Elder Cook: Make Family History Part of Missionary Work
Contributed By Sarah Jane Weaver, Church News staff writer
The Lord is hastening His work, and as hearts respond to the atoning sacrifice of the Savior, His purposes will be accomplished, said Elder Quentin L. Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.
“This work is both for the living and the dead,” he explained.
Speaking at the Seminar for New Mission Presidents on June 23, Elder Cook addressed the topic “Turn the Hearts.”
He said the Lord has established a covenant pathway to achieve His purposes. The gateway to this path is the first principles and ordinances of the gospel: faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, repentance, baptism by immersion for the remission of sins, and the laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost. Church members continue on the covenant pathway with the sacred saving and exalting ordinances of the temple and enduring to the end.
“The spiritual conditions necessary to proceed along the pathway all relate to the heart,” said Elder Cook. “The scriptures refer favorably to hearts that are changed, broken, healed, turned, and hearts full of love, gratitude, joy, and peace. The scriptures refer unfavorably to hearts that are hardened.”
Elder Cook said the reference to hearts has been used in the scriptures to convey the deepest feelings that combine the spirit and the intellect.
“For my purposes here today, I will concentrate primarily on turned hearts. The scriptures most commonly associated with this concept are the last two verses in the Old Testament, where we read in Malachi that before the Lord’s Second Coming, He will send Elijah the prophet, ‘And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse’ (Malachi 4:6).”
Elder Cook testified that the prophet Elijah returned on April 3, 1836, in the Kirtland Temple to fulfill Malachi’s promise. He committed priesthood keys for sealing families in this dispensation. Elijah’s mission is facilitated by what is sometimes called the spirit of Elijah.
“Elder Russell M. Nelson has taught the spirit of Elijah is ‘a manifestation of the Holy Ghost bearing witness of the divine nature of the family,’” said Elder Cook.
Elder Cook pointed out that the ultimate goal is the ordinances of the temple and the condition of the heart that must accompany these ordinances.
President Spencer W. Kimball emphasized this and is quoted in Preach My Gospel: “I hope to see us dissolve the artificial boundary line we so often place between missionary work and temple and genealogical work, because it is the same great redemptive work!”
No one was more successful in dissolving the artificial boundary between missionary work and family history work than Wilford Woodruff, said Elder Cook. “Wilford Woodruff baptized over 2,000 people during his ministry. … His personal example was incredible. By the time he was 78 years old, 3,188 of his deceased relatives had been baptized vicariously and 2,518 had been endowed.”
Before discussing how missionaries can utilize family history, Elder Cook discussed the Church’s new booklet, My Family: Stories That Bring Us Together. Mission presidents had been asked to complete their own booklet before the seminar, he said.
“Our purpose in doing this is to give you a spiritual foundation for sharing the spirit of Elijah with your missionaries. It is difficult to teach the spirit of Elijah unless you have felt the spirit of Elijah. …
“Today we have the doctrine, we have the technology, we have the temples to accomplish this glorious work of salvation.“
Elder Cook said missionaries need to understand that they are ward and branch builders. A secondary objective is to help missionaries find fulfillment, meaning, and powerful personal conversions, he added.
Preach My Gospel specifically recommends that family history is very effective in all aspects of missionary work. Given the ultimate goal, it is especially important for continuing from baptism to baptism for the dead to their own endowment and other essential ordinances.
“There is absolutely no question that family history can be effectively utilized for new converts and for many of the less active. People typically have spiritual feelings as they go to the temple.”
He said, “Missionaries can and should assist with family history training for new converts in preparation for baptisms for the dead and ultimately their own endowment.
“This training is also an excellent forum for missionaries to work with less-active members who have been assigned by the ward council.”
In many missions, family history can also be used as a primary finding effort by the missionaries. It is easy to start conversations using family history. The spirit of Elijah has prepared many people to respond. After the initial conversation, missionaries can transition to a gospel discussion.
Teaching the plan of salvation can be especially effective as the doctrinal stepping-stone from family history to the Preach My Gospel lessons, he said.
“The plan of salvation message resonates with Heavenly Father’s children. They feel an echo from the past with respect to premortal existence, and many already believe that families will be reunited after death. The Holy Ghost bears witness to the eternal nature of the family and changes and turns hearts.”