When I was nine years old, we had a lesson in Primary about the Prophet Joseph Smith. I went home and asked my father, “How do we really know if this Church is true?” My father sat down with me on the couch. He told me the story of the Prophet Joseph Smith and bore his testimony to me. He said that if I would always follow the prophet, he would never lead me astray. From that time on, I never doubted my testimony of the Lord’s chosen prophets, and I have always tried to follow their counsel.
When I was a young man, the prophet was President George Albert Smith. President Smith was always a great friend of Boy Scouts. When President Smith died, my best friend and I were asked to stand as part of a Boy Scout honor guard by his casket. That was a great honor.
In 1994, I was called to serve as a mission president in Manchester, England. In that mission, we had missionaries from all over the world. Many of those young missionaries had never seen the prophet or heard him speak, yet they loved and followed him.
One of these missionaries was Sister Kita, who was from Albania. When she heard that President Gordon B. Hinckley was planning to visit Liverpool, where she was serving, she begged me, “President Richards, please don’t transfer me until after the prophet’s visit.” When the prophet came, I remember watching tears stream down her cheeks as she reached out to shake his hand when he walked down the chapel aisle. Sister Kita truly loved and followed the prophet.
A few years later, I received a very special phone call at home. It was President Hinckley. He said, “Brother Richards, you are called to the Second Quorum of the Seventy. You are in for a wonderful experience. May the Lord bless you.”
After I hung up the telephone, I realized that President Hinckley had not asked me whether or not I would accept the call to serve. But he had not needed to ask me because I had already decided as a young boy that I would always follow the Lord’s prophet.
The prophet’s call led me to far-off India. One day, Sister Richards and I approached a chapel, which was a tiny house in that Indian village. Five young boys were in front of the house, playing cricket with a hollowed-out stick. I borrowed the stick from one of the boys, and he threw me the ball. The boys all laughed at my attempt to play cricket. After we had played together for a few minutes, I asked them if they could sing for me. Much to my amazement, they began to sing, “I Am a Child of God.” I bore my testimony to those boys about President Hinckley. I knew that they, too, were learning to follow the prophet.
My grandchildren love to sing “Follow the Prophet.”* The last verse goes like this:
Now we have a world where people are confused.
If you don’t believe it, go and watch the news.
We can get direction all along our way,
If we heed the prophets—follow what they say.
I promise you that if you will follow the prophet, your life—like mine—will be full of peace, happiness, and wonderful experiences.
There are also other people you can follow to find happiness. When I was eleven years old, my Primary teacher was Sister Esther Geis. The boys in our class knew Sister Geis loved us because she made us behave. In those days, we had Primary on a weekday after school. Across the street from our ward was a big empty field. We boys liked to play marbles in that field, and sometimes we forgot when it was time for Primary. Sister Geis would walk across the street and get us. Once she told my father, “Your son should shape up.” My father talked to me, and I did start behaving better.
Do you remember the army of Helaman, those two thousand young men who were so faithful to the Lord? Who taught them? “They had been taught by their mothers, that if they did not doubt, God would deliver them” (Alma 56:47). And I believe that if there were two thousand young men who were that faithful, there must have also been at least two thousand young women who were that good. These young people learned to have faith in God from their mothers. I am grateful that my mother taught me that same principle of faith. She was always a great example to me of following the prophet.
You children need to be just as courageous and faithful as those stripling warriors. You probably won’t have to fight too many physical battles. But you will have many spiritual battles in choosing right from wrong. Satan makes evil look so good, but it only brings chaos and unhappiness. When you understand that Heavenly Father gives us commandments so we can be happy, you will learn to obey because you want to, not because you feel you have to.
I also had a father I could follow. He was always my hero, and he taught me to love the gospel. He often took me fishing in the mountains. We sat by a stream and fished and talked about the gospel.
My father loved the Book of Mormon. I remember watching him read the Book of Mormon on Sunday afternoons. Before I went on my mission, I spent one summer doing construction work in Arizona. He suggested that I take my Book of Mormon with me. As I sat reading the Book of Mormon in a hogan in Arizona, I felt the Spirit very strongly.
The Book of Mormon has a spirit and power that is greater than that of any other book. As a mission president, I saw the lives of several missionaries transformed after reading it.
I encourage you to read the Book of Mormon, and to encourage your family to read it, too. Prepare yourself to serve a mission. It is one of the greatest things you can do.
We can follow parents, prophets, and teachers. But the most important person we can follow is Jesus Christ. As Helaman taught his children in the Book of Mormon, “Remember that it is upon the rock of our Redeemer, who is Christ, the Son of God, that ye must build your foundation … , which is a sure foundation, a foundation whereon if men build they cannot fall” (Hel. 5:12). Learn to pray to Heavenly Father, and He will always guide you.