Remember and Act

Seminaries and Institutes of Religion Satellite Broadcast • August 4, 2015


 

In a general conference, Elder Marlin K. Jensen said, “If we pay close attention to the uses of the word remember in the holy scriptures, we will recognize that remembering in the way God intends is a fundamental and saving principle of the gospel.” How does remembering serve as “a fundamental and saving principle”? Elder Jensen went on to say, “This is so because prophetic admonitions to remember are frequently calls to action: to listen, to see, to do, to obey, to repent.”1

We have an example of that recorded in the Book of Mormon. Helaman had named his sons Nephi and Lehi and told them why:

“Behold, I have given unto you the names of our first parents who came out of the land of Jerusalem; and this I have done that when you remember your names ye may remember them; and when ye remember them ye may remember their works; and when ye remember their works ye may know how that it is said, and also written, that they were good.

“Therefore, my sons, I would that ye should do that which is good.”2

This is one way remembering can serve as a fundamental and saving principle. It can help us act in appropriate and righteous ways. To that end we are encouraged in the Church to remember those who have gone before us: those in our family histories, those in Church history, those in the scriptures, and most importantly, to remember the Savior Himself.

A young Jewish woman who died during the persecutions of World War II gave a beautiful description of how those in the past can bless our lives. She wrote: “There are stars whose radiance is visible on earth though they have long been extinct. There are people whose brilliance continues to light the world though they are no longer among the living. These lights are particularly bright when the night is dark. They light the way for humankind.”3

This principle applies to the history of seminaries and institutes as well. There is much in our history that is worth remembering. To that end, a history of Seminaries and Institutes of Religion has been written. We are happy to announce that in the near future a published or online copy of this history will be available to each of you. We hope it will be read and become an important resource in our individual and collective study. This history can help us learn from the individuals who made Seminaries and Institutes of Religion what it is today. We stand on their shoulders and enjoy a rich heritage that they have left us. And though many are long gone, they can still serve as guiding lights as we move into the future. We hope that in remembering them we will be led to remember their works and to act.

For a few moments this morning, I would like to share a few stories from our history. They are told with the hope that in remembering those on whose shoulders we stand, we will want to emulate them—both their desires and their efforts.

In his talk “The Charted Course of the Church in Education,” President J. Reuben Clark Jr. said that the first requisite for a religious educator was a personal testimony “that Jesus is the Christ and that Joseph Smith was God’s prophet.”4This testimony has provided the motivation for many faithful religious educators and their families to take on difficult and uncomfortable assignments and to sacrifice much of personal ambition and comfort. They exemplify President Gordon B. Hinckley, who said of himself, “I don’t know how to get anything done except getting on my knees and pleading for help and then getting on my feet and going to work.”5 One such person was Ray L. Jones, who was asked to start the early-morning seminary program for the Church.

“During the April 1950 general conference, 10 stake presidents from the Los Angeles area met with Elder Joseph Fielding Smith to discuss the possibility of establishing some kind of seminary program for the youth in their areas.” They were not sure how to do this since released-time religious instruction was not allowed by the state.

Franklin L. West, the Church commissioner of education, was aware of some seminary classes in Utah that were being held before school and saw this as a possible solution to the request from Southern California. The commissioner “asked Ray L. Jones, a seminary principal in Logan, [Utah,] if he would consider traveling to California to start the program. Comfortable in his current assignment and settling into a newly purchased home, Brother Jones … expressed doubt that he should be the man to start the program.”

Anxious to get the program going, Commissioner West “suggested that Brother Jones might leave his family in Logan and simply ‘commute’ periodically to Los Angeles [a distance of more than 700 miles]. Brother Jones finally consented to pray about the question. After spending some time in contemplation, [he] decided to give up his home in Logan and move permanently to Los Angeles to launch the program.”6

Like Nephi, who said, “I was led by the Spirit, not knowing beforehand the things which I should do,”7 Ray L. Jones embarked for Southern California.

The Church did not provide funds for his travel, so Brother Jones got a job helping to drive a cattle train transporting livestock from Utah to California. He eventually moved his family to Los Angeles and helped organize a local board of education. A stake president in the area, Howard W. Hunter, served as chairman of the board, and the rest—as they say—is history.8 What began in 1950 with 195 students in seven classes has, in 65 years, become more than a quarter of a million students in 136 countries.

That spirit of dedication and sacrifice has been manifest again and again in the hearts of religious educators in every part of the world. Listen to this account of one of our religious educators in Mongolia who heard the counsel of his priesthood leader and went to work under difficult circumstances to make it happen:

Odgerel Ochirjav, a convert to the Church, earned a PhD in forestry and was working as a researcher in Mongolia when he was asked to work full time as the seminary and institute coordinator. He initially resisted the offer but eventually agreed. In November of 2008, Brother Odgerel and his area director, Patrick Cheuck, had a meeting with the mission president. The president asked why early-morning seminary classes were not being held in Mongolia. “Brother Ochirjav replied, ‘President, this is Mongolia. Cold, dark, dogs and no public transportation.’ A year later the three of them met again and the mission president asked the same question. Brother Ochirjav again replied, “Cold, dark, dogs and no public transportation.’ After the meeting, Brother Cheuck took Brother Ochirjav aside and said, ‘Odgerel, when your priesthood leader asks you [to do] something you need to work on it!’ In reply, Brother Odgerel said, ‘Patrick, you don’t understand Mongolian dark, Mongolian cold, Mongolian dogs and no public transportation!’ So ended the conversation.

“Shortly after, Brother Ochirjav was reading Doctrine and Covenants 85:8, [and] the phrase ‘steady the ark’ came to his attention. He … read a quote by President David O. McKay [in an institute manual] that said those who seek to ‘steady the ark’ soon die spiritually. Brother Ochirjav later wrote: ‘Not wanting to lose the spirit I began working on an early-morning seminary program for Mongolia. Surprisingly, our local priesthood leaders were enthusiastic about the idea.’”9In September 2009 they began with 140 students, and by March, 352 were attending, braving Mongolia’s coldest winter in 30 years—a winter where the average temperature was minus 25 degrees Fahrenheit.

In a general conference, Bishop Victor L. Brown said: “In the world, many organizations, churches, governments, even families have lost much of their vitality because they are afraid to ask people to sacrifice. It is imperative that we not make the same mistake.”10

May I take a moment and thank you, on behalf of the administration, for the sacrifices that all of you are making. Many of the most significant things that you do to bless young people go unheralded and never show up in a report. It appears to me that service and sacrifice continue to thrive in our organization. Thank you. As we sing in one of our hymns, may your sacrifices “[bring] forth the blessings of heaven”11 upon you and your loved ones.

Successful seminary and institute programs have always required religious educators to have good working relationships with others, including parents, priesthood leaders, school personnel, and community members. Our conduct and work with others must always exemplify the Spirit of Christ and His gospel.

Elder Robert D. Hales has said, “How we treat our family members, our neighbors, business associates, and all we meet will reveal if we have taken His name upon us and do always remember Him.”12 Such a spirit was manifest by the director of the very first institute, Brother J. Wyley Sessions.

After having served seven years as the president of the South African mission. Brother and Sister Sessions were asked by the First Presidency to move to Moscow, Idaho, to begin the institute program. “While the members of the Church in [Moscow, Idaho,] welcomed Brother Sessions and his family, some factions of the community viewed them with suspicion. The imprecise nature of his assignment in Moscow raised the level of distrust. … Several local business people even appointed a committee to keep an eye on him and make sure that he didn’t ‘Mormonize’ the university.”

Brother Sessions joined several community organizations in an effort “to reach out to people who otherwise wouldn’t have been willing to talk to him. At a series of biweekly dinners held by the Chamber of Commerce, he made efforts to sit next to [the man who was the] head of the committee appointed to oppose his work. At one of these dinners, [this man] said, ‘… You’re the darndest fellow. I was appointed on a committee to keep you out of Moscow, and every time I see you, you come in here so darn friendly that I like you better all the time.’ Brother Sessions replied, ‘I’m the same way. We just as well be friends.’ Brother Sessions later recalled that [this man] became one of his best friends during his stay in Moscow.”13

In the Doctrine and Covenants, the Lord said, “No one can assist in this work except he shall be humble and full of love.”14We cannot do the work of a religious educator if we are not motivated by love: a love for the Lord, our families, our students, and those we work with.

In 1978, Elder Gordon B. Hinckley spoke to Church education personnel and said:

Let love be your lodestar. It the greatest force on earth. …

“ Cultivate … a deep love for those you teach, and particularly for those who appear to be so difficult to reach. They need you most, and the miracle that will come into their lives as you labor with them in a spirit of encouragement and kindness will bring gladness and satisfaction to you all of your days and strength and faith and testimony to them.”15

We may, on occasion, find it difficult to love certain students or others with whom we work. What then? We have in our history the account of a former administrator and the difficulty he had in loving those he was asked to work with. Please note in this story what finally allowed him to love.

As the Church was expanding internationally, Seminaries and Institutes of Religion faced the challenge of providing religious education in new countries, cultures, and languages. In the early 1970s the administration of Seminaries and Institutes of Religion was restructured and assistant administrators were given international areas to oversee.

Frank Day, one of the assistant administrators, had served as a marine in World War II. He had fought in the South Pacific and had been taught to hate the enemy. Brother Day now worried that he might be assigned to work with the people of Asia.

Just as he had feared, Brother Joe J. Christensen, associate commissioner of education, asked that he supervise the South Pacific and Asia. “As [Brother] Day flew across the Pacific Ocean toward Japan, the … feelings [he had from the war] still smoldered in his heart even though he prayed sincerely that they might be extinguished. As he prepared to land, Brother Day was filled with a deep dread. He made his way through the airport … and approached [the mission president]. As he looked into the mission president’s face, he saw only love there and was overwhelmed by his own feelings of love.” All of his previous negative feelings vanished.16

Brother Day said that he prayed sincerely and the Spirit of the Lord brought a love to his heart that did not exist there naturally. We can do the same. Mormon counseled, “Pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love.”17

That same Spirit can also encourage and lift us when we have our moments of feeling alone, unappreciated, or discouraged.

Bob and Gwenda Arnold received the assignment to move to Guatemala and start the seminary and institute program there. Brother Arnold described the feelings he had on a long drive back to his home after completing a work assignment: “It was twelve-thirty or one o’clock in the morning. About this time, I got this terrible lonely feeling that nobody in the world knew where I was. My family thought I was asleep somewhere. The people in the United States had no idea what I was doing. I felt so alone. As I drove through [a beautiful wooded area], with the sky full of bright stars, I glanced up and the Spirit whispered, ‘I know where you are.’ The loneliness left and I wept much of the rest of the way home. The feeling of joy and peace came from knowing that my Father in Heaven was aware of me and what I was doing.”18

If the history of seminaries and institutes teaches us anything, it surely must be to have gratitude for the immense privilege that is ours of associating with the faithful and believing youth of the Church. In every corner of the world these students display a spirit of faith and sacrifice. For example, one young man got up at 3:15 every morning so he could make it to seminary on time. His trip required him to walk to a bus stop, ride the bus for 15 minutes, wait for a second bus, ride that bus, and then walk four blocks to the Church building. He often had to do this in the rain and cold. At the end of the year, he had over 90 percent attendance and no tardies.

I offer one more example of how faith-filled and dedicated our students can be.

Stephen K. Iba, a former assistant administrator, served as a missionary in the Philippines and then went back a few years later to help start seminary there. He tells of visiting a family he knew as a missionary—a family that had included “a vivacious twelve-year-old” daughter named Maria. Brother Iba wrote:

“I knocked at the door of their cinder block … home … and the mother answered. … I [told] her why I had returned and explained the seminary home-study program.

“I asked about Maria, who would have been nineteen or so. The mother pulled the curtain that partitioned the room, and there lying on a cot, mannequin like, weighing fifty or sixty pounds, was Maria, in the last stages of cancer. She lit up with that wonderful smile and those sparkling eyes as I walked to her side.

“She asked if she could begin her seminary study. She had only six months to live and wanted to be better prepared to teach her relatives in the spirit world. I promised that as soon as the materials arrived in Manila she would be the first to receive them. When I returned a week later, Maria was ready to study.

“Her father, now a member and the branch president, had set up mirrors over her head so she could look up and read and write. Due to her weakened condition, she could not sit up. One week before her death … , Maria completed the last home-study Book of Mormon exercise—nine months of work, a thousand pages or more, every word, every blank.”19

It is our hope that, as this history becomes available, you will read it, internalize the lessons it can teach us, and—most importantly—be a strong link in the chain of our unfolding history.

President Dieter F. Uchtdorf said:

“Sometimes we think of the Restoration of the gospel as something that is complete, already behind us. … In reality, the Restoration is an ongoing process; we are living in it right now. …

“This is one of the most remarkable periods of the world’s history!”

In light of that, President Uchtdorf counseled us to not “sleep through the Restoration.”20 We should be both grateful and humbled that we have been given the sacred privilege of helping to write this chapter in the ongoing story of the Restoration.

We are all witnesses of how the Lord is hastening His work of salvation. Elder Quentin L. Cook said, “Much of the heavy lifting in hastening the work of salvation for both the living and the dead will be done by [the] young people.”21 As religious educators we can help prepare them to do that heavy lifting. We can best help them, as President Eyring suggested a few years ago, by asking more of them, not less.22

As students elevate their learning by regularly attending class, by reading outside of class, and by participating in the assessments, they will be prepared unlike any previous generation.

The Christian author and apologist C. S. Lewis once wrote, “The most important events in every age never reach the history books.”23 For more than a hundred years there have been those in seminaries and institutes who have quietly labored and sacrificed to help bring young people to Christ. The majority of those individuals and their stories will never make it into a book, but we have the assurance that they do not go unnoticed. “Angels above us are silent notes taking,”24 and there is a book being kept elsewhere that will include each and every act—including yours—that is helping the Lord accomplish His work.

We have spoken for a few moments today about our history. But as we turn and look toward the future, it would be well to remember a comment made by Elder James E. Talmage. “Prophecy,” he said, “is a record of things before they transpire. History is a record of them after they have occurred; and of the two, prophecy is more to be trusted for its accuracy than history.”25

And what does prophecy say of our future? The Prophet Joseph Smith told us: “No unhallowed hand can stop the work from progressing; … the truth of God will go forth boldly, nobly, and independent, till it has penetrated every continent, visited every clime, swept every country, and sounded in every ear, till the purposes of God shall be accomplished, and the Great Jehovah shall say the work is done.”26

May the Lord bless each of us in our efforts to use our history to remember—and to act—as we help bring about the glorious triumph of the Lord’s work. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

Notes

  1. Marlin K. Jensen, “Remember and Perish Not,” Ensign or Liahona, Apr. 2007, 36.

  2. Helaman 5:6–7.

  3. Hannah Senesh, quoted in Danel W. Bachman, “Joseph Smith, a True Martyr,” in Susan Easton Black and Charles D. Tate Jr., eds., Joseph Smith: The Prophet, the Man (1993), 330.

  4. J. Reuben Clark Jr., “The Charted Course of the Church in Education,” rev. ed. (1994), 6.

  5. Gordon B. Hinckley, quoted by Russell M. Nelson, “Spiritual Capacity,” Ensign, Nov. 1997, 16.

  6. By Study and Also by Faith: One Hundred Years of Seminaries and Institutes of Religion (2015), 124.

  7. 1 Nephi 4:6.

  8. See By Study and Also by Faith, 125–26.

  9. By Study and Also by Faith, 397–99.

  10. Victor L. Brown, “The Vision of the Aaronic Priesthood,” Ensign, Nov. 1975, 68.

  11. “Praise to the Man,” Hymns, no. 27.

  12. Robert D. Hales, “In Remembrance of Jesus,” Ensign, Nov. 1997, 25.

  13. By Study and Also by Faith, 66–67.

  14. Doctrine and Covenants 12:8.

  15. Gordon B. Hinckley, “Four Imperatives for Religious Educators” (address to religious educators, Sept. 15, 1978), 3–4, si.lds.org.

  16. See By Study and Also by Faith, 237–38.

  17. Moroni 7:48.

  18. Robert B. Arnold, quoted in By Study and Also by Faith, 244.

  19. Stephen K. Iba, “Our Legacy of Religious Education” (undated and unpublished talk), 8; spelling and punctuation standardized.

  20. Dieter F. Uchtdorf, “Are You Sleeping through the Restoration?” Ensign or Liahona, May 2014, 59, 62.

  21. Quentin L. Cook, “Roots and Branches,” Ensign or Liahona, May 2014, 46.

  22. See Henry B. Eyring, “Raising Expectations” (Church Educational System satellite training broadcast, Aug. 4, 2004), si.lds.org.

  23. C. S. Lewis, The Dark Tower and Other Stories (1977), 17.

  24. “Do What Is Right” Hymns, no. 237.

  25. James E. Talmage, The Great Apostasy (1958), 35.

  26. Joseph Smith, in History of the Church, 4:540.