First Presidency Shares Meaning of Christmas

“Christmas is more than trees and twinkling lights, more than toys and gifts and baubles of a hundred varieties,” said President Gordon B. Hinckley at the First Presidency Christmas Devotional held 8 December 1996 in the Tabernacle on Temple Square. The devotional was broadcast in 11 languages on the Church satellite network and was rebroadcast locally on KBYU-TV.

“We honor [the Savior’s] birth,” President Hinckley said, “but without His death that birth would have been but one more birth. It was the redemption which he worked out in the Garden of Gethsemane and upon the cross of Calvary which made His gift immortal, universal, and everlasting.”

Christmas is “faith in God and His Eternal Son,” President Hinckley said. “It is faith in His wondrous ways and message. It is faith in Him as our Redeemer and our Lord. We testify of His living reality. We testify of the divinity of His nature. In our times of grateful meditation, we acknowledge His priceless gift to us and pledge our love and faith. This is what Christmas is really about.”

President Hinckley also expressed appreciation for the birth of the Prophet Joseph Smith, “which we celebrate this same month of December, two days before Christmas. … He is the great prophet of this dispensation. He stands at the head of this great and mighty work which is spreading across the earth. He is our prophet, our revelator, our seer, our friend. Let us not forget him. Let not his memory be forgotten in the celebration of Christmas.”

President Thomas S. Monson, First Counselor in the First Presidency, said: “This is a glorious time of the year, simple in origin, deep in meaning, beautiful in tradition and custom, rich in memories, and charitable in spirit. … This joyful season brings to each of us a measure of happiness that corresponds to the degree in which we have turned our mind, feelings, and actions to the spirit of Christmas.”

Since the time of the wise men, President Monson said, “the spirit of giving gifts has been present in the mind of each Christian as he or she commemorates the Christmas season. Our Heavenly Father gave to us His Son, Jesus Christ. That precious Son gave to us His life, the Atonement, and victory over the grave.”

After giving four descriptions of Christmas—“Christmas is children,” “Christmas is remembering,” “Christmas is giving,” and “Christmas is prophecy fulfilled”—President Monson asked, “What will you and I give for Christmas this year? Let us in our lives give to our Lord and Savior the gift of gratitude by living His teachings and following in His footsteps. It was said of Him that He ‘went about doing good’ [Acts 10:38]. As we do likewise, the Christmas spirit will be ours.”

President James E. Faust, Second Counselor in the First Presidency, remarked that “the observance of Christmas varies considerably from country to country. In some cultures, fragments of pagan celebrations are still included. Although much commercialism is apparent in our modern celebration, underlying it all is a marvelous, life-enriching spirit.”

After sharing several Christmas stories and traditions from around the world, President Faust concluded by saying: “We celebrate Christmas principally to commemorate the birth of our Lord, Redeemer, and Savior, who is the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords. In doing so we also open our hearts and souls to show our love for our families, friends, strangers, and all creatures of God. In this way we honor Him in the most important way we can—by keeping His commandment to ‘love one another’ [John 15:12]. For He has said, ‘Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me’ [Matt. 25:40].”

[photo] The First Presidency and other General Authorities attended the Christmas devotional. The Mormon Tabernacle Choir performed several numbers. (Photo by Tamra Hamblin.)

President Hinckley Visits South America, Florida, Washington, D.C.

During a 12-day trip in November 1996 to six countries in South America and to Florida in the United States, President Gordon B. Hinckley visited 10 cities, addressed an estimated 218,000 Latter-day Saints in more than 20 meetings, spoke to more than 4,000 full-time missionaries serving in 22 missions, met with government and media representatives, visited the construction site of the Bogotá Colombia Temple, and broke ground for the Cochabamba Bolivia and Recife Brazil Temples. President Hinckley was accompanied on the trip by his wife, Marjorie, and by Elder Richard G. Scott of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, both of whom spoke at most gatherings.

Temple Excitement in Colombia

The President’s first destination was Bogotá, Colombia, where he toured the temple construction site, spoke to missionaries, and addressed some 7,000 Colombian members in a covered coliseum. These occasions marked the first time in 19 years that a Church President had visited Colombia. While in Bogotá President Hinckley and Elder Scott were joined by the counselors of the South America North Area Presidency: Elder Francisco J. Viñas of the Seventy and Elder Carl B. Pratt, an Area Authority.

In his conference address, President Hinckley spoke about the new Colombian temple: “I felt very encouraged to see the construction. You have waited a long time. It has been eight years since I set foot on this ground, and there have been many problems since then. Now the construction is going forward, and in less than two years it will be finished. … If the men and women of this congregation will commit themselves to work to be worthy of having recommends, their lives will be blessed, their homes will be blessed, and they will feel the Spirit of the Lord.”

President Hinckley also talked about “the reasons the Lord has given for restoring His gospel in this dispensation.” Referring to D&C 1:20–23, he highlighted four reasons: “that every man might speak in the name of God,” “that faith also might increase in the earth,” “that mine everlasting covenant might be established,” and “that the fulness of my gospel might be proclaimed by the weak and the simple unto the ends of the world.”

“God’s Holy Work” in Peru

President Hinckley next visited Lima, Peru, where he met with missionaries and held two conferences attended by a total of 28,000 Latter-day Saints. Elder Jay E. Jensen of the Seventy, president of the South America North Area, joined President Hinckley and Elder Scott in Lima.

President Hinckley’s remarks again touched on the theme of temples: “If we are a temple-going people, we will be better fathers and husbands, better wives and mothers. I know that your lives are busy, that you have much to do, but I make you a promise that if you will go to the house of the Lord, you will be blessed.”

President Hinckley recognized the Book of Mormon heritage of his listeners in Lima: “As I look into your faces, I think of Father Lehi, whose sons and daughters you are. I think he must be shedding tears today, tears of love and gratitude. … This is but the beginning of the work in Peru. This work of the Almighty will go on and grow and grow. It is God’s holy work. Let us live the gospel. Let us follow its divine truth. There is nothing you cannot do with the help of the Almighty.”

A Groundbreaking in Bolivia

“I told myself it was going to be hot, so I decided not to bring my raincoat,” President Hinckley confessed to missionaries gathered in Cochabamba, Bolivia. “Now we’re having the heaviest rainstorm Cochabamba has had in 10 years.”

But the temple groundbreaking did go forward early that evening, although with an abbreviated program. “My beloved and wet brothers and sisters,” President Hinckley said at the beginning of his address to some 4,000 Bolivian Latter-day Saints gathered under umbrellas and pieces of plastic. He shared a letter from a young woman who as a little girl attended the groundbreaking for the Guatemala City Temple. She told of visiting the temple every Saturday with her father during construction. When she attended the temple dedication, she made a decision to be married in that temple. Years later she met her husband-to-be, and sure enough they were married in the Guatemala City Temple.

“I want to challenge each of you here today to get a temple recommend now, to be worthy of a temple recommend,” President Hinckley said. “You will not be able to attend the new temple for two years, but let that recommend be a reminder of what is waiting for you at the temple.”

In his prayer for the groundbreaking, President Hinckley said: “We know that these rains bring great blessings to the people of Cochabamba, and we are grateful for them. … We ask thee to bless this building that its construction may proceed without any problem or difficulty. We thank thee for this beautiful site, where this sacred edifice will be erected for the people of this great land and where it will remain as a remembrance of the testimonies that we have in our hearts that life is eternal and everlasting.”

“Now Is the Time” in Chile

More than 300 buses were among the means used by 48,000 Chilean members—15,000 more than expected—who came to a stadium in Santiago to hear President Hinckley. He spoke in two conference sessions, one for members of stakes and districts in northern Chile and a second session for members of stakes and districts in southern Chile. He and Elder Scott were joined in Santiago by the members of the Chile Area Presidency: Elder F. Melvin Hammond of the Seventy and his counselors, Elder Jerald L. Taylor of the Seventy and Elder Eduardo A. Lamartine, an Area Authority.

While in Santiago, President Hinckley met with missionaries and participated in an interview with Santiago Pavlovic of Televisión Nacional de Chile. The interview became part of an informational program about the Church that aired on 14 November 1996. The program emphasized missionary work and the growth of the Church in Chile.

In his address, President Hinckley said: “Each of you is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. That means you have taken upon yourself certain responsibilities. Now is the time, this is the hour, to make a resolution within your heart to stand a little taller as a Latter-day Saint, to live the gospel a little more fully, to honor the Lord in your life, and to do the right thing at all times and in all circumstances.”

Commenting later about President Hinckley’s visit, Elder Hammond gave an example of the sacrifice members made to attend the conference. Lacking bus fare, one family borrowed enough money to buy a sack of flour. The mother made bread and sold it in the street, earning enough money to repay her loan and pay her family’s way to Santiago and back.

An Abrazo in Argentina

Some 50,000 Latter-day Saints from Argentina, Paraguay, and Uruguay gathered to hear President Hinckley speak in Buenos Aires, where he and Elder Scott were joined by the brethren of the South America South Area Presidency: Elder John B. Dickson of the Seventy and his counselors, Elder Carlos H. Amado of the Seventy and Elder Hugo A. Catrón, an Area Authority.

Before meeting with missionaries, President Hinckley met with Dr. José Camilo Cardoso, director of Argentina’s National Registry of Religions. President Hinckley expressed deep gratitude to Dr. Cardoso for his efforts to promote religious freedom and for the respect and support the Church enjoys in Argentina. Dr. Cardoso expressed to President Hinckley his commitment to maintaining religious equality in Argentina and commented that this is a time of interaction and brotherhood among religions.

“Once we were a very small group,” President Hinckley said in his address. “Now we are spread across the earth in 160 nations, 9.7 million strong, yet we are interested in one another as individuals. … I reach out to each of you. I would like to give every one of you an abrazo [hug], but I can’t do it; there are too many of you.”

Four Cities in Brazil

President Hinckley spent several days in Brazil visiting the cities of Pôrto Alegre, São Paulo, Recife, and Manaus. The first Church President ever to visit Pôrto Alegre, he met with missionaries and gave an evening address to some 6,000 members, many of whom watched him on closed-circuit televisions in overflow rooms. In São Paulo he spoke to a total of more than 40,000 members in two sessions, and the next morning he met with local missionaries. Later he flew north to Recife, where he spoke with more missionaries and joined about 2,500 members for the groundbreaking at the temple site, which is shaded by mango trees and towering royal palms that will remain on the site. An evening conference in Recife drew about 14,000 Latter-day Saints. His last Brazilian destination was Manaus, a large city on the Amazon River in the heart of the rain forest. His activities there included visiting with missionaries and speaking at a meeting attended by more than 5,000 members.

The brethren of the Brazil Area Presidency attended and spoke at several gatherings: Elder Dallas N. Archibald of the Seventy and his counselors, Elders W. Craig Zwick and Claudio R. M. Costa, both of the Seventy.

To the missionaries in São Paulo, President Hinckley said, “In 1933, when I served a mission, there were about as many missionaries in the whole Church as we have here today in São Paulo.” In meetings with members, the President said: “There is nothing we can do that is more important than to get into our hearts and minds and souls a conviction of Christ as the Son of God. … If you do not have this testimony, get on your knees and ask. Read the Book of Mormon. Go to sacrament meeting. There will gradually come into your hearts a conviction of Jesus, Son of the Father.”

In his remarks at the Recife temple groundbreaking, President Hinckley said: “The gospel is not complete without the ordinances of the house of the Lord. In order to complete our acceptance of Church membership, it is important that we have this holy house. We hope you will live worthy of it. We hope you will come frequently.” In his groundbreaking prayer, President Hinckley said: “May thy Holy Spirit touch the lives of all who labor here. May this prove to be a place of great beauty and of peace and of harmony, and may thy Holy Spirit hover over it and bless it as it rises from the earth up into the skies of heaven, where there will be the crowning figure of the angel Moroni.”

To the Saints at Manaus, he said: “The last time we were here [26 years ago], none of you were here. It is wonderful what has happened, and what I see today is only a shadow of what will be in the future. This hall will not be large enough to hold them, so large will grow the membership of the Church in Manaus.”

A Stop in Florida

On his way home to Salt Lake City, President Hinckley stopped in southern Florida to address about 6,000 members from several Fort Lauderdale and Miami stakes. Two sessions were held, one in English and one in Spanish, at a venue in Sunrise, Florida. President Hinckley and Elder Scott were joined by Elder F. Burton Howard of the Seventy, President of the North America Southeast Area.

President Hinckley called on husbands and wives to be kind and generous to each other, to avoid losing tempers with one another, and to support each other in Church callings and in the priesthood. Families should hold family prayer and family home evening, he said, and parents should rear their children in love, not in anger. He left the Florida members with the promise that if they are true and faithful, they will receive blessings and have reason to be thankful to Heavenly Father.

A “Beautiful Story” in Washington, D.C.

Less than a month after his trip to South America and Florida, President Hinckley traveled to Washington, D.C.

He spoke to an audience of 1,800 youth gathered Sunday evening, 1 December, at the Washington DC Stake center. “God put you on earth to do something worthwhile,” said President Hinckley. “He has put His mark upon you. You are His sons and daughters.”

The next day, addressing more than 500 dignitaries attending the annual Festival of Lights at the Washington Temple, President Hinckley said: “As we begin this wonderful Christmas season, I thank the Lord for Christmas, when for a brief time we put aside our baser instincts and attitudes and stand tall in kindness, love, and respect one for another. It is a miraculous thing which Christmas does for us. We change, we become different at this glad and beautiful season of the year.”

Addressing ambassadors and emissaries from 55 nations as well as numerous members of Congress, U.S. secretary of education Richard Riley, and other dignitaries, President Hinckley read the story of the Savior’s birth found in the second chapter of Luke. He remarked: “This is a timeless and beautiful story of the birth of the Son of God, He who condescended unto earth, He the Son of the Father, He the Prince of Peace who left His heavenly home to be born into mortality in a simple manger in a vassal state among a hated people. No man who ever walked the earth has touched more lives than Jesus of Nazareth.”

President Hinckley and Paulo-Tarso Flecha de Lima, Brazil’s ambassador to the U.S., together switched on 300,000 colored Christmas lights decorating the grounds of the Washington Temple Visitors’ Center. The ambassador stated, “The lights that tonight shine over our city are the sign of our faith in the Lord, the light of all men.”

Accompanied by Elder Neal A. Maxwell of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, Elder Vaughn J Featherstone of the Seventy, and President Ralph Hardy of the Washington DC Stake, President Hinckley earlier toured the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, which honors six million Jews who died in World War II concentration camps. “It was a very sacred experience, a very humbling thing,” President Hinckley said of the visit. “It is frightening that in our generation people could so forget the Spirit of the Son of God, whose birthday we honor.”

President Hinckley also attended a luncheon with government leaders and media representatives, was interviewed by a Washington Times reporter, and met with some 1,300 ordinance workers in the Washington Temple for a Christmas devotional.

This article was prepared with the help of Javier Tobón Gónima in Colombia, José Quiroga Patiño and Victor Hugo Agramont in Bolivia, Néstor Curbelo in Chile and Argentina, Linda Ritchie Archibald in Brazil, Beth Boman in Florida, and Jocelyn Mann Denyer in Washington, D.C.

[photo] President Gordon B. Hinckley (center), Elder Richard G. Scott (next to President Hinckley), and other Church leaders tour the construction site of the Bogotá Colombia Temple. (Photo by Lowell Hardy.)

[photo] President Hinckley (foreground), Sister Hinckley (left), and Elder Scott (right) enter a stadium in Santiago, Chile. (Photo by Néstor Curbelo.)

[photo] In Buenos Aires, Argentina, an electronic sign welcomes President Hinckley in Spanish. (Photo by Néstor Curbelo.)

[photo] President Hinckley (center), Elder Scott (second from left), and the brethren of the Brazil Area Presidency break ground for the Recife Brazil Temple. (Photo by Clemilson de Freitas Campos.)

[photo] President Hinckley greets a child in Manaus, Brazil. (Photo by Lowell Hardy.)

[photo] President Hinckley greets members in Sunrise, Florida. (Photo by Nicolas Biangel.)

[photo] President Gordon B. Hinckley (left) and Elder Neal A. Maxwell (center) speak with Dr. Michael Berenbaum (right), research director of the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Jocelyn Mann Denyer.)

Membership Reaches Two Million in South America

Total Church membership in the 12 countries of South America—Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Paraguay, Peru, Suriname, Uruguay, and Venezuela—reached the two million mark in June 1996. Members in South America now make up just over 20 percent of total Church membership. The earth’s fourth largest continent, South America is populated by an estimated 313 million people, which represents about 5 percent of the total world population.

The restored gospel first touched South American shores in 1852 when Elders Parley P. Pratt and Rufus C. Allen visited Chile. However, the Church did not gain a solid foothold until missionaries started baptizing people in Argentina in 1925 and in Brazil in 1929 in response to the influence of Latter-day Saint German immigrants in the two countries. When Elder Melvin J. Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles dedicated South America on 25 December 1925 for the preaching of the gospel, he said that “the work will go forth slowly just as the oak grows from an acorn. … [But] the South American Mission will become a power in the Church.”

Today Argentina has more than 235,000 members, and Brazil has more than 548,000. Missionaries started preaching the gospel in Bolivia in 1963, Chile in 1956, Colombia in 1966, Ecuador in 1965, Guyana in 1988, Paraguay in 1950, Peru in 1956, Suriname in 1988, Uruguay in 1947, and Venezuela in 1966. Today Bolivia has 89,000 members, Chile 394,000, Colombia 113,000, Ecuador 128,000, Guyana 500, Paraguay 24,000, Peru 279,000, Suriname 300, Uruguay 64,000, and Venezuela 73,000. (Membership statistics by country are as of year-end 1995.)

President Hinckley Completes Busy Travel Year

President Gordon B. Hinckley visited 22 nations and 13 U.S. states, plus Washington, D.C., in 1996. Fittingly, during the year in which the number of Church members living outside the United States surpassed the number of members living in the United States, he addressed 315,649 Latter-day Saints living outside the United States and logged 85,442 miles of travel, most of it abroad.

President Hinckley spoke of his vigorous travel plans in the April 1996 general conference: “I am determined that while I have strength I will get out among the people at home and abroad to express my appreciation, to give encouragement, to build faith, to teach, to add my testimony to theirs and at the same time to draw strength from them. … I intend to keep moving with energy for as long as I can” (Ensign, May 1996, 65–66).

Highlights of his busy year include:

  • Dedicating the Hong Kong Temple and the Mount Timpanogos Utah Temple in American Fork, Utah.

  • Presiding at groundbreaking ceremonies for temples in Madrid, Spain; Recife, Brazil; and Cochabamba, Bolivia.

  • Becoming the first Church President to visit mainland China.

  • Addressing large numbers of Latter-day Saints in Buenos Aires, Argentina; Santiago, Chile; São Paulo, Brazil; and Manila, Philippines.

  • Dedicating Cambodia for the preaching of the gospel.

  • Speaking at eight regional conferences.

  • Delivering 183 talks.

  • Holding five press conferences and being interviewed for the television program 60 Minutes.

President Hinckley began the year with visits to the Rio Grande Valley of southern Texas, to southern Utah, and to Veracruz, Mexico, where he attended a regional conference. He attended regional conferences in Hawaii in February and visited north-central Texas, North Carolina, California, Colorado, and Pennsylvania from February to April.

In May, he flew to Asia for the first of three extended trips in 1996. In 18 days he visited Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, mainland China, Cambodia, Vietnam, the Philippines, and Saipan; toured 13 cities; and delivered addresses to more than 75,000 people.

His vigorous pace continued in June, when in six days he visited five European countries: Spain, Belgium, Holland, Denmark, and Germany. In Spain, he spoke at groundbreaking ceremonies for the Madrid Spain Temple, becoming the first Church President to visit that country. Following his European trip, he visited Israel.

From June to September he visited Idaho, Illinois, New York, Iowa, Oklahoma, Missouri, and Oregon. In November President Hinckley traveled to South America, speaking to and strengthening more than 218,000 Latter-day Saints in Colombia, Peru, Bolivia, Argentina, Chile, and Brazil. On his way home from South America he spoke at two firesides in southern Florida.

In December he traveled to Washington, D.C., where he addressed ambassadors and emissaries from 55 nations during a ceremony in which he and Brazil’s ambassador to the United States illuminated the Christmas lights at the Church’s Washington Temple Visitors’ Center. He closed the traveling year in Tucson, Arizona, speaking to youth at a fireside, to full-time missionaries, and to Boy Scouts. He also dedicated another Mormon Battalion monument.

Strengthening the Saints

Despite obstacles posed by health or modes of transportation, Church Presidents since the days of the Prophet Joseph Smith have often traveled among the Church’s membership to preach the gospel, strengthen testimonies, and set in order the Church’s affairs. While Church Presidents in the 19th century concentrated their efforts on building up the Church in the Rocky Mountains, Presidents after the turn of the century began addressing the growing membership outside the Rocky Mountains and the United States.

Aware of the importance of strengthening the increasing Church membership outside the Rocky Mountains and the United States, President Joseph F. Smith began traveling the missions of the Church shortly after succeeding President Lorenzo Snow in 1901. In 1906 he became the first Church President to visit members in Europe (see Life of Joseph F. Smith, comp. Joseph Fielding Smith [1969], 396). He crossed the ocean by steamship to Belgium, then traveled to Holland, Germany, Switzerland, France, and England. He also visited Mexico and Canada, where in 1913 he dedicated the site for the Alberta Temple in Cardston, Alberta. He visited Hawaii four times while President, selecting and dedicating the site for the Hawaii Temple in 1915.

In 1937, President Heber J. Grant followed President Smith’s pattern by making a three-month tour of the European Mission, visiting Latter-day Saints in Germany, Holland, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, France, and Czechoslovakia.

“It melted my heart to find how anxious the people who are in those countries are to see the Authorities of the Church,” he observed after his return, adding that “they are a part of the work of God” (as quoted in Bryant S. Hinckley, Heber J. Grant: Highlights in the Life of a Great Leader [1951], 146).

Though President George Albert Smith traveled less internationally than his two predecessors inasmuch as his presidency closely followed the aftermath of World War II, he nevertheless visited widely in the United States and traveled by train to Mexico City.

“Here Their Destiny Lies”

Shortly after becoming President of the Church, President David O. McKay began what one author called a “vigorous international campaign” (Gibbons, David O. McKay, 287). During international trips over the next four years, President McKay met with and spoke to thousands of Latter-day Saints in more than two dozen nations. His travels and his dedication of temple sites in Switzerland and Great Britain signaled the Church’s ongoing move toward internationalization; the time had come for Latter-day Saints worldwide to build up the Church in their homelands. During a three-week visit to Latter-day Saints throughout the Pacific, for example, he said of members in Fiji: “Here their destiny lies” (as quoted in Gibbons, David O. McKay, 344–45).

President Joseph Fielding Smith, who was 95 when he spoke at the Church’s first area general conference in Manchester, England, in 1971, told Church members: “We are and shall be a world Church. This is our destiny. It is part of the Lord’s program” (as quoted in Joseph Fielding Smith Jr. and John J Stewart, The Life of Joseph Fielding Smith [1972], 365).

During the year and a half that he led the Church, from July 1972 to December 1973, President Harold B. Lee maintained a busy travel schedule that took him to Mexico, England (twice), Greece, Israel, Italy, Switzerland, Austria, and an area conference in Munich, Germany.

Extending Gospel Blessings

President Spencer W. Kimball traveled widely while his health permitted. In 1975, for example, he attended seven area conferences throughout South America and the Far East. Area conferences and the announcement that temples would be built in Brazil and Japan contributed to the objective to extend the blessings of the gospel to Church members throughout the world (see Edward L. Kimball and Andrew E. Kimball Jr., Spencer W. Kimball [1977], 422).

In 1976 President Kimball attended conferences in England, Scotland, and throughout the South Pacific, telling one group, “We want people to stay where they are and build Zion” (Kimball, Spencer W. Kimball, 423–24).

Presidents Ezra Taft Benson and Howard W. Hunter also traveled during their presidencies but were hindered by declining health and strength. President Benson’s busiest travel year was 1987, when he spoke to Latter-day Saints in Finland, Sweden, Canada, Puerto Rico, California, and Iowa. The following year he broke ground for the San Diego Temple. In 1994 President Hunter spent eight days in Switzerland and traveled to Arizona, Florida, California, and Hawaii that fall. In December he flew to Mexico City for the creation of the Church’s 2,000th stake.

“Out of Obscurity”

Though travel can be wearisome, President Hinckley, like his predecessors, enjoys “looking into the faces and shaking the hands of faithful Latter-day Saints” (Ensign, Nov. 1996, 48). He has said that while the Lord sustains his strength, a major focus of his ministry is to get out among Latter-day Saints across the world (interview with Larry Witman of the Washington Times, 2 Dec. 1996).

And as Presidents of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints continue visiting and strengthening members throughout the world, the Church will continue rolling forth inexorably “out of obscurity and out of darkness” (D&C 1:30).

[photo] President Hinckley began his year of international travel speaking at a regional conference in Veracruz, Mexico.

[photo] “This temple represents one of the great dreams of my life,” President Hinckley said in May while in Hong Kong for the dedication of the Hong Kong Temple. (Photo courtesy of Church News.)

[photo] President Hinckley visited five U.S. states in July, including Iowa, where he delivered an outdoor fireside address at Council Bluffs. (Photo by Dell Van Orden; courtesy of Church News.)

Elder Nelson Named to Religious Freedom Committee

Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles was among 20 prominent religious leaders named by the U.S. secretary of state to advise the State Department on addressing human rights abuses against people of all religions. The committee’s primary goals include fostering better communication between religious communities and the U.S. government, increasing the government’s knowledge of religious minorities facing persecution around the world, and informing the public about the government’s efforts to address issues of religious persecution and religious freedom.

“Certainly, the cause of religious freedom throughout the world is an important cause that deserves our attention,” Elder Nelson said. “I’m honored to be selected to represent the Church on this committee and look forward to the privilege of this association.”

Members Help Rebuild Burned Churches

The Church has contributed substantially toward the reconstruction of nearly 30 church buildings belonging to different religious denominations in the southern United States. The buildings had burned down during the past 18 months due to arson and other causes. In some cases, Latter-day Saints also donated their labor to help with cleanup and rebuilding efforts.

Local Church leaders met with the heads of several congregations to determine their needs. A Baptist minister in Alabama expressed his amazement that the Church would help his congregation rebuild even though the local Latter-day Saint congregation is still meeting in a rented storefront.

President James C. Lansing of the Richmond Virginia Stake presented an assistance check to Richmond’s Glorious Church of God in Christ. “The church representatives were gracious, kind, and appreciative,” he said. “We agreed that we are all brothers and sisters of the same God and that they would have helped out the Latter-day Saints in a similar situation. It was a very positive relationship-building experience.”

[photo] President James C. Lansing (second from right) of the Richmond Virginia Stake presented an assistance check to representatives of a burned church. (Photo by Lynn White.)

Members Survive Earthquake, Flooding

The homes of nearly 100 Church members in Peru were destroyed in an earthquake that occurred in November 1996. All missionaries and members were reported safe, and there were no reports of damage to Church property. Homeless members were sheltered in Church meetinghouses and in tents provided by fast-offering funds. The Church also distributed powdered milk, plastic coverings, and blankets.

An estimated 100 to 300 people were killed in the quake.

Also in November 1996, heavy rains caused major flooding in northern Honduras. More than 300 members there were reportedly forced from their homes; 11 members’ homes were destroyed and 8 more were seriously damaged. All members and missionaries were reported safe, but 4 Church meetinghouses were damaged and 2 rented meetinghouses were destroyed. One Church meetinghouse was used as an emergency shelter, and food, drinking water, and blankets were provided. Two members were among the doctors who provided medical assistance.

Some 4,500 families in Honduras were evacuated from their homes, and five people were killed by the flooding.

Latter-day Saints in U.S. Elections

A number of Latter-day Saints ran for election or reelection during the recent United States elections held 5 November 1996.

In a close Senate race that absentee ballots helped decide, Gordon Smith (Republican) was elected to represent the state of Oregon. Three Church members whose terms did not end in 1996 continue to serve in the Senate: Robert Bennett (R–Utah), Orrin Hatch (R–Utah), and Harry Reid (Democrat–Nevada).

In the House of Representatives, two Latter-day Saints were newly elected: Chris Cannon (R–Utah) and Merrill Cook (R–Utah). Also, eight Latter-day Saint incumbents were reelected: Michael Crapo (R–Idaho), John Doolittle (R–California), James Hansen (R–Utah), Wally Herger (R–California), Ernest Istook (R–Oklahoma), Howard (Buck) Mckeon (R–California), Ron Packard (R–California), and Matt Salmon (R–Arizona). Eni Faleomavaega (D) was reelected as a congressional delegate from American Samoa.

One Latter-day Saint congressman was unseated: Bill Orton (D–Utah). Three Latter-day Saints were unsuccessful in election bids: George Landrith (R–Virginia), Ronna Romney (R–Michigan), and Dick Swett (D–New Hampshire).

1997 Church Pageant Schedule

A schedule of Church pageants has been announced for 1997:

22, 25–29 March, Mesa, Arizona—Jesus the Christ, Arizona Temple Visitors’ Center.

25–28 June, Independence, Missouri—A Frontier Story—1833, Independence Visitors’ Center.

19–21, 24–28 June, Manti, Utah—Mormon Miracle, Manti Temple grounds.

11–12, 15–19 July, Palmyra, New York—America’s Witness for Christ, Hill Cumorah.

31 July; 1–2, 5–9 August, Castle Dale, Utah—Castle Valley Pageant, Mountain Amphitheater.

1–2, 5–9 August, Nauvoo, Illinois—City of Joseph, hillside adjacent to Nauvoo Visitors’ Center.

15–16, 19–23, 26–28 August, Clarkston, Utah—Martin Harris, the Man Who Knew, amphitheater in Clarkston cemetery. Tickets are required and can be obtained by calling (801) 563-0059 or by writing to P.O. Box 151, Clarkston, Utah 84305, c/o Pearl Clark.

18–25 December, Calgary, Alberta—Calgary Nativity Pageant, Heritage Park.

Additional details about these pageants may be obtained by calling (801) 240-2767 or by writing to Church Pageants, 430 West 400 North, Salt Lake City, Utah 84103.

[photo] A scene from America’s Witness for Christ, the Hill Cumorah Pageant.


Healing from Abuse

I am an adult sister with a large family, a good husband, and six children. I was a victim of child abuse and sexual molestation.

I have always had deep emotional problems, but I thought if I could ignore or mask my feelings they would disappear. But they never went away on their own. I was lucky that my mother married a new husband who raised us and took care of us and never hurt us in any way.

I had been married about 15 years when a good friend in our ward recognized my problem and recommended I go straight to the bishop for help. I didn’t want to unbury all my nightmares and face them, but my parents told me it might be a good idea.

The bishop helped me meet with a group of abused women through LDS Social Services. As I talked with them and a counselor, I worked through my problems, let go of my childhood pain, and realized I was not to blame myself. I began to feel a greater love for the Savior and for what he taught about forgiveness, which is very important in healing efforts.

It is not always easy to mend scars of abuse from long ago. But I have learned that we can cast off that burden and break the cycle, making sure it does not happen to our children or grandchildren.

Name Withheld

An Answer to Prayer

Thank you so very much for printing the article “Mending Our Marriage” (Oct. 1996). I appreciated the inspiration of others who were experiencing difficulties yet were determined to stick things out and work their problems through. It was refreshing to read of couples who, despite sometimes serious transgression, repented and became committed to keeping their covenants with the Lord and each other. The world is too full of encouragement for couples to find blame and seek divorce.

I have often felt very much alone in personal marital struggles, afraid to say anything to anyone except the Lord. The determination of the writers to seek the Lord for answers and support was most inspiring. This article was certainly an answer to my prayers.

Name Withheld

Living in Idabel

It is wonderful to read about the Church growing in the Gilmer, Texas, area (see “A Texas Welcome,” Oct. 1996). I lived in Idabel in 1971–72. I still remember seeing a sign posted at a Laundromat about the Church. I jumped up and down, crying for joy, and told my sister, “It’s here; it’s finally here!”

The people of Idabel were warm, loving, kind, and generous members. I thank Heavenly Father for their sweet spirit.

Annette L. Hansen Lakewood, Colorado

Abstinence Applauded

“What about Abstinence?” (Sept. 1996) was such a great story. It is hard sometimes to know how to respond to the world’s philosophies on many things today. This story was a reminder of the powerful lessons the Spirit can teach if we allow it. What an example. Thanks.

Michelle Vincil Atlanta, Georgia

Church in Ghana

I enjoyed reading about the Church in Ghana in the March 1996 issue of the Ensign. One thing I wanted to mention is that Emmanuel Abu Kissi was actually baptized here in the Macclesfield Branch, some 200 miles north of London. My family and other ward members remember the Kissis with fondness, and we have appreciated the opportunity to see the Lord’s hand in their introduction to the gospel.

Cedric Knipe Macclesfield, England

Welcoming New Faces

I was touched by “Let Us Be One” (Mar. 1996) as the author described her mother’s efforts to join a new ward. Many times our ward leadership has gone to great efforts to make new people feel welcome. We as ward members need to give support to these efforts by welcoming new faces into our midst, that there will be “no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God” (Eph. 2:19).

Nihla W. Judd St. George, Utah


In a January 1996 Mormon Journal story, the author mentions Alma and Amulek watching as faithful new converts were burned by the evil King Noah. However, King Noah had actually been burned to death several decades earlier.