News of the Church

By Orson Scott Card


Johnstown Saints Help Each Other in Flood

It started raining Tuesday night, a violent thunderstorm that in a matter of hours dumped nine inches of rain on the city of Johnstown, Pennsylvania. Flashfloods poured down the canyons surrounding the city, and by the morning of Wednesday, July 20, the low ground areas of Johnstown were filled with torrents of water. By the time the waters receded, more than sixty people were dead.

Brother and Sister Place lived in a mobile home park in the area—all the mobile homes were washed downstream.

Brother Ed Rezepka is blind; he and his wife and daughter were only evacuated by Civil Defense workers after their basement had filled and water deeply sloshed through the first floor of their house—five feet above ground level.

Sister Beverly Naylor had to wait until Wednesday afternoon to be rescued by boat. The water was four feet deep on the first floor of her house.

And yet, though many of the Saints in Johnstown were in danger areas, no Latter-day Saint lost his life.

Many people who lived on high ground in the Johnstown area were not even aware that a flood was going on. Johnstown Branch President Neil Woffinden lived in a new home—so new that there was no telephone service. He found out about the flooding when a member coming home from working graveyard shift parked his car in front of their house at seven o’clock in the morning.

“I can’t get through with my car,” he said, and then proceeded to walk down the hill into the stricken area where his family lived.

Without a telephone, President Woffinden immediately drove to the home of the branch mission leader, to use his telephone. Quorum presidents were contacted, where possible. Home teachers were sent out immediately to locate people who lived or worked in flooded areas.

Active members were easy to locate. Inactive members were much harder to contact, because once they were evacuated few of the branch members knew enough about them to know where to contact them. So the lists of evacuees—and the tragically growing list of the dead—were searched for names of Church members. All were relieved to find no Latter-day Saints on the list.

But the work was just beginning. Damage from the flood had been terrible. In some parts of town, houses were shifted many yards off their foundations. On one road, currents estimated to be up to seventy miles an hour had swept away cars—and people who panicked and left their homes in the face of irresistible currents. In many places asphalt was torn from the road, drifting downstream in huge chunks that battered or buried cars. And thick mud was deposited everywhere in the beautiful downtown section of Johnstown.

Rebuilding takes time. Days after the flood National Guard troops directed traffic to avoid the bulldozers and other heavy equipment moving mud, ruined furniture, flood debris, and hopelessly wrecked vehicles.

Elders quorum president Ken Pearson found his office flooded, and thousands of dollars worth of dental equipment ruined—or needing expensive cleaning and repairs. Worse still, irreplaceable business records were damaged. His wife and some other Saints worked for hours to hang the papers on makeshift clotheslines to dry out. But there was still something to be grateful for. No one had been hurt—and the floodwaters had missed the Xerox machine by a quarter of an inch!

Helping was the order of the day. Following the counsel of the prophets, members who suffered loss turned first to their families, caring for each other and staying with relatives while their damaged homes could be cleaned.

Then there were those without nearby family. Ed and Regina Rezepka had nowhere to stay; so President Woffinden arranged for Ralph and Carol Lybarger, who were eager to help, to take them in.

The Lybargers themselves, however, were without running water. And so Sister Mary Blades, who had running water, took all their laundry—and that of several other families—and washed it for them. She also boiled drinking water for those who live in waterless areas.

In fact, the Sunday after the flood, Church meetings became an opportunity to bring bottled water and give it to those in need. Food also changed hands; and Saints in the neighboring communities of Altoona and Harrisburg immediately began gathering food and clothing to help restock the supplies of those who had lost so much in the flood.

When Rexburg, Idaho, was crushed under the waters of the Teton Dam, the Saints were in the majority, which meant that the Church organization could quickly take over and solve problems. The ward was also the neighborhood. But in Johnstown, the two hundred Saints were spread throughout the whole city. Contact was much more difficult, and the National Guard exercised the authority in the cleanup effort. The Saints complied fully with all regulations as they worked to take care of their own.

The district presidency and many other Saints quickly made plans for volunteers to come to Johnstown to help repair Saints’ damaged homes. Even the missionaries took time from proselytizing in order to help Ron and Lucy Orchard get their downtown restaurant back into working order. And in a typical let’s-all-help-each-other attitude, the Orchards provided a home for two of the city’s four missionaries during the hectic week after the flood.

And some “coincidences” helped a great deal, too. Brother and Sister Markham moved out of their old house and into a new one just a week before the flood. One pair of missionaries was scheduled to move into the old house by the first of August. But when the flood struck, causing severe damage to the house, no Saints were living there!

The people of Johnstown were hit hard—from time to time it seems that nature reminds humanity how weak we really are. And yet all the people, Saints included, are pulling together to rebuild and restore. Within a week of the flood people were singing cheerfully as they scoured muck off the walls of houses and businesses; jokes and laughter were the order of the day around the Salvation Army trailers that dispensed food and beverages; and once the first sad rush of looting was past, a cooperative spirit grew among the people—both those stricken by the flood and those who lived on higher ground.

In fact, when a call was issued in Alleghany County (which includes Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania) for clothes to be donated for flood victims, the response was so great that within a few days radio announcers had to plead with the people to stop bringing in the clothing—they already had more than enough!

That is the key to the whole welfare plan: if everyone does what he is supposed to, there will always be enough. And the Saints in Pennsylvania acted so quickly and coped so well that they were able to tell the Church Welfare Department in Salt Lake City: No thanks. We’re taking care of each other just fine!

Thirty-one New Regional Representatives

As Church membership rapidly approaches 4 million, thirty-one Latter-day Saints have been called by the First Presidency to serve as Regional Representatives. They come from twelve states of the U.S. and four foreign countries.

These men have an outstanding record of service to the Church. Twenty-six of them are former stake presidents; seven have already served as Regional Representatives; and seven have been mission presidents. One has served as an area supervisor for the Presiding Bishopric, while three have served as stake patriarchs. They range in age from 39 to 71, with their average age just over 52.

They represent geographical diversity, too: Uruguay, Tonga, Argentina, and eastern Canada have provided one Latter-day Saint each in this group of new Regional Representatives; seven more come from California, five from Utah, four from Idaho, two from Washington state, and one each from Arizona, Florida, Indiana, Maryland, Michigan, New Hampshire, Oregon, and Wyoming.

The newly called Regional Representatives are Marion J. Callister, J. Elliot Cameron, John K. Carmack, Ferren L. Christensen, John Mack Richards Covey, Lloyd G. Davis, William A. Fresh, Edwin B. Jones, J. Talmage Jones, Rheim M. Jones, F. Arthur Kay, W. Donald Ladd, Ronald Lee Loveland, Philip F. Low, Jay Nichols Lybbert, William Baird Martin, Roberto Mazal (Nuthes), David L. Morton, Glenn E. Nielson, Eldon C. Olsen, Tonga Toutai Paletu’a, Vern R. Peel, William J. Pratt, Lloyd M. Rasmussen, Seth D. Redford, Derald P. Romney, Nathan C. Tanner, Wilford E. Thatcher, Juan Adrian Walker, J. Clifford Wallace, and J. Ballard Washburn.

Church Policies and Announcements

Appointments at Church Headquarters

The First Presidency and Council of the Twelve have announced the appointment of the following Brethren to the positions indicated:

Elder James E. Faust as president of the International Mission.

Elder M. Russell Ballard as managing director of stake and ward leadership training for the Leadership Training Executive Committee.

Elder Royden G. Derrick as managing director of proselyting in the Missionary Department.

Elder G. Homer Durham as managing director of the Historical Department.

Elder Richard G. Scott as assistant managing director of the Adult Division of the Priesthood Department.

Spaulding Again?

Every few years the opponents of the Church dust off one of the timeworn theories about how the Book of Mormon “really” was written. One of the dustiest is the theory that the Book of Mormon is based on a stolen manuscript written by Solomon Spaulding, a would-be novelist who died in 1816.

Recently U.S. news media have given some attention to an attempt by several California anti-Mormon researchers to link the handwriting in a supposed Spaulding manuscript to the handwriting on twelve pages of the original Book of Mormon manuscript.

What probably attracted their attention to the Book of Mormon manuscript is the well-known fact that twelve pages are in a handwriting that Church historians have been unable to identify positively. Identification is possible on any document when handwriting experts can find a significant number of indisputable similarities—and no significant differences at all!—between the handwriting in question and a sample of handwriting already known to be that of a certain person.

But in the case of the Spaulding manuscript and the twelve pages in the Book of Mormon manuscript, conclusive proof exists that Spaulding could not possibly have been the writer.

First, the handwriting found in the twelve pages of the Book of Mormon manuscript is also found on another document, a revelation given to Joseph Smith at Kirtland, Ohio, in June 1831—now Section 56 of the Doctrine and Covenants. [D&C 56] In this revelation, recorded in the same handwriting as the twelve pages, the Lord referred to Thomas B. Marsh, Ezra Thayre, Selah J. Griffin, and Newel Knight, and spoke of going to Missouri, a movement that was just then beginning in the Church.

Spaulding, who died in 1816, could not have anticipated such details fifteen years in the future. Whoever the scribe for the twelve pages and section 56 may have been, we know that he must have been in Fayette, New York, in 1829, and in Kirtland, Ohio, in 1831.

Second, the twelve pages by the unknown scribe are part of a continuous narrative, preceded and followed by the handwriting of known scribes. The handwriting on the three pages immediately before the writing of the unknown scribe is that of John Whitmer (probably) and Oliver Cowdery (definitely); the pages immediately following those written by the unknown scribe are in John Whitmer’s hand. The paper stock before and after is identical to that of the twelve pages. The ink, which was watered down, shows the identical pattern of darkness immediately after the pen was dipped, gradually growing fainter until the pen was dipped again, with no difference between the twelve pages and surrounding material—thus indicating that the twelve pages and those immediately surrounding it were all written with the same pen and at about the same time.

A third supporting point is that the handwriting from the twelve pages also occurs at the top of two prior pages, as headings. The practice of the scribes throughout the manuscript was to write the heading after the page was complete, perhaps in order to keep the pages from getting out of order. (See “A Most Sacred Possession,” p. 86.) Apparently John Whitmer forgot to put headings on two pages, and the unknown scribe added them later, since the page that Oliver Cowdery completed immediately before the twelve pages has a heading in Cowdery’s handwriting, and the two headings before that were written by the unknown scribe.

These responses to the Spaulding theory are buttressed by the findings of handwriting analysis, too. Though there are handwriting similarities between the Spaulding manuscript and the twelve pages, these are no more significant than the normal similarities one can find between random samples of handwriting taken from the same general period and the same general area.

However, there are more than a dozen significant differences between the two samples. Dean Jessee, who has worked with handwriting analysis for the Church Historical Department for thirteen years, discovering and verifying the authorship and penmanship of dozens of manuscript samples, has found “at least fifteen significant differences” between the Spaulding manuscript and the twelve pages. Some of these are obvious in the accompanying photographs: the Spaulding manuscript invariably uses a capital letter for the personal pronoun I, while the scribe for the twelve pages invariably used a lower-case letter; there are clear differences in the way the ampersand (&) is made; capital letters are formed differently in the two samples; and even the misspellings follow different patterns. For instance, the Spaulding manuscript always spells the word shall correctly; the unknown scribe of the twelve pages invariably spells it with only one l.

“Four or five significant differences are usually enough to determine that two samples cannot be by the same writer; in this case we have three times that.” Handwriting analysis is complicated to say the least, but “by any reasonable standard one can safely say that the Spaulding manuscript and the twelve pages could not be by the same writer,” says Dean Jessee.

In short, there is no evidence that Spaulding wrote any part of the Book of Mormon and plenty of evidence that he did not and could not have. The “impartial researchers” also ignored stylistic analysis, which compares syntax and word choice patterns, and which clearly shows Spaulding did not author any part of the Book of Mormon.

Latter-day Saints should not be disturbed by reports of “new discoveries” that cast doubt on the divine origins of the Book of Mormon. “Anyone who wants to can attack the Church in print,” says Wendell Ashton, head of Church Public Communications. “That’s part of freedom of speech and of the press. But we’re just as free to print the truth.”

In fact, says Dean Jessee, “Every time the Book of Mormon comes under attack, it calls to our attention even more proof that Joseph Smith told the truth.”

Spaulding manuscript

Page 20 of the assumed Solomon Spaulding manuscript, presumed to be in his own hand, now in the Oberlin College library. Photographic copy in the Church Historical Department.

Book of Mormon manuscript(click to view larger)

The Book of Mormon manuscript, covering 1 Ne. 7:17–8:11. The scribe, though not identified, is believed to be Emma Smith’s brother.

LDS Scene

Hijacked Mission President!

Their plans for the day were more than a little disrupted when hijackers sidetracked the flight and took a planeload of passengers to Lima, Peru. On 5 July 1977, President Berkley A. Spencer of the Santiago Chile North Mission and Elder Joel T. Peck thought they were going from Arica, Chile, to Santiago. The hijackers decided otherwise.

There were several nervous hours until Venezuela granted political asylum to the hijackers, and the passengers, including President Spencer and Elder Peck, were released without harm. And what happened next?

They caught the next possible flight out of Lima and went on with their work. They may have been delayed—but they were not stopped!

LDS Youth Wins International Science Fair

Wayne R. Moyle of Ogden, Utah, took first place in the 1977 International Science and Engineering Fair in Cleveland, Ohio. His project, “The Effect of Breakwaters on Erosional Shorelines,” was prompted when he noticed on several Scouting trips that the causeway to Antelope Island in the Great Salt Lake was constantly being eroded.

He built a linear wave tank and tested different types of breakwaters to see which was most successful in stopping erosion. The answer? Wooden breakwaters were best, especially large piles arranged diagonally to the shore.

Among other things, the first place award meant a trip to the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California. Brother Moyle is a student at Weber State College, and plans to go on a mission soon.