President Hinckley Visits Members in St. Louis and New England
President Gordon B. Hinckley spent his first Easter as President of the Church testifying of the Savior to an estimated seven thousand members of the St. Louis Region.
“I know that my Redeemer lives,” said President Hinckley on April 16 at a regional conference in St. Louis, Missouri. “That is the great strength and power of this work, my brothers and sisters. The real strength of the Church lies not in the physical facilities which we own. … The strength of the Church lies in the conviction carried in the hearts of its members. …
“It is the privilege, it is the opportunity, it is the obligation of every Latter-day Saint to gain for himself or herself a certain knowledge that this is the work of the Almighty, that God our Eternal Father lives and watches over His children when they look to Him in faith; that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, the Redeemer of all mankind, who rose from the dead to become the firstfruits of them that slept. That testimony … is the most precious possession that any of us can hold.”
President Hinckley encouraged any in attendance who didn’t have a testimony of the gospel of Jesus Christ to obtain one. “The Lord has said that He that doeth the will of the Father ‘shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself’ (John 7:17). That’s the way you gain a testimony. You do the will of the Father, and as certainly as you do the will of the Father you will know of the truth of the gospel, including the knowledge that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.”
Noting the overwhelming evidence for the Resurrection found in the New Testament and in the Book of Mormon, as well as from the Prophet Joseph Smith, President Hinckley said: “I add my own witness concerning this matter. I know that He lives. I know that God is our Eternal Father, that Jesus was His Only Begotten in the flesh, who was sent here by His Father as part of a great eternal plan for the blessing and benefit of all men, women, and children of all generations of time.”
In conclusion, President Hinckley encouraged those in attendance to make a “decision within ourselves to be a little better than we’ve been, a little kinder, a little more merciful, a little more outreaching, with a little greater desire to bless those in distress and need. … Think of some small way in which we might improve ourselves and draw nearer to our Lord.”
While in the St. Louis area, President Hinckley toured the site of the St. Louis Missouri Temple, located twenty miles west of downtown St. Louis. He also spoke to a group of area priesthood leaders and addressed missionaries serving in the Missouri St. Louis Mission.
Accompanying President Hinckley on the visit was Elder Henry B. Eyring, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Sisters Marjorie P. Hinckley and Kathleen J. Eyring also traveled with their husbands.
One week later, President Hinckley met with members in New England, where he bore testimony of the divinity of the Savior and the Book of Mormon to nearly eight thousand members of the Church at a regional conference in Boston, Massachusetts.
“Every man and woman in this church is entitled to a testimony of this work,” President Hinckley said. “I stand before you this morning, my brothers and sisters, as one who declares without equivocation that God our Eternal Father lives, an individual being, the Governor of the universe, the Almighty who is above all, whom we may approach in prayer, as His children; that Jesus is the promised Messiah, His Eternal Son, who wrought the Atonement on Golgotha’s lonely hill that you and I might have eternal life,” he testified.
Elder Neal A. Maxwell of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and his wife, Colleen, accompanied President Hinckley to the conference. Elder Maxwell spoke of the character of the Savior. “The most difficult aspect of discipleship is submission,” he said. Elder Maxwell also gratefully acknowledged the Savior for the atonement he brought about for us.
On April 22, a day earlier, President Hinckley addressed nearly six hundred priesthood leaders at the Boston stake meetinghouse and was interviewed by a representative of a local television station.
President Hinckley, Elder Maxwell, and Sister Maxwell visited some historical sites and places of personal significance to President Hinckley and Sister Maxwell. One of these sites was Plymouth Rock, where their common ancestor, Stephen Hopkins, arrived as a passenger of the Mayflower. Another was the site of the homestead and grave of Thomas Hinckley, governor of Plymouth Colony from 1681 to 1692. Both President Hinckley and Sister Maxwell expressed tender feelings and gratitude for their forebears during this outing.
Robert S. Wood, a regional representative in the New England area, described the visit as one of great importance, having a dramatic impact on the lives of the New England Saints.
“It is difficult to believe that President Hinckley is in his eighties when you see him in action; he is hard to keep up with—even for those of us who are younger,” said Brother Wood. “There has been a feeling or a sense growing in this land of Joseph Smith and of Brigham Young that this area will become an area of growth and strength in the coming years. To have the prophet and a member of the Twelve visit brought that feeling of expectation to a point among the members of the area,” he said.
“Attendance was remarkably high,” said Brother Wood, “considering that there are approximately fifteen thousand total members for the entire area and nearly eight thousand attended the conference.”
BYU Graduates Counseled Concerning Their Future
At commencement exercises for Brigham Young University, President Gordon B. Hinckley told 5,342 graduates to keep the faith, plan for and nurture a good marriage and a solid home, and continue to pursue knowledge.
“I do not hesitate to say that if you pursue only your dream of recognition and monetary reward, and give little or no attention to these other items I mention, you will not be successful in your living,” President Hinckley said.
President Hinckley described the faculty at BYU as “men and women who have come out of the great educational institutions of the nation, who have taught with skill and expertise in their chosen fields.” He told the graduates that they were privileged to have had “a most precious opportunity available to only a relative few among the great numbers” desiring to be students at BYU.
“No knowledge is of greater worth than the knowledge you have gained here in things of the Spirit,” President Hinckley told the graduates. He admonished them to continue in prayer and realize that their prayers are answered. “Never forget that the schooling of the spirit is as important, if not more so, than the schooling of the mind,” he said.
“Marriage is the most important step you have made or will make,” the Church President counseled. “No other decision will have such tremendous consequences for the future.
“Welcome children who will come to your home and rear them in the nurture and admonition of the Lord,” President Hinckley told the graduates. He told of reading a newspaper article about a recent study indicating that society would be better off if more people would marry and remain married. To this he said, “Any of us could have said that without a long and costly study.”
President Hinckley mentioned during his address that he and Sister Hinckley were to celebrate their fifty-eighth wedding anniversary on Saturday, April 30, two days following the graduation exercises. “I thank the Lord for my beloved companion, for her loyalty, her love, her encouragement, her companionship. I thank the Lord every day for her, for our children, and our posterity,” President Hinckley said. He then challenged the graduates to be “fiercely loyal” to their marriage partners and added that “selfishness is the greatest destroyer of happy family life.” He suggested that they each make their companion’s happiness and well-being their first concern and said that in doing so they would be happy and have a successful marriage.
In closing, President Hinckley cautioned graduates to “never stop learning,” because there is more to learn in the future than there was in the past. “Drink deeply from this ever springing well of wisdom and human experience,” he told them. The consequence of not continuing to learn will stunt intellectual and spiritual growth, he said.
Robert W. Fogel, Pitt Professor of American History and Institutions at Cambridge University and recipient of the Nobel Prize in 1993, delivered the commencement address. BYU President Rex E. Lee also addressed the students.
President Faust Encourages Ricks Graduates
Graduates of Ricks College can be part of a new spiritual aristocracy who do things in the Lord’s way, said President James E. Faust, Second Counselor in the First Presidency, at the college’s graduation ceremonies.
That spiritual aristocracy is grounded in purity and faith, President Faust said. “It is submission to the sovereign God, a willingness to do things in the Lord’s way,” he said. “By combining your spiritual learning with your secular learning, you can be armed and prepared for the daily assaults on your values and morals.”
“You must make a difference,” President Faust told the nearly 2,600 graduates. “You are part of the greatest work in the world.”
He asked graduates to stand firm so their influence and example might help reverse the moral dry rot in today’s culture. “This new spiritual aristocracy will seek not only to clean up the physical environment … but, by example and persuasion, the moral environment as well.”
Spiritual aristocracy will seek to reach right concepts and replace bad ideas with enlightened thoughts, he continued. It will not be led astray or intimidated by the sophistries of the insincere, hypocritical, or self-righteous. “To be a part of this new spiritual aristocracy, one must be involved in noble and selfless activities,” he noted.
Elders Maxwell and Nelson Visit China
At the invitation of China’s vice premier, Elder Neal A. Maxwell and Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles recently visited the country, enjoying the hospitality of government officials and speaking of Church efforts to serve the Chinese people.
Elders Maxwell and Nelson were accompanied by their wives, Colleen Maxwell and Dantzel Nelson; Elder John K. Carmack of the Seventy, Asia Area president; Elder Kwok Yuen Tai of the Seventy, first counselor in the Asia Area presidency; Hui Hua Tai, Elder Tai’s wife; and other Church representatives. The group was greeted in the Diaoyuta State Guest House in Beijing, China, by Vice Premier Li Lanqing, one of four prime ministers of the People’s Republic of China; President Qi Huaiyuan, president of the Chinese People’s Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries; and Li Xiaolin of that same group.
During their mid-February meeting, Elder Nelson spoke of the work he and other doctors had done in the country and of relationships that had been established providing advanced education for Chinese medical specialists.
The vice premier acknowledged that work and spoke of the importance of education, indicating that appropriate assistance from the Church would be welcomed at all levels of educational endeavors. Vice Premier Li specifically mentioned Latter-day Saints who volunteer to teach English or serve in professional fields, especially vocational education and community colleges.
In a later meeting, the country’s vice director of the State Education Commission, Zhang Xiaowen, echoed the desire for English teachers in the country’s universities.
Mention of Brigham Young University’s performing groups was also made in the meetings. Later Elder Maxwell noted that contacts between the Church university and the Chinese leaders and people have been warm, “further establishing our genuine friendship with the Chinese people, especially as we explore other ways where additional service may be appropriately rendered.”
The visit was planned after Vice Premier Li visited the Polynesian Cultural Center in Hawaii last year and invited Church officials to visit China.
Members Assist after Oklahoma Bomb Blast
Following the death and devastation left in the wake of a bomb blast in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, Church members rushed to offer assistance to those who lost loved ones in the tragedy, as well as to those working in the cleanup efforts.
Within hours of the April 19 bomb blast that exploded in front of a federal office building, a truckload of food from the regional bishops’ storehouse had been sent to rescue workers carefully sifting through the rubble. “We sent all kinds of food items that were easily prepared,” said Jerrell Chesney, president of the Norman Oklahoma Stake. A second truckload of food for the rescue workers was sent the following day. “We would have sent more, but by that time people all over the city, state, and country had sent mountains of food supplies,” President Chesney said.
Among the 167 persons killed or still missing was one Church member, Paul Broxterman, a member of the Oklahoma City Oklahoma North Stake. Brother Broxterman was an employee at the building. He was married with three children. Two other Church members sustained minor injuries during the explosion.
While trained professionals worked around the clock searching for signs of life, members worked closely with relief agencies to donate blood, flashlights, waterproof clothing, money, and other items needed in the rescue effort. When officials from relief agencies indicated a need for volunteers to work in their bereavement counseling program, Church members again offered to help.
“We had many local priesthood brethren assist in that effort,” President Chesney explained. “When bodies were identified, those people helped notify families and provided as much emotional support and comfort and strength as they could under the circumstances.”
In addition, counselors from LDS Social Services in Tulsa, Oklahoma, helped provide counseling for those who had lost loved ones in the blast.
Many members helped feed the volunteers, President Chesney reported, including a class of Merrie Miss girls and Blazer boys, who served food on two occasions.
“It was amazing the way people responded, members of our church and of other faiths,” said President Chesney. “It demonstrates that there are a lot of people in this world who have good hearts.”
Icelandic Saints’ Flame of Faith
It should come as no surprise that even at the edge of the Arctic—in a land of wind and water, Vikings and volcanoes—the restored gospel has found a foothold, for the Lord “remember[s] those who are upon the isles of the sea” (2 Ne. 29:7; see also D&C 133:8).
The Church in Iceland got its start in 1851 when two young Icelanders who had joined the Church in Copenhagen, Denmark, returned home to the Westmann Islands (off Iceland’s south coast) and began teaching and baptizing. When Thorarin Haflidason, who had been ordained a priest by Elder Erastus Snow, died in a drowning accident, Gudmund Gudmundsson, a teacher in the Aaronic Priesthood, continued to teach but lacked authority to baptize.
About two years later, Elder Johan Lorentz arrived from Copenhagen and baptized waiting converts, ordained Gudmund an elder, and set him apart as branch president. Persecuted for their beliefs (laws were passed prohibiting baptism into the Church), most early Icelandic converts immigrated to the United States. More than 150 Latter-day Saint families left Iceland between 1855 and 1913, most of them settling in or near Spanish Fork, Utah, fifty miles south of Salt Lake City. Efforts to establish a permanent branch in Iceland were given up in 1914.
Missionary activity resumed in May 1975, when Iceland, formerly a part of the International Mission, was assigned as part of the Denmark Copenhagen Mission. Copenhagen mission president Grant R. Ipsen had earlier visited Iceland and helped locate Icelandic Saints and invite them to Church meetings held at a NATO military base near Keflavík, a small town west of the capital city of Reykjavík. Two members from that period included Thorhildur Einarsdóttir, who had been baptized at age fifteen, and a sailor named Thorstein Jonsson.
Soon after, missionary work began in earnest among the native Icelanders when a descendant of the Icelanders in Spanish Fork, Byron Geslison, his wife, Melva, and their twin sons, David and Daniel, served as the first missionaries to Iceland (1975–78). The couple later served two other missions there (1983–84, 1987–89).
Between 1975 and 1977, about forty native Icelanders were baptized, leading to the organization of a branch in Reykjavík. The country was dedicated for missionary work in September 1977 by Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin, then of the Seventy.
Today, Iceland’s more than two hundred Latter-day Saints are spread out among three branches: in Reykjavík; near Keflavík, a branch mostly made up of American servicemen and their families; and in the northern coastal town of Akureyri.
“Our branch faces many difficulties today, as it always has,” says Reykjavík Branch president Emil Thor Emilsson. Smiling confidently, he adds, “But we, as the branch presidency, feel strongly that many blessings are coming.”
The branch is currently blessed by its youth, young Saints like Fridrik Gudmundsson and Steinunn Pieper, who, though few in number, are good examples to their friends of other faiths. Fridrik, a longtime district missionary, is now serving a full-time mission in England, and Steinunn serves in Scotland. Another example is Thorbergur Sigurjonsson, age eighteen. “Many of my nonmember friends have problems in their lives, but I don’t do the things they do, and I can affect them in a positive way.” In Reykjavík he serves as Sunday School president and as a district missionary.
Because of Iceland’s high cost of living (nearly all goods except potatoes, fish, and dairy products are imported), many Icelanders work two jobs or long hours at one job. Gudmundur Sigurdsson, former district president, does both. In his truck, he makes commercial deliveries all over the island; he also raises and sells Icelandic ponies, keeping alive an ancient Viking tradition. He and his wife, Valgerdur Knutsdóttir, are also busy rearing their five children.
“We are extremely blessed here in Iceland in many ways,” Gudmundur says. “Times are difficult, but there is nowhere that is as clean or as safe or as beautiful as Iceland.” Joining the Sigurdssons for family home evening in the warmth and quiet of their living room, and looking out the window of their ninth-story apartment to the snow-shrouded peaks across the bay, one can easily agree with that claim.
For Icelandic Saints, their icy northern island is a special place, made more beautiful by the light of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
The First Presidency has called eleven new temple presidents and matrons:
Richard Jay Bassett, president of the Dallas Texas Temple, and his wife, Janice Remington Bassett, matron.
Clinton DeVell Davis, president of the San Diego California Temple, and his wife, Carmen Shumway Davis, matron.
Justus Ernst, president of the Freiberg Germany Temple, and his wife, Anneliese D. Froelke Ernst, matron.
K. Gary Garff, president of the Seattle Temple, and his wife, Linda Lee Smith Garff, matron.
Henry A Haurand, president of the Frankfurt Germany Temple, and his wife, Margarethe Biehl Haurand, matron.
Kenneth R. Metcalf, president of the St. George Temple, and his wife, Beverly Robbins Metcalf, matron.
John S. Morgan, president of the Papeete Tahiti Temple, and his wife, Carol Ellison Morgan, matron.
Robert J. Smith, president of the Provo Temple, and his wife, Lola Nielson Smith, matron.
Russell C. Taylor, president of the Denver Colorado Temple, and his wife, Joyce E. Mortensen Taylor, matron.
Glen Harris Walker, president of the Los Angeles Temple, and his wife, Willa Rae Erickson Walker, matron.
Elder J Ballard Washburn of the Seventy, president of the Las Vegas Nevada Temple, and his wife, Barbara Harries Washburn, matron.
A Conversation with the Brazil Area Presidency
Brazil, which has more inhabitants than the rest of South America combined and is larger than the forty-eight contiguous United States, has been the scene of much Church growth and development in recent years. To learn more about the Church in Brazil, the Ensign talked with Elder of the Seventy, Brazil Area president, and his counselors, Elder and Elder , also of the Seventy.
Question: Tell us about the Church in Brazil.
Answer: The Church continues to grow rapidly. We now have more than 500,000 members among Brazil’s 152 million people, an increase of some 100,000 since 1992. The number of stakes has doubled in the past four years; we now have 114. Three years ago we had fifteen missions, and today we have twenty-three.
Q: How is the Church meeting the demands of this growth?
A: As with most fast-growing areas, leadership needs continue to challenge us. Of the fifty-six brethren who were presiding over Brazilian stakes in 1990, only five remain today; the rest have either moved elsewhere or accepted other callings such as mission president or regional representative. Experienced leadership is in high demand because the Church can grow only as fast as leadership strength allows.
We have relied heavily on regional representatives who have been trained by the area presidency to conduct leadership training, and we look forward to continued training through the newly announced area authorities. We have taught stake presidents how to involve their high councilors in training local leaders so that stake presidents can focus on interviewing members, activating less-active members, and administering stake responsibilities.
Q: Are missionaries reaching all parts of Brazil yet?
A: We feel that the biggest part of Brazil’s Church growth is yet to come. Brazil still has cities of 200,000 or 300,000 people that have never had missionaries, and other large urban areas still have only a single pair of missionaries.
Brazilians are very friendly toward the Church, and they accept missionaries into their homes quite readily. Our members are setting good examples as well. We have priesthood holders in important government positions, which helps provide a link between the Church and civic leaders. In day-to-day life, Brazilian members are known for their integrity and high standards, which helps improve the image of the Church.
Q: What aspects of the Church appeal strongly to Brazilians?
A: Brazilian converts are typically attracted to the Church’s emphasis on family values, and they appreciate the Church’s role as an inspired, moral, Christian institution in which they can put their confidence. Missionaries have been focusing their efforts on heads of households, because when a husband and father joins the Church, his wife and children are much more likely to follow and remain active. In 1990, 11 percent of converts were adult men, but that figure has risen to 25 percent today. We’re seeing some great potential priesthood leaders come into the Church who will open the way for future growth.
To help new converts stay active in the Church, local leaders are instructed how to get to know them and help them achieve gospel-oriented goals. Within days after new converts are sustained in sacrament meeting, the men meet with their bishops to prepare to receive the Aaronic Priesthood, and both the men and the women receive meaningful callings. We instruct the stake presidents on how to interview new converts soon after baptism to help the men start preparing to receive the Melchizedek Priesthood and couples start preparing to attend the temple. New members respond well when they see that their leaders love them and are concerned about their progress.
We had one stake last year that baptized seventy-three adult men, which isn’t unusual for Brazil. What is unusual—and would be in any other area of the Church—is that seventy of those seventy-three men now hold the Melchizedek Priesthood and are active in the Church. Of the three brethren who are no longer accounted for by the stake, two moved away and one died.
Q: What efforts are being made to bring back members who might have drifted away into less activity?
A: We use the council system that Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles has spoken about. We ask bishoprics and branch presidencies to meet regularly with their priesthood executive committees and Relief Society, Young Men, Young Women, and Primary presidencies to identify families that would be likely to return to full fellowship with encouragement and attention. When all the leaders in a unit work together in a concerted effort to bring back less-active members, the results can be impressive.
As with proselyting, reactivation efforts work best when they are centered on heads of households. We find that when husbands and fathers come back to the fold, attendance at Relief Society, Young Men, Young Women, and Primary classes also increases.
Q: Tell us about the impact of the temple on members.
A: Much of the Brazilian members’ faith centers on the temple. We’re all familiar with stories about how some members sell everything they own to raise funds for a trip to the temple, but we recently heard about a woodworker who sells his saws and lathes every year to earn money for his temple visit, working diligently to buy back his tools after each trip. That is the kind of commitment that is very real in Brazil.
We have a great challenge in trying to provide Brazilian members with a place to perform temple ordinances for themselves and their dead. The São Paulo Temple is operating at near capacity, so we are making arrangements to keep it open day and night when that becomes necessary. We are grateful that a second temple has been announced for Recife. In view of current rates of growth, we expect Brazil to exceed two hundred stakes by the time the new temple is completed.
It is humbling to watch members disembark from the temple excursion buses after up to four days of travel day and night, often with children in their laps and passengers standing in the aisle. Some members must cross great distances to get to the temple. A weeklong trip by boat and bus is not uncommon.
Q: How would you characterize the strengths of Brazilian people?
A: Brazilians are full of hope. They are a very optimistic people. They can be knocked down by hurtful economic or health problems, but they always find ways to bounce back. They are constantly looking for ways to grow and develop, which is why the Church appeals to so many. The gospel gives them hope to improve their family relations, their personal growth, and their positions in the community. We expect great things to continue happening among the Brazilian Saints.
Membership Reaches Half a Million in Brazil
“The growth of the kingdom of God in this part of the world will be slow in its beginning, gradually speeding up, reaching a time of lengthy stride and great vision,” said Elder Melvin J. Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve in December 1925 when he dedicated South America to the preaching of the gospel. His prophetic prayer has been fulfilled; there are now more than 1,000,800 members of the Church in South America.
Few South American countries have equaled the Church’s growth in Brazil. In 1994 the country, which covers almost half the continent, had 500,000 baptized members of the Church, more members than in any other nation in the world except the United States and Mexico.
The seeds of the gospel were actually planted in Brazil two years before Elder Ballard’s prayer. In 1923 a family from Germany immigrated to the country. In search of opportunity and “a place where the Mormons can’t find me,” Robert Lippelt chose Brazil because he’d been told there were no Church members there. He and his family settled in Ipomeia, a small peasant village.
While Mr. Lippelt was avoiding the Church, his wife and children were not. They had joined the Church in Germany after the oldest Lippelt son, who was sick, shared a dream with his sister.
“Today I saw our grandparents,” he said. “They told me that on Thursday I will pass away. They said they would be waiting for me. They also told me that the true church of Jesus Christ is in this city, and they gave me the address.”
The youth did die, yet Mr. Lippelt had no interest in investigating the address. But Mrs. Augusta Lippelt and her three remaining children searched for the Church and were baptized.
After moving to Brazil, Sister Lippelt missed the Church and finally wrote to Church headquarters in Salt Lake City. In response, the president of the South America Mission, Reinhold Stoof, visited Ipomeia and the Lippelts. Impressed by the family and the entire community of German immigrants, he sent missionaries to the area. A few years later, Brother Lippelt joined the Church.
As predicted by Elder Ballard, Church growth was slow for many years. During World War II, missionaries were withdrawn from the country, and the growth of the Church in Brazil almost halted. In 1948 the work began anew. In 1966 Elder Spencer W. Kimball of the Quorum of the Twelve created Brazil’s first stake.
Almost ten years later, in 1976, members attended the first Brazil area conference. At the time, Church membership in Brazil totaled 75,000; it had taken more than four decades to reach that number. But the area conference, as well as the opening of the São Paulo Temple in 1978, seemed to be a catalyst for renewed growth and enthusiasm. Church membership had doubled by 1983, doubled again in the next several years, and reached more than 310,000 members in 1988. Today there are almost 530,000 members in Brazil.—, Brazil Area public affairs director