Knowing the Savior through Service Emphasized at Christmas Devotional

In a devotional commemorating the birth of the Savior, members of the Church found themselves counseled not only on how to bring the Christmas spirit into “full bloom” through serving others, but how that spirit can be cultivated year-round by coming to know Jesus Christ.

“He is our Savior of whom the angel spoke that first Christmas Eve,” said President Gordon B. Hinckley. “He is our Redeemer, our Lord and our God. He is our King Immanuel, who has saved us when we have been powerless to save ourselves.”

From the Conference Center stage, nestled among lighted evergreens, the members of the First Presidency participated with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and the Orchestra at Temple Square in the annual First Presidency Christmas Devotional on 7 December 2003.

Knowing Jesus through Joseph

“My heart is mellow with a spirit of love as I look at this vast audience gathered in the Conference Center,” said President Hinckley, “and then think of the even larger number of you scattered over the earth. We are now an immense worldwide family of those who love the Lord Jesus Christ.”

President Hinckley honored the Prophet Joseph Smith—whose birthday is also celebrated during Christmastime—and his First Vision for contributing to what we know about the Redeemer. “It is because of him, and his singular and remarkable experience, that we know the Savior as we do. …

“In that single, glorious vision, more knowledge was gained concerning the nature of Deity than had been obtained in all the endless discussions of men through the centuries. Though Joseph’s life was taken at an early age, his testimony of the Eternal God and the risen Lord lives on with luster and eloquence.”

Exhorting members to serve others as the Savior did, President Hinckley concluded, “I pray that the true spirit of Christmas will abide in the hearts of all and so touch our lives as to cause us to reach out in love toward others, encouraging that goodness in the lives of men and women, which is the Spirit of Christ.”

The True Spirit of Christmas

“Giving, not getting, brings to full bloom the Christmas spirit,” taught President Thomas S. Monson, First Counselor in the First Presidency. The spirit of Christmas helps us become “more interested in people than things,” he said.

Teaching about the true spirit of Christmas, President Monson said, “To catch the real meaning of the ‘Spirit of Christmas,’ we need only drop the last syllable, and it becomes the ‘Spirit of Christ.’ When we have the spirit of Christmas, we remember Him whose birth we commemorate at this season of the year.”

As we turn our hearts outward, President Monson promised we will find that “opportunities to give of ourselves are indeed limitless,” but warned that “they are also perishable.”

Following the Savior will lead us to serve others, and serving others leads to knowing the Savior better. “If we are to have the very best Christmas ever, we must listen for the sound of sandaled feet. We must reach out for the Carpenter’s hand. With every step we take in His footsteps, we abandon a doubt and gain a truth. …

“One line of holy writ contains a tribute to our Lord and Savior, of whom it was said, ‘[He] went about doing good … for God was with him’ (Acts 10:38). My prayer is that at this Christmas season and all the Christmastimes to come, we may follow in His footsteps. Then each Christmas will be the best Christmas ever.”

The Challenge to Know Him

“The challenge is not only for us to know about the Savior, but to know Him,” said President James E. Faust, Second Counselor in the First Presidency. We come to know Him by serving Him, President Faust explained, quoting King Benjamin from the Book of Mormon: “For how knoweth a man the master whom he has not served, and who is a stranger unto him, and is far from the thoughts and intents of his heart?” (Mosiah 5:13).

“Christmas is more enjoyable when we think of the needs of others before we think of our own,” said President Faust. “When the Savior sacrificed His life, He was thinking of all others who have ever lived or who will ever live on this earth. He was not thinking of Himself when He went to Gethsemane, endured Golgotha, and triumphed over the tomb.”

President Faust counseled that during “the busyness of the holidays, each of us should spend time in solitude reflecting upon the supernal gifts provided to us by the Savior’s life and ministry. He was born for everyone. His death benefited everyone. He atoned for the sins of all mankind and, through His resurrection, liberated all mankind from death. …

“The message of Christmas is not just a story of the birth in a stable, the Wise Men, the shepherds, or the flight into Egypt. The message of Christmas is also a celebration of the Atonement and the Resurrection that the birth of the Savior made possible.”

[photo] Members of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir perform in the decorated Conference Center during the First Presidency Christmas Devotional. (Photograph by Craig Dimond.)

[photo] President Gordon B. Hinckley testified of Jesus Christ and His teachings, as well as of the Prophet Joseph Smith, at the devotional. (Photograph by Craig Dimond.)

Latter-day Saint Soldiers Killed in Iraq

Two Church members serving as soldiers in the U.S. Army were killed 17 November 2003 from non-hostile gunshot wounds in Baghdad, Iraq. Killed were U.S. Army Capt. Nathan S. Dalley, 27, and U.S. Army Capt. James A. Shull, 32.

Brother Dalley, a member of the Weracoba Ward, Columbus Georgia Stake, was engaged to be married at the time of his death. Brother Dalley was raised in Sandy, Utah. He was a member of the Army’s Second Brigade, First Armored Division.

Brother Shull, a member of the Manhattan First Ward, Salina Kansas Stake, leaves behind his wife, Alice; and three children ages 7, 5, and 1. Brother Shull was raised in Washington State. He was a member of the Army’s Third Brigade, First Armored Division. Brother Shull served a full-time mission in the Philippines.

[photo] Nathan S. Dalley. (Photograph courtesy of Church News.)

[photo] James A. Shull. (Photograph courtesy of Church News.)

Church, Colombian First Lady Team Up to Aid Needy

Lina Maria Moreno de Uribe, first lady of Colombia, and the South America North Area Presidency partnered in October 2003 to grant the gifts of seeing, hearing, and learning to some of Colombia’s needy children and adults through donations.

The Church donated funds to sponsor 60 corrective eye operations, 188 hearing aids, and 5,000 school desks. The donation is in partnership with three social programs sponsored by the first lady.

“We have made it possible for those who could not hear to hear, for those who could not see to see, and for those who did not have a desk to write on to have one. This is a great satisfaction because with people of good will we can change the world,” said Elder Claudio R. M. Costa of the Seventy, President of the South America North Area.

The first lady, accompanied by members of the Area Presidency and their wives, presented the donations at the Alhambra Ward meetinghouse in Bogotá, Colombia. More than 250 people were in attendance, among them Church and government leaders, diplomats, media representatives, and members of the community.

One of the beneficiaries was Cristián Salas Tafur, a man from a town more than 1,000 kilometers (621 mi) from Bogotá, who expressed gratitude for the Church’s donations.

The gathering marked the first time a first lady of Colombia has visited a Latter-day Saint meetinghouse. Her husband, President Álvaro Uribe Vélez, later met with Elder Costa and Elder Roberto García, Area Authority Seventy and Second Counselor in the South America North Area Presidency, along with other local Church leaders, in his office.

“We know how hard Lina de Uribe works on behalf of high and noble causes, and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has joined with her. This labor of love reflects ‘Our Savior’s Love,’” Elder Costa said, referring to a hymn performed by the choir at the meeting.

The first lady of Colombia expressed gratitude to the Church for its support of her social programs. “Everything we are doing is worth doing,” she said.

Elder Costa presented the first lady with a quilt made by the Relief Society.

[photo] The First Lady of Colombia kisses a girl who is about to receive hearing aids as part of a recent Church donation. (Photograph courtesy of Colombia Public Affairs.)

In the News

Search Ends for Body of Missing Missionary

A full-time missionary in Samoa is thought to have died in a flooding accident in November. Elder Michael Joshua Bent, from Minot, North Dakota, is missing and presumed dead after a search for his body was called off in mid-December.

Elder Bent was leaving a meeting with seven other missionaries when the van he was driving stalled while crossing a flood-swollen river that was deeper than expected. The force of the river rolled the van several times. The other seven missionaries escaped the vehicle and made their way to land. The flood swept Elder Bent downstream toward the ocean.

The family held memorial services for Elder Bent prior to Christmas. He had served in the field for 14 months at the time of the accident.

President Ezra Taft Benson Honored in Washington, D.C.

President Ezra Taft Benson (1899–1994), 13th President of the Church, and his legacy were honored at a ceremony in Washington, D.C., in November 2003. The ceremony celebrated the 50th anniversary of his being named Secretary of Agriculture for the United States.

“Ezra Taft Benson stood on the solid bedrock of his principles. He fought for what he believed was right,” said current Agriculture Secretary Ann M. Veneman.

President Benson, who was an ordained Apostle at the time of his appointment, served under United States President Dwight D. Eisenhower from 1953 to 1961. He is credited with implementing several changes in the Department of Agriculture that are still in place today.

Senator Gordon H. Smith of Oregon, who is a Latter-day Saint and whose father served with President Benson at the Department of Agriculture, noted, “I learned many things as a boy and as a man from [President] Benson. But the thing I suppose I learned most from him is that Latter-day Saints could live true to their faith while walking in high places.”

Saints Break Ground for New Samoa Temple

Nearly 1,000 people attended the groundbreaking ceremony on 19 October 2003 for the rebuilding of the Apia Samoa Temple. The groundbreaking took place just three months after the original temple was destroyed by fire.

“With the loss of that great temple, a great emptiness came upon the Saints of Samoa,” remarked Elder Dennis E. Simmons of the Seventy, First Counselor in the Pacific Islands Area Presidency. “We can now rejoice with you once again; on this site, a house will be erected to the Lord.”

Church leaders, government officials, and community leaders attended the ceremony, including Bishop Richard C. Edgley, First Counselor in the Presiding Bishopric; Elder Beaver T. Ho Ching, Area Authority Seventy; Daniel A. Betham, recently released as president of the Apia Samoa Temple; and the Prime Minister of Samoa, the Hon. Tuilaepa Aiono Sailele Malielegaoi.

“The Lord loves the Samoan people. President Hinckley loves the Samoan people. Almost within a week of the burning of this temple, President Hinckley said … we will rebuild the temple in Samoa,” Bishop Edgley told those attending the service. “These holy words ‘Holiness to the Lord’ will again hallow this sacred ground.”

Construction on the new temple is expected to take 18 to 24 months.

Choir and Its Broadcast Honored Nationally

As the Mormon Tabernacle Choir prepares to celebrate the 75th anniversary of its weekly broadcast Music and the Spoken Word in July 2004, the choir and the program are being honored.

United States President George W. Bush awarded the choir the National Medal of Arts in a special ceremony held in the White House on 12 November 2003. Mac Christensen, president of the choir, accepted the honor on behalf of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Craig Jessop, music director; Mack Wilberg, associate director; John Longhurst, Tabernacle organist; Stan Parrish, assistant to the choir president; and Lloyd Newell, announcer for Music and the Spoken Word, also attended the ceremony.

“We congratulate the choir on this significant national honor. The secret of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir is that its 360 members sing from their hearts. … We are grateful for this well-deserved recognition of their tremendous efforts,” said President Gordon B. Hinckley.

The National Medal of Arts is the nation’s highest honor for artistic excellence. The medal is awarded annually by the president of the United States to individuals and organizations that have made extraordinary contributions to the creation, support, and growth of the arts in the United States.

Music and the Spoken Word is also being honored. The program—the world’s longest-running continuous radio network program—will be inducted into the National Association of Broadcasters’ Hall of Fame on 20 April 2004.

Music and the Spoken Word began in July 1929 and has been broadcast weekly, with few exceptions, from the Tabernacle on Temple Square ever since.

Sisters in Sierra Leone “Catch the Vision”

Some 220 Relief Society sisters from the Freetown and Wellington Districts gathered in Freetown, Sierra Leone, on 4 October 2003 for their first women’s conference. The two-district conference, with a theme of “Love One Another—Catching the Vision of Relief Society,” included workshops, a reader’s theater, and lunch served by members of the priesthood.

The conference was initially planned to include the Bo District as well, but due to transportation costs, members in the Bo District, 175 miles from Freetown, held their own women’s conference locally on 13 September 2003. Some 200 sisters attended.

Two BYU Rugby Stars Play on National Team

Two members of the Brigham Young University rugby team represented the United States as members of the United States National Team during the 2003 Rugby World Cup in Brisbane, Australia, last November.

Kimball Kjar and Salesi Sika, both returned missionaries, competed during play at the World Cup. This was especially exciting for Brother Kjar, from Bountiful, Utah, because he returned to play in the same city where he served his mission.

“I always hoped on my mission that I would one day be able to see the Brisbane Temple completed. I never guessed that it would be rugby that would bring me back to my mission area,” said Brother Kjar.

Brigham Young University in Provo is known for having an outstanding rugby program. “BYU was one of the first universities in the United States to have a rugby program, starting in 1962,” said Jared Akenhead, BYU’s rugby coach.

Brother Akenhead noted that rugby at BYU is a different experience from anywhere else in the world. “It’s funny because rugby players from around the world have the reputation of being hooligans, yet here at BYU it is the complete opposite,” he said. “We pray before every game and obey the Word of Wisdom. Eighty percent of the team members have been on missions, and the other 20 percent are planning on going. The national championships are held on Sundays, which excludes BYU from participating, yet we still get to play the best teams in the nation, and we are still regarded as being one of the best.”

Church News contributed to these reports.

[photo] President Ezra Taft Benson

[photo] Church and community leaders break ground for the new Apia Samoa Temple. Nearly 1,000 attended the ceremony. (Photograph courtesy of Pacific Islands Public Affairs.)

[photo] The Mormon Tabernacle Choir recently received the United States’ highest artistic honor. The award was presented at the White House by President George W. Bush. (Photograph by Craig Dimond.)

Strengthening the Community

Service Project Helps Afghanistan’s Orphans

What started with a simple request in a letter sent home from Afghanistan turned into a community effort throughout the Texas Panhandle in the United States.

Lieutenant Colonel David Lowe of the Amarillo Fourth Ward, Amarillo Texas Stake, is serving in Afghanistan and helping to rebuild schools. He sent a letter home to his wife, Suzanne, describing the extreme poverty of the country and the overwhelming number of orphans who are cared for in government-run institutions. He told her that some children in Afghanistan walk 10 miles to the nearest school through land that varies in elevation from 1,400 to 7,000 feet. He visited one orphanage that housed at least 1,200 children.

Brother Lowe suggested to his wife that a young man in the Amarillo Fourth Ward might undertake an Eagle Scout project to gather school supplies, warm hats, and gloves for the children of Afghanistan. Sister Lowe told others of her husband’s idea, and soon a stake-wide effort was organized to gather 1,200 school bags filled with school supplies, warm hats, and mittens.

Elementary school children spent a day making hats and bags for the project. Local businesses in Amarillo provided discounted goods or donated items for the school bags.

The humanitarian project culminated on 18 October 2003 with a women’s conference held at the Amarillo Stake Center. Completed school kits were gathered at the conference and shipped to Afghanistan. Brother Lowe plans to distribute the school kits as he travels through the country rebuilding schools.

Adapted from Church News, 25 October 2003.

Philippine Saints Celebrate National Family Week

As part of the Philippines’ National Family Week in September 2003, Latter-day Saints from the Toledo Philippines District, Philippines Cebu Mission, joined with their community in celebrating the family and emphasizing the importance of family history and family unity through family home evening. The Philippines Area Presidency asked a local committee to involve the community and members of the district branches in an activity to inform the community about family home evening and family history.

On the morning of 27 September 2003, Church members, friends, and full-time missionaries walked together in a parade with the Toledo Private Drummers and Buglers. The district presidency carried a banner displaying the theme, “The Home: Cradle of Culture and Values.” Participants marched from the meetinghouse to the heart of the city and back to the chapel as an opening to the day’s activities. All 11 branches in the district and all of the missionaries supported the events.

After the parade, members and friends met at the meetinghouse for a special program. The Toledo District Choir sang the national anthem and also the Family Week theme song, “Isang Piraso ng Langit,” composed by Mon Del Rosario.

Guest speaker Mayor Arlene Espinosa Zambo encouraged the audience to help make Toledo City a good place to live and thanked the Church for supporting National Family Week.

The district presidency awarded several members and families certificates in recognition of their exemplary attitudes. District President Yolando R. Cotejo challenged every family member to live as a good example.

Latter-day Saints and community members were then invited to visit the local family history center and learn how to trace their ancestors.

Library Books and Funds Donated in the Outback

Members of the Penrith Australia Stake spent 2003 raising funds to build a book collection for a library in Australia’s Northern Territory.

Tania Ligertwood of the Penrith Australia Stake suggested the “Building a Library in the Outback” project after traveling to some of the outlying areas of Australia and seeing many small schools with almost no library facilities.

In January, wards in the stake began collecting money for the project. Stake leaders asked the Alice Springs School of the Air to compile a list of needed books and supplies. Church members recently donated 150 books to the school.

School officials “were bewildered at such a generous offer from people they do not even know and were very grateful that their school had been chosen as the recipient of such a kind gesture,” said Marianne Walters, Penrith Australia Stake Relief Society president.

Adapted from Church News, 8 November 2003.

Church Provides Water for Liberian Refugee Camp

LDS Charities presented two new and functioning wells, called boreholes, to the Buduburam Liberian Refugee Camp in September 2003.

“This gift is made possible from donations from many throughout the world. It will give you the feeling of our Savior’s love for us,” Elder Derl Walker, a full-time missionary representing LDS Charities, said at the presentation. “We all need to remember what the Savior said to the woman at the well, that He would give her living water from which she would never thirst.”

The new wells mark the first useful boreholes at the refugee camp, which accommodates approximately 75,000 people. The water can be used for drinking and cooking.

In accepting the gift for the camp, welfare council chairman Francis Hinnah said, “We are grateful you are helping lift the burden from us. On behalf of the Liberians at the camp, we thank you.”

[photo] Orphans in Afghanistan received donations of school supplies and winter gear gathered by Church members in Texas and distributed by a Latter-day Saint serviceman. (Photograph courtesy of Church News.)

[photo] Members in the Toledo Philippines District helped celebrate Philippines’ National Family Week with events emphasizing family home evening and family history. (Photograph courtesy of Elder Wayne J. Richey.)


A Worldwide Church

“Tips for Preparing Your Missionary” in the October 2003 Ensign (page 72) was addressed primarily to teenager preparation. The article made me feel humble. I had heard the seven points presented before in various ways, but what touched my heart was that I expected the article to have been written by someone in Utah or Idaho, when in fact it was written by someone in Nigeria. I have read articles about the Church’s activities around the world, but this article brought it home to me: The gospel is true no matter where we live. Gary M. Warden, Oak Harbor Third Ward, Mount Vernon Washington Stake

The Reason for the Season

I subscribe to two other magazines besides the Ensign, and I enjoyed reading their December articles about how to decorate for the holidays, fun Christmas recipes, great gift ideas, and Christmas crafts. When I opened this month’s Ensign, however, every article reminded me of what the meaning and focus of this season really should be. Not only is Jesus “the reason for the season,” as the popular saying goes, He is simply the Reason—the reason we are here, can live happily, and be together as families forever. Thank you for reminding me this month and every month. Laurie Wirz, Sand Creek Ward, Colorado Springs Colorado East Stake

Becoming a Full-Time Mom

Sister Randalls speaks from the heart (see “Mom, Are You There?” Ensign, October 2003, 68). This is one of the best articles I have seen written by a Church member. It spoke volumes to my heart, and I am yielding to the enticements of the Spirit to gradually work toward becoming a full-time mom. Learning that my teenagers and unmarried children need me now as much as they did when they were small has been one of the most significant and unexpected lessons I’ve discovered in my journey as a mother. Luci Olsen, Young Ward, Mendon Utah Stake