First Presidency Encourages Members to Emulate Christ and His Teachings

In messages to members worldwide in the annual First Presidency Christmas Devotional, the First Presidency encouraged all to let Christ’s teachings and the spirit of Christmas spread through their thoughts and actions. The Mormon Tabernacle Choir and the Orchestra at Temple Square also performed in the December 4, 2005, devotional, which was broadcast from the Conference Center in Salt Lake City.

President Hinckley

In his message, President Gordon B. Hinckley reminded Church members of the promises he made about the spiritual strength that will come into the lives of those who read the Book of Mormon before the year’s end.

“It is probable that more people are presently reading the book than at any other time in the history of the Church,” he said. “I thank each of you, and I know you’ve been blessed.”

Reading excerpts from the book, he shared his testimony of the Book of Mormon as a powerful witness of the divinity and reality of the Savior.

“Suffice it to say that this wonderful and remarkable book is truly another witness of the Lord Jesus Christ, come forth to all the world bearing witness of Him,” he said.

“At the Christmas season let us ponder these things,” President Hinckley said. “Let us reflect upon them. Let us pray concerning them. Let us emulate in our own lives the great and profound teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ, not only as they are set forth in the Bible, but also as they are set forth in this companion testament of the New World.”

President Monson

In words of hope and cheer, President Thomas S. Monson, First Counselor in the First Presidency, reflected on the spirit of Christmas.

“This joyful season brings to each of us a measure of happiness that corresponds to the degree in which we have turned our minds, our feelings, and our actions to the spirit of Christmas,” he said. “This is a time of remembering. It is a time for families. It is a time for gratitude.”

President Monson asked that Church members focus more on giving than receiving during the Christmas season. “‘What did you give for Christmas?’ prompts stimulating thought, causes tender feelings to well up and memory’s fires to glow ever brighter,” he said.

“Is gratitude part of our lives?” he asked. “Giving, not getting, brings to full bloom the Christmas spirit.”

“Why does peace come closer to reality at this season than at any other?” President Monson asked. “Why is it that more friends are remembered and more enemies forgiven at the Christmas season than at any other time? Why is it that more acts of kindness and service and generosity take place? It is the Christmas spirit.”

President Faust

Charity is the pure love of Christ, President James E. Faust, Second Counselor in the First Presidency, declared in his Christmas message.

He recounted the story of an impoverished family in Mexico in 1941. A widowed mother of nine children struggled to provide for them. Neighbors gave of their time and means to provide something special for the children at Christmas.

“The pure love of Christ goes beyond caring for your own,” he said. “Those who recently contributed to the Church Humanitarian Aid fund to help the thousands of people whose lives have been devastated by hurricanes and earthquakes have truly been manifesting the pure love of Christ.”

President Faust recalled a former business partner of another faith who gave of his means generously to help those in need each Christmas and Thanksgiving. He said that this man searched out the needy and filled those needs, exemplifying pure charity.

“When we see a need, we should fill it promptly,” he said. “We should ever be mindful that it was the Savior who gave the greatest gift of all in offering Himself as the Redeemer through the Atonement.”

[photo] The First Presidency presented their annual Christmas devotional surrounded by holiday decor in the Conference Center.

Church Programs Assist Often-Forgotten Population

In many ways, Maria (name has been changed) isn’t much different from other investigators who attend institute classes. She is young, enjoys reading the scriptures, and loves the feeling that attending the classes gives her. She sits with her friends, smiles often, and appreciates her institute teachers.

But unlike most of the institutes of religion around the world, the one Maria attends is surrounded by armed guards and barbed wire. As an inmate at a correctional facility in northern Utah for the past several months, this pregnant mother of two faces a much different reality than most other institute students can imagine.

While poor choices landed Maria in jail, her time in the facility has been truly rehabilitative thanks to the institute classes taught twice a week by a volunteer couple in the building’s multidenominational chapel.

“It makes me feel better when I come here,” Maria said. “It helps me get closer to God, because I pray for forgiveness of my sins and I really want to change. I feel happy when I’m here. I need it.”

Maria is not the only inmate who has felt this way. To show concern for and help out this often-forgotten group of people, the Church started seminary and institute of religion programs in correctional facilities in different parts of the country.

In addition to these gatherings, there are also simple worship services held in more than 150 correctional facility branches across the United States. Sunday meetings usually include worship service and Sunday School. Relief Society may also be held on Sunday or during the week along with opportunities to participate in family home evening, family history, and literacy or addiction groups.

While the worship services do not include the sacrament, inmates give scriptural thoughts, say prayers, and sing hymns.

Steve Sunday, manager of Administration and Special Services at LDS Family Services, which oversees the Church’s Correctional Services program, said the Holy Ghost is often felt strongly at the meetings held inside correctional facilities. “It is very touching to hear the songs of Zion radiate even from within prison walls,” he said.

In addition to bishoprics and branch presidencies being called to serve those within prisons, some branches also have called Relief Society presidencies. Although the Relief Society meeting is not part of the Sunday meeting, sisters will often meet at another time during the week.

Elder Ron and Sister Luann Stephens are among those couples that spend their time teaching inmates. The Stephenses, who have for years served those in correctional facilities, say their time spent serving inside the jails is meaningful to them.

“We are really dedicated to this,” Elder Stephens said. “It’s something that is very special to us.”

The Stephenses do not ask inmates why they are incarcerated, but they do care about those who are in jail and have a sincere desire to help.

Chris (name has been changed) is currently serving a 24-month sentence just four years after serving 17 months in jail. While his first sentence was very difficult, he said that thanks to the Stephenses, the institute classes, and Sunday services, he has been much more at peace and wants to be baptized after being released.

“Elder and Sister Stephens are a very positive impact on me,” he said. “Having them give me so much love makes me want to do the same.”

When they are not teaching institute classes or attending Sunday services, the Stephenses, along with four other couples, work in the Correctional Services office at LDS Family Services headquarters. They respond to letters from inmates or others who request religious materials.

Often stake presidents, bishops, and branch presidents will contact the office to receive information on how to start up a branch in a facility.

A prison chaplain may request a library kit that contains more than 20 types of manuals, books of scripture, and videocassettes. Prison branches are able to buy necessary items such as hymnbooks, scriptures, Church magazines, and portable keyboards.

While the curriculum and music are appreciated by inmates, the biggest blessing they receive while attending classes and services is the mighty change of heart the Spirit brings.

“I want to be a better person, a better mom, and a better daughter,” Maria said. “Then I can be closer to God.”

To contact Correctional Services, call LDS Family Services at 1-801-240-3646 or e-mail

Leaders Break Ground for Church History Library

On Friday, October 7, 2005, the First Presidency and members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, as well as members of the Quorums of the Seventy, missionaries, and others, gathered for the groundbreaking for the new Church History Library. The building will serve as a mark of the significance of maintaining a connection to past and future generations through record keeping in the Church.

Work was set to begin later in 2005 on the 250,000-square-foot (22,925-square-meter) building, much of which will be underground. It will be built on a plot of land that had been used as a parking lot across the street from the Church Office Building in Salt Lake City. The new building will be similar in design to the Conference Center to the west. The building’s architects and specialists from the Family and Church History Department have consulted with experts in record preservation to ensure that the interior temperature, humidity, and lighting will best favor the preservation of Church records.

President Gordon B. Hinckley expressed gratitude that records had been so dutifully kept. “I wish to say with gratitude and appreciation that the custodians of the records of the Church through all of the years of its existence have been so conscientious and dutiful, helpful and devoted, in every respect to the duties that devolved upon them.”

In the prayer President Hinckley offered before the groundbreaking, he said: “As we look to the past and are reminded of the past, to that which has been preserved in history, our hearts are filled with gratitude and appreciation and love and respect for those that have gone before. Great was their work, tremendous their sacrifice. We thank Thee for them.”

In his remarks about the Church History Library, President Thomas S. Monson, First Counselor in the First Presidency, said, “We benefit from what our fathers did for us, and we have the privilege, through sacred records to be maintained here, to provide a legacy for those who follow.”

President James E. Faust, Second Counselor in the First Presidency, said, “I believe that the principal benefit for the making and the keeping of records is to strengthen faith in those who make the history and those who record the history and those in the future who read of that history.”

Elder Marlin K. Jensen of the Seventy, who serves as Church Historian and Recorder, said the current library in the Church Office Building has outgrown its capacity. He noted that Church membership has increased from about 5 million when the Church Office Building was completed in the 1970s to more than 12 million today.

[illustration] The new Church History Library will be built across the street to the east of the Conference Center in Salt Lake City.

Family History Centers Spreading

With the Internet making research easier than ever, family history is becoming an increasingly popular pastime. Those who have looked for family names online to fulfill curiosity can turn to the Family History Centers of the Church as their interest becomes more serious.

The 4,407 centers around the world are branch facilities of the Family History Library located at Temple Square in Salt Lake City, Utah, the largest library of its kind. The satellite Family History Centers provide access to almost all of the microfilms and microfiche in the central library.

Though it is a commandment for Latter-day Saints to research their ancestors, others of different faiths have also caught the family history fever. More than 60 percent of the U.S. population is interested in tracing family history, according to a 2000 poll by Maritz Marketing Research Inc. This is a 15 percent increase from 1995.

“There are today many genealogical and family history societies in the world. I think they all have come into existence subsequent to the visit of Elijah. … Since then, and in more recent years particularly, there has been a tremendous surge of interest in family history. With that surge, the Family History Department of the Church has grown to be able to accommodate it,” said President Gordon B. Hinckley (“The Spirit of Elijah,” Liahona, Nov. 1996, 19).

“[Latter-day Saints] have been commanded to do [family history],” says Mike Provard, North America Operations Supervisor for Family History Centers. “In addition, many others have a deep hunger to find out where we come from in this crazy, busy world we live in. … When people learn what their ancestors have gone through, they can cope better with their own lives.”

Brother Provard says that in many centers the majority of the patrons are not members of the Church. “In the eastern U.S., 90 to 95 percent of the patrons [in some centers] are not members. They are thrilled to have the centers in the area.”

Efforts are now focused on opening Family History Centers in all areas of the world. Some of the busiest Family History Centers worldwide are in Johannesburg, South Africa; Carlingford, Sydney, Australia; and Ashton, England. The center in Ashton is located near a temple, a placement that helps the center benefit from increased activity, Brother Provard says.

Even where a Family History Center may not be nearby, the family history efforts of Latter-day Saints can be felt while doing research worldwide. For example, those who search for Scottish ancestors benefit from the efforts of Latter-day Saints who microfiched about 40 million documents held in the New Register House in Scotland. It was a 30-year task that helped contribute to the Scottish government’s family history Web site at

Information on this and other projects carried out by members is available in the Church’s library, and much of it can also be found on, the Church’s family history Web site. The result of decades of research, the FamilySearch site includes some 957 million names.

With volunteers to help visitors navigate through the Web site and free access to, Family History Centers are good places to begin a search.

“Many people who are into family history research are at first concerned about gathering names, dates, and places. But our ancestors are much more than that. … I am a product of all my ancestors. I want to find out about them,” Brother Provard says.

A group on the Kenai Peninsula in Alaska, the Totem Tracers Genealogical Society, uses the local Family History Center to hold its monthly meetings, during which members compile family names and stories about their ancestors. Loretta Mattson, the secretary of the group, has added 9,795 individuals to her history, which goes back 49 generations. She has found a blacksmith, Quakers who once owned part of Nantucket Island, and a woman who lost four sons to disease in the American Civil War.

“There are millions across the world who are working on family history records. Why? Why are they doing it? I believe it is because they have been touched by the spirit of this work, a thing which we call the spirit of Elijah. It is a turning of the hearts of the children to their fathers,” said President Hinckley (Liahona, Nov. 1996, 20).

[photo] Each of the more than 4,000 family history centers around the world is an extension of the Family History Library in Salt Lake City.

Spirit, Training Help Translators Capture Meaning

The increasing number of languages in which Church materials are available is an indication that the gospel is rolling forth to “all nations, kindreds, tongues, and people” (D&C 112:1). With the addition of 5 languages, interpreters provided October 2005 general conference in 80 languages. Full translations of the Book of Mormon are available in 77 languages. The Liahona is available in 50 languages.

As Church membership expands into many nations, the Translation Division of the Church keeps busy meeting the worldwide demand for Church meetings to be interpreted and materials to be translated into additional languages. The division does both translation, which is the transformation of written text into another language, and interpretation, which is the delivery of spoken words into another language.

The Role of Interpreters and Translators

The first priority when selecting members of a translation team is to identify individuals who are living lives that allow them to access the Spirit, said Jeffrey C. Bateson, Translation Division director, in an interview with Church magazines. “We feel, first of all, that translation is a spiritual gift, and anyone involved in that work needs access to the Spirit,” he said, quoting Doctrine and Covenants 9:9: “You cannot write that which is sacred save it be given you from me.” That scripture serves as a guide for the Translation Division, Brother Bateson added.

Next in consideration are translation skills. Potential team members are evaluated to see whether they would better fill the role of translator or reviewer. Individuals working for the Translation Division typically know the target language as their primary language and English as their secondary language.

Like translators, interpreters have to be very familiar with both the target language and English. While most interpreters speak the target language as their native tongue, others learned the target language while serving missions and speak English as their native language.

Processing Language Materials

Direction concerning which languages Church materials will be translated into comes from the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. As of November 2005, the Church had approved 190 languages and is actively working in 104 of them.

The Translation Division operates according to the Worldwide Translation Plan, which consists of phases, or levels, through which Church materials are produced in a given language according to how many members speak that language.

Requests for a language to receive materials under the Worldwide Translation Plan come from Area Presidencies. “They monitor the language needs of the area and make recommendations to the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles,” Brother Bateson said.

The translation of Church materials is an extensive process that calls for multiple reviews using several people who are familiar with the target language. One or more may translate while others ensure that the meaning and language usage are appropriate. When scriptures are translated, the review process is even more extensive. The same process of Area Presidency requests and translation approval exists with scripture translation.

“First and foremost, scripture translation is directed by the Lord through the Brethren in the highest levels of the Church,” Brother Bateson said. “It is not something we do, then present to the Brethren. They are in charge of the work.”

Once a scripture translation project is approved, the Translation Division reports regularly to General Authorities for approvals during the process.

For other Church materials in print, the English original is first translated, and then a back-and-forth review by a team of translators and reviewers stationed in Salt Lake City or in other nations continues until the translation is perfected. The target language teams typically work on tight deadlines.

Brother Bateson explains that the process is not merely an exchange of the target language for the English: “Translation is an art, but it is also a very detailed process and requires a lot of skill and ability to make sure that nothing is left behind. There are so many nuances with language. It’s not a matter of just getting all the words transformed—it is making sure you have all the meaning, all the emotions, all the culture, and everything else that affects how we say things.”

In addition to printed materials, many of the Church’s software and Internet programs are also being translated, said Brother Bateson. Such items include help screens, instructions, and forms. Translating for software and Internet sites adds an additional level of complexity to the work of translation, he said.

Technology Aids Interpretation

For some meetings, translated texts are prepared beforehand. But if a speaker departs from the prepared text or does not have a prepared text, an interpreter must provide simultaneous interpretation. Advances in technology allow interpreters to remain in their homelands while actively interpreting a meeting that may be broadcast from Salt Lake City.

“For example, we may have an interpreter in Norway,” Brother Bateson said. “High-speed communication lines allow him or her to interpret a meeting being held in Salt Lake City and have the interpretation transmitted by satellite to Salt Lake City and back to the same building to a congregation in another room simultaneously with the video portion of the meeting with only a one-second delay.”

Typically, teams of several interpreters take turns interpreting talks. Interpreters in Salt Lake City work from booths in the Conference Center, and conference attendees all over the world can listen to the meetings in their native tongue.

The Good News of the Gospel Spreads Forth

Brother Bateson said the Doctrine and Covenants describes the work in which the Translation Division is involved: “For it shall come to pass in that day, that every man shall hear the fulness of the gospel in his own tongue, and in his own language, through those who are ordained unto this power, by the administration of the Comforter, shed forth upon them for the revelation of Jesus Christ” (D&C 90:11).

“We consider it a privilege and a blessing to play a very important part in helping the gospel reach the various nations, kindreds, tongues, and people,” Brother Bateson said. “We feel that we are instruments in the Lord’s hands in helping to make that happen.”

The effort of preparing the gospel to spread forth in many languages requires much work, along with the companionship of the Spirit.

“The multiplicity of languages and cultures is both an opportunity and a challenge for members of the Church,” stated President James E. Faust, Second Counselor in the First Presidency. “Having everyone hear the gospel in their own tongue requires great effort and resources. The Spirit, however, is a higher form of communication than language” (“Heirs to the Kingdom of God,” Ensign, May 1995, 63).

[photo] Members in Samoa can watch a general conference session in their own language thanks to the efforts of a team of interpreters. (Photograph by Judith Niuelua.)

[photo] A team of interpreters work together during October 2005 general conference.

[photo] The Book of Mormon has been translated in full into 77 languages.

Using to Share the Gospel

Using Church materials online provides another way for members to help friends and acquaintances learn about the Church and at the same time build members’ confidence in their ability to share gospel principles with others.

The Church’s Web sites can be grouped by purpose into three categories. and, which are available in various languages, help teach, strengthen, and perfect members., available in English, allows visitors to search for their kindred dead., available in 23 languages, seeks to proclaim the gospel to the world. The principal Web site for members to use when sharing the gospel online is assists members sharing the gospel with friends who have various levels of understanding about the Church. Members can use this site to introduce friends to the gospel, help them better understand Church doctrine and lifestyle, and invite them to attend Church meetings.

Since its launch in October 2001, more than 8.3 million visitors have visited the Web site. These visitors have requested more than 200,000 media items, such as DVDs or copies of the Book of Mormon. More than 40,000 site visitors wanted to learn more and were referred to missionaries.

Introducing the Gospel’s 411 doctrinal pages, written in simple terms for those unfamiliar with the Church, explain the Church’s basic beliefs, the plan of salvation, the importance of families, and the purpose of life. Each page contains several hyperlinks to topics related to the page being viewed, offering visitors thousands of unique ways to navigate the site. The five most viewed page titles are (1) Welcome (2) Frequently asked questions (3) Find information (4) Is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints a Christian church? and (5) Frequently asked questions—beliefs and doctrines.

“This site is a great way for investigators to learn more about what your church is all about without talking to anyone one-on-one. Sometimes, people must take this first step [investigating on the Internet] before they are able to ask a member or attend worship. [] has been a continual guide for me as I search for truth,” said Tiffany, a site visitor.

Answering Questions

A popular page with investigators and visitors is the Frequently Asked Questions page. Previous visitors have submitted some of the questions listed on this page. When was originally launched, this page included 67 questions; since then 23 more questions have been added. Hyperlinks divide the questions into the following general categories: requesting media items or missionary visits, beliefs and doctrines, social issues, Church practices, and member lifestyles.

Each week Web site administrators compile a list of the top 25 questions submitted to the site. They then check the questions against those currently posted. If a question is frequently asked but not included on the page, the question is posed to the Brethren, who decide whether the question and its answer should be added to the site.

The following questions are from the top 10 most frequently asked questions from 2004: “How can I obtain more information about the Mormon faith and beliefs?” “What do you believe about heaven, hell, salvation, and eternal life?” “Please explain the Word of Wisdom. What is it that is bad? Is it caffeine or hot drinks? What about decaf, hot chocolate, iced tea, herbal teas, or caffeinated soft drinks?” “How does the Mormon Church currently view polygamy, and how does it explain its previous association with polygamy?” “What are your standards on tattoos, body piercing, dancing, dating, abstinence, etc.?”

Jason, a new member of the Church, said: “This site gave me the information that helped to open my heart to the Spirit and filled me with a desire to be baptized. I just wanted to give my thanks. … It was an awesome tool in my conversion.”

Inviting Friends to Hear More

One of the most popular ways members are accessing and referring the site to others is with electronic cards. offers 10 different English greeting card categories including electronic pass-along cards. Card categories are inspiration, gratitude, birthday, sympathy, special occasions, families, seasonal, humor, temple, and baptism. Within each category, visitors can match one of several photos to a selection of quotations from a Church leader or historic figure, or insert their own quotation.

E-card senders can attach a link to almost any page on the site, presenting a personalized introduction for friends to hear more about a gospel subject that interests them most. E-card introductions are private and personal because they are sent from the sender’s own e-mail account. Last year visitors sent 196,099 e-cards from

“I was recently baptized, … and it was the best thing I have done in my life. I found this Web site to be very helpful. … I have family in America and I just sent them a card using the site. Well done on a great Web site!” said Lynn, a new member of the Church.

International Sites content is available in 23 languages. These languages allow to reach over 95 percent of the world’s Internet users.

Translating the Web page into additional languages is an ongoing process. Web site administrators regularly track the city and country from which all users connect to the site. When visitor requests or traffic increases from an area that uses a language not available on the site, a translation is considered in that language. After approval is granted, most of’s pages are translated. E-greeting cards and most of the free-media-request pages are not translated. However, visitors on international sites can still send greeting cards even though the site can be viewed only in English. In 2004, the site was translated into 11 languages, bringing the total to 22. Pass-along cards referring members to have been translated into 28 languages.

Besides pass-along cards and member referrals, Internet search engines such as Google, Yahoo, MSN, and others bring up an advertised link to when a Web user searches with key words like “Holy Bible” or “Book of Mormon.” In 2004, 750,733 visitors found through a search-engine-sponsored link.

“This is a great site. … I shared this with a friend at school and now she is investigating the Church and will be baptized in two weeks. … Thank you to everyone who helped with this excellent site!” said Jenny, a site visitor.

Helping to Improve Understanding is an informal yet effective way to share the gospel with friends. For many in the world, the Web site has proven to be what Elder Neil L. Andersen of the Presidency of the Seventy said he hoped would become when it was launched in 2001.

“I hope people will see as an introductory source of information about the restored gospel of Jesus Christ and a way to gain an improved understanding of our faith,” Elder Andersen said.

We invite you to send suggestions or success stories about how you have used Church Web sites as a resource for sharing the gospel to


December DVD

Thank you to everyone who has any part in the joy we receive each month from the Ensign and the New Era. But especially we are thankful for the insert DVD that went to every home on your subscription lists. What a wonderful gift!

How blessed is anyone who is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints or who receives the truth each month as we do. Lowell and IlaMae Dahl, Utah

Clam Chowder

Thank you for the article about clam chowder and Christmas traditions in the December 2005 Ensign. It is always inspiring to read about real-life, personal experiences that are modern-day miracles. The Lundbergs’ wonderful Christmas story demonstrates not only that Heavenly Father is present, even for the smallest details, but how family faith fosters love and hope. Joel Marks, Oregon

Incomplete Understanding of Mental Illness

Thank you so much for your article “Myths about Mental Illness” by Elder Alexander B. Morrison in the October 2005 issue of the Ensign. As one who has experienced bouts of depression over the years, I am grateful for this clear explanation of false beliefs about mental illness among members of the Church and the offering of helpful, correct information. Some of my family members have harbored similarly incomplete understandings, which have created complications during my times of distress. I appreciate that this difficult topic was addressed in such a compassionate manner. Name Withheld