Elder Pieper and Elder Echo Hawk Meet with Native American Latter-day Saints

Contributed By Clarissa McIntire, LDS.org Church News staff writer

  • 12 October 2018

Elder Larry J. Echo Hawk of the Seventy and his wife, Sister Terry Echo Hawk, greet youth following a special devotional on October 7. Photo by Clarissa McIntire.

Article Highlights

  • Elder Echo Hawk and Elder Pieper met with Native American youth, families, and leaders.
  • People of Native American descent have a special invitation to study the Book of Mormon.

“Be confident in your heritage. But the name that you should be most proud of … is that of Jesus Christ.” —Elder Paul B. Pieper of the Seventy

When the missionaries knocked on her door nearly a year ago, Felicia Neswood Nelson had already heard of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Her husband was a less-active member, and one of her uncles was a member as well.

She told the missionaries, who had stopped by to see her elder sister, that she was interested in what they had to say.

“[I was] curious about it all at a time when we really, really needed guidance,” Nelson said. She had no idea then that a short time later, she, her mother, and two of her sisters would be baptized. In December of 2017, they joined the Fort Wingate Branch, an Native American branch near Gallup, New Mexico.

Nelson may also have been surprised if she’d known that they would soon all attend their first live session of general conference and be part of a special devotional October 7 on Temple Square with Elder Paul B. Pieper and Elder Larry J. Echo Hawk of the Seventy. Others in attendance included a group of youth and their leaders, largely from the Papago Ward on the Salt River Indian Reservation near Scottsdale, Arizona, as well as one of the former missionaries who taught the Neswoods, Teagan Cordes.

Elder Echo Hawk, who also is a Native American, encouraged those listening to study the Book of Mormon. “We are descendants of Book of Mormon peoples,” he told the group during his brief remarks. “And the [title page] to the Book of Mormon says it was ‘written to the Lamanites … and also to the Jew and Gentile’—but it mentions the Lamanites first.”

He related the story of his first time attending general conference, when his group was unable to enter, despite having tickets, because they arrived late. When the conference was over, young Larry Echo Hawk climbed a high fence to catch a glimpse of President David O. McKay leaving the conference.

“President McKay looked back and saw me, this kid who wasn't supposed to be up there, and he just smiled and waved. When I saw him, I felt something very powerful,” Elder Echo Hawk said. “It melted my heart. I hope each of you felt something similar this weekend.”

Several people shared moments when Elder Echo Hawk’s visits to their wards and branches had changed their lives. After one such visit, one woman’s husband decided to go to the temple; another young woman prayed for an answer to a question on Elder Echo Hawk’s advice and received a prompting to serve a mission. Elder Echo Hawk, who was released and designated an emeritus General Authority during the Saturday afternoon session of general conference on October 6, expressed his gratitude that his service made a difference.

“I’ve had my testimony expand in this way: I know that Jesus Christ is at the head of this Church, and He pays attention to the details,” he said. “God knows you. He knows each and every one of you.”

Sister Echo Hawk watches as Elder Echo Hawk smiles for a photo with attendees of a special devotional held on October 7. Photo by Clarissa McIntire.

Elder Pieper echoed Elder Echo Hawk’s testimony. “Be proud of the tribe you come from,” Elder Pieper said, after noting that those in attendance represented several nations, including Navajo, Hopi, and Southern Cheyenne. “Be confident in your heritage. But the name that you should be most proud of … is that of Jesus Christ.”

Turning to Nelson, Elder Pieper asked her if knowing that she is a member of the house of Israel makes a difference in her life. “It does,” she answered. “We feel a part of something even bigger. It makes us feel special.”

Elder and Sister Echo Hawk and Elder Paul B. Pieper pose for a photo with youth and other members of the Papago Ward on October 7. Photo by Clarissa McIntire.

Elder Paul B. Pieper of the Seventy stands beside the Neswood family (from left: Natasha Neswood, Nadia Neswood, Felicia Neswood Nelson, and Flora Neswood), who joined the Church in December of 2017. Photo by Clarissa McIntire.

Elder Larry J. Echo Hawk of the Seventy addresses youth and other Latter-day Saints from wards in Arizona and New Mexico in a special devotional October 7 at Temple Square. Photo by Clarissa McIntire.