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President Benson Celebrates 94th Birthday

President Ezra Taft Benson celebrated his 94th birthday on 4 August 1993. Because of his advanced age and frail condition, he remained in his Salt Lake City apartment, but he received visits from family members, his counselors in the First Presidency, and members of the Quorum of the Twelve.

President Benson has been Church president since 10 November 1985. Prior to that, he served as president of the Quorum of the Twelve.

Born 4 August 1899 in Whitney, Idaho, Ezra Taft Benson was the oldest of George T. and Sarah Dunkley Benson’s eleven children. He served a mission in Great Britain from 1921 to 1923. In 1926 he married Flora Smith Amussen. Sister Benson died 14 August 1992, just a few weeks before their 66th wedding anniversary.

The Bensons have six children—two sons and four daughters. The family now includes thirty-four grandchildren and fifty-five great-grandchildren.

[photo] President Ezra Taft Benson celebrated his 94th birthday with visits from family and Church leaders.

Ensign Peak Commemoration

The symbolic raising of an ensign to the nations signaled the gathering to Zion of Saints worldwide and was fulfillment of scriptural prophecy, President Gordon B. Hinckley, First Counselor in the First Presidency, told almost 1,500 people attending a July Ensign Peak commemoration program and family hike.

The hike was held 146 years to the day since President Brigham Young and his party hiked to the summit, noted President Hinckley. Interestingly, 26 July 1847 was a Monday, as it was this year.

“[The Saints] arrived in the valley on a Saturday,” President Hinckley said. “They worshipped on the Sabbath, and Brigham Young spoke to them. … He told them they should not work on the Sabbath day; that if they did so, they would lose five times as much as they would gain.

“I wish that message were published a little more loudly.”

On the following day, President Young and his party climbed the peak, where they looked over the valley that would be their new home. It was at this point they lifted up an ensign to all nations. (See Isa. 5:26; Isa. 11:12.) “I don’t know whether it was a flag. I don’t know whether it was a yellow bandanna handkerchief, which the best records seem to indicate, or what it was,” said President Hinckley. “But I’m confident that on their minds was this tremendous matter of establishing an ensign to the nations. I marvel at their foresight. I marvel at their courage.”

When President Hinckley concluded his remarks, a bugle sounded and several hundred people in attendance hiked to the top of the peak, where Elder Loren C. Dunn of the Seventy, then president of the Utah Central Area, presided over a short question-and-answer session.

Elder Dunn noted that the block in Salt Lake City where the City and County Building now stands was originally supposed to be the center of the budding community. However, the Salt Lake Temple block became the center instead.

“We have historical evidence to point out that Brigham Young came here and got a reading of the valley, looked over the entire valley. He told various people later that before he entered the valley, he had seen the city of Salt Lake in a vision, and where the temple was to be located, and it was pointed out to him by an angel standing on a conical hill. The inference is that Brigham Young probably came here to get his bearings and to find out how the city would be laid out and where the temple would be located.”

An Ensign Peak project currently scheduled for completion in 1996 includes a nature park, trail system, and information stations around the peak.

[photo] President Gordon B. Hinckley addressed almost 1,500 people at the base of Ensign Peak. (Photo courtesy of Church News.)

Saints Celebrate Pioneer Day

In Utah, July 24 is Pioneer Day—a state holiday celebrated with parades, fireworks, picnics, and other festivities. However, Saints in other places also celebrate the arrival of the pioneers in the Salt Lake Valley.

Utah

This year, President Gordon B. Hinckley, First Counselor in the First Presidency, and his wife, Marjorie, rode near the front of Salt Lake City’s annual Days of ’47 Parade. Numerous entries in the parade commemorated the centennial of the Salt Lake Temple. The Taylorsville Twenty-fifth Ward, Taylorsville Utah West Stake, won the Daughters of the Utah Pioneers award with its depiction of the railroad beginning to transport granite blocks from the canyon quarries to the valley below. Another Taylorsville stake, the South stake, showed the temple capstone and angel Moroni statue being lowered into place. Other floats featured Church-related subjects, including the establishment of a tithing yard overlooking the Jordan River, and early African-American Saints.

In all, the parade featured about 130 entries, including marching bands, horse teams, antique cars, and horse-drawn wagons.

Earlier that morning, some 250 early risers listened to Elder Lloyd P. George of the Seventy deliver a tribute to the pioneers during a sunrise service. Elder George spoke of the early pioneers who sacrificed in many ways, sometimes giving their own lives.

A week prior to the Days of ‘47 parade, another parade was held in Salt Lake City. The parade, once a Church-oriented event but now a community activity, this year involved approximately 4,500 children and youth and comprised seventy-five entries, including thirty-three floats. Participants in the annual Days of ‘47 Youth Parade marched for six blocks and were rewarded with treats and certificates.

United States

Parades and celebrations were held across the United States. Originally the Papillion Nebraska Stake planned a day of festivities at the Glenwood Lakes Park in Glenwood, Iowa, a settlement established by the pioneers. But rain forced a change of plans, and members met at the stake center instead. Spirits were not dampened by the weather, however: many members showed up in pioneer garb, indoor and outdoor games provided entertainment, and that evening a community concert was held.

In California, members of the Sacramento California Stake met to participate in their annual Pioneer Day service project. This year members cleaned up a park and nature area in downtown Sacramento. After working for several hours cleaning up, they met for a picnic and entertainment.

Five thousand members in the Bakersfield California Region gathered at the Kern County Pioneer Village, where they participated in a children’s parade, played pioneer games, and enjoyed live entertainment.

Members producing the first annual Missouri Youth Pioneer Pageant expected one thousand people to show up in Branson for an evening of singing and dancing. Instead, approximately four thousand people attended. Organizers estimate that 60 percent of the audience were not members of the Church.

Pioneer Day is a new concept for many converts in the New York New York Stake, yet members met at Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx. Activities included softball, volleyball, and other games. Children made sunbonnets and crafts such as log cabins constructed of twigs and clay.

[photo] One of 130 entries in Salt Lake City’s Days of ’47 Parade, this float depicts the impact of the railroad on building the Salt Lake Temple. (Photo courtesy of Church News.)

Midwestern U.S. Saints Rally against Flood Damage

Sandbagging and relief efforts became common activities among Church members in the midwestern United States when the Mississippi River and its tributaries began to overflow their banks in June.

Final reports indicate that seventy-seven LDS families were displaced. Some of these families were evacuated due to contaminated water supplies or other flood-related dangers. All of the LDS families received shelter from friends or relatives. Some members are making plans to clean up, while others have already purchased homes out of the flood plains, said Joel Orgill, president of the Davenport Iowa Stake.

“There has been no damage to any of our Church buildings, remarkably,” said Lyle Cooper, area welfare director for the central, northeast, and southeast areas of the United States and Canada. Church buildings have all been built on ground high enough that the floodwaters did not reach them, he said, though several had their water supply threatened or cut off. Water in a Fairview Heights Illinois Stake meetinghouse in Godfrey was cut off because the municipal waterworks was flooded. Meetings there were relocated to the Edwardsville meetinghouse.

Members responded to the needs of those affected by the flooding by filling sandbags, serving meals, distributing water, opening their homes and ward buildings to those in need of relief, and helping in shelters provided for displaced residents. Volunteers helped the Red Cross and other community services as well as individual families.

Saints in the Columbia Missouri Stake worked with several agencies to help families get back on their feet. Generally, one displaced LDS family was assigned to each ward or branch, and members helped in any way they could until the assigned family was able to move back into a home, said Columbia stake president John Jorgensen.

The Carbondale meetinghouse in the Cape Girardeau Missouri Stake was activated as a Red Cross shelter, said stake president Larry Watkins. “We housed about fifty-five people of other faiths. We set up cots furnished by the Red Cross in the classrooms for use as bedrooms. We served about four hundred meals each day. We had adults, young adults, and others who volunteered, as well as Red Cross volunteers, to staff the building twenty-four hours a day. There was a bond of love and camaraderie that developed. The people were just wonderful about giving service and were blessed for the service they rendered.”

Several wards held only sacrament meetings so members could help with relief efforts. “Members who work during the week could help on Sunday with the sandbagging and other volunteer efforts,” explained Neal Lewis, president of the St. Louis Missouri North Stake.

Assistance and offers of help were plentiful from across the country. The Church sent a truck carrying twenty-nine pallets of food and other supplies from Salt Lake City to Salvation Army workers in St. Louis August 2. Wheelbarrows, shovels, rakes, chain saws, generators, pumps, and other such items were also sent to St. Louis. Members in the Des Moines Iowa Stake were offered help from other stakes in the area as well as from travelers and residents from other states.

“We’ve had a great outpouring of people willing to help us. There have been calls from other states. We’ve even received packages from the young women in the Logan (Utah) Sixteenth Ward, full of food, toys, and cleaning supplies. People want to help in whatever way they can,” said George Dee Bankhead, president of the St. Louis Missouri South Stake.

In many stakes, there was no need for more sandbaggers because the rivers had either crested or were receding, and in some locales the waters had not receded enough for major cleanup work to begin. “The big thing now is waiting for the waters to recede,” said Brother Cooper. Cleanup efforts in some areas are not expected to begin until October.

Many Church activities had to be canceled because members were separated by impassable floodwaters. A girls’ camp in the Cape Girardeau Missouri Stake was canceled because one-third of the girls were isolated from the rest of the stake by the swelled river, making transportation to the activity impossible.

For the most part, Church leaders feel they have been fortunate. “We have been very blessed that not more members have been affected by the flood,” said President Bankhead. President Lewis agreed: “There has been a limited number of Church members affected when you consider the scope of the situation.”

Severe rain storms caused the flooding along the Mississippi and Missouri rivers and their tributaries beginning in June. Approximately seventeen million acres in nine midwestern states were flooded, with some of the worst flooding occurring in Illinois, Iowa, and Missouri. The flooding contributed to forty-eight deaths and caused an estimated $10 billion in damage. In many areas, rivers did not crest until August.

[photo] Water broke through a levee, flooding the Birdland Marina in Des Moines. (Photo by Donnette Perkins.)

[photo] Church and community members take a break from filling sandbags. (Photo by Sherry Rock.)

[photo] Young Women pack lunches. (Photo by Donnette Perkins.)

Flood Spares Nauvoo Sites

Floodwaters that devastated many areas of the Midwest posed little threat to sites at Nauvoo. Three areas—the city waterworks, the Nauvoo House, and the Smith Family Cemetery—were threatened, but sandbagging efforts saved the sites.

Aside from a few closed low-level roads and flooded basements, no damage occurred in Nauvoo. When it became apparent that the Nauvoo House was in danger of being flooded, members of the Church, community, and RLDS Church worked together filling sandbags to contain the water.

The flooding did affect some local tourist events though. The annual “City of Joseph” pageant, scheduled to open July 30, was canceled because of devastation throughout the Midwest.

“Many of the people who perform in the pageant were having troubles of their own,” said Elder Bart Tollefson, public affairs missionary for the Illinois Peoria Mission, which includes the Nauvoo Restoration area.

Tourist attendance at the Nauvoo sites decreased because flooded roads and closed or restricted bridges made travel difficult.

Despite that, two shows were added in place of the canceled “City of Joseph” pageant. “Rendezvous in Old Nauvoo” was performed twice each night for those who came to Nauvoo expecting to see the pageant. Also shown was a matinee, “Nauvoo Adventures.”

Unified Diversity in Providence Rhode Island Stake

Providence, Rhode Island, is steeped in early American history. The city’s name was taken from a declaration made by Rhode Island’s founder, Roger Williams. He referred to “God’s merciful Providence to me in my distress” when he and a small group of colonists settled in the area after being banished from Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1636 for their religious beliefs.

As more settlers arrived to worship freely, the area built a reputation for individualism and diversity that remains today. Providence Latter-day Saints mirror that diversity in the variety of peoples represented in the Church there: Hispanics, Laotians, Cambodians, and others besides native New Englanders.

Almost three thousand members make up the Providence Rhode Island Stake, which includes nine wards and branches and covers approximately 2,500 square miles of Rhode Island and part of neighboring Connecticut.

Early Beginnings

The Providence Branch was established in 1908 by the father of a present ward member, Leonard Stonely. The elder Brother Stonely immigrated to Providence from Nottingham, England, to work in the textile mills. The early branch grew to about twenty-four members, who met in various buildings until the 1930s, when they bought an old library for a meetinghouse. In 1962 the Church bought the land that the Providence Ward meetinghouse is built on today.

Present-day members Charles Borders and his wife, Margery, both grew up in New England and are converts. Brother Borders joined the Church when the Providence Ward was still a branch. Sister Borders knew the Church was true as soon as the missionaries explained to her that Heavenly Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost were indeed three separate beings. After her conversion, she met with several other sisters nearby because no formal services were organized in her Massachusetts area.

“We had Sunday School but no sacrament because there were no priesthood leaders,” Sister Borders says. Missionaries from Rhode Island often drove to Massachusetts to pass the sacrament to them. Charles and Margery met when Brother Borders accompanied the missionaries to pass the sacrament to the group of women. After their marriage, the couple moved to Foster, Rhode Island. They now attend the Scituate Ward.

Similar expansion of the Church in Rhode Island has occurred in northeastern Connecticut. The New London Branch began in the 1920s when members stationed at the submarine base in Groton began meeting in a member’s home. The branch was organized in 1925, but with the outbreak of World War II, priesthood leaders were called away and formal functions of the branch ceased.

In 1950 Elder C. E. McCombs returned to New London to serve a second mission and reorganize the branch. Ramon Brown and his wife, Rose, were the branch’s first converts, baptized on 25 August 1951.

“That was a Saturday,” Brother Brown recalls. “The next day at church I was called to be the branch clerk, teacher of the adult priesthood, and chairman of the fireside committee.” Brother Brown was recently released after serving as bishop of the Waterford Ward for six years.

As membership grew in the Norwich, Connecticut, area a ward was established covering the east-central section of Connecticut. Another ward, the Scituate Ward, was created when the Providence Ward was divided in 1982. It now covers the forested hills and factory towns of northern Rhode Island. And the stake continues to grow—a new building is being constructed for the Ashford Ward. The Connecticut Hartford Mission’s outreach program to the Cambodian and Laotian members of the community has helped create a Cambodian unit and a Laotian group, which meet in the Providence Ward building. The Spanish branch also meets in that building.

Sharing the Gospel

With a population of two to three million living within the boundaries of the Providence stake, the 2,900 Latter-day Saints have before them a major missionary task. Service is a great way for the Saints to acquaint their neighbors with the gospel.

Michael Schwendiman, a high school senior, has had many opportunities to serve in his calling as a stake missionary. “We do projects like baking cookies for people and doing yard work for them,” he said. Because of his experiences, his testimony of service has grown: “Now I do service because I want to. It’s my choice.”

Many members volunteer with organizations such as the Salvation Army, food banks, interfaith councils, and homeless shelters. Since Church members are a minority, being an example helps acquaint people with the Church.

Leah Randall said guest speakers at youth activities have helped to keep her strong. “They tell us about experiences in their lives and how they overcame challenges. It makes me think, if they can do it, I can do it.”

A Missionary Training Ground

Missionary work is an integral part of the Providence stake. Stake president Stanford Demars says both adults and youth are encouraged to be regularly involved in missionary work. The priests and Laurels are asked to have two missionary experiences each month, such as going on splits with full-time missionaries and taking a friend to church or other activities. The program gives them a spiritual boost, President Demars says.

“I like being with the missionaries because they give me a spiritual high. I’ve always wanted to go on a mission, so I was happy to be a stake missionary,” says Melissa Hales, age eighteen.

The program draws families to missionary work. “We also encourage adults to go on a missionary split once a month,” President Demars adds.

Creating Unity

The Warwick (Spanish) Branch is composed of members from many Central and South American countries and cultures. In their International Day each year, they celebrate different cultures with displays, art, clothing, food, and dancing, says Cindy Flores, Relief Society president. Sharing their different cultures has helped close the cultural gap between stake members.

The Cambodian unit and Laotian group, who meet at the same time as the Providence Ward, consist of about twenty families each. The three groups hold separate sacrament meetings in their individual languages. For Sunday School the children and youth join the other ward members. The Asian adults attend a Sunday School class in which basic gospel principles are taught in rudimentary English. The adult groups again split for Relief Society and priesthood meetings.

Ties between members are strong in the Providence stake. This is especially true for those who are new to LDS and American culture. “Asian families are not only learning the gospel, but are trying to learn a new language and a new culture as well. It is very difficult,” says Chloe Tilden, former stake Relief Society president. Inviting new families into members’ homes and visiting them help acquaint them with the new cultures.

Diversity and individuality are appreciated today as much in the Providence Rhode Island Stake as they were by the founders of Providence. And members here continue to bond together and reap the blessings of “God’s merciful Providence.”

[photos] Photography by Stanford Demars

[photos] Looking at Providence, Rhode Island, from the head of Narragansett Bay. Inset: Roberto and Cindy Flores, of the Warwick (Spanish) Branch, and their children.

[photo] Stake president Stanford Demars and two of his children, Brandt and Alyson.

[photo] Charles and Margery Borders

[photo] Missionaries converse with Cambodian members.

Carole Woodbury, a member of the Ashford Ward, Providence Rhode Island Stake, is the stake and regional director of public affairs.

Church Efforts to Improve Literacy

The Church’s Gospel Literacy Effort, announced in December 1992, has the potential to touch members worldwide. Because it was initiated through the Relief Society, the Ensign talked with Relief Society general president Elaine L. Jack to learn more about it.

President Elaine L. Jack

President Elaine L. Jack

Question: How widespread is the need for the literacy effort?

Answer: It is global—and yet it is very close to home. For example, a United Nations report tells us that there are nearly one billion illiterate people on earth. Almost two-thirds of them are women. Yet literate women are better prepared to provide healthy living conditions in the home and to help their children learn gospel principles.

In the United States, government studies have suggested that potentially as many as 20 percent of adults may not be able to fill out common forms like job applications or understand instructions on a medicine bottle. When literacy is limited to this extent, people are not able to enjoy the spiritual feast of the scriptures. People in need of help may be found in any area. I recently heard of a woman in Utah who learned after twenty-three years of marriage that her husband really could not read.

Q: Does the Gospel Literacy Effort go beyond teaching people to read and write?

A: Yes. As important as those goals are, there is another objective—to help build in members a lifelong habit of studying and enjoying the scriptures! Even though we can’t guarantee that people will read the scriptures if they know how to read, we can guarantee that they won’t read them if they are not able.

Our primary focus will be on women, because worldwide they have a great need. But we will serve all who want help. We will try to support them, respect them, and build their confidence. After all, they may be beginning readers, but they are not beginning thinkers.

Q: How is the Church’s literacy effort to be directed?

A: Through the priesthood. At the local level, it is under the direction of the bishop or branch president, operating through the ward or branch council, where every member’s needs are represented. The Relief Society will have the responsibility to carry out plans that are made. It will be the duty of the counselor who is responsible for education to see that this is done, but the work can be shared. She may not teach those in need, for example; she may coordinate teaching experiences and help train teachers instead. It may be appropriate to use community resources. Another tool is the Basic Scripture Literacy Course developed by the Church Educational System. Stake presidents can request the materials for this course in English or Spanish.

There are four guiding principles in this effort: reliance on the Spirit of the Lord, reliance on Church welfare principles, reliance on individual responsibility, and reliance on family responsibility and involvement. Within those guidelines, there is quite a lot of flexibility. When sisters in the field get involved in this project, there will be a warm response—a bubble-up effect that will bring people to seek the help they need.

Q: What kind of responses have you received already?

A: We have heard of numerous success stories. Sisters in Africa got into the spirit of what they were doing so well that they were not only helping each other, they were also getting help from their children at home. In the Dominican Republic, a bishop who helped one man learn to read found that man succeeding him later as bishop! A Relief Society president in Spain wrote of feelings shared by sisters in her area. “Since we have become members of the Church, our minds have been awakened, and we want to learn,” she said. “We know that to be women of education will bring many benefits for us and our families, and we will be able to work more efficiently in Church callings.”

As a Relief Society presidency, we like to hear these success stories. We hope people will send them to us.

Q: How can priesthood leaders help in this effort?

A: First, it’s important that after their review, they put the material about the Gospel Literacy Effort into the hands of their Relief Society leaders as soon as possible. Then they will want to follow up regularly, discussing and coordinating plans with Relief Society leaders and correlating efforts through the ward council. We know one thing already—we think most leaders will be surprised at the needs they will find within their own wards!

Q: Is there a timetable for this effort?

A: There is no target completion date. We want to emphasize that this is a long-term effort. We may see results quickly in some cases, and in others it might take years—but we will see them. We need patience. As President Gordon B. Hinckley, First Counselor in the First Presidency, has said, the consequences of our effort “will go on and on and be felt in the lives of generations yet to come.” (Ensign, Mar. 1992, p. 6.)

Ground Breaking for Colombia Temple

Church leaders expressed gratitude for the temple soon to be built in Bogotá, Colombia, at the recent ground-breaking ceremony.

Regional representatives, mission and stake presidents, and Church employees and their spouses met with Elder William R. Bradford, then president of the South America North Area, and his counselors, Elders Julio E. Dávila and Eduardo Ayala for the June 26 ground breaking.

The ground was broken by Elders Bradford, Dávila, and Ayala—all members of the Seventy.

Elder Bradford encouraged the members to create a civilization of the pure in heart, to care for the poor, to pray often, and to attend the temple. “For [sealing families together,] we construct temples. … We know by revelation that this is the only manner in which families are able to be eternal and … have relationships continue forever.

“The Lord has blessed us with a temple. Let us feel the urgency of this great work,” he said.

In the prayer, Elder Bradford said, “Now as we break ground to construct the temple here, we know that we are doing a sacred work. … We know that the work to be done in this holy temple will bring peace and salvation. It will bind up the wounds and give hope to the oppressed. It will reach back through generations of time and seal up the dead unto thee and thy salvation.”

Several other buildings will be constructed near the Colombia Temple, including patron housing that will accommodate members traveling long distances in the temple district, which covers Colombia, Ecuador, and Venezuela.

The Bogotá temple was announced by President Gordon B. Hinckley on 7 April 1984. The temple site was announced on 28 May 1988 by the First Presidency.

New Museum Opens at BYU

Brigham Young University’s new Museum of Art opens to the public this month, October 18. The graceful red granite building is a much-needed facility and a dream come true.

“BYU has an extensive collection of museum-quality art that includes etchings by Rembrandt, paintings by J. Alden Weir, jade from the Ming Dynasty, sculptures by Mahonri Young, and some sterling examples from many respected artists,” explained James Mason, the museum’s first director. “While many pieces have been widely loaned, they have rarely been displayed on campus, because BYU has not had an adequate exhibit facility. In addition, many artworks have not been seen by the general public in more than half a century.”

The new 100,000-square-foot building, comprising three levels plus a mezzanine, provides ample space for displays, shows, and exhibits. The largest museum between Denver and San Francisco, BYU’s Museum of Art includes 700- to 4,000-square-foot galleries. In addition, the museum houses an educational center, which includes an electronic classroom and a children’s hands-on activity area. There are also cataloging and record-keeping areas, a conservation lab, photography lab, restaurant, gift shop, and exhibition design space. BYU’s art pieces not on display or loan will be kept in an extensive storage area.

Although normally there is no admission fee to get into the museum, special exhibits must be “self-sustaining,” explained Brother Mason. The museum’s opening show, “The Etruscans, Legacy of a Lost Civilization,” is one of those exhibits, and a fee will be charged.

When the Etruscan show closes, the museum will feature some exhibits and displays from its own art collection, including “Rembrandt Drawings,” “150 Years of American Art,” “Great Civilizations of Asia,” and “Utah Print Makers.”

“We are preparing for an exhibit from the Metropolitan Museum for next year as well as several international-quality shows,” Brother Mason noted. “It’s the beginning of a new era in the arts in the region.”

[photo] BYU’s new Museum of Art