that he was an enemy of America. His fears were soon erased, as he recognized that he was well fed and well treated. “In some ways” he said, “I was fed better and treated better as a prisoner of America than as a soldier in my own army.”

He was then transferred to Texas, where he spent the majority of his time, and then later, he was transferred to Utah, where he remained until the end of the war.

During his time in Texas, he told us that the guards came around and invited any of the prisoners who were willing, that they could leave the prison camp each day and work on local farms and ranches. In exchange for their labor, they would be paid. Karl told us that he was paid $29.00 each month for his labor. “Think of it,” he said, “America, the only country in the world that pays its prisoners to be prisoners.”

Karl then told us that he had the opportunity to work on one family farm for many months, and that he had become quite close to the family and they became rather fond of Karl, to the extent that Karl got special permission on a couple of occasions from the prison camp to take the daughter of that farm family to see a movie. “Think of it, “ he said, “I was a prisoner and I got to go on a date.”

Karl told us that every morning when the sergeant came around with his clipboard to take roll, that the Sgt. would often say, “How are you today Karl?” then Karl said he would stand up straight and tall and respond “I am very proud to be a prisoner of America today.”

Karl was then transferred to Utah, where he told us that a representative of our church came around to invite any who were interested, to take a tour of Temple Square, or as Karl put it, “to see the building with no nails,” referring to the Tabernacle. He told us that several thousand prisoners signed up, but when the actual day came to take the tour, only about 10 percent showed up. Karl was very embarrassed for his countrymen, thinking it quite rude not to show up, after having been treated so well.

The war finally ended and Karl and the other prisoners were informed that they would be repatriated to the countries of their origin. Hearing this, Karl begged the guards to allow him to stay in America, but this was not to be.

After several months of coordination, Karl was sent home to Germany. When he got to the front door of his family home, his mother opened the door. At first, she did not recognize Karl. You see, he had gained 20 pounds, was the picture of health and well being, and had a pocket full of money, which he had saved from his farm labors.

When she realized it was her son, she fell to her knees with tears of gratitude, seeing her son returned to her in such a good condition, having feared the worst. You see, what Karl didn’t know was that his brother had arrived home a couple of days earlier. Karl’s brother had been captured late in the war by the Soviet Army and had been so harshly treated that he was literally skin and bones and very ill. In fact, Karl told us that his brother had passed away shortly after returning home, due to his harsh treatment.

When Karl saw the condition of his brother compared to his own condition, he vowed right then and there that if he ever met Americans that he would treat them with kindness and respect, in some small way to re-pay them for how he had been treated.

I shall never forget, as we left Karl’s apartment that evening and began to walk down the hallway, there stood Karl in the hallway, singing out loud, in his broken English, his own unique version of “God Bless America.” Words cannot express the feelings in my heart and the pride I felt to be an American at that time.

In the early 1830’s, a famous French statesman and philosopher, Alex de Tocqueville, came to America to discover for himself, the source of America’s greatness. For many months, he traveled throughout the land, talking to the people in their homes, in their churches, in their businesses and in the taverns. After his exhaustive research, he concluded “America is great because she is good and if America ever ceases to be good, she will cease to be great.” Alex de Tocqueville stumbled upon part of the source of America’s greatness, the goodness of her people, but he did not know the whole story, he didn’t know that the Lord’s hand was in it.

In 2 Nephi 1, the Lord tells us that the people brought to this land were brought here by the hand of the Lord. First the Jaredites, then Lehi and his group, then the Mulekites and later Columbus, the Pilgrims and many other Gentiles, all brought here by the hand of the Lord. Referring to those brought to this land by the hand of the Lord, we read in 2 Ne 1:7 “And if it so be that they shall serve Him (Christ) according to the commandments He hath given, it shall be a land of liberty.” You will note that this is a conditional promise and is the crux of what I wish to talk about today. This land will remain a land of liberty so long as we are found serving the god of this land, which is Jesus Christ. We know that the Lord’s hand was in it.

In D&C section 101 the Lord tells us of his direct involvement in establishing this land and its constitution. In D&C 101:77 we read, “…the laws and constitution of the people, which I have suffered to be established, and should be maintained for the rights and protection of all flesh, according to just and holy principles.” The constitution is just that, based on just and Holy principles.

We read further in D&C 101: 80 “And for this purpose have I established the constitution of this land, by the hands of wise men whom I raised up unto this very purpose, and redeemed the land by the shedding of blood.”

The founders knew that the Lord’s hand was in it, as many of them spoke of it and wrote of it. During the constitutional convention in Philadelphia, for example, when both the temperature and the tempers of the delegates were rising, they were at an impasse and could not agree. The convention was on the verge of collapse and failure. Seeing the critical situation, Benjamin Franklin stood to be recognized by George Washington, who was the president of the convention.

Franklin gently rebuked his fellow delegates and reminded them that many of them in that room that day had been in that very room, years earlier, during the recent conflict with Great Britain. He reminded them that they had sought the “Father of Lights” for divine assistance and that their prayers were answered, in that very room.  He then went on to ask, “How is it that during this convention, we have not sought the “Father of Lights” to illuminate our understanding?” Then he concluded by saying, “If a sparrow cannot fall without his notice, is it probable that a great nation can rise without His providence?”

Humbled by the words of Franklin, the delegates adjourned the convention and returned to their various places of residence in the city and reflected, pondered and prayed. Being sufficiently humble, the Lord’s spirit could move upon them and when they re-convened, they were able to create the constitution, a divinely inspired document.

They gave to us, a constitutional republic, similar to what King Mosiah in the Book of Mormon gave his people when they changed the affairs of the government from a monarchy to a system of judges, elected by the people to judge them according to their law.

Since the time of the founders and since the time of Alex de Tocqueville, America has become less good. Over the last several decades we see the more part of the people beginning to choose wickedness. We see them, as prophesied; call good evil and evil good. We see them driving every reference of God out of the public square and as indicated in the Book of Mormon, we see the guilty go free because of their money, their influence and their connections, while the meek and humble are trampled upon.

When the more part of the people begin to choose wickedness then the Lord removes His blessings from the land and sends forth drought, disease, pestilence, the sword and natural disasters, all in an effort to humble his people and to awaken them to a sense of their awful state, that they perhaps might be persuaded to turn back to God and be blessed.

In Mosiah 29:27 we are told, “And if the time comes that the voice of the people doth choose iniquity, then is the time that the judgments of God will come upon you; yea, then is the time He will visit you with great destruction even as He has hitherto visited this land.”

I believe that there is even a connection between how we live upon the earth and how the earth itself responds because In D&C 123:7 we read, “The whole earth groans under the weight of its iniquity.” This indicates to me that there is a direct correlation between how the people live upon the Earth and how the Earth responds, either positively or negatively.

We know, for example, that when the people live, as they should, the Lord tempers the elements and the earth for their good. We read such things as, the fruit of the vine does not cast its fruit upon the ground prematurely; the rains come when they should and the harvest is bountiful. We also read that their flocks and herds do increase and that they are blessed and prospered. When the people do not what He says, as indicated in D&C 82, they have no promise.

I know that there are many people in the world that are concerned with what is called global warming and climate change, and the perceived negative effects, which will stem from it. I would suggest, however, that all of the computer models, all of the scientific theories and all of the well meaning people have not nearly as much power to alter the climate for our good as does the power of righteous living upon the Earth.

As I mentioned at the beginning of my talk, I believe there is something we can do, which has more power and is more effective in maintaining this land as a land of liberty, it is the best thing we can do for ourselves and is also the best contribution we can make for our fellow citizens. It is, in my mind, the most powerful form of patriotism we can exercise to preserve this land as a land of liberty. This formula is found throughout the scriptures, but I have selected two.

In Moroni 10:32 we read “Yea, come unto Christ and be perfected in Him, and deny yourselves of all ungodliness…” In Alma 7:23 we read “And now I would that ye should be humble, and be submissive and gentle; easy to be entreated; full of patience and long-suffering; being temperate in all things; being diligent in keeping the commandments of God at all times…”

In short, if we are striving to become true disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ, if we are found keeping His commandments and His counsels, and in conjunction with our stake theme, being found following the prophets and living upright and moral lives, we will be blessed.

I know there is great power in righteous living in preserving the land because of what we learn from Gen. 18 when Abraham is conversing with the Lord about the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah.

Abraham asks the Lord that peradventure there be 50 righteous in the cities; will not the Lord spare the cities for the righteous sake? The Lord assures Abraham that if 50 are found, the cities would be spared for the sake of the righteous.

Emboldened by this, Abraham goes on to ask peradventure there be five fewer than 50, for a measly five fewer would the Lord destroy the cities? Again, he is assured that the cities would be spared. Abraham gets the Lord down to ten, saying peradventure there be ten righteous found in the cities would the Lord not spare them? The Lord responds by saying that if there are ten righteous found in the cities that the cities would be spared for the sake of the righteous.

That doesn’t necessarily mean that the conditions in the cities would improve much, but that they would be spared for the sake of the righteous. We know in the account that there was not ten righteous found and so, after Lot and part of his family were allowed to escape, the Lord utterly destroyed the cities.

I believe there is something to this heavenly math that peradventure there be a sufficient number, whatever the number is, both in and out of the church, striving to live as they should, keeping the commandments, that the land will be spared for the sake of the righteous. This may be the most powerful catalyst, which will prevent the land from being destroyed and in my mind, is the most powerful form of patriotism. I also believe that the negative effects due to the tribulations, which will surely come because of wickedness, may even be mitigated for the sake of the righteous.

I have a testimony of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I know that God our Heavenly Father lives and like any good parent, when His children get out of line, He will correct and discipline them in the hope that they will turn again to Him and be blessed. I know that Jesus is the Christ and that He had both the capacity and willingness to perform for us the atonement. His atonement not only paid the price of our sins, but also, because of its infinite nature, has the power and capacity to fix everything that is broken, repair everything that is damaged and will make everything right in the next life, if we will but apply to it. I know that the Book of Mormon is the word of God. The pattern played out time and time again in its pages is being played out before our very eyes in our day. After all, the book was written for our day. Among the many things the book is, it is also acts as a warning voice, that in the words of one of its prophets, “we might be wiser than they.”

It is my invitation and prayer that we might be wiser than they and that peradventure there be enough of us, both in and out of the church, striving to live as we should, that this land might be spared and remain a land of liberty for the sake of the righteous.

Ron Forstner

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Ask and Receive

I've been thinking quite a bit lately that there's just a lot of confusion, controversy, and even contention in the world today. A lot of it is distributed via social media. During church today one of the brothers there shared a scripture that rang so true to me, and I believe it applies to everyone, regardless of your faith, religion, opinions, desires, etc. It's a promise that comes from God, and I just wanted to share it really quickly. "If thou shalt ask, thou shalt receive revelation upon revelation, knowledge upon knowledge, that thou mayest know the mysteries and peaceable things--that which bringeth joy, that which bringeth life eternal." -Doctrine and Covenants 42:61  We can understand and come to know the truth of anything through prayer to God. He has promised that He will reveal it to us. I know He'll be true to His promise, and that comforts me because to be honest, I don't know what to make of all the controversy. But He does. And if we follow Him, we'll never be wrong. This brings me a lot of comfort as I think about what's in store for us in the near future. There are going to be all sorts of ideas, opinions, laws, and so much more that may leave us confused or even shake our testimony of Christ or our sense of what's right. If we trust in the promise of our loving Heavenly Father to guide each one of us and give us a personal witness, we'll be save and secure. We'll be prepared for what's coming, and we'll be lead to truth. This is comforting to me, and I hope it is to you. He answers prayers all the time. He'll answer yours!

Reaching the Summit through Repentance

Anyone who has ever hiked up Mt. Timpanogos knows that it is a very long and miserable hike that is really hard and seems to never end.  This  around, we decided to hike up the Aspen Grove side,
which is even more steep and miserable.  This gave me a lot of time to think about the gospel and
different principles to try and keep my mind off the pain.  I imagined the path to the summit to be the
path of repentance—it is really long and really difficult.  Whether your repentance process be for
something as small as making scripture study a matter of daily habit, or repenting of a sexual sin or
alcohol/drug addiction, it will still take a long time to really make a solid change and to feel the full force of repentance.  It is also extremely painful to repent of any sin, just as hiking to the top of Mt. Timp is painful.
Many times on the path, the faster bunch and the slower bunch would separate.  I happened to be with the slower bunch, and often felt abandoned and alone when the group ahead moved on without us in the back.  However, we believe in the buddy system while hiking, which ensured that there was always someone with me.  The same happens when we repent—often times we feel alone and alienated, like no one knows our pain and no one is really there to help us through it.  This is not true—there is always someone with us, whether that be good supportive friends, the bishop, family, and ultimately, our loving heavenly father.
Through the entirety of the trail, our single and ultimate goal was to reach the summit by sunrise.  Even though the trail was miserable and we wanted to quit and give up and go back many times along the way, once we reached the summit just in time for the sunrise, it was all totally worth it.  The view was glorious, and the sunrise was breathtakingly remarkable.  When we repent, we always have a single goal in mind—to have scripture study be a normal daily habit, or have our sexual sin or drug addiction swept clean from our life.  The road is difficult, and it is easy to want to give up and go back to where you were in the beginning.  But once you have pulled through and made it to the end where that goal has been accomplished, life is beautiful and everything is worth it.
The most beautiful part of this analogy however, is of the Atonement of Jesus Christ. The whole way up the trail, we often would stop and catch our breath, or just stop for a bit because we were tired and needed a break from the trail.  It was in these moments that we really noticed the beauty all around us.  The view behind us, seeing how far up we had made it, the beauty of the flowers and trees and waterfalls and meadows.  The rocky ridges and shallow ponds, snowy mountain valleys and the glow of the moon.  Wherever we were, there was always something beautiful to look at.  That, to me, is the perfect representation of the atonement.  The atonement is something readily available, something pre-organized and performed for our benefit.  Our Heavenly Father loves us so much that he provided us a Savior who performed this glorious sacrifice for us so we could feel the beauty of life amidst darkness. The atonement isn’t the goal, nor is it the journey, but it is the gift we are given to see beauty on the trail and make our goals become reality.  The beauty along the trail was always just enough to help us push forward and remember our ultimate goal.   As does the atonement always provide just enough hope and love to move forward with faith toward a better ending—the cleanliness of full repentance.

Written by: Derrick S. -Provo, Utah



Friday, July 17, 2015

The Lord reveals His secrets unto His servants the prophets

I’m sure some of you have heard the name Joseph Smith, and I’m sure some of you haven’t!   I always tell my children, “Knowledge is power”.  So today I am going to give you a little bit of power, you will thank me later!  

As Mormons, we believe in modern day prophets.  This is beautiful and wonderful because we receive direction from God through our living prophet.   Joseph Smith was the first of these modern day prophets.

Joseph Smith was born December 1805 into a religious family.  His parents taught him to read the Bible and pray always.  He was familiar with and loved God.  At the young age of 14, Joseph was ready to affiliate himself with an organized religious group.   He had dedicated himself to trying to find the right religious group to join.  He had studied each group and was unable to determine which of all the groups was the true church.  He decided to follow the advice he had read in James 1:5,  “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God…..and it shall be given him” .   So he went into a grove of trees in upstate New York and said a heartfelt prayer believing that God would answer it.

And answer it, God did!

God, the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ visited Joseph Smith!   They spoke to Joseph and told him to join none of the churches.  Joseph’s life was never the same from this time forward.   This was the first step in the restoration or the bringing back of “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints”.  

Now, I could write pages and pages about the story and life of Joseph Smith.   But really, I just want you to know that I love Joseph Smith and I believe every word of his story!

Joseph Smith was persecuted and tormented because of what he saw and knew.  No matter what happened in his life, he never denied that experience.   He was a man of faith and I am beyond grateful for him!


Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Walking a mile (or more) in their shoes…

There is an old proverb of the Cherokee tribe of Native Americans that says: “Don't judge a man until you have walked a mile in his shoes.”  This was stated a little differently by Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird when he said: “You never really know a man until you understand things from his point of view, until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”


Well, the 14-18 year old youth in our Stake this past week spent some time walking around in the shoes and in the skin of some of their actual or adopted ancestors – the Mormon Pioneers.  They spent three days in the mountains east of Cedar Hills re-enacting portions of the pioneer’s westward trek from Nauvoo, Illinois to Salt Lake City, Utah during the 1840’s and 1850’s.

The youth spent some time before their “trek” researching their ancestors and finding stories of how these ancestors joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and learned of the difficulties they faced in their life.  On the first day of Trek, the youth participated in building a replica of the Church temple in Nauvoo.  The replica was 24’ x 16’ and was nearly 30 feet tall.  Many of their ancestors had assisted in building the original temple at great sacrifice.  Then, just as happened in the 1800’s, not long after the temple was completed, the mobs came and they were forced to leave their city and their temple.  The youth loaded their belongings in handcarts and, over the course of the three days, pulled those handcarts 16 or 17 miles through the mountains above Heber.  It was not all drudgery though, as the youth ate well, made friends, and of course deepened their appreciation for what their ancestors must have experienced.


Through it all, the youth realized what it must have meant to build such a beautiful city and temple and then have to see it destroyed and have to leave it.  And, although the youth only pulled these handcarts a small portion of the 900 miles the real pioneers pulled them, they definitely came away with an appreciation of the conviction and testimony these early pioneers must have had to endure the trials they did so faithfully.

Please see an article written about this experience and view a time-lapse video of the building of the temple at this link

The Nauvoo Temple replica built by the Cedar Hills Utah West Stake stood 27 feet high. The Angel Moroni — which was donated through a miraculous connection —  was 6 feet tall. (Evening Photo by Matt Bennett) (Photo of construction Jeremiah Daniel McLerran)

Sunday, June 14, 2015

How to Set Up a Digital Mission





On May 14th the Deseret News published an article about this blog and our digital mission to find individuals interested in The Gospel of Jesus Christ.  This is a humble "how to" from the Cedar Hills West 10th ward.  The steps and techniques we share is not an exhaustive list or a complete manual but they are a start to a system that can be followed to start your online digital mission.

First let's cover the spiritual aspects and responsibilities of the digital mission.  The biggest secret to success in a digital mission is obedience just like in a regular full-time mission.  This starts with strict obedience to modern revelation given to us on the why, the what, and the how to do online missionary work, and following your bishop’s counsel as he directs the digital mission. Your bishop is the head of missionary efforts within a ward, therefore all ward digital efforts should be coordinated through him; in addition,  all posts and approval of posts should follow an outline prescribed by the bishop, ward mission leader and the ward council.  
Obedience to the promptings of The Spirit, who will lead the work in your ward just like in the full-time mission, is imperative. Remembering back to the day when the idea of starting a blog was introduced we thought "this is crazy", but we knew that it was The Lord's will and we went forward not knowing before hand what we would do.  It took faith to believe He really wanted us to start this mammoth undertaking and do it right and stick to it. 

This is hard work and THE WORK in a digital mission comes in many forms; from "knocking digital doors" to preparing a plan for when those doors will be opened.  The more we knock the more elect and prepared individuals we find.  Consistency and regular effort can never be underestimated just like in a full-time mission.  Faith without works is dead and so it is with your digital mission.

Every digital investigator needs certain things to progress and it always requires multiples not just one person to provide that support.  Not unlike a full-time mission will include efforts like we have with companionships, district leaders, zone leaders, and mission presidents.  In the digital missionary world, it will include every resource the ward has.  The resources are in charge of many moving parts including in our case Google Plus following (knocking digital doors), immediate follow up to engagement like a comment, a like, a plus, or a question on a post (an open door), multiple assignments for long term follow up and assisting the investigators (discussions).  Every good investigator needs good friends so finding people in your ward with like minds and interest for each digital contact should be considered. 

Something that does not work is posting on your social media time lines your testimony ad nauseam. Like in the real mission field where we do not set up podiums on the street and shout from those podiums to find the elect.  The same applies to social and online mission work we do not spam our testimonies on our personal facebook and other social platforms.   Our personal profiles should be used to amplify our efforts on the mission blogs and properties which are set aside for the "virtual discussions".  Again everything starts and ends with the blog.  If you want to help the digital mission then ask yourself how you can write or help with the blog.  The social media part is the easy part that includes "shout outs" or sharing of the work that goes into your ward blog.  A shortcut, but not always the most effective, is amplifying via your social media The Churches blogs videos and posts. People will be more interested to read posts from your blog when they are written by people in your ward sharing real life experiences that are simple yet meaningful to them. Blog posts do not need to be a completely polished and perfect presentation.  

This is not to say that your facebook can't be used 100% for posting and reposting your testimony. We have not seen that be a successful technique.  However knowing this is empowering to many. The digital mission will provide everyone a platform to use that is not personal to bear testimony.  This allows so many who have the fear to tell the world how they feel and the blessings that have come from living the gospel.

First step, make a list of all the resources available in the ward or branch.  In each ward every member should fall into one or more of these missionary categories:
  • Bloggers including wordpress, blogger, and other CMS's
  • Social Media Influencers including people who know Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, SnapChat, Tumblr, Google+, and the list goes on.
  • Technical experts including people who know hosting and DNS. 
  • Writers including English majors, at home moms who love to write, and anyone willing to edit or help with collecting and soliciting new posts regularly.  
  • Individuals with testimonies
  • Video editors including those that have smart phones and are willing to use them to record and document activities
  • Doctrine experts
  • Journal writers who are willing to share their entries
  • Individuals giving talks on Sunday willing to share what they wrote addressed as a blog post
  • Scouting scribes
  • Youth willing to share the day in day out successes and challenges of life as a youth
  • Leaders willing to write epistles to the ward 
Second step, buy a domain or secure your digital missions name/URL on blogger, or wordpress and if you are super committed, a registrar.  The Blog is the heart of digital missionary work. Seldom should you lose focus on that.  When you write, you write for the blog.  When you talk about strategies and content, it should be to place that content on your blog and make it extraordinary.  

Third step, register with social media sites, such as Facebook, Facebook groups, Tumblr, Twitter, Google, Pinterest, Instagram etc. These social media sites, in addition to the primary blog site, will be the assets of the digital ward mission and primarily used as supplementary tools to direct traffic to your blog site. These social media profiles should tweet and post whenever the blog is updated and like, follow, subscribe, plus and pin anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy.

Last step, get all your social media handles secured, with the same names if possible Don't be afraid to pick names that are not covered by all the digital properties.  It's only important you have them, not that the names are the same necessarily.

HINT You are always able to hide behind the handles of the digital mission social profile, but those handles are sacred and should be treated as such.
HINT Buy off on commitment by the entire ward is imperative and success will be directly correlated with the efforts of the ward, and the obedience to the ward mission plan.  Using full-time mission experiences and allegories are very helpful.  The closer you make this to a real mission, the more success the ward will have.  The great part about this is that most of us have had 18-36+ months experience to draw on.  The Digital Mission is very much a parallel to the full-time mission.
HINT Every person should be looked at from the lens of what can she/he do to help the Digital Mission?  Everyone adds something unique and special.  When everyone is committed and willing to help the work takes huge steps forward.
HINT Digital knocking doors is finding individuals in the world that already have like interests to Latter Day Saints and/or have been introduced to The Mormons already.  The best tool for searching and finding are using URL's like search.twitter.com https://plus.google.com/communities  There are many other tools we have not tested that you may find success with for example: http://www.social-searcher.com/ 
HINT The best converts are those already introduced to The Gospel previously or have a positive impression of the Church, so follow on your social media profiles people who use mormon keywords. The worst case scenario of doing this is expanding your digital mission network with LDS members who can provide you comments on the blogs and social posts.





Brother Wilhite, the ward mission leader, says:

 "At completion of the development of the Cedar Hills 10th Ward blog and the other social media platforms, we began to post articles and comments about the gospel and other personal thoughts and experiences.  In the spring of 2014 we one day received and inquiry from a person named Rachel from the country of Scotland. Our first thought was is she for real?  She asked about the Church and wanted to know if we could provide a pen pal her own age to answer questions of what the Church was all about.  We were concerned that she would be negative with one of our own young women if we provided one for her.  

We took the time to completely vet her and that was accomplished by two of our sister ward missionaries. They made several contacts with her through facebook and e-mail and concluded that she was sincere.  In prayer I was prompted to call one young woman to write to her and become a friend to her and answer her questions about the gospel and how it applies to a young teenager.  They developed a strong relationship which continues today through Skype and Twitter and Facebook.  Contact was made with the missionaries in Scotland and as she enrolled in LDS Institute classes they began to teach her the lessons.  She was baptized in February 2015.  Her friends and associates in the college there have fellowshipped her and she is now a solid member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  She is currently the 2nd counselor in the Young Women’s Presidency of her ward."


Sister Mitzi Robins says:

Making sure she was who she said she was and how we knew she was genuine?

Legitimacy was a big concern for us as we contemplated contacts we might receive from a religious blog.  We wanted the members participating to be safe and have positive experiences. Our blog is not open to public comment, which helped us feel that people who had to go a step further and email us might be more serious and avoid trolling.  When we got the email from Rachel we were still learning how to run things and since our blog was rather new we were slightly unprepared in this area. She had also asked for a pen-pal her age so that made us even more cautious about securing her legitimacy before turning her over to a young woman.  I sent her the first few emails and was really touched by her responses.  I became friends with her on Facebook and found nothing alarming on her page.  However, Lana and I felt a personal contact by missionaries would be the best, not only for us to make sure she was real but to help Rachel.  We emailed a friend of Lana's who happened to be serving in Scotland. We felt this was really the most appropriate course of action for any and all contacts we received.  With Rachel's permission we gave her email to the missionaries and they also began correspondence. Beth's parents were also highly involved in the beginning to make sure it was real and she was safe.

My unique experience in communicating with her online?

I was the first one to contact her through email. I was so impressed with her maturity and I could hear her sweet Scottish accent. She asked very insightful questions and it was such a testimony building experience for me to ponder on how I needed to answer. I let her ask all the questions and it was so interesting to see what was important to her. As we discussed different things I was so thankful the missionaries were there in person to support her. There were many times I just wanted to reach through the computer and give her a big hug. I was so impressed with her strength, courage and diligence. She did everything she could to build her testimony-she seized every opportunity and spent a great deal of time studying and praying. I learned what it really means to hunger and thirst after righteousness after watching Rachel's example. That was quite a lesson for me because I thought I knew so much having been a member since I was 8!

What was it like to do missionary work like this?

Digital missionary work is wonderful in that it reaches people all over the world with little physical effort. It also provides an opportunity for all members to participate. I have to admit it was nice to have the questions posed and then have time to deeply consider responses. In full time missions with face to face contacts that is completely opposite and I think a bit intimidating for many members.  I personally really wished for the opportunity to talk face to face because I feel I learn more about the person when I can observe their nonverbal communication. This kind of missionary work I believe is essential because of the number of people it can reach and the potential for involvement by every member. But I feel balance is important and kept reminding myself that there are still real people all around me and I can't be so involved with the computer that I neglect my neighbors.

What did you learn or take away from the whole experience? How did the experience strengthen your testimony of missionary work?

Not having served a full time mission, I was thrilled with the opportunity to serve as a digital missionary. It was a new thing so there was a lot of innovating involved as we set things up. We did struggle to get the members of our ward excited about sharing on the blog. It is something that takes time and evolves slowly as each person thinks about what they can contribute and how often. I learned that the Lord works in mysterious ways and I just need to keep on doing what He has asked and things can and will happen. None of us expected to have a successful contact so soon after setting up the blog. But that has greatly encouraged us to continue. I really believe that every member is an important missionary and has so much to offer others who are searching for the truth. We all have unique experiences, talents, insight and access to the guidance of the Spirit that help forward the work of the Lord. I learned that my offerings are significant and helpful and I didn't feel that as strongly before this experience.  Everyone has something valuable and important to share! And the only way to get better and feel more comfortable with it is to do it! I know the Lord helps us when we ask for it and then try.


Sister Stewart says:

I feel so blessed since I have had the opportunity to work as a digital missionary.  Prior to this experience I never thought Facebook, twitter, Pinterest, Google +, or a ward blog as being an effective missionary tool.  I felt as we met as a committee we each had special interests that together were we able to combine to create an effective and successful missionary committee.  I remember as we discussed how we each felt we could contribute we understood that each person called had a special talent that would help launch our missionary project.   Some of our members were computer experts, some were eloquent speakers and some were excellent writers.

As we began our quest with direct guidance from our Bishop and weekly committee meetings to make sure we were each on task as to the goals we had set the previous week our ward mission began to come together.  We involved others in the ward that was artistically talented to help put together our blog.

I think our effectiveness really took off when we presented our goals to the ward.  For a few months we presented and discussed to each organization to get them excited and want to participate in our quest.  We prepared presentations for Elders Quorum, Relief Society, Sunday School and even the Young Men and Young Women wanted to participate.  We did a presentation explaining each site we had created.   Ryan was mainly responsible for the ward blog and discussed the overall numbers we were reaching with each new posting on our ward blog.   Mitzi and I each shared information about our Facebook pages, Cedar Hills 10th Ward and Youth Standing Strong and also our Pinterest account.

I loved how our ward grasped and became excited about the opportunity to write for our ward blog. Without everyone participating our goals could have never been met.  We have had several ward members’ author testimony bearing articles for our blog.

Through Google + and the blog we were able to reach a young 17 year old girl in Scotland. Rachel wrote seeking pen pals to share her interest when she was investigating the LDS Church. We began exchanging emails and through many miracles and divine intervention Rachel decided to be baptized. I feel that we had a small part in her decision to being baptized.  Our lives have each been blessed by knowing her and an eternal friendship has been built.  I have gained a stronger testimony of missionary work by being blessed with the opportunity to serve as a digital missionary.  I know that digital missionary work is the way of the future.  We have to each be committed to being a good example by what we write, how we act and by what we choose to say.  You never know when you can make a difference in one person's life.

Cedar Hills 10th Ward Mission

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Youth Mini-Mission Message: God Answers

The past week I have been struggling with everything, including the gospel.  So last night I got down on my knees and asked for help and strength.  I then asked to re-affirm and feel it again, if this was the true gospel of Jesus Christ.  Immediately  a thought popped into my mind and said, "You already know."  I know this is the true gospel of Jesus Christ and if we ever have a question and we ask God with a sincere heart, he will answer.  I testify of that. 

Brigham