A South Dakota Swede and the Book of Mormon
We may never know who deposited a copy of the Book of Mormon in the county library at Gettysburg, South Dakota (less than 2,000 population), but the Gettysburg Branch of the Church owes its existence to that book and the inquiring mind of a tall, thin Swede. He has influenced my life for thirty years.
Karl Ivar Sandberg left Sweden as a teenager to seek his fortune in the American northwest. But when he tired of the rough life in the lumbering camps and decided to venture into farming, he settled in Potter County, South Dakota, and for a time lived a secluded bachelor life in a “cook shack.” But he worked hard, prospered, and soon had a house and title to some land.
It was while watching the sprouting of his grain in the spring and the miracle of birth among his farm animals that Ivar began to wonder about religion. He turned to the Bible for answers. “It was customary with me as I worked around the place that perhaps several times a day, if the work was not rushing, I would run in the house and read for a while,” he said. “If I read fiction, I did not bother to take my cap off, but if I read the Bible, I would remove my cap, as I considered it a sacred book.”
Feeling the need to join a church in order to learn more about God and his works, Ivar visited the five churches in Gettysburg, about fifteen miles from his farm, and discussed religion with the ministers. But instead of being satisfied, he became discouraged. None of them measured up to his expectations of what the New Testament church was like. The doctrines they taught did not seem true. Driven in his search for truth, Ivar turned to the county library and read all the religious books he could find. Soon he despaired of Christianity, and decided to read the Koran. While the librarian was waiting to obtain it for him on interlibrary loan, she suggested that he might be interested in another “heathen” book, although some had found it dull reading. Ivar went home with the Book of Mormon.
“I started on the Book of Mormon, and naturally I felt I had started to read a book of fiction. I had not read many pages before I discovered I had found a most remarkable book. The tears started to run down my cheeks and the sweetest spirit seemed to be present. I had my cap on as I started to read the Book of Mormon, but before long I felt a man ought to read such a book with a bare head.
“As I remember it, I read the book in about three days, and it seemed to have the sweetest spirit with it. As far as I could see, the book could be true, but yet I had the feeling that by and by I would see where the book would contradict itself.
“I thought the book so remarkable that I took it to a religious neighbor of mine. I felt he would be very enthusiastic about it, but when I returned in three days, I found him scoffing at the book, saying it was all made up with a lot of names borrowed from the Bible. I returned it to the library and all summer I thought about it, and yet I could not see where the book contradicted itself nor the Bible.
“That year my brother Swen was working for me, and one Saturday evening in the fall as he was preparing to go to Gettysburg, I told him to go up to the library and ask the librarian for the Book of Mormon. He did so and the next morning, being Sunday, I started reading it as soon as I had my stock fed. That night before I went to bed I had read the Book of Mormon through. I was more impressed than ever. I read it through once more before returning it to the library, and I knew it was true.”
The library didn’t have any other books on Mormonism, so they referred him to the Deseret Book Store in Salt Lake City. Over the next two years Ivar ordered a number of books and became thoroughly converted and quite knowledgeable about the doctrines of the Church. He still had not met a single Latter-day Saint, and eventually decided he must go to Salt Lake City to be baptized.
The trip in an old Model A Ford across many miles of barren land in Wyoming was anything but encouraging, and often he stopped and prayed beside his running board for strength to go on. His first Mormon contact was an inactive service station attendant in northern Utah, and again he wondered whether to go on. But the next morning he drove into Salt Lake City, parked outside Temple Square, and told a watchman he had come to join the Church. That Sunday Ivar bore his testimony in the first Latter-day Saint meeting he had ever attended. “How I rejoiced to hear the Saints bear their testimonies,” he said. “I was at last among real brothers and sisters. After the meeting it seemed that almost everybody came and shook hands with me.”
Ivar was baptized October 1, 1934, and, wanting to remain in the city of the Saints, he worked for a while in Salt Lake City. But after being ordained an elder, he was encouraged to return to South Dakota to help establish the Church there. He left in time to plant his crop the next spring.
From the president of the North Central States Mission he obtained permission to hold a Sunday School in his home. He soon converted a lovely schoolteacher, Mildred Nelson, and married her. Later other neighbors began to accept the gospel. About this time, a neighbor told my father of the strange events transpiring about five miles from our home. My father thought most churches were like social clubs, where women went to show off their latest fashions and men appeared honest in order to help their businesses during the week. He accepted the challenge of “teaching this strange, uneducated Swede a few things.”
Our first meeting was in a one-room schoolhouse, with about twenty people present, half of them investigators. I could barely understand the heavy accent of this Swedish convert, but I did feel his spirit. It was warm and stimulating. My father and I had many discussions about it, and he was baptized within a year in a prairie pond. The rest of our family followed at later dates.
When the Gettysburg Branch was organized in 1948 with twenty-five convert members, Ivar Sandberg was its first president, fulfilling a promise made when he was confirmed a member of the Church many years earlier. My father was his first counselor.
This was the most unusual branch in the mission. While it was made up entirely of farm families, many had a college education. Almost always complete families had joined, usually the husband and father first. There was ample priesthood leadership, and nearly all the women could play the piano and lead music.
Typical of Brother Sandberg’s influence was the Thompson family from Texas. Both parents were highly educated, had taught high school and farmed on the side, and were active in a Protestant church. However, with five sons they had decided to obtain a farm in South Dakota. Driving down the highway they noticed a small chapel about eight miles from Gettysburg. Curious, and somewhat influenced by a dream Mrs. Thompson had had in Texas, they contacted Ivar. They wanted to show him the error of his ways, but in less than a year they were active members of the branch.
The entire Gettysburg Branch owes its existence to Ivar Sandberg and a copy of the Book of Mormon. On the day he died, as a result of a pickup truck accident in 1952, I was privileged to leave as the first missionary called from the branch. Since then, a number have filled missions throughout the world, including five of his own children and his wife, Mildred. Still a small branch, it now includes eighteen families and more than fifty members. But branch presidents, bishops, various ward and stake officers—all converted by Ivar and the message he bore—today live in other areas of the Church and continue to teach the gospel of Christ.
It Taught Me the Bible
As a convert to the Church with a divinity school background, and having spent a number of years in the pastorate of another faith, my first reading of the Book of Mormon struck me with great impact. It was like seeing the thundering Niagara Falls for the first time. It is a book one cannot read casually. Its claims are too enormous to be ignored.
Before my conversion I was so imbued with modern thought and liberal interpretations of the Bible that much of the scriptures seemed irrelevant. I was unable to think clearly as I listened to many theologians pointing in different directions proclaiming, “This is the truth.”
I knew I did not have the unifying truth I so greatly desired. In my search for it I came upon the Book of Mormon. I found it wonderfully enlightening. In my hunger to know the truth I read it five times over a period of seven months, in a comparative study with the Bible. This was the most fruitful labor of my life, above any similar investment of time I had ever made.
My most startling discovery about the Book of Mormon was the light it threw on the Bible. At first I was amazed how this could be so, but later I came to realize God planned it that way. The Bible and the Book of Mormon needed to come together to supplement each other in fulfillment of Ezekiel 37:16–17:
“Moreover, thou son of man, take thee one stick, and write upon it, For Judah, and for the children of Israel his companions: then take another stick, and write upon it, For Joseph, the stick of Ephraim, and for all the house of Israel his companions.
“And join them one to another into one stick; and they shall become one in thine hand.” [Ezek. 37:16–17]
I knew the sticks referred to by Ezekiel were scrolls or books rolled on sticks. The reference could not be to the Old Testament and New Testament, as some scholars have suggested, for the tribe of Joseph through Ephraim had little to do with bringing the Bible into existence, either the Old Testament or New Testament. However, the tribe of Judah is closely identified with the whole Bible. The royal tribe of David came through Judah, as did other great kings and prophets of the Bible, including Jesus of Nazareth. On the other hand, the Book of Mormon was written or abridged by great Nephite prophets, kings, and judges, all of whom were descendants of Joseph of Egypt. The answer seemed obvious: Ezekiel’s prophecy refers to the Bible and the Book of Mormon.
Then many other basic teachings of the Bible with which I was intellectually familiar came to life. I had never understood the true significance of the fall of Adam as a necessary step toward man’s eternal salvation. When I read the Book of Mormon I learned that Adam is not the villain responsible for the downfall of the human race as interpreted by orthodox Christianity. He and Eve, representative of our human condition, gave up their state of innocence and assumed the awesome responsibility for making choices between good and evil.
How wonderfully sweet is a little baby in its innocence and purity! At the same time, how indescribably tragic it would be if that baby kept his innocence and purity by remaining a baby and never grew up to assume responsibility for his actions. These words from the Book of Mormon became precious and meaningful:
“[Had Adam and Eve not transgressed], they would have had no children; wherefore they would have remained in a state of innocence, having no joy, for they knew no misery; doing no good, for they knew no sin. …
“Adam fell that men might be; and men are, that they might have joy.” (2 Ne. 2:23, 25.)
No doubt Adam and Eve suffered the consequences of making some wrong choices, as do we. They also had the same joy that comes in right choices that we can have.
I also found the Book of Mormon especially helpful in understanding the book of Isaiah and the spiritual magnitude of this great Old Testament prophet. Many of his remarkable prophecies, such as the beloved and familiar Isaiah 9:6 passage, became so clear when examined in the light of the Book of Mormon that they could not be misinterpreted:
“For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.” [Isa. 9:6]
“The government shall be upon his shoulder.” To shoulder anything is to be responsible for it. According to the Book of Mormon Christ shall manifest himself to all nations. (1 Ne. 13:42.) He will be responsible for our beloved nation or for any nation that will accept his government and live by his commandments. (Ether 2:12.) At his coming he will set up his perfect government and will be the responsible king.
“Counsellor.” There is much in the Book of Mormon about the great wisdom of the Lord’s counsel. (Jacob 4:10; Alma 37:12.) Christ is the “mighty God,” being the second person in the Godhead, and manifest in the flesh as God’s Only Begotten Son—not in name only, but in fact! He is our “everlasting Father” in that he has spiritually begotten us through his atonement. (Mosiah 5:7; Alma 11:38–39.) “Prince of Peace.” When Christ came to the Nephites as recorded in Third Nephi they accepted him so completely they were able to enjoy two centuries of righteous living and unbroken peace, where no man lifted his hand against another. This is the only record we have of a whole nation over a long period of time accepting Christ as the Prince of Peace in practice and not just in name. This can happen to nations or individuals only when the Lord’s counsels are fully obeyed, as the Book of Mormon makes clear.
Nephi’s remarkable vision (1 Ne. 11:14–34) of the most beautiful and fair virgin becoming the mother of the Son of God, the going forth of the Redeemer, the multitudes gathered to hear him, his being lifted up upon a cross, and the going forth of the Twelve Apostles of the Lamb foreshadowed the Christian era several centuries in advance. The whole broad structure of messianic prophecy in Psalms, Isaiah, and writings of other Old Testament prophets came together for me in wonderful clarity after studying the Book of Mormon.
Also from the Book of Mormon I learned the important part the gentiles must play in assisting Israel to claim the great promises God made to them in the Old Testament—they are to be an instrument in his hands to bring redemption to the whole human race. (1 Ne. 22:3–12.)
There are dimensions of faith in the Book of Mormon that give support to the same teachings in the Bible. There are also some unique aspects of faith in the Book of Mormon not found in the Bible, such as in Alma 32, where faith is contrasted with knowledge and likened to a good seed. This chapter on faith in the Book of Mormon added much to my understanding of the teachings of the Bible on this major theme.
The heart of the Book of Mormon is its testimony that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and our Savior. This is also one of the main streams running through the Bible. The Book of Mormon concept of the divine nature of Christ as Savior underscores the historic Jesus as he moves through the New Testament. The idea advanced by some opponents of the Book of Mormon that we have a Bible and do not need another witness for Christ is as illogical as contending that since we have the Gospel of Matthew we do not need the other three Gospels that tell essentially the same story. The Book of Mormon gives support and individual witness to the Bible much as each of the four Gospels support each other.
The ministry of Jesus in Palestine lasted for three years, and among the Nephites only a few days, but to see the Lord’s compassion for the Nephite multitudes and their overwhelming response to him as recorded in Third Nephi adds much to the picture of his earthly life. We learn that Jesus came not only to his people on one side of the world but to those on the other side as well. His New Testament statement, “Other sheep I have, which are not of this fold” (John 10:16), becomes significantly meaningful.
The Book of Mormon is permeated with the Spirit of the Lord, and whoever reads it with that same Spirit will know it is true. If you love Jesus Christ you will love the Book of Mormon, because it bears witness of him.
Alma 32 Changed My Disposition—and My Life
I had a chip on my shoulder. Some bad experience, in my youth had left me quite bitter and untrusting of humanity in general, and since I was always complaining, people didn’t take to me readily. As far as religion was concerned, I felt it was a crutch for the weak. I was intensely proud of my own abilities, and I simply didn’t care whether God existed or not.
Then a new secretary came to work at our office. A happy, cheerful, outgoing individual, she was everything I wasn’t. She wasn’t conceited, but she didn’t seem to need everyone’s acceptance to sustain her. She had some inner strength, and something very special radiated from her as if from a light. She was a Latter-day Saint.
We became good friends, and as I came to know her better, I began to realize how empty my life was. I also realized that religion was a very big part of her life. Could this somehow be related to the “something special” about her? She didn’t talk much about religion to me because, as I learned later, she never in her wildest imaginings thought I would join the Church. Certainly my attitudes and life-style didn’t give her reason to believe differently. But what little she did say about Mormonism intrigued me.
I would conduct my own investigation, I decided. Priding myself on logical thinking and objective research, I went to the public library and checked out four books on Mormonism, two for and two against. (I wanted to be sure to get both sides of the story.) But as I began to read, something strange happened. All the things I hadn’t been able to accept about religion were not a part of Mormonism. Also, while there were new concepts and doctrines in Mormonism, these seemed true, vaguely familiar.
To my dismay, I began to feel that perhaps I could accept this Mormon philosophy. A lot was said about the Book of Mormon in these books, but most of it was either in defense of the book or attacking its origin. Very little was revealed about its content. One anti-Mormon author said it was a very peculiar book, because people who read it either felt that it was the basest, most obvious kind of a fraud, or else that it was divinely inspired. I decided to read the book for myself and see what was so peculiar about it.
As I began to read, something else strange began to happen. I had some experiences I didn’t understand, but I felt good about them. Later I realized the Holy Ghost was testifying to me of the truthfulness of what I was reading. I read on, until I came to Alma 32—a very special chapter for me. In verse 17 I read: “Yea, there are many who do say: If thou wilt show unto us a sign from heaven, then we shall know of a surety; then we shall believe.” [Alma 32:17]
Right on! I thought. That’s just the way I felt. If there is a God, why doesn’t he just come down and show everybody! And then I read Alma’s reply:
“Now I ask, is this faith? Behold I say unto you, Nay; for if a man knoweth a thing he hath no cause to believe, for he knoweth it.” (Alma 32:18.)
Wait a minute. What was that? I read it again and again. I had never thought of it that way before, but this was such an obvious truth. I had the strangest feeling that this was going to have far-reaching implications in my life. The next significant verse for me was 27:
“But behold, if ye will awake and arouse your faculties, even to an experiment upon my words [I love experiments. They give you firsthand knowledge—something really tangible], and exercise a particle of faith [not a whole lot of faith, just a little particle], yea, even if you can no more than desire to believe, let this desire work in you, even until ye believe in a manner that ye can give place for a portion of my words.” (Italics added.) [Alma 32:27]
In spite of everything I felt and the life I led, I really wanted to believe. Alma went on to explain his experiment. He likened the gospel to a seed. If you will plant the seed in your heart and nourish it by trying to live the gospel, it will grow and swell within you, and you’ll know that it is good.
Well, I finished the Book of Mormon, and knew I wanted a copy of my own. I phoned the missionaries, and they were more than happy to come out and talk to me. I took the six lessons. Then I had to make a decision. I had a testimony, but it was very weak. I didn’t know if it would sustain me, but I decided to take Alma at his word and try his experiment. I would be baptized and try to live the gospel completely for one year. If the experiment worked, that would be fine. If it didn’t, I wouldn’t be out that much.
That was six years ago. After I began to keep the Word of Wisdom, pay tithing, and grow in the gospel, people began telling me things I’d never been told before—how happy I seemed all the time, how friendly I was becoming, how people liked me, and how they respected me. All of a sudden it seemed as though everyone was my friend, and I began to grow in ways I never thought possible. Within three years I got married, and we began to raise a family and eventually to build our dream home.
I know that the gospel changes lives, and if we will strive to live its principles, our Father in heaven will bless us abundantly.
The W and I
Why are there no proper names in the Book of Mormon beginning with the letter W? In a book that introduced some 200 new names, surely there should have been a few beginning with W—especially if the book were a fraud, and the author, knowing only the English language, had to produce that many new names to write his book.
This strange omission, which I had learned about from an article years earlier, impressed me down through the years, and I used it often as a missionary tool.
Then one morning in 1974 I awoke at 2 A.M. and began thinking about the phenomenon again. As I lay there in the darkness, with no distractions, it came to me that Nephi had said he made a record “in the language of my father.” (1 Ne. 1:2.) I reasoned that the language of his father was a most logical choice, for everybody in the little company with him understood it perfectly. Then I remembered that when Nephi and his brothers went back to Jerusalem to get the records of their fathers, Nephi had said, “And behold, it is wisdom in God that we should obtain these records, that we may preserve unto our children the language of our fathers.” (1 Ne. 3:19.)
Then it came to me like a bolt out of the blue: Nephi was writing his record—which became our Book of Mormon—in the same language that the Jews were using to compile their history—which later became our Bible!
Mentally I began going through the Old Testament recalling all the proper names I could, beginning with Adam and Eve and ending with Malachi. No names beginning with W! It was exciting. “If this proves out,” I thought, “it will be amazing.” I decided to get up and read the genealogies in the Bible. I read a lot of them. Again, no names beginning with W. I must confess I had never read them before; they were too monotonous. But now I was reading with a purpose.
As the days went by and I continued to think about it, I wondered if there were any other correlations between the Bible and Book of Mormon. I remembered the pronouncing vocabulary in the Book of Mormon, listed alphabetically, and decided to see if the W was actually missing as the first letter in the names of people or places. I was amazed to discover that six letters were not used: F, Q, V, W, X, and Y.
Our library had a good Bible concordance, so I researched the above six letters and found that the following were used:
F—two in the book of Acts—both Roman names, one a governor of Judea—and one in 1 Corinthians, a Greek name.
Q—one, Quartus, a Roman soldier. (I discounted both the F’s and the Q because they were named in a different language.)
V—these gave me a little more trouble. In the book of Esther was the name Vashti—the wife of King Ahasuerus before he married Esther—and the name Vajezatha. (I discounted these, because both names were Persian.) But Numbers recorded the name Vophsi; Chronicles contained a Vashni, the firstborn son of Samuel; and the book of Ezra showed a Vaniah, son of Bani.
W, X, Y—there were no names of people or places in the Bible beginning with these letters.
I was concerned about the V. I wondered if it had been used and forgotten by the time Lehi left Jerusalem.
When I have tried to explain this strange phenomenon to others, many have said, “But there is a W in the word Hebrew, and also one in Matthew.” But, I have explained, these Ws have a U sound. Moreover, I am told that the -ew suffix is found only in their English form. The Y is present also in the names Egypt and Babylon, but they are renditions that have been made in English with little regard for the Semitic spelling.
Others have not understood the point and have said that the Bible and the Book of Mormon are full of words containing all of these letters. I admit that this is true. There are as many of all these letters in the Book of Mormon as there are in tonight’s newspaper. When the Prophet Joseph translated the accounts told in the Book of Mormon, he could only do so by using the English alphabet. For instance, when he told of the great storm on the ocean he could only describe it by using the English words wind, waves, water, etc. But these words are not proper nouns. I can only surmise that when the Prophet received names in the translation, these were given to him the way they sounded to the people of old, and as he tried to put them down in English, he did not have to use any of the six letters mentioned above.
I was fortunate in being able to explain my discovery to Dr. Hugh Nibley of Brigham Young University. I did not have to talk long before he exclaimed, “This is great! You have been inspired!” And he explained the following facts about those six letters:
F: This sound occurs as ph after vowels, but never in initial position.
Q: This sound, even when spelled with Hebrew Koph, is usually transliterated as K.
V, W: This sound, represented by the Hebrew letter Waw or Vav, is used fewer than a dozen times in the Hebrew Bible as an initial consonant. It is commonly used for the vowels o and u.
X: There is no equivalent to this letter in Hebrew.
Y: This would be Hebrew yod, but it is usually transliterated as the consonant J (e.g., Joshua, Job, Jeremiah, Jesus). As a vowel it is seen as i, but only in medial and terminal positions (e.g., Ezekiel, Jeremiah, Eli, Lehi, etc.)
It was gratifying to find a scholar who would corroborate my findings. The “stick of Judah” and the “stick of Joseph” have become “one in mine hand” (Ezek. 37:19); and these two “sticks,” as they were being produced an ocean apart, also became one in language and purpose.