My beloved brethren and sisters, it is a great joy to meet with you in this Regional Representatives seminar. The work is progressing and we are seeing the blessings of the Lord in the lives of our Latter-day Saints around the world, but we must still do more (there is always, it seems, so much more to be done).
We hear reports from time to time of older men and women who, in the sunset of their lives, are neglected by their families and their neighbors. Those who are both poor and old often suffer doubly. We hope family members, quorums, Relief Society officers, bishops, and others, using the Lord’s own way, will make certain that they are not inadvertently neglecting such needy people. The ways the world has of helping the poor are not often the Lord’s way. We must render help in the Lord’s way, but let us do it!
We hear reports, too, of some women who are with child but who are not eating well enough for their own health and for the proper development of the child that is about to be born. Please, priesthood leaders, tend the flock.
Be certain that we are proceeding appropriately to learn of such instances where people need help of one kind or another. Please don’t assume that such individuals will always make their needs known. Often those who need help most are the last to make it known.
The ones about whom I am particularly speaking are those who will suffer in silence because they are proud or because they do not know what to do. Surely sensitive home teachers, visiting teachers, quorum leaders, and bishops can be more effective in both ascertaining and responding to the needs of these individuals. If we have neighborhoods, wards, or stakes that are overwhelmed by the size of these problems in their midst, there is a way in which they can be assisted under the established procedures of the Church welfare program.
I do not worry about members of the Church being unresponsive when they learn of the needy as much as I worry about our being unaware of such needs. Moroni warned the affluent of all ages about becoming comfortable and loving the things of this world “more than ye love the poor and the needy, the sick and the afflicted” (Morm. 8:37). Moroni also noted how “the needy, and the naked, and the sick and the afflicted” can sometimes pass before such people who “notice them not” (Morm. 8:39). Please, priesthood brethren, do not get so busy trying to manage Church programs that you forget these basic duties in what the apostle James described as “pure religion and undefiled” (James 1:27).
I like the story of Rhoda in the Book of Acts who answered when the prophet Peter stood before the gate. Rhoda took the glad news of the presence of this prophet to others, yet they disbelieved her. “But she constantly affirmed that it was even so” (Acts 12:15).
Let us likewise constantly affirm the reality of the presence of living prophets who are among us in this dispensation, even when others doubt and even when others mock.
To “affirm constantly” the truthfulness of the gospel is a wonderful thing for us all to do as leaders and as followers. Please note the word constantly.
We sometimes have situations in which faithful Saints do well today but slacken in their service and are less than constant. Perhaps that is what the prophet Alma conveyed to those who had experienced “a change of heart” when he asked them the question, “And if ye have felt to sing the song of redeeming love, I would ask, can ye feel so now?” (Alma 5:26; italics added).
We must be constant. We must not weary in well-doing. (See D&C 64:33.) May the Lord bless us all to live our lives so that in doing our duty and in our behavior we “sing the song of redeeming love” and mean it as much now as in any yesteryear and as much tomorrow as today!
Let me give you a few figures to think about. At the present time there are approximately 76,000 young men of the Church ages twelve to thirteen; 83,000 ages fourteen to fifteen; 120,000 ages sixteen to eighteen; and 38,000 age nineteen.
Unfortunately, these figures do not represent a corresponding number of priests, teachers, and deacons. Of the twelve and thirteen year-olds, 60 percent are deacons; of the fourteen and fifteen year-olds, 51 percent have been ordained teachers; of the sixteen to eighteen year-olds, 46.5 percent are priests. It is estimated that approximately 25 percent of those young men age nineteen to twenty-six are now serving or have served missions.
Brethren, it surprises us that there are so many of our young people who are not blessed and baptized into the Church; and we call that to your serious attention. Something is wrong when families have children not being baptized, and we hope you are taking that very, very seriously.
And then we are saddened again when we realize that a great many of the boys who have been baptized never reach deaconhood, never have the power and authority to become a teacher, or to become a priest, and many of them therefore do not go on missions.
So we believe that the beginning of this great program is for you to see to it that your stake presidents and your leaders work with your children that are born in the Church. Be sure they are baptized. That is absolutely essential. Nobody can be saved without baptism, of course.
As a first step, let us challenge our bishops and branch presidents, our stake and mission presidents, to increase to 50 percent the eligible young men age nineteen to twenty-six who serve as missionaries. We could thus double our missionary force and, I am sure, more than double our baptisms. The momentum of such increased numbers and effort would carry us far beyond anything we are now doing and on to new heights of missionary activity and conversion.
By eligible young men, we mean those worthy young men, age nineteen to twenty-six, who are single and have not already filled missions—the unmarried and the unmissioned.
I feel that if we ask for 50 percent of the eligible young men age nineteen to twenty-six, that would be a fair and equitable expectation for the present time.
Now, I repeat what I have said many times before: we have an obligation, a duty, a divine commission to preach the gospel in every nation and to every creature.
May we repeat again the statement of the Lord from the Mount of Olives during the last week of his mortal life:
“This Gospel of the Kingdom shall be preached in all the world, for a witness unto all nations, and then shall the end come” (JS—M 1:31).
But, I ask you, are we advancing as fast as we should? We feel that the Spirit of the Lord is brooding over the nations to prepare the way for the preaching of the gospel.
Some political events have a bearing upon the spread of the truth.
It seems as though the Lord is moving upon the affairs of men and of nations to hasten the day of readiness when leaders will permit the elect among them to receive the gospel of Jesus Christ and when the gospel will be preached “for a witness” among all nations. Much of the technology for telling the truths of the gospel seems to be in place, but we seem somewhat tardy as a people in availing ourselves of it. Technology and developments in transportation have made the world smaller, but it is still a pretty large world so far as numbers of people are concerned when we think of nations like China, the Soviet Union, India, the whole continent of Africa and our Arab brothers and sisters—hundreds of millions of our Father’s children.
Let us fellowship the students as well as other people from all nations as they come to our lands, so that we, above all other people, treat them as brothers and sisters in true friendship, whether or not they are interested in the gospel to start with. None of our Father in Heaven’s children is foreign to him, and this is his work. In the light of the gospel they are “no more strangers and foreigners” (Eph. 2:19).
I fear sometimes lest some people, near and far, who are already partially converted will grow tired of waiting for us. I fear that sometimes we will wait too long to move and miss certain golden opportunities to build the Church or to feed our Father in Heaven’s children. We can be careful and yet move forward. It is better for something to be underway than under advisement. It is better for a facility to be under construction than under consideration.
We have had a great increase in our missionary effort, for which we are deeply grateful. We’ve created new missions and divided old ones; we’ve more than doubled our missionary force and we hope soon to double it again. The Church and its members have begun to respond faithfully to that commandment, “Go ye therefore,” but this morning we must stress the other part of the verse emphasizing where we must go. The answer lies in our obligation to “teach all nations.”
What did the Lord mean when he stood atop the Mount of Olives and said to the Twelve, “And ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth”? (Acts 1:8; italics added). These were his last words before he went to his heavenly home.
I ask once again, what is the significance of the phrase, “uttermost part[s] of the earth”? He had already covered the area known to the apostles. Was it the people of Judea? Or those in Samaria? Or the few millions in the Far and in the Near East? Where were the “uttermost part[s] of the earth”? Did he mean the millions in what is now America? Did he include the hundreds of thousands or even millions in Greece, Italy, around the Mediterranean, the inhabitants of Central Europe? What did he mean?
Or did he mean all the living people of all the world or those spirits assigned to this world to come in centuries ahead? Have we underestimated his language or its meaning? How can we be satisfied with 200,000 converts in a year out of four billion people in the world who need the gospel?
We can bring the gospel with its healing balm and its powerful programs to countless numbers, not only to introduce the gospel to them but to show them in our communities how we live and how they can live and better their lives.
We have hardly scratched the surface. And yet we find that some of our strongest members have accepted the gospel in their own homelands through some means other than our standard missionary system.
It is so important for you as Regional Representatives to help our leaders and members realize that while much of the Lord’s work gets done through Church organizations and departments, not all of it is done in that manner.
This seems to be on my mind as I think about how big the world is and how many people are waiting for us to move forward. Are we, for instance, using all of the opportunities which come along to put appropriate Church messages on television and radio?
What about Africa? They have waited so long already. More than one-tenth of the entire population of the world is living on the African continent, nearly twice as many as the whole of South America. Are they not included in the Lord’s invitation to “teach all nations”? Are they not included in “the uttermost part[s] of the earth”?
We have been fortunate to have some of our black members attend Brigham Young University or other institutions nearby which have allowed them to learn the ways of Latter-day Saint life and to a degree understand the government of the Church.
I recently received a sweet letter from a school boy in Ghana in which he expressed his great pride in “being a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.” The fact that he has not yet been baptized did not deter him from considering himself a Latter-day Saint. However, he expressed to me his hope that soon he could become a true Latter-day Saint with baptism, confirmation, and at the appropriate time, the bestowal of the Aaronic Priesthood. He said his heart always thrilled when he sang hymns like “Come, Come Ye Saints,” “Come, O Thou King of Kings,” and the other songs of Zion.
What we are saying is that there seems to be a great movement afoot in many nations to prepare people for the further light and knowledge that only we can give them. The Lord by his Spirit is preparing people for the day when the gospel will be taught them in plainness. We must be ready.
The Lord said, “And, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world” (Matt. 28:20). In 1830 when the Lord sent Parley P. Pratt and others on a very important mission, he said, “I myself will go with them and be in their midst; and I am their advocate with the Father, and nothing shall prevail against them” (D&C 32:3).
Of course, there are other challenges in so-called “third-world” countries. Many of the congregations of interested black people are illiterate or poorly trained. We will need to help educate the youth of these congregations and teach them the principles of growth and development which will allow them to improve themselves economically and culturally as well as spiritually and intellectually.
But that is not so different from what we have had to do elsewhere in other times in our history. We have a great Church educational system, and a great program for welfare services, and a great priesthood department, a great system for training leaders and providing aids for teaching genealogy and doing missionary work and providing auxiliary programs for the children, the youth, and the women. We can do it, for the Lord has promised he would be our advocate with the Father and nothing should prevail against us. We have had many of our people at various times in those countries involved in their schools, their businesses, their political and economic life. It is a large continent. Roads are at a premium, and homes are usually far less than we are used to here. Poverty is widespread. Country after country has scarcely over $100 per year per person income for an economic base. But can we ask them to wait any longer? I believe that we cannot. We mention Ghana, but what of Nigeria, Libya, Ethiopia, the Ivory Coast, and the Sudan and others? These are names that must become as familiar to us as Japan, Venezuela, New Zealand, and Denmark have become.
And what of China, the third largest country in the world? Nearly one billion of our Father’s children live in China, one-fourth of the entire world’s population. Six hundred and sixty million of them speak Mandarin Chinese. How many of us speak Mandarin Chinese? We must prepare while there is time to prepare to teach these people. Of course, we face great barriers, including political barriers, in many of these parts of the world.
Major changes are emerging within China today. The single most important drive in contemporary China is to become strong, independent, and modern.
Of course, the Peoples Republic of China has no outward sign of religious belief. The consensus of most Chinese people is that “religion is not forbidden but it is not encouraged.” One of my relatives went on a recent trip to China and reported that “the people are intelligent, hopeful, and courteous. They love children, are courteous to parents and women, and honor their ancestors. Very like our gospel faithful, they are family-oriented and even in their communities live in individual family units although they are humble ones.”
One of our brethren recently spent some time in China and brought back a detailed report. He noted that the people were friendly and open. There seemed to be no animosity or tension at any time from the people, and very little of restriction or suspicion from government officials.
By comparison with the widespread breakdown of morality and discipline in the western world, the Chinese are a disciplined, industrious, frugal, closely knit people. Their moral standards are very high by modern western standards. Honesty is assumed in China as a matter of course. Crime is rare. Drug abuse and prostitution have been virtually eliminated. Premarital sex is heavily censured and is rare. Homosexuality and lesbianism are virtually unknown. Family life is strong, with old family members still given great respect and care.
In contrast with many other emerging nations, neatness and order characterize the Chinese cities and countryside. One sees no trash or garbage, no wretched hovels, no beggars. People seem to take pride in their personal appearance and the appearance of their homes and surroundings. Flies have been virtually eliminated. Disease is controlled by a nationwide system of preventive medicine.
Unfortunately, there is in China little of the freedom that is so essential to the growth of the gospel.
But things are changing. China is planning to send more than ten thousand college-age students overseas during the next two years. The doors are opening gradually. The Spirit of the Lord is brooding over these nations under a new regime that is certainly more open and more receptive to western ideas than ever before. Such cultural and educational interchanges will offer opportunities for exposure to the gospel. We must be prepared. The Lord is doing his part and is waiting for us to open the doors.
What of India? Another three-quarters of a billion people, 213 million of which speak only Hindi. How many of us speak Hindi? Will we be prepared to teach these people when the Lord says, “Take my gospel to India”?
A moment’s change of thought. When we were in the Fiji Islands we found a great many Indians from India in that land, and we found that they became very good and faithful and able members; and we look forward to the time when there might be the springboard in Fiji and in other islands to bring the gospel to India.
There is great contrast in that land. From wonderful wealth to the most painful poverty; from great standards of education to widespread illiteracy; from a pleasant and respected standard of living to abject poverty, disease, and social disorder. Eighty percent of the population lives in villages, but we would have many opportunities in the large cities as well, starting with a slightly more educated group there.
What do you think these people need to solve their problems? What they need more than anything in this world is the gospel of Jesus Christ.
What of Indonesia with its 140 million? What of Pakistan with its 70 million, and Bangladesh with its 80 million? What of Israel, Jordan, Iran, and Iraq—with their 51 million souls—all crying for the truth, truth which we alone possess, though as yet they do not know where to look.
There are 147 million people in Burma, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, Malaysia, Singapore, and Thailand. The day will soon come when they will inquire after the name of Joseph Smith. We have had a degree of success in some of these lands, but war has interrupted much of the work in those areas.
What of Saudi Arabia? People need the gospel even when they do have money—maybe they need it more! What of Turkey with its 41 million Moslems? Are we preparing adequately to teach 500 million of the world’s Moslems? Is anyone learning to speak to the 130 million for whom Arabic is the native tongue?
We are eager to preach the gospel to the 89 million people in Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, Albania, Greece, and Romania.
In August of 1977 a group of us went to Poland. We were in Warsaw and many of the other important places of that country. We were well received by the Minister of Religion and others. We were cordially received and royally entertained. We saw many interesting things and met many wonderful people. This is the most Christian country in the Soviet bloc and it frequently turns its face to the West. Churches are full there on Sunday, and we could not feel other than that the Lord would someday open this country totally for the preaching of the gospel. Our Church is officially recognized in Poland; already there is a degree of religious liberty, and we expect that we will move forward in that land. Just recently we had thirteen baptisms in Warsaw, so the seed is sprouting.
Our brothers and sisters in Russia must hear the gospel; and if we are attentive and prayerful, the Lord will open the way. Let me share an experience related recently to the Church Board of Education by President Dallin H. Oaks of Brigham Young University, and also one of our regional representatives.
Early this summer, during a brief tour in Montana, our BYU Young Ambassadors appeared on Montana television on the program “Today in Montana.”
While they were putting on this program, a tourist came into the studio who had just returned from the Soviet Union. She brought a gift to the Montana TV producer from a lady in Moscow who was a Russian television executive there and who had been hosted in Montana during her tour of the United States a short time earlier. The gift arrived during the forty-five minutes our students were in the studio. The Montana producer promptly asked the BYU group to take a return gift to the Russian lady TV executive when they made their scheduled tour there.
So it was that when the Young Ambassadors arrived in Moscow, their leaders sought out this woman executive of Soviet Central TV. After seeing one of the BYU performances in Moscow, this woman immediately invited the Young Ambassadors to go to the studio and tape their show for Soviet Central TV. Through the very evident help of our Heavenly Father, a Russian schedule that originally contemplated only four performances, miraculously escalated to a nation-wide television program, which has now been telecast to a viewing audience of approximately 150 million people in the Soviet Union.
The quality of their show was so high that Russian TV executives said, “Whenever you return to Moscow, we want you back on Soviet Central TV.” BYU has more standing with the media in Moscow perhaps than it has in New York City.
It is a testimony to me that when we are ready, the Lord will use us for his purposes.
There are almost three billion people now living on the earth in nations where the gospel is not now being preached. If we could only make a small beginning in every nation, soon the converts among each kindred and tongue could step forth as lights to their own people and the gospel would thus be preached in all nations before the coming of the Lord.
We have done much, but we must do more. We must convert more Jews, more of the minority groups in New York and Los Angeles, in Toronto and Melbourne. There are few better ways to get started in parent countries than through converts who have immigrated to places where we now do missionary work.
It seems strange to us, and I say this aside, that we have millions of people who have come from other countries and who have settled in our big cities; yet we are hardly touching them, it seems. And yet here they are without the need for visas, passports; they are here and could accept the truth, and probably some of them will. We have great members of the Church from many of the nations in which we are not now proselyting.
The Lord will be with us if we pray and prepare. He will go before our face. He will be on our right hand and on our left; his Spirit will be in our hearts and his angels will be round about us to bear us up. (See D&C 84:88.)
When I read Church history, I am amazed at the boldness of the early brethren of this Church as they went out into the world. They seemed to find a way. Even in persecution and hardship, they pressed forward and opened doors which evidently had been allowed to sag on their hinges and many of them to close. I remember that these fearless men were teaching the gospel in Indian lands near headquarters before the Church was even fully organized. As early as 1837 the Twelve were in England. We were in Tahiti in 1844, and Australia in 1851, Iceland 1853, Italy, Switzerland, Germany, Tonga, Turkey, Mexico, Czechoslovakia, China, Samoa, New Zealand, South America, France, Hawaii in the 1850s. When you look at the progress we have made in some of these countries and no progress in many of their nearby neighbors, it makes us wonder. Much of this early proselyting was done while the leaders were crossing the plains and planting the sod and starting their homes. It was faith and super-faith. To the Twelve the Lord said, “There will be times when nothing but the angels of God can deliver you out of their hands. … You have a work to do that no other men can do.” (History of the Church, 2:198.)
“Is any thing too hard for the Lord?” he asked, when Sarah laughed when she was told that she would have a son (Gen. 18:14). She heard this in the tent door and knew that both Abraham at a hundred years and she at ninety years were past the age of reproduction. She could not bear children. She knew that, as well as it has been known that we could not open doors to many nations.
Brethren, Sarah did have a son from Abraham, the father of nations.
Also, to Jeremiah the Lord said: “Behold, I am the Lord, the God of all flesh: is there any thing too hard for me?” (Jer. 32:27).
If he commands, certainly we can fulfill.
We remember the exodus of the children of Israel crossing the uncrossable Red Sea.
We remember Cyrus diverting a river and taking the impregnable city of Babylon.
We remember Father Lehi getting to the promised land across an uncrossable ocean.
We remember the Revolutionary War in this land and the power of God that gave America triumph.
I believe the Lord can do anything he sets his mind to do.
But I can see no good reason why the Lord would open doors that we are not prepared to enter. Why should he break down the Iron Curtain or the Bamboo Curtain or any other curtain if we are still unprepared to enter?
Are we thinking enough and praying enough and working enough? With the help of the Lord we must meet the task and be successful.
Of course, I reiterate what I have said in other seminars about our work with the Lamanites. These great people surely have call upon our loyalty and our service. We owe them every opportunity to hear the gospel message and bear a great responsibility if we fail.
It was reported to us recently that in one area alone there were six Lamanite brethren on the full-time seminary faculty, and there are others elsewhere in the educational work. Not many years ago we would not have had six in the whole world. Now we find six in one faculty meeting in one area. This is the beginning of a great fulfillment of prophecy and promise that the gospel message would be caried back to these people, ideally by messengers of their own great Lamanite heritage. This great work will roll forward among their tribes like a stone cut out of the mountain without hands. It must fill the Lamanite world with the blessings of the restored gospel. The Missionary Department informs us that more and more Lamanite young men are accepting mission calls. There have been more stakes and wards organized in Lamanite areas. That pleases us greatly. We owe them much. They are our brothers and sisters. Much more must be done, and the magnitude of Lamanite work in the heart of Central and South America largely still awaits us.
We have only begun our work with our Jewish brothers and sisters. You know the political burdens they and our Arab brothers and sisters bear. These are difficult times for them, and the world watches and waits and prays for peace. The only lasting peace that can come is the peace of the gospel of Jesus Christ. We must take it to Jew and Arab, Lamanite and gentile. We must take it everywhere to everyone. My brothers and sisters, there is much to do.
I plead, therefore, with all of you to understand that while we must always move wisely to move the Lord’s work forward, we must move!
“Jehovah, Lord of Heaven and Earth” is a song we have sung often and still sing:
Jehovah, Lord of heav’n and earth,
Thy word of truth proclaim!
O may it spread from pole to pole,
Till all shall know thy name. …
We long to see thy Church increase,
Thy own new kingdom grow,
That all the earth may live in peace,
And heav’n be seen below. …
Roll on thy work in all its power!
The distant nations bring!
In thy new kingdom may they stand,
And own thee, God and King. …
One general chorus then shall rise
From men of every tongue,
And songs of joy salute the skies,
By every nation sung. …
(Hymns, No. 83.)
May the Lord bless us all in this great latter-day work. All you brethren and sisters who have responsibility, may you reach out and stretch forth, I humbly pray, in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.