Christmas Devotional Focuses on the Savior

The life of the Savior was celebrated through word and music at the December 5 First Presidency Christmas Devotional.

President Gordon B. Hinckley, First Counselor in the First Presidency, gave the main address at the annual holiday gathering, held on Temple Square in the Tabernacle.

President Hinckley read scriptures about the birth, life, and ministry of the Lord, with Tabernacle organist John Longhurst providing background accompaniment.

“The words I read have been chosen from His entire ministry,” President Hinckley explained. “For in celebrating His birth, we also remember His life and His atoning sacrifice for each of us. What He said, though familiar to all of you, and though it be only a sampling of His teachings, I feel will be worth repeating on this sacred occasion.”

President Hinckley shared scriptures from 3 Nephi 1 and Luke 2 about the birth of the Savior. He then moved on to the baptism and ministry of Christ, citing scriptures from Matthew 3, 5, and 11; Luke 15; and John 4, 7, 11, 13, and 14. President Hinckley concluded by reading of the Atonement and Crucifixion, using scriptures from John 19, 3 Nephi 11, Isaiah 53 and Doctrine and Covenants 19 and 76.

“Glory and honor be to Him forever who is our Teacher, our Master, our Friend, and the Savior of all mankind,” he concluded. “May this be a Christmas of love and peace for each of you, and for all the world.”

Elder Boyd K. Packer of the Quorum of the Twelve also spoke at the devotional. His remarks included these stanzas from a poem about the Savior:

What must be done to make us clean,
We cannot do alone.
The law, to be a law, requires
A pure one must atone.
He taught that justice will be stayed
Till mercy’s claim be heard
If we repent and are baptized
And live by every word.
That is the never-ending gift
That came that Christmas day
When Mary first held close her son
And shepherds came to pray.

(In Boyd K. Packer, A Christmas Parable, 2d ed., Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1993)

“God grant that we might be, in the Christmas season, that which the scriptures require us to be, even as little children,” Elder Packer concluded, “and worship him who is our Savior and Redeemer.”

The Mormon Tabernacle Choir performed several numbers during the devotional, which was broadcast over the Church’s satellite television network to more than three thousand locations throughout the United States, Canada, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, and the West Indies.

[photo] The Tabernacle Choir provided music for the First Presidency’s annual Christmas devotional. (Photo by Jed Clark.)

Cyprus Dedicated for Preaching of Gospel

As the sun rose on the morning of Tuesday, September 14, 1993, Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin of the Quorum of the Twelve dedicated the Mediterranean island of Cyprus for the preaching of the gospel.

“The rising of the sun was wonderfully symbolic,” Elder Wirthlin noted. “The dedication represented a new day for these wonderful people: a new day of peace, salvation, and eternal life is now possible. The dedication site was also near the National Monument of Freedom, which was wonderfully symbolic.”

Witnessing the dedication, which took place in a grove of olive trees on a hillside in the city of Nicosia, was Elder Wirthlin’s wife, Elisa; Elder Hans B. Ringger of the Seventy, second counselor in the Europe/Mediterranean Area presidency; Elder Ringger’s wife, Helene; President Blaine C. Tueller and Sister Jean Marie Tueller of the Greece Athens Mission; and a small group of missionaries and members of the Cyprus Branch.

“There is a great spirit among the people there,” said Elder Wirthlin. “It’s interesting that this island was actually the crossroads of early Apostles. It was the birthplace of Barnabas, and a refuge for the Saints of the early Church.”

In the dedicatory prayer, Elder Wirthlin prayed that “the government of this country will open its doors to the missionaries who will be sent here. … May these marvelous Saints … be a catalyst around which strong units of Thy Church will be established. Let Thy Spirit be poured out upon the inhabitants of this land.

“We are mindful at this hour of the many conflicts suffered over the years, but we also know that the gospel of Jesus Christ can and will heal the wounds if the people follow the principles of the gospel.”

Cyprus is located about forty miles south of Turkey and sixty miles west of Syria in the eastern Mediterranean. The island, which is about 60 miles long and 140 miles wide, is the third largest in the area. Currently, the island branch includes twenty-six members, with investigators regularly attending meetings.

Site of Temple in Caribbean Announced

The First Presidency has announced the location of the Church’s fifty-fifth temple—Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.

Map of Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic

The new temple will be in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.

The new temple will serve seventy thousand members in the Caribbean—members in the Bahamas, the Turks and Caicos Islands, Haiti, Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and the Lesser Antilles (a chain of islands stretching from Puerto Rico nearly to the coast of South America). There are six missions located within the new temple district boundaries.

The construction of the temple will begin after necessary government approvals and completion of architectural plans.

The temple marks the growth of the Church in the Caribbean, where expansive growth has occurred during the last two decades, though missionaries visited in the mid-1800s. In 1970, expatriate families started holding meetings in Jamaica, the country where missionaries had made brief visits in 1841 and 1853. A branch was formed in 1970, and in 1978 missionaries arrived in the country, which now has approximately three thousand members.

Missionaries have been preaching in Puerto Rico since the mid-1960s, and nineteen thousand members now live in that United States territory. The largest population of Church members is in the Dominican Republic, where the first mission was created in 1981. Currently, forty-five thousand members live in that country. Membership in Haiti has reached the five thousand mark, with the gospel being preached by Haitian missionaries since 1991, when all foreign missionaries were removed.

TempleReady™ Now Available

In a move that has been years in the making, the Family History Department has announced the release of TempleReady™ software, a new edition of the International Genealogical Index™ (IGI), and a new guide to temple and family history work.

TempleReady is a software program that enables members of the Church sitting at a computer in their own stake meetinghouse to verify in moments whether or not temple ordinance work has been done for a particular ancestor. If temple work is needed, the software can help members prepare a diskette which they can either take or send to the temple where they wish to perform the necessary ordinances.

“This is a significant change,” explained Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve and a member of the Temple and Family History Executive Council. “Previously a member of the Church would have to send this information to Church headquarters, where it would be approved and then forwarded to a designated temple. TempleReady puts the decisions in the hands of the members of the Church, eliminating weeks—and sometimes even months—of turn-around time.”

A few days are still required for temple workers to process the information and make it available in a member’s family file, he noted, but the waiting time has been significantly reduced.

TempleReady has been tested in more than two hundred stake family history centers around the world for the last few years. In addition, it has been used at Church headquarters.

“It has taken years and an enormous amount of work to prepare this program,” noted Elder Nelson. “It is a remarkable achievement. For instance, consider just one of the feats the program is called on to do—match my rendering of an ancestor’s name with others in the index that might be spelled quite differently.”

To compensate for possible changes and misspellings, the software was designed to consider other similar names and variations. In addition, geographic locations and sites were correlated, as well as changes in location names during the last several centuries.

The availability of the 1993 compact disk edition of the International Genealogical Index is tied closely with this new TempleReady software. “The TempleReady system checks for information found in the index,” noted Elder Monte J. Brough of the Presidency of the Seventy, executive director of the Family History Department. Until recently, the index included temple work completed since 1970. However, for six years now, members working in Family Record Extraction have been entering older information, temple ordinances completed prior to that date.

“The new index will include over 200 million names, compared to only 147 million names on the 1988 version,” Elder Brough said. “And although the new index contains more names, it will be issued on fewer compact disks because of new technology which allows more information to be packed into the same space.

“The 1993 index does not include all of the pre-1970 temple ordinance information,” he continued. “However, it does represent about 70 percent of the people for whom ordinances were performed. We plan to release additional disks in the future. This hastens the day when members will have access to a single record of all temple ordinances done in this dispensation.”

A twenty-page booklet, A Member’s Guide to Temple and Family History Work, has been released. This booklet replaces Come unto Christ through Temple Ordinances and Covenants and gives a succinct explanation of the doctrine relating to temple and family history work. It also outlines members’ responsibilities in this area, and it contains specific instructions on how to begin providing temple ordinances for your own ancestors and how to use TempleReady to accomplish that.

Sunday School Schedule Change

The First Presidency recently announced the elimination of Sunday School opening exercises, including hymn practice. To learn more about the change and the Sunday School program, the Ensign talked with Elder Merlin R. Lybbert of the Seventy, Sunday School general president, and his counselors, Elders Clinton L. Cutler and Ronald E. Poelman, also of the Seventy.

Question: Could you elaborate on the recent change in the Sunday meeting schedule?

Answer: The intent of the change is to provide additional emphasis for studying and learning the gospel, specifically through the scriptures. Sunday School now strictly teaches. It is no longer responsible for hymn practice just as it is no longer responsible for training teachers. Teacher training is done in a different context by a ward teacher development coordinator. Music, like teacher training, has not been removed from the program of the Church. Rather, it has just been put in a different context that is expected to be a better arrangement. These changes do not imply any lessened importance with regard to teaching the gospel or to the role of music in the Church. Members are still going to be encouraged to learn and to sing the hymns.

The new Church Music Handbook, for example, suggests that teachers in Sunday School and other classes might sing a hymn to enhance a particular lesson or subject. Part of the thought behind having Sunday School opening exercises, which began shortly after the new Church hymnbook came out in 1985, was to give our members an opportunity to become familiar with some of the new hymns. That’s been handled for several years, and by now we have learned many of those new hymns.

Q: What options do wards have in scheduling meetings?

A: Under the new meeting schedule, Sunday School will be preceded by either sacrament meeting or by priesthood and auxiliary meetings. Sunday School now is always the second meeting. The option of holding Sunday School first has been eliminated. After Sunday School, we go immediately to sacrament meeting or to the priesthood or auxiliary meetings, depending on which schedule wards choose.

Also, since the Church began the three-hour block meeting schedule in 1980, some of our buildings, utilized by several wards, have had to rigidly follow the three-hour block in order to get people in and out of meetings. The new schedule gives people a little more time to get to Sunday School class, where an opening and a closing prayer will be held.

Q: Tell us more of the role Sunday School is supposed to have in our lives.

A: We can’t stress the importance of Sunday School any better than the First Presidency announcement: “We reemphasize the importance of the Sunday School for teaching and learning the gospel through the study of scriptures. All members are encouraged to attend their Sunday School classes each Sunday.”

Sunday School is a fundamental teaching program of the Church. Its function is to help people learn how to study the scriptures and to help them become so familiar with the material that it becomes part of their daily life.

Q: Tell us more of how the Old Testament, which we are studying this year in Sunday School, is vital today.

A: It is significant that during his ministry the Savior referred frequently to the writings of the Old Testament. He reminded those who asked him questions that the answers to their questions were found in the writings of the ancient prophets. The Savior’s example and his knowledge of and frequent reference to the Old Testament should lend some significance to the importance of our studying it. Further, the Old Testament enables us to gain a perspective of eternal principles and to see those principles taught, lived, or disobeyed within different social and cultural contexts. Conditions and circumstances were significantly different in Old Testament times, but the principles are the same, and the consequences of obedience and disobedience are the same.

There is much in the Old Testament that applies today. It’s as Nephi said regarding the brass plates. He loved the writings of Isaiah and he taught his people to liken Isaiah’s writings unto themselves (see 1 Ne. 19:23). The Lord has done a marvelous thing in preserving the Old Testament record for us, even in its incomplete form. Human nature really hasn’t changed. Illustrations of wickedness and the results of that misbehavior are contained in the Old Testament. The reverse is also true. The Old Testament is replete with stories and events that indicate what happens when people are faithful to the gospel. It’s a wonderful text!

[photo] Elders Clinton L. Cutler, Merlin R. Lybbert, and Ronald E. Poelman of the Seventy, the Sunday School general presidency.

[photo] Sunday School is a time to learn the gospel. (Photo by Steve Bunderson.)

New Edition of Spanish Triple Combination of the Scriptures

In a major milestone for Spanish-speaking Church members throughout the world, the First Presidency has announced the release of the Spanish translation of the triple combination. In a letter announcing the new edition of these scriptures, the First Presidency urges Spanish-speaking members “to obtain their own copies of the scriptures and to use them in regular personal and family study and in Church meetings and assignments.” It will also be a great blessing to missionaries and to the missionary work of the Church.

Like the first Spanish edition of the triple combination, published in 1980, the new edition combines the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price in one volume. But the new edition has an improved Spanish translation and also introduces special features and a Guide to the Scriptures, a collection of reference materials and study aids.

Improved Features

In the new edition, the accuracy of the Spanish translation has been improved, including preserving Hebraic elements that scholars have identified in the English text of the Book of Mormon. The new edition also incorporates corrections that bring the text into conformity with prepublication manuscripts and early editions edited by Joseph Smith.

Other special features in the 1994 edition include new introductions for all three books of scriptures, new chapter and section headings, new footnotes, running page heads, and a revised list of abbreviations and designations.

Guide to the Scriptures

The Spanish edition is the first triple combination in any language to include the Guide to the Scriptures, a reference section located at the back of the volume. The guide is composed of the alphabetical listing of topics; selections from the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible in English; maps, with an index of geographical names; and photographs of scriptural sites.

The 1980 edition of the Spanish triple combination had three separate indexes for the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price. Now all references are combined in one listing spanning 210 pages. Each entry in the listing, which is comparable to the Topical Guide and the Bible Dictionary found in the Church’s English edition of the scriptures, includes a detailed definition or description, usually followed by a list of important references from all four standard works, including the Bible. Most entries also include cross-references to related subjects.

In their letter of announcement to the Spanish-speaking Saints, the First Presidency promised that searching the scriptures, both individually and with loved ones, will bring rich spiritual blessings. “As they prayerfully learn and teach from the scriptures, their testimonies will grow, their knowledge will increase, their love of family and others will expand, their ability to serve others will enlarge, and they will receive greater strength to resist temptation and defend truth and goodness.”

The 1994 edition of the triple combination in Spanish is now available through local Church distribution centers. Members may also order copies through local ward or branch leaders.

Bill Protecting Religious Freedom Signed into Law

With Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve watching, United States President Bill Clinton signed into law on 16 November 1993 a bill protecting religious freedoms.

“This is probably the most significant thing in terms of protecting U.S. religious freedom that has happened in our lifetime,” observed Elder Ballard of the historic moment. “It is significant for two reasons: first, it restores religious freedom back to its original position when the Bill of Rights was conceived two centuries ago; and second, it has united dozens of religious and civic organizations in a common cause.”

The bill, sponsored by Senators Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and Edward M. Kennedy, D-Massachusetts, overturned a 1990 Supreme Court ruling that allowed the federal, state, or local government to interfere with religion as long as they merely had rational reasons for doing so and did not specifically target any group. Prior to that ruling, such interference was allowed only if government could prove a “compelling” interest. The new law restores that standard.

Sixty-eight religious and civil liberties organizations supported the bill, which took three years to pass the House and Senate. Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve testified twice before Congress in favor of the bill—this being only the third time in the existence of the Church that an official Church representative has been sent for that purpose.

At a press conference held after the bill was signed into law, Elder Ballard remarked: “The Church is extremely pleased that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 was signed into law today. We express our appreciation to the president of the United States, the members of Congress, and to the other members of the Coalition for the Free Exercise of Religion for their vision, leadership, courage, and determination to protect our religious freedom. … For members of the Church, this legislation implements into federal law a vital principle embodied in our church’s Eleventh Article of Faith.”

New Music Items Released

The Church Music Department has announced the release of several new items.

Hymns and Children’s Songs, a set of six audiocassettes of instrumental music, is now available. The tapes contain enough music for nine sacrament meetings, including prelude; accompaniments for opening, sacrament, and closing hymns; and postlude. There are also accompaniments for eight additional hymns for special occasions, as well as ten children’s songs.

“The music may be used for meetings where standard musical instruments are not available,” explained Michael F. Moody, chairman of the Church General Music Committee. “It is suitable for any language area and includes all the hymns and songs found in the Gospel Principles manual.”

Both Children’s Songbook Audiocassettes and a compact disk version, Children’s Songbook CD include all songs from the Children’s Songbook. Designed for song accompaniment, listening, and background music, the music is “suitable for Church and home use,” observed Brother Moody. The audiocassettes or CD can be purchased alone or with the words.

The revised Church Music Handbook presents basic information on music organization, policies, and procedures for the Church.

All these items can be purchased at local Church distribution centers.

Members of Mission Presidency Die in Plane Crash

About an hour after boarding a twin-engine plane headed for Guatemala City, Guatemala, President Jose M. Jimenez and one of his counselors, Julio Afre, died November 22 when the aircraft entered a storm and crashed into the side of a mountain. All thirteen people aboard the plane died.

President Jimenez had been serving as president of the Guatemala Guatemala City North Mission since July and was returning after a conference in the Flores District, located near the Mayan ruins of Tikal. President Jimenez, a native of Puerto Rico, and his family had “gained the hearts of the members” in their five months of service, said Elder Carlos Amado of the Seventy, president of the Central America Area. A former stake president, patriarch, and regional manager for the Church’s area office in Puerto Rico, President Jimenez is survived by his wife, Daisy, and four children, ages fifteen through twenty-two.

A native of Guatemala, President Afre had returned to his homeland after living in the United States to operate an import/export business. A former bishop and counselor in a stake presidency, President Afre is survived by his wife, Maritza, and five children, ages eight through sixteen.

Hundreds of people attended memorial services for the two Church leaders. “It was impressive to see these two ladies [Sister Jimenez and Sister Afre] at the services,” noted Elder Amado. “Both of them are so strong in the faith. They set a good example for all the members.”

Of Good Report

Kilos of Clothing

Members of the Interlagos and Santo Amaro stakes in Sao Paulo, Brazil, combined together to render special services for a community hospital. Approximately eighteen hundred hours of work were donated by more than four hundred members in a project to collect winter clothing to donate to the facility. One thousand kilos of clothing were collected; city officials were so impressed with the project that they dispatched city employees to assist the members.

After the clothing was gathered, members met at the hospital with sewing machines and paint brushes in hand. While one group of members sewed more than twelve hundred sheets, diapers, and blankets, another group gave the hospital walls a fresh coat of paint. Nurses at the hospital were visibly touched by the service, and several remarked that they had never seen a group work with such enthusiasm.

The project was concluded at a special ceremony where a 62-member choir sang for hospital patients and presented sixty new mothers with infant clothing for their babies. Local television and press covered the event, and plans are being made for future service projects.Demar Staniscia, director of Public Affairs, Brazil Area

United Effort Repairs Roof

The project was sponsored by the Skagit County Community Action Agency Volunteer CHORE Program, the materials were donated by the Catholic Church, and the actual work was accomplished by the Anacortes Ward in the Mount Vernon Washington Stake.

Dean Flood had been disabled in an accident more than ten years ago. Fiercely independent, he made courageous efforts to take care of himself and his home. However, Christy McCarthy, a parishioner of the Sacred Heart Catholic Church, realized the man would be unable to repair his badly leaking roof. She turned to CHORE, a community volunteer organization, for help. Although CHORE was short-handed, officials committed to do all they could. That is when the Anacortes Ward entered the picture. “It was really a miracle,” observed Sandy Everest, program coordinator. “Here I was looking for somebody to do the work, and there they were looking for a project.”

The project was completed in two phases. The elders quorum joined forces to roof the home in one day. Shortly thereafter, a second group primed and painted Mr. Flood’s home. In all, approximately twenty-five members were involved.George H. Verd, director of Public Affairs, Mount Vernon Washington Stake

Church Helps Curb Gang Activity

In a move to help curb youth gang violence, the Church has announced that it will provide translators for non-English-speaking parents in Salt Lake City and will become actively involved in a local interfaith organization focused on solving problems related to gang activity.

“The Church is a major presence in the Salt Lake community, and we have a tremendous interest in the peace of the city and its neighborhoods,” said Elder John E. Fowler of the Seventy, president of the Utah Central Area. “We are supportive of our young people and their families and want to make sure they have the maximum support needed to make righteous decisions.”

Although the translation effort, which is organized on an area level, was first made available to schools, several other community service organizations have expressed interest in and need for the service. Elder Fowler noted that translation will be provided by volunteers—either returned missionaries, native speakers who speak fluent English, or others who have the interest and sufficient language skills.

In addition, area leaders, in cooperation with local Catholic Church leadership, are evaluating the possibility of establishing an interfaith community organization. “We are meeting with certain clergy from other religions in the area and discussing what we, as local churches, can do regarding this issue,” Elder Fowler said. “We are actively working to help and assist in identifying ways that we might be of service to the community.

“It’s interesting that the Church leadership has designated 1994 as a year to focus on children,” he continued. “It is through these efforts that we are trying to reach out to our young people. The vast majority of young people are committed to doing right, but clearly there are needs. We want to help young people and their families, whether they are members of the Church or not, in finding valuable help and assistance.”


Joanne B. Doxey, a former member of the Relief Society general presidency, has been called to serve as director of hosting for the Church Office Building and the Joseph Smith Memorial Building. Barbara Durham Hatch and Pat J. Liljenquist have been called as assistants. The new hosting director and her assistants will oversee the activities of some 350 volunteer hostesses and hosting couples who are Church service missionaries.

In addition, two couples—Lewis V. and JoAnn Nord and Shigeki and Momoko Ushio—have been called as assistant directors of Church hosting. The couples will assist with headquarters hosting assignments, including providing hosting services to leaders of government, education, business, industry, religious denominations, and other organizations, who visit Church headquarters from throughout the world.

Number of Names Extracted

Over the last five years, thousands of Church members have been involved in two name extraction programs—the stake record extraction program and the family record extraction program. Interest in name extracting has increased over the years, as evidenced by the increase in names submitted to the Family History Department.

Names Submitted by the Stake Record Extraction Program



















Names Submitted by the Family Record Extraction Program
















Awareness of Members with Disabilities

“Helping and Being Helped by the Intellectually Impaired” (Oct. 1993) is one of the best articles I have read on the subject. It creates an awareness in all of us of the benefits gained by helping the intellectually impaired and allowing them to help us.

The author has not only a sensitivity to the needs of people who are disabled but the ability to make something happen with and for these people, who are some of God’s choice children.

Having a son with Down syndrome has given my wife, Pat, and me a deep appreciation for these people in our midst who need so much love and understanding. In our ward, our son is an usher and feels a great sense of responsibility to see that ward members, visitors, and investigators are greeted with sincerity and are given a copy of the weekly ward bulletin.

Thank you for publishing this outstanding article.

J. Larry Bradshaw Salt Lake City, Utah

Moving Past Abuse

In February we discovered that our college-age daughter had been sexually abused at a very young age. As a result of the abuse, she had some serious mental health problems.

We were devastated. My husband remembered reading some articles in the Ensign about mental illness; he rummaged through the garage until he found them. We read “Mental Illness” (Feb. 1989) and “Keeping Mentally Well” (Sept. 1990) and recognized our daughter’s symptoms immediately. We have turned to those articles often for guidance and peace.

The challenge is not over. We continue to struggle, and the pain is sometimes unbearable. “I Just Need to Cry” (Sept. 1993) helped us continue to move forward.

Name Withheld

General Kearney Was the Man

In “Legacy” (July 1993), there is a statement on page 34: “Some of the men from the Mormon Battalion, on a special assignment to escort General William Tecumseh Sherman back to Kansas, meet up with the wagon train.”

Actually, the small contingent of Mormon Battalion men escorted General Kearney. The error is likely mine. I was in the middle of directing a ten-hour miniseries when an editor called for an interview. Legions of historical characters were marching about in my head. Let’s give General Kearney his due.

Kieth Merrill Los Altos Hills, California


In the September issue, two contest winners in the Hymn Division, both receiving an Award of Distinction, were not announced. Those winners are Arlene Hamblin and Peggy Moffitt, both of Syracuse, Utah, for “A Prayer for Peace.”

Bridging Information

I read with much interest the September 1993 Ensign. I have lived most of my life in Niagara Falls, New York, and was interested in reading about the Rainbow Bridge. There is one thing I wanted to point out, however. The Rainbow Bridge, which was built about fifty years ago to replace the former Honeymoon Bridge, is a steel arch bridge. A kite was used in the 1850s to build a suspension bridge some three miles east of the falls; that bridge has also been replaced by a steel arch bridge. Just thought you might want to know that the illustration didn’t quite match the existing bridge.

James M. Udy Niagara Falls, New York