First Presidency Christmas Devotional
“At this Christmas season we gather together to sing His praises and speak our words of faith and gratitude and love,” said President Gordon B. Hinckley at the annual First Presidency Christmas devotional, held 6 December 1998 in the Tabernacle on Temple Square and broadcast via the Church’s satellite system and rebroadcast via KBYU-TV.
“It is His influence in our lives that stirs within us a little more of kindness, a little more of respect, a little more of love, a little more of concern,” President Hinckley continued. “It is because of Him and His teachings that we reach out to those in trouble, distress, and need, wherever they may be.”
President Hinckley then told the story of a two-year-old girl who survived Hurricane Mitch in La Lima, Honduras, to illustrate his hope that “the overpowering spirit of Christmas may come into the lives of men and women and children throughout the world that their hearts may be opened and their hands extended to help the needy.” While trying to save the girl, her father had suffered a stroke and died. “No one knew anything of her until a young man, two days later, happened to look up in that abandoned house and saw her still alive,” President Hinckley related. “I would hope that at this Christmas season, when there will be no gift-giving among these devastated people, this small orphan girl might receive perhaps a little taste of candy, something sweet and delicious.”
President Thomas S. Monson, First Counselor in the First Presidency, said: “There is no better time than now, this very Christmas season, for all of us to rededicate ourselves to the principles taught by Jesus the Christ. It is the time to love the Lord our God with all our hearts and our neighbors as ourselves.”
President Monson shared examples of “true giving learned by me from the experiences of the three most recent Presidents of the Church, with whom I have had the privilege to serve as a counselor.” He described President Ezra Taft Benson’s efforts to help members in Europe after World War II: “Through the God-inspired welfare program, he literally fed the hungry, comforted the weeping, and lifted closer to heaven all with whom he met.” Then, of an experience reviewing “a tragic and difficult case” with President Howard W. Hunter, President Monson said, “The gift of forgiveness, the gift of compassion, the gift of encouragement were freely given … by this saintly leader.” President Monson also spoke of President Hinckley’s recent visit to uplift members devastated by Hurricane Mitch: “President Hinckley gave them encouragement and assurances of additional assistance, but more than this he gave to them himself. We express thanks to our Heavenly Father for such a prophet.”
President James E. Faust, Second Counselor in the First Presidency, said: “Christmas is such a wonderful time. No doubt it is all Christendom’s favorite season. Child and adult alike look forward to this time, a time when our best self shines through. What makes it so special? Certainly it is our love for family and friends. But at the heart of it all is remembering the birth of the Savior.”
President Faust told the story of “a sailor who emulated the Christ, reaching out one Christmas Eve as one who would be Santa.” In a restaurant in Nice, France, on Christmas Eve, the sailor spread cheer by purchasing corsages from a despondent flower woman and sharing them with other patrons. “‘Christmas exploded throughout the restaurant like a bomb,’” President Faust said, quoting the original storyteller. “‘A few hours earlier 18 persons had been spending a miserable evening. It ended up being the happiest, the very best Christmas Eve they had ever experienced.’” President Faust also said, “The love of Christ, which we are to emulate, is the distinguishing characteristic of Christmas.”
President Hinckley Visits Hurricane Mitch Victims and Mid-Atlantic United States
Concerned by the damage caused in Central America by Hurricane Mitch, President Gordon B. Hinckley made a quickly arranged visit to Honduras and Nicaragua in November 1998 to “meet with our people there and give them encouragement and faith to carry on in the terrible catastrophe in which they have suffered.” Earlier in November he visited members in Greenville, North Carolina; Richmond, Virginia; and Baltimore, Maryland; received the International Executive of the Year award from BYU’s Marriott School of Management; spoke at a BYU devotional; and dedicated the new, Church-owned Gateway Tower West commercial office building in downtown Salt Lake City.
Nicaragua and Honduras
President Hinckley was accompanied to Central America by Elder L. Tom Perry of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and by Bishop H. David Burton of the Presiding Bishopric. In Nicaragua President Hinckley was joined by Elder William R. Bradford of the Seventy, President of the Central America Area, and in Honduras he was joined by Elder Lynn G. Robbins of the Seventy, a counselor in the Area Presidency.
Speaking to about 1,300 listeners gathered on 19 November in an indoor arena in Managua, Nicaragua, President Hinckley expressed gratitude that out of an estimated 11,000 people who perished in Hurricane Mitch, only four Latter-day Saints were known to have died. “I bring to you, my brothers and sisters, the assurance, the comfort, the knowledge that as long as the Church has resources we will not let you go hungry or without clothing or without shelter,” he said. “We shall do all that we can to assist in the way that the Lord has designated that it should be done, and that is through the bishops and branch presidents. I want to honor them today, these great and good men who have been called to watch over you and look after you and help you in your times of trouble.”
The next day, 20 November, President Hinckley spoke in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, to about 7,250 people gathered in a basketball arena. “We’ve been to the La Lima stake center, and people were there with shovels and brooms and water,” he said. “They will have that beautiful chapel restored and ready for you day after tomorrow, Sunday morning. I thank you, every one of you, for the way you have worked together to restore that which was lost. There is a great deal of work yet to be done. It will take a long time. May you be blessed in that which you do.”
He also said, “The Lord has spared you, my brothers and sisters, and how grateful you ought to be. We have been blessed. These will be hard and difficult days. There will be for many lean days with simple food. There will be used but good clothing. There will be medicine to stop the spread of disease. You will recover from all this. Eventually the mud will be moved. Eventually it will all be cleaned up and become only a memory of the past.”
On Saturday morning, 21 November, President Hinckley spoke to about 7,400 people in an outdoor soccer stadium in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. “We have come to see how helpless man is when nature goes on a rampage,” he said. “We’re really helpless. There isn’t much we can do. We come to realize that … when all is said and done we must put our trust in [God] and walk in obedience to His commandments. That is the only safety we have. We cannot tell where these things will strike—here at one time, there at another, across the earth. Let us, as a result of this experience, live near to the Lord and be more worthy of His blessings.”
The Church has shipped and airlifted hundreds of thousands of pounds of emergency supplies to storm-devastated areas of Central America. Members desiring to help are encouraged to volunteer their labor at Church welfare sites, donate items through Deseret Industries, make fast offering contributions, or donate money to the Church’s Humanitarian Aid Fund.
Mid-Atlantic United States
President Hinckley was accompanied to the mid-Atlantic United States by his wife, Marjorie; Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and his wife, Barbara; and Elder John K. Carmack of the Seventy, President of the North America East Area, and his wife, Shirley.
On 13 November President Hinckley spoke to about 8,600 members in Greenville, North Carolina. “There is nothing more important in this whole world than to know our Father and our Redeemer,” he said. “If you don’t have such a testimony, pray about it. Ask the Lord to bless you with that knowledge. Read the scriptures, do good works, and there will come into your heart a conviction of the truth of these things. The Savior said, ‘If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself’ (John 7:17). That is the way to get a testimony of that great overriding truth, the very foundation of the gospel in which we believe.”
Janet Hales, a Gospel Doctrine teacher in the Durham Second Ward, Durham North Carolina Stake, said: “I walked into the building, and the Spirit was palpable. I am so grateful I came, not because I didn’t know President Hinckley was a prophet but because he is such a strength to all of us. I am also grateful that I decided to bring my small children. They too need to know how we feel about our prophet.”
The next day, 14 November, President Hinckley addressed about 7,000 members gathered in two sessions in Richmond, Virginia. “What a marvelous thing it is, really,” he said, “that in this Church of the Master every man who lives worthy of the priesthood of God carries that priesthood, has been ordained to it under the hands of those who hold it, and has received the power that he might speak in the name of the Lord with authority—and properly so, as a son of the living God.” He continued, “We are sort of garden-variety people whom the Lord picks up, one here and one there and another there, and makes a bishop or a stake president or a mission president or a temple president or whatever. The marvelous and wonderful thing is that the one called rises to that responsibility under the inspiration and power of the Lord.”
Reverend Jeffrey Spence, regional director of the National Conference for Community and Justice in Virginia, commented, “It was a privilege to be invited to hear from a man who is truly a servant of God and loves people throughout the world. He is a man of great honor and caring. It is good to know a leader that can make us laugh. It is wonderful to be in the presence of such wisdom.”
President Hinckley spoke to about 7,000 members in Baltimore, Maryland, on 15 November. “Have you ever stopped to wonder how fortunate you are, how blessed you are, to be a part of this great generation in the history of mankind?” he asked. “What a wonder it is to be alive.” He also commented, “I’m glad to look into the faces of men and women who pray.”
Stacey Davis, who was baptized on 1 November 1998 in the Baltimore University Branch, Baltimore Maryland Stake, said: “President Hinckley has a special spirit that you can sense. Without him even speaking, you can tell he cares. His talk at general conference is what got me into the Church.”
International Executive of the Year
President Hinckley was presented with the International Executive of the Year award by Brigham Young University’s Marriott School of Management on 6 November. “Critics of the Church complain that the Church has become a great business institution,” he said during the award program. “Let me say emphatically that the spiritual has never been overtaken by the temporal. In fact, the two go hand in hand, the temporal to provide the means and the way for the accomplishment of the spiritual. Actually, they are one and the same.” Discussing the many endeavors of the Church, President Hinckley pointed out that “we are building more than 350 to 400 new buildings a year, and we are getting behind. We must increase our efforts and will do so. Our people must be housed if they are to grow in the Church.”
Addressing some 22,000 students at a BYU devotional on 10 November, President Hinckley said: “We are of the family of God, with such a tremendous potential for excellence. The distance between mediocrity and excellence can be ever so small.” He continued, “The little extra effort we make becomes such a tremendous difference.”
President Hinckley’s 1998 Travels
During 1998, President Hinckley visited Latter-day Saints in Africa, Europe, North America, and Central America. Following are chronological highlights of his visits outside of Utah:
February—Halifax, Nova Scotia; Las Palmas, Canary Islands; Port Harcourt, Nigeria; Accra, Ghana; Nairobi, Kenya; Harare, Zimbabwe; Johannesburg, Durban, and Cape Town, South Africa; Praia, Cape Verde islands; Rexburg, Idaho
March—Hermosillo, Ciudad Obregón, Culiacán, Guadalajara, Torreón, León, Ciudad Victoria, Monterrey, Chihuahua, and Ciudad Juárez, Mexico; Palmyra, New York
April—Columbus, Ohio; New York, New York
June—Portland, Maine; Paris, France; Frankfurt, Germany; Geneva, Switzerland; Preston, England
July—Victoria, British Columbia
August—Vancouver and Prince George, British Columbia; Lethbridge and Edmonton, Alberta; Regina, Saskatchewan; Winnipeg, Manitoba; Sudbury, Ontario; Montreal and Quebec City, Quebec; Hamilton, Ontario; Houston, Texas
October—Burlington and Sharon, Vermont; Lowell, Belmont, and Worcester, Massachusetts; Schenectady, New York; Chicago, Illinois
November—Greenville, North Carolina; Richmond, Virginia; Baltimore, Maryland; Managua, Nicaragua; San Pedro Sula and Tegucigalpa, Honduras
New Church Handbook of Instructions
Effective 1 January 1999, a new, two-volume Church Handbook of Instructions replaced 30 Church handbooks and publications for priesthood and auxiliary leaders. Book 1 replaced the General Handbook of Instructions for stake, district, mission, and temple presidencies; bishoprics; and branch presidencies. Book 2 replaced nearly all other published instructions for stake, district, ward, and branch priesthood and auxiliary leaders. Only a few specialized handbooks will continue to be published separately, such as handbooks for temple administration, mission presidents, and Scouting. All superseded publications, listed in the introduction of the new handbook, are to be discarded.
The Church’s new leadership handbook has been consolidated to provide direction on Church administration in a more concise and useful form. The two-part handbook gives local leaders all the procedural direction and information they need to carry on the essential work of the Church. Its contents are made accessible by a detailed index. The Church Handbook of Instructions also:
Includes statements of doctrines, scriptures, and principles upon which directions are based.
Eliminates inconsistencies among former handbooks and has 33 percent fewer total words than the obsolete publications.
Minimizes duplication of information and provides uniform organization, content, and tone in each section.
Enables leaders of each organization to see their place in the total Church structure while maintaining their organization’s identity.
Minimizes revisions and eliminates confusion about whether an individual handbook is the current version.
Book 1 is distributed only to stake, district, mission, and temple presidencies; bishoprics; and branch presidencies. However, other local leaders may have access to the information it contains as needed.
Book 2, which provides instructions on priesthood quorums, auxiliaries, programs, activities, leadership, and selected policies, is distributed to the leaders mentioned above and to stake auxiliary presidents, stake mission presidents, ward executive secretaries and clerks, high priests group leaders, elders quorum presidents, ward auxiliary presidents, and ward mission leaders.
In addition, 14 sections of Book 2 are published as individual booklets for leaders who need only those sections, such as counselors in quorum and auxiliary presidencies. Leaders and teachers who do not receive the entire Book 2 receive the “Gospel Teaching and Leadership” section, which gives broadly applicable instructions about strengthening families; helping share the gospel with others; teaching the gospel; leading in the Church; ministering to new members, less-active members, and members with disabilities; and participating in leadership meetings.
Each leader in the Church is encouraged to develop a scheduled plan to study the new handbook. Handbooks go with one’s calling and should be passed to one’s successor or leader upon release. Church distribution centers have been instructed to adhere strictly to the plan of distribution outlined in the handbook’s introduction. Additional copies may not be ordered at this time.
The Church Handbook of Instructions is the result of an intensive five-year project under the direction of a committee of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, the Seventy, and the Presiding Bishopric. Each applicable Church organization reviewed the proposed handbook at least three times, and the Council of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles resolved hundreds of questions resulting from those reviews.
Using Family History Centers™ for Missionary and Activation Efforts
“We do not use our family history work for missionary work nearly so much as we could,” said President Boyd K. Packer, Acting President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, during a family history program broadcast 8 November 1998 on the Church’s satellite system. “These Family History Centers are great centers because we have a common bond to talk to those who are not of the Church.”
Also speaking during the family history broadcast was Elder D. Todd Christofferson of the Presidency of the Seventy. “Family history is obviously a crucial tool in redeeming the dead, but it can also play an important role in proclaiming the gospel and strengthening members of the Church,” he said. “With even minimal coordination between priesthood leaders, family history workers, and missionaries, it will not be difficult to use family history as a tool for conversion and retention of new members and activation of less-active members.” Elder Christofferson said that missionaries are currently “being trained to use family history as one means of introducing investigators to the gospel, of involving new converts in significant gospel activities, and of encouraging less-active members.”
Winnipeg: Diversity of Cultures
There is a great diversity among Church membership in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. Included in the 1,952 members in the city—which has a population over 637,000—are members from Germany, France, Italy, the British Isles, Central and South America, the Philippines, Ethiopia, China, Australia, and the East Indies.
The name Winnipeg was formed from two Cree Indian words, win and nipee, meaning “muddy water.” Located 60 miles (100 km) north of North Dakota and Minnesota, this capital city of the province of Manitoba has been called the crossroads of Canada. Among the many immigrants who have made their homes here are Gordon and Sheila Mears of the Dalhousie Ward. They joined the Church in 1955 in their native England before moving to Canada two years later—first to Toronto, then Montreal, and finally Winnipeg in 1959.
“Winnipeg has been really good to us,” says Sheila, who serves as director of the stake’s Family History Center™. “We have found it to be friendly. You can live on the street with Germans, Italians, Scots, and so on. We have a Ukrainian next door. There are a lot of different nationalities in our ward, and everyone accepts others for who they are.”
The Church was introduced in Manitoba as early as 1884, when Theodore Brandley, a 34-year-old Swiss convert, traveled there from Utah as a missionary. A few years later, Icelandic convert Jacob Johnson taught the gospel to fellow Icelanders in the area. At the turn of the century, eight missionaries proselyted, sold a few hundred copies of the Book of Mormon, and baptized persons who then immigrated to Alberta and LDS centers in other areas. By 1910 there were 37 members in the Winnipeg Sunday School, and in 1914 the first meetinghouse in Winnipeg was dedicated. In 1976 the Canada Winnipeg Mission was created with about 4,200 members.
Today, due to the combined efforts of members and the approximately 50 full-time missionaries serving in Winnipeg (out of a total 124 in the Canada Winnipeg Mission), the Church in the area is growing. According to John Moore, second counselor in the Winnipeg Manitoba Stake presidency, there were 212 baptisms in the stake during a recent 18-month period, and convert retention has risen from 45 percent to 70 percent. “We’ve been working hard on that,” President Moore says.
One convert is Tony Wong, a native of Hong Kong now serving as Young Men president in the Waverley Ward. His wife, May, also from Hong Kong, introduced him to the Church before they were married, while both were attending the University of Manitoba.
May’s family had joined the Church in Hong Kong in 1958. “My father, Kon Yi Chan, was one of the translators when General Authorities would come,” May explains. The couple’s oldest child, Darren, served a mission in Hong Kong from 1995 to 1997, meeting many of the people his parents had known while living there. Currently May serves as first counselor in the Waverley Ward Primary presidency.
The faith and enthusiasm of members like the Wongs and the Mearses helps the Church in Winnipeg move forward with zeal. The undaunted spirit of immigrating members in each ward spurs the Church to even greater growth. These members have come to Winnipeg willing to build new lives, possibly learn a new language, and accept the frequent dropping of the mercury on bitterly cold winter days. They are not afraid of hard work and numerous challenges, for they have discovered a unifying strength in the gospel they have all come to embrace.
Regina Saskatchewan Temple Groundbreaking
“Take this message of an eternal family to others who may live next door,” said Elder Hugh W. Pinnock of the Seventy, President of the North America Central Area, at groundbreaking ceremonies held 14 November 1998 for the Regina Saskatchewan Temple in Canada.
About 480 people gathered in a nearby meetinghouse for a 90-minute groundbreaking service before attending the shovel ceremony outside in the cold. Elder Pinnock said that about half of the 3.2-acre site would house the temple and that a meetinghouse would eventually be built adjacent to the temple. Also in attendance at the groundbreaking was Area Authority Seventy Blair S. Bennett, who said: “We understand the importance of a family, and in the temples of our God we are able to forge those family bonds that will span the eternities.”
In his prayer, Elder Pinnock said: “We ask Thy blessings on all present and all who will enter that they might appreciate the mission of the temple and what it means.”
During the groundbreaking ceremony, a 30-voice stake Young Women choir sang “Families Can Be Together Forever” (Hymns, no. 300). When the temple is completed, it will serve members living in the Saskatoon Saskatchewan Stake and in some branches of the Canada Winnipeg Mission.
Temple President Called
Merrill Dean Briggs of the Sterling Ward, Soldotna Alaska Stake, has been called as president of the new Anchorage Alaska Temple. His wife, Janet Jensen Briggs, will serve as temple matron.
Policies and Announcements
The First Presidency issued the following letter, dated 6 October 1998, to be read aloud in sacrament meetings worldwide:
“We encourage all endowed members to have their own temple clothing and to use it when performing temple ordinances. Those who do not have their own temple clothing can obtain what is needed through Church distribution outlets. For a period of time, a substantial discount will be provided to assist members in acquiring their initial set of temple clothing. Members should present a current temple recommend when purchasing temple clothing.
“Church distribution outlets also provide pre-cut fabric from which temple clothing can be sewn. These pre-cut materials replace all previous sewing patterns and instructions. Temple clothing should be sewn only by endowed members under the direction of stake and ward Relief Society presidents.
“Great blessings come to those who regularly attend the temple. The preparation and care of one’s own temple clothing will enhance the feeling of reverence and gratitude for this sacred work.”
Member Care of Church Meetinghouses
The First Presidency issued the following letter, dated 28 October 1998, to priesthood leaders throughout the Church:
“We are asking Church members to assume a greater responsibility for cleaning and caring for Church meetinghouses. Aaronic Priesthood quorums should play a prominent role in fulfilling this responsibility. They may be assisted by young women of corresponding ages. From this service, young people can deepen their reverence and feelings of respect for the house of the Lord.
“Bishoprics and branch presidencies should enlist their youth to be part of this weekly activity. They may participate in this responsibility as family members, quorums, or classes. Some of the weekly tasks that may be assigned are shown on the enclosed sheet. [Suggested assignments include cleaning rest room floors and counters and replacing paper products; sweeping the cultural hall floor, platform area, and exterior entrance walks; cleaning the sacrament preparation areas; cleaning grounds, parking lots, and adjacent Church-owned property; preparing the meetinghouse for Sunday worship; removing snow from sidewalks as needed; and planting, weeding, and caring for flower beds.]
“Some tasks, such as snow removal, may need to be done on the Sabbath. Where possible, most of the cleaning tasks should be accomplished as part of ongoing weekly youth activities. Local priesthood leaders should determine the details of how to organize and carry out the work.”
The Office of the Presiding Bishopric recently sent a letter to priesthood leaders that stated: “In an effort to provide members with scriptures at the most economical prices, the Salt Lake Distribution Center now offers all styles of scriptures printed in English, including quadruple combinations and deluxe styles.” The Salt Lake Distribution Center also provides personalized name embossing of scriptures.
To order or find out more about scriptures, members in the United States and Canada may contact the Salt Lake Distribution Center at 800-537-5971 or, in the Salt Lake area, at 240-3800. Members outside the United States and Canada may contact their local Church distribution center. The Presiding Bishopric’s letter noted that commercial bookstores will continue to carry LDS editions of the scriptures.
Church members are playing a key role in establishing the American Family Immigration History Center on Ellis Island, a former immigration station located in Upper New York Bay. During the past five years, Church members have volunteered more than two million hours digitizing Ellis Island records from microfilms of handwritten, faded, and damaged ledgers. When the center is completed at the Ellis Island Immigration Museum, the public will have access to a multimedia database containing 17 million U.S. immigration records, representing about 60 percent of total U.S. immigration. More than 100 million Americans can trace their roots to immigrants who passed through Ellis Island between 1892 and 1954.
A recording of the works of Latter-day Saint composer Arthur Shepherd (1880–1958) has been released as part of the Brigham Young University–connected Heritage Series on Tantara Records. Called “one of the finest musicians ever to come from the Rocky Mountain region, a man of prodigious talent who moved in the highest circles of American music during the first half of the 20th century,” Arthur Shepherd worked in all major genres except oratorio and opera. The Heritage Series recording includes a quintet for pianoforte and strings, six selected songs, and four piano solos, and it features pianists Grant Johannesen and Rhoda Vaun Young, soprano JoAnn Ottley, and the Abramyan String Quartet.
A memorial plaque has been placed at the San Francisco house where President Wilford Woodruff died on 2 September 1898. “On this plot of ground, a chosen prophet left this mortal probation, and we are grateful for the life of Wilford Woodruff, a great man of this dispensation of time who had great vision,” said Elder John B. Dickson of the Seventy, President of the North America West Area, at the plaque’s dedication on 25 October 1998. The house is located at 1533 Sutter Street in the Marina District of San Francisco, California.
“Light in Darkness”
I felt I must write a thank-you for your article on psychiatric disorders. How comforting to read of other Church members who suffer similar problems. I have suffered from myalgic encephalomyelitis for five years now, and one component of that illness is anxiety and panic disorders, especially agoraphobia.
For many months I punished myself, convinced that it was my own fault, that I was being punished for a lack of faith. But, with the constant love of my Church leaders, my family and friends, and, most important, my Father in Heaven, I have come to realise this is a trial and I will have to let “thy will be done.”
Although I have yet to be healed, whenever I’m having a bad day the Lord always blesses me with small miracles to get me through the day. I can even say I am thankful to have had this challenge, because I have come closer to Heavenly Father and my Saviour and have learnt to put my trust in them.
Sara McCullum Ipswich, England