The Church in the Lamanite World: Scanning the Special Programs Created to Meet Lamanite Needs

By Lane Johnson


“They shall bring thy sons in their arms,” the Lord promised Isaiah, “and thy daughters shall be carried upon their shoulders.” (Isa. 49:22.) Nephi, in recording this prophecy, explained to his people: “It meaneth us in the days to come.” (1 Ne. 22:6.) For the general membership of the Church, it also “meaneth us,” for the gentiles are the people who shall bring them in their arms, especially those of us who either are literal descendants of Ephraim or have been adopted at baptism into Jacob’s house.

In the pages that follow we will read about some Church programs that are operating to bless our Lamanite brothers and sisters in fulfillment of the prophecy that “kings shall be thy nursing fathers, and their queens thy nursing mothers.” (1 Ne. 21:23.) Some of these programs were specifically designed to meet the spiritual, educational, and economic needs of Lamanite members in areas where twentieth-century technology is a comparative newcomer. Others are general Church programs with specific application to Lamanite areas.

But all of these specialized programs are simply branches rooted in the great foundation of the Church—the gospel of Jesus Christ.

For example, it is the regular Church program that does the following (as it does for each of us):

Teaches them that our Father in heaven lives! that they can communicate with him in prayer and receive personal help throughout their lives.

Informs them who they are—special heirs to special covenants and blessings.

Provides them with the priceless opportunity to exercise faith and repentance, to be baptized and receive the enlightening gift of the Holy Ghost, and to become candidates for eternal exaltation through the temple ordinances.

Blesses their worthy men with the priesthood, giving them a profound brotherhood while helping them to bless their wives and children with their priesthood power.

Blesses their women with the Relief Society so that they may experience choice sisterly companionship, and receive a broadly based educational program that can wonderfully bless their homes.

Affords through branches and wards a community of unified Church members wherein each member may be fortified, taught, and strengthened, both spiritually and materially.

Provides countless and unmeasurable opportunities for growth, fulfillment, joy, and progression through a great variety of assignments and callings.

It is from the gospel and its regular programs that the specialized programs originate. Through these specialized programs, Lehi’s descendants are able to partake more fully of the gospel’s nourishment.

When Schools Are Few

Where local education is limited, the Church Educational System is there for thousands of Lamanite youth from Mexico to Polynesia.

“I would love to go back home as a missionary,” says Elder Barate Timea, now serving in Tonga. “My parents are happy about my joining the Church. They are anxious for me to come and teach them the gospel.”

Two years ago, Elder Timea was one of fifteen nonmember students from the Gilbert Islands who arrived at the Church-operated Liahona High School in Tonga. Now he is one of forty-five Gilbert Islanders who attend the school. Thirty-eight of these forty-five have joined the Church; seven, including Elder Timea, are already missionaries. The Church Educational System has helped make this difference.

Five years ago very few temple marriages were performed for young New Zealand couples, and calls for missionary service were infrequent. This year, a single institute class reported fourteen temple marriages, and one stake called as many missionaries as were called in all of New Zealand in past years—and nearly all of these missionaries are seminary graduates. Church Education helps make the difference.

In open-air fale classrooms, in Church meetinghouses, in large boarding schools, many thousands of children and young adults in the Lamanite areas of the Church are seizing opportunities for education their own governments are unable to provide but that are now available through the Church with the approval of the national ministries of education.

The Church Educational System has already made a remarkable contribution in Lamanite areas. For example:

Programs are now functioning in more than twenty countries in Central America, South America, the Pacific islands, and Mexico.

Currently in operation are sixty-three elementary and middle schools, one preparatory school, and one normal school in Mexico, Chile, Paraguay, Peru, Bolivia, New Zealand, Tonga, Tahiti, Western Samoa, and Fiji. In addition, the Brigham Young University—Hawaii Campus serves natives of the Pacific region. Schools under construction include the LDS Technical School in Fiji and a new high School in Vava’u, Tonga.

More than 17,000 elementary and secondary students are enrolled in the basic academic and vocational programs of the Church schools outside the United States and Canada. The great majority of these students are of Lamanite descent. In addition, several hundred persons are now involved in special literacy training, health education, and home study projects.

Church school instruction extends from elementary training to associate-degree university programs emphasizing locally marketable skills. Local needs and government requirements determine exactly what is taught.

Religious education has high priority. More than 40,000 students in these countries now participate in the released-time, early morning, or home study seminary programs and in the individual-instruction and regular institute programs. Teachers show open concern for mission and temple marriage preparation.

Local groups and individuals participate in the costs of Church educational programs as much as possible. In some countries, however, even $5 a year for tuition and the government-required uniforms are beyond the means of many impoverished families. In many of these instances, the newly established Church Educational System Scholarship Fund can provide loans and grants for deserving students. (See Ensign, October 1975, pp. 76–77.)

In Mexico, Central America, South America, and the islands of the Pacific—the locale of the Lamanite—Church Educational System programs have helped produce many capable leaders and have increased the average economic status of Church members, thus raising Lamanite members from illiteracy and poverty to positions of tremendous influence for good in their families, their communities, their nations, and the Church.

[photo] “Literacy and education are vital for able leadership.” Church schools are helping to provide that education for thousands of Lamanites in twenty countries around the world.

Seminary for Six-Year-Olds

From kindergarten through high school, boarding school Indian students study a distinctive seminary curriculum.

Seminary for kindergarten children? Yes, Indian seminary is a unique program designed to fit the needs of thousands of children and young people, many of whom, because of distance, attend boarding schools for their education. The program serves over forty tribes in twenty states and five Canadian provinces and teaches nearly 12,500 Indian students.

“Literacy and education are vital for able leadership,” according to Kenneth H. Beesley, associate commissioner of Church education. “Without them it is extremely difficult for members of the Church to operate strong branches, wards, and stakes and to be effective in their communities.”

The curriculum also is especially adapted for American Indians. An example: for the duration of a course entitled “Doers of the Words of Jesus,” the class is called “the Doer Tribe,” with each student in turn learning leadership qualities as “chief” of the tribe. Filmstrips and instructional materials feature Lamanite children in situations that Indian students can identify as real-life experiences.

Consistent with the current policy of the Federal Bureau of Indian Affairs schools, most Indian seminaries meet only once a week at an hour prescribed for religious instruction, but the program has the flexibility to take advantage of more classroom teaching opportunities as they arise. For example, the Intermountain Indian School in Brigham City, Utah, holds a daily early-morning class.

The ultimate goal of Indian Seminaries is to help the students to develop sound testimonies of the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is hoped that the high school students can move on to regular released-time seminaries, and the younger children to Primary where local wards and branches are sufficiently organized.

Begun in 1949 with six Latter-day Saint students in Brigham City, Indian Seminaries soared to a high of 17,000 enrolled students in 1972. Transferring younger pupils to the Primary organization has lowered total enrollment for the last three years, but enrollment in single schools is still high—350 attend seminary at the schools in Kaibeto and Tuba City, Arizona. Many Indian high school students are also enrolled in the regular released-time seminary programs that have recently been established.

Although full-time missionaries have usually taught the classes, they are now being replaced by Indian parents and full-time professionals.

Seminary is leaving a marked impression on the lives of many students, among them Lorenzo Curley, a Navajo boy introduced to the gospel through seminary one year ago during his first year of high school. Lorenzo was chosen to represent his seminary with a fellow student, a recent convert, at a seminary “scripture chase” event in St. Johns, Arizona. Though the two Indian boys lacked the three other members necessary to form a scripture chase team, they competed with the Anglo teams, each made up of five lifelong members of the Church known for their past achievements in seminary work. Despite odds that seemed so great, Lorenzo and his partner won the competition 50 to 0.

[photo] The ultimate goal of Indian Seminaries is to help the students develop sound testimonies of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Learning the Best of Both Worlds’ Cultures

U.S.-Canadian youth learn to live in Indian and Anglo worlds through the placement program.

I can still see that young Navajo mother as I close my eyes and think. She was watching movies, taken by the Social Services workers, of Indian children living in Utah. Her tears told me when her children came into view.

She explained how important it was for her children to be on the Church Indian Student Placement Program and added, “I was on the Placement Program for two years. I stayed with a family in southern Utah for my ninth and tenth grades. I suppose I disappointed them by not returning.”

“Disappointed them?” I asked. “Tell me about your experience.”

“Oh, it was wonderful. I learned to love my foster family and they taught me many things,” she said. “Even though it has been twelve years, every time I have a decision to make, I ask myself, ‘What would my foster parents advise me to do?’ That way, I feel I can make decisions more pleasing to my Heavenly Father.”

Described by President Spencer W. Kimball in June 1974 as “an inspiration from the Lord,” the placement program matches children from approximately sixty-three tribes and twenty-one states and provinces with foster homes in Alberta and British Columbia, Canada, and in Washington, California, Idaho, Arizona, and Utah.

Over 20,000 students and 10,000 foster parents have participated in the past twenty years since a young girl who had worked all summer in the beet fields in the Sevier, Utah, area asked to stay in the area for the winter to attend school. “I’d be willing to sleep in a tent if necessary,” she said. Golden Buchanan, then a member of the stake presidency, was asked to consider the matter, and after consulting with Elder Spencer W. Kimball, then a member of the Quorum of the Twelve, Brother Buchanan and his wife decided to keep Helen John in their home. The program has developed from this small beginning.

Indian parents desiring their children to participate apply through their branch president or bishop, who interviews and orients both students and their parents to prepare them for their experience.

Each July, Social Services workers also interview students and families, consult with the branch president or bishop, and select qualified students to be placed with Latter-day Saint families.

Foster families are oriented about cultural adjustments, program policies, and coordinating their efforts with the natural parents.

After all this preparation, buses, trains, or planes transport students to processing centers where they are introduced to or reunited with foster parents.

Indian students become part of their foster families’ educational, cultural, social, and spiritual experiences; then, at the end of the school year, they return to their natural families.

Social service workers are also assigned to assist wards and branches in working with the natural parents of students on placement operating in Arizona and South Dakota. They visit families on a regular basis to coordinate the efforts of the natural and foster parents. Some results: increased communication between the parents and their children and between the foster parents and the placement children.

Understandably, these experiences have not all been without challenges; however, the dedication of foster parents and the sacrifice of natural parents frequently have greater impact than we realize.

Dr. Bahe Billy, one of the early graduates of the program, is in charge of planning for the massive Navajo irrigation project in New Mexico, which will turn 110,000 desert acres into green fields. A former counselor in the Four Corners District presidency, Brother Billy now serves as high councilor in the Farmington New Mexico Stake.

Lewis Singer, a Navajo, is on the administrative staff of the board of education in the San Juan School District; a former counselor in the stake presidency in the Page Arizona Stake and now on the high council in Monticello Utah Stake, he and his wife still find time to welcome Indian foster children into their home.

Ray Louis, who returned from placement to his home in Crystal, New Mexico, has been called to be branch president. William Nakai is a dynamic leader and past president of the Tribe of Many Feathers at Brigham Young University. Larry Dennison is the coordinator of a Navajo manpower program in the Four Corners area; and Nora Begay has been Miss Indian America.

Obviously, all the success of these young people cannot and should not be attributed entirely to the placement program. Natural families, priesthood leaders, and friends also play a vital role in the development of the youth participating in this program; but the participants themselves give great credit to the inspired placement program.

There are many placement program participants who have yet to develop and reach their potential, but every child succeeds who learns to love his Father in heaven a little more, and precious seeds planted in their hearts may someday blossom as the rose.

Verenda Rainer, an Apache, has held the title of Miss Indian BYU, has been a Relief Society president, and has supported her husband in his callings as a bishop and as a high councilor. She has also been honored many times because of her activity in the Church, in professional groups, and in community activities; now she performs the highest calling in life as wife and mother. She movingly bore her testimony at a special placement program meeting in the Temple Square Assembly Hall (April 5, 1968):

“I would like to tell you something. Eight years ago, I came into this program. I got off the bus with the clothes on my back and a few small possessions in a shoe box. … Now, I can go home with a brand new suitcase with lots of clothes, but that is not my wealth. I could go home with the clothes on my back and a small shoe box and still be rich. I can be more wealthy than any of the people on the reservation because I have something as precious as a pearl, as precious as gold, and as precious as all of the wealth in this world. I have a testimony of the gospel.”

[photo] The Indian Student Placement Program, which President Kimball has said is “an inspiration from the Lord,” places Indian students in foster homes for the school year. (Photography by Longin Lonczyna.)

Harold C. Brown, administration director of Social Services for the Church, serves as elders quorum teacher in the Cottonwood Eighth Ward, Salt Lake Cottonwood Stake.

Combating the Life-Shorteners

Health-teaching missionaries arm Lamanites against disease and malnutrition.

Welfare Services missionaries weren’t specifically planned for Lamanites, but thirty-one out of the thirty-six missions where they serve are Lamanite. The sense of commitment and dedication runs high.

The goal of Welfare Services is to assist members in achieving physical and mental health, economic stability, self-respect, self-reliance, and righteousness. This is carried out largely through health, agriculture, and other Welfare Services missionaries. They work with local priesthood leaders in assisting members with health education, food storage, gardening, vocational counseling, and other related areas. Although their activity centers on Church members, the proselyting effort is very often benefited in indirect ways.

Welfare Services missionaries are constantly reporting on the exciting results of their work. The Samoa Apia Mission reports that the number of home gardens trebled between the first and second visits. At a seminar on alcoholism in San Marcos, Guatemala, the building was “packed to capacity” with approximately 400 people, nearly all men and nearly all nonmembers. The Peru Lima Welfare Services missionaries report numerous firesides on home storage, response to natural disasters, Red Cross first aid, budgeting, and home nursing; speakers have been community as well as Church resource people.

Many of the mission priesthood leaders are calling local members to serve as stake and district health missionaries. One stake in the Peru Lima Mission called twenty-two, then another thirty-two. The full-time missionaries report, “It’s not ‘our program’ now, it’s theirs—it’s Welfare Services.”

Welfare Services coordinates with local resources whenever possible. From the Arizona Holbrook Mission comes the report that “work with the Navajo Office of Economic Opportunity is probably the most exciting thing we have done so far.”

There are currently about 250 Welfare Services missionaries; about 500 are expected to be serving by 1980. Their mission will be to strengthen the priesthood holders in meeting the temporal needs of Saints in these areas.

[photo] The goal of Health Missionaries is to help members achieve good physical and mental health.