At the 1836 dedication of the Kirtland Temple, the Prophet Joseph Smith prayed, “Remember all thy church, O Lord, … that thy church may come forth out of the wilderness of darkness, and shine forth fair as the moon, clear as the sun, and terrible as an army with banners” (D&C 109:72–73). Surely we are witnessing part of the answer to that prophetic prayer in our time.
In our era, President Gordon B. Hinckley is helping to present the Church as fair and beautiful to a world increasingly blighted with spiritual darkness. After 38 years as a General Authority, with 14 of those years as a counselor in the First Presidency, he became the 15th President of the Church in March 1995. Like others before him, President Hinckley expressed overwhelming feelings of inadequacy upon being called to the sacred office and on one occasion said, “It is hard not to wonder if I’m measuring up to what the Lord expects of me, and if I’m capable of doing what needs to be done.”1
Although he may have questioned his ability to lead a membership in excess of nine million people located in 156 nations, territories, and possessions, his counselors did not. “He is a man of enormous talent,” remarked President Thomas S. Monson, First Counselor in the First Presidency. “I believe that we are poised on the edge of a great new movement of spirituality and expansion of the work of the Lord under his leadership.”2 President James E. Faust, Second Counselor, has said, “I believe President Hinckley’s contribution will be characterized by bringing the Church out of obscurity.”3
After being sustained at the 165th Annual General Conference, President Hinckley said: “It is a time to move forward without hesitation. … The little stone which was cut out of the mountain without hands as seen in Daniel’s vision is rolling forth to fill the whole earth.”4
Doing his part to help the gospel move forward without hesitation, President Hinckley has shown a great desire to visit Latter-day Saint congregations throughout the world. When visiting members in New England in 1995, he was introduced as the first “sitting President of the Church to visit New England since President Joseph F. Smith.” He responded with a smile, “I am not a sitting President, I am a running President.”5 Since that time he has proven it again and again.
In Asia he met in 1996 with Latter-day Saint congregations in seven countries and one territory. He welcomed the opportunity to meet with Asian government officials and to dedicate Cambodia and Vietnam for the preaching of the gospel. The highlight of his Asian travels was the dedication of the Hong Kong Temple and the opportunity over his 18-day visit to address more than 75,000 Saints, who greeted him with love as they welcomed him to their homeland.
In 1996 alone, President Hinckley addressed 315,649 Latter-day Saints in his travels, most of them living beyond the borders of the United States. In his outreach effort to be with members, he logged 85,442 travel miles and spoke in 22 nations abroad and in 13 states within the United States. His travels have continued each year of his presidency at an ever-increasing rate. Subsequent travels to Africa and Honduras in 1998 were memorable to all as he discussed the joys of fellowship and caring for each other in times of trial.
In summarizing this outreach to Church membership in South and Central America, President Hinckley stated, “We have now been in all the nations of South America and Central America, and we have seen miracles, with the great gatherings of 30,000, 40,000, and 50,000 in football stadiums. These are all Latter-day Saints. In each case as we left there was a great waving of handkerchiefs, with tears in their eyes and tears in ours.”6
Latter-day Saints truly enjoy the visits of the current spokesman of the Lord. “Something special happens to a congregation when the Lord’s anointed encourages, reproves, and gives counsel to guide and direct their spiritual development,” said Clive Nicholls of Rondebosch, South Africa.7 Faapale Tumanuvao explained why she had enjoyed the President’s visit to Samoa: “It was a blessing to have my whole family see and hear the prophet.” Saane Kongaika of Tonga said, “He gives me the strength to go on trying.” In Fiji, Raghubar Singh commented, “It’s like we’ve come out of darkness into the light.”8
The global travels of President Hinckley have attracted attention of reporters in Salt Lake City as well as around the world. A front page article in the Salt Lake Tribune was titled “A Traveling Prophet,” with the headline “Jet Stream Marks Pace of LDS Leader.”9 When asked how he managed at his age to keep up such a pace, he joked, “I go to bed every night and make sure I get up the next morning. I just keep going.”10 Later he said, “I would enjoy sitting in a rocker, swallowing prescriptions, listening to soft music, and contemplating the things of the universe. But such activity offers no challenge and makes no contribution. I wish to be up and doing.”11
Despite the difficulties of travel and his advanced age, the pace of these global travels has not waned, nor has President Hinckley’s enjoyment at meeting congregations of Latter-day Saints. Whether speaking in Europe, Israel, New Zealand, Australia, Canada, Mexico, or Belize, he has counsel, advice, and a blessing for the Saints. He assures each one, “We’re all of a great family, a marvelous family, the family of the living Christ, worshiping Him together.”12
The emphasis on family by all the General Authorities in the past several years is powerfully expressed in “The Family: A Proclamation to the World,” issued by the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in 1995. Living the principles of the proclamation can strengthen family ties in a world where the values of marriage between a man and a woman and the rearing of honorable children are subjected to societal ills. As President Hinckley reflected on these worldly ills and those who don’t have the gospel message, he said, “As I look to the future, I see little to feel enthusiastic about concerning the family in America and across the world.” Then he continued, “All of this will … get worse unless there is an underlying acknowledgement, yes, a strong and fervent conviction, concerning the fact that the family is an instrument of the Almighty.”13
While governmental leaders delay emphasizing the moral and social value of the family, the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles have moved forward and announced the Lord’s response: an accelerated pace to temple building that unites families for time and all eternity. “In this program we are moving on a scale the like of which we have never seen before,” said President Hinckley.14
From the groundbreaking ceremony of the Vernal Temple in May 1995 to the dedications of a stunning list of temples dedicated this year, the work has moved forward. “I have a burning desire that a temple be located within reasonable access to Latter-day Saints throughout the world,” President Hinckley proclaimed.15
Before each newly constructed temple is dedicated, the general public is invited to tour the facility. Nearly 260,000 people toured the St. Louis Missouri Temple, and an estimated 680,000 toured the Mount Timpanogos Utah Temple. In these houses of the Lord the public learns about the importance of the family in time and in eternity. And so it is with each temple: whether it be in Anchorage, Alaska, or in Campinas, Brazil, the Church is brought further out of obscurity, and others learn something more about the value of family. And so it will continue.
Bruce Olsen, managing director of the Church’s public affairs, has said, “There is no endeavor of the Church today that changes hearts and minds of nonmembers of the Church like attendance at the temple open houses.”16 Along these same lines, President Hinckley has strongly urged the Church’s public affairs personnel to search for creative ways to spread the gospel message: “If we could find ways to cause people to bump into the gospel in the normal course of their lives, rather than waiting for missionaries to knock on their doors, it would be one of the greatest things we could do.”17
Sophisticated satellite networks, advanced technology, the Internet, a public relations firm, and a myriad of other resources are beginning to be effectively used to share the gospel message. More people have ready access to general conference broadcasts, the new Church logo of 1996 that prominently features the name of Jesus Christ has been well received, and reporters clamor for more information about the Church.
President Hinckley speaks with and answers questions posed by national and international reporters. “These reporters are men and women of great capacity, who know how to ask questions that come at you like a javelin. It is not exactly an enjoyable experience, but it represents an opportunity to tell the world something of our story,” says President Hinckley.18 The Church’s most publicized media experience to that date, a profile of President Hinckley and the Church, was aired on 7 April 1996 to an estimated 20 million people watching the 60 Minutes television broadcast. “I concluded that it was better to lean into the stiff wind of opportunity than to simply hunker down and do nothing,” remarked President Hinckley of the media opportunity.19
“Why is your Church so aggressive about spreading the word, having missionaries knock on doors where they may not be welcome and where they’re obviously not invited?” asked Mike Wallace, the host of 60 Minutes. President Hinckley answered, “We believe that the Lord meant what He said when He said, ‘Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature’ [Mark 16:15].”20 He reached another vast audience when he was interviewed on Larry King Live. “None of us ever need hesitate to speak up for this Church, for its doctrine, for its people, for its divine organization and divinely given responsibility. It is true. It is the work of God,” he later said.21
The sesquicentennial events in 1997 celebrating the arrival of the Mormon pioneers in the Salt Lake Valley provided Church members yet another opportunity to talk about our legacy. Using the theme “Faith in Every Footstep,” members worldwide creatively shared our religious heritage with neighbors and friends. Parades were held in Central and South America, Australia, Siberia, and Hong Kong. Square dances, theatrical performances, and musicals dotted the globe as Latter-day Saints shared talents in over 1,000 communities in remembrance of the Mormon pioneer legacy.
“I believe it fair to say,” said Bruce Olsen, “that our fondest dreams were exceeded to considerable measure as the events unfolded.” As the reenactment of the wagon train rolled across the great American plains, the wagons, horses, and authentic-looking pioneers attracted worldwide publicity. When “articles appeared in the New York Times and Newsweek, the rest of the media realized that there was a story out there on the American prairies waiting to be told,” said Brother Olsen.22 When the wagon train reached This Is the Place State Park in Emigration Canyon, the world looked on via international television crews. “We are still pioneering,” said President Hinckley.23 Later, again speaking of our pioneer forebears, he said, “We honor best those who have gone before when we serve well in the cause of truth.”24
The travels of President Hinckley and all General Authorities, the proclamation on the family, and a myriad of local media events around the Church have heightened awareness of the Church and have helped to usher in an era of remarkable membership growth. As this century nears its end, the Church is growing at the rate of a million members every three years. Approximately 375 Church buildings are constructed annually to provide houses of worship for the mushrooming worldwide membership. In fact, on 26 February 1996 it was announced that Latter-day Saints living outside the United States outnumbered members residing in the United States.
In July 1997 the Church broke ground for the Conference Center, which will seat 21,000 people, more than three times the capacity of the Tabernacle. And in the first week of November 1997, Church membership reached 10 million.
“There is not a city in the United States or Canada of any consequence which does not have a Latter-day Saint congregation. It is the same in Mexico. It is the same in Central and South America. Likewise in New Zealand and Australia, in the islands of the sea, and in Japan, Korea, Taiwan, the Philippines. In Europe our congregations are everywhere,” said President Hinckley.25
Speaking to members in Australia, President Hinckley said reporters continually asked him: “Why is it that you’re growing when some of the other churches are fading?” His answer: “We’re growing because this Church offers a solid anchor of faith and doctrine and performance in a world of shifting values.”26 A New York Times reporter suggested the rapid growth of the Church should be slowed in order to better manage such a large religious organization. “Oh, no! Growth is wonderful,”27 replied President Hinckley. And in a general conference address the prophet added, “What a wonderful thing it is to be part of this growing kingdom of our Lord. There are no political boundaries separating the hearts of the children of God regardless of where they may live.”28
“Service—that’s what rolls the work along,” President Hinckley has said.29 He has encouraged us as members 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.”30 Indeed, of our present circumstances, he has said, “This is a season of a thousand opportunities.”31
The millions of Church volunteers who serve throughout the world know that “it is not enough just to go to church on Sundays; we must reach out each day,” as President Hinckley has admonished.32 In 1998 alone, over 600,000 hours of service were rendered by volunteers with the Church’s welfare services. Through the efforts of Church members, humanitarian assistance has been offered to the needy in 146 countries around the world. Millions of dollars and tons of clothing, food, and medical supplies have been freely given to aid the poor and disadvantaged.
Latter-day Saints are also reaching out in renewed fellowship to those who have drifted from Church activity. President Hinckley has said, “I worry greatly about those who drift away—what we can do to bring them back.”33 He has repeatedly emphasized the precious nature of every convert, on one occasion saying, “There is no point in doing missionary work unless we hold on to the fruits of that effort. The two must be inseparable. … This loss must stop. It is unnecessary. I am satisfied the Lord is not pleased with us.”34 Members are beginning to unite as never before in welcoming back old friends and making new ones.
To provide the necessary leadership to ensure that each member is remembered as the Church grows, President Hinckley announced in October 1995 the appointment of 117 Area Authorities. These Area Authorities were first assigned to serve in 22 geographical areas under Area Presidencies. Since that initial announcement, the growth of the Church has necessitated 6 additional geographical areas, with more to be potentially announced in the future.
At the October 1997 general conference, members learned that Area Authorities would be ordained Seventies and referred to as Area Authority Seventies. These locally stationed leaders are proving essential to managing the Church’s worldwide expansion.
Area Authority Seventies living in Europe, Africa, Asia, Australia, and the Pacific are members of the Third Quorum of Seventy. Those residing in Mexico, Central America, and South America are members of the Fourth Quorum. And those in the United States and Canada are members of the Fifth Quorum.
As the servant of the Lord, President Hinckley has said, “What a wonderful time it is for each of us to do his or her small part in moving the work of the Lord on to its magnificent destiny.” But then he asks, “Now, what of the future? What of the years that lie ahead? It looks promising indeed.”35 This optimistic outlook is based on the firm knowledge that the Church is in very deed the little stone “cut out of the mountain without hands [to] roll forth, until it has filled the whole earth” (D&C 65:2).
The Lord’s General Authorities know, as did the Prophet Joseph Smith, that “no unhallowed hand can stop the work from progressing; persecutions may rage, mobs may combine, armies may assemble, calumny may defame, but the truth of God will go forth boldly, nobly, and independent, till it has penetrated every continent, visited every clime, swept every country, and sounded in every ear, till the purposes of God shall be accomplished, and the Great Jehovah shall say the work is done.”36
To fulfill this prophecy, said President Hinckley, “in the future even more of our young men must prepare themselves to go out in service to the Lord. Our Christian acts must precede them and accompany them.”37 The gospel is rolling forth with unprecedented momentum, and the Lord’s prophet has testified that “no force under the heavens can stop it if we will walk in righteousness and be faithful and true.”38 The Church will continue to emerge out of obscurity and darkness and “shine forth fair as the moon” until the prophecies of its eventual magnitude are fulfilled. As the Church continues to spread throughout the world, we can rejoice in this particular season of growth.