The celebrations of 1997 are largely over. The last wagon has rolled to a stop. The last handcart has come to rest. We have had a wonderful year when we have commemorated the great migration of our forebears to these western valleys.
We have bowed in remembrance of their sacrifices, the many who died along the way and who were lovingly placed in graves whose location we know not.
We have shared, to a very small degree, the terrible suffering of those caught in the Wyoming snows of 1856.
We have seen the fulfillment of Isaiah’s promise, “The wilderness and the solitary place shall be glad for them; and the desert shall rejoice, and blossom as the rose” (Isa. 35:1).
We cannot detract from their accomplishments. We cannot add to their glory. We can only look back with reverence, appreciation, respect, and resolution to build on what they have done.
The time has now come to turn about and face the future. This is a season of a thousand opportunities. It is ours to grasp and move forward. 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.
“And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come” (Matt. 24:14).
Something, my brothers and sisters, is happening in this Church, something wonderful. As we walk in the small world of our individual wards and branches we are scarcely aware of it. And yet it is real, and it is tremendous. We are growing. We are expanding. Enough people will come into the Church this year to constitute more than 600 new wards or branches.
A month from now we will reach the 10 million mark in membership. It took over a century, 117 years, from the organization of the Church in 1830 to 1947, to reach one million. More of our members now live outside the U.S. than in the U.S. We have been out among our people. It has been glorious to meet with them, to speak with them, to share testimonies with them. They are enthusiastic.
We were recently with the Navajo Nation at Window Rock in Arizona. It was the first time that a President of the Church had met with and spoken to them in their capital. It was difficult to hold back the tears as we mingled with these sons and daughters of Father Lehi. In my imagination I have seen him weeping for his progeny who for so long have walked in poverty and pain.
But the shackles of darkness are falling. Some of them now are men and women of achievement. They have partaken of the fruits of education. They have come to know and love the gospel. They have become pure and delightsome.
But there is so much more to do among them. Alcohol and drugs literally destroy many of them. We must do more to help. As I look to the future, I envision the Spirit of the Lord being poured out upon these people. Education will unlock the door of opportunity, and the gospel will bring new light and understanding into their lives.
We have been with thousands of these wonderful people in South America. We recently flew from Asunción, Paraguay, to Guayaquil, Ecuador, over the high and forbidding peaks and narrow valleys of that vast area. Everywhere there were Indian villages and small cities. Our missionaries are working with these good people, bringing the light of the everlasting gospel into their lives. Many years ago Sister Hinckley and I took the little train that runs from Cuzco, Peru, to Puno on Lake Titicaca. In Puno we met with a little handful of native members, the first General Authority ever to do so. Today we have two stakes of Zion in Puno, their stake presidents and bishops drawn from their number.
We have now been in all the nations of South America and Central America, and we have seen miracles, with 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.
In the nation of Brazil alone there will be approximately 50,000 people join the Church this year. That is the equivalent of 16 or 17 new stakes in just 12 months. The São Paulo Temple cannot accommodate all who wish to come. We are building three new temples in that nation and will yet have to build others.
These are strong and wonderful Latter-day Saints in whose hearts beat the same testimonies of Jesus and this work as beat in yours.
We must construct meetinghouses by the score to accommodate the needs of these ever-increasing numbers.
I stand in amazement, knowing the history of this Church, when I realize 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. What a remarkable thing it is to contemplate that each Sabbath there are more than 24,000 wards and branches across the world in which the same lessons are taught and the same testimonies are borne.
Now, what of the future? What of the years that lie ahead? It looks promising indeed. People are beginning to see us for what we are and for the values we espouse. The media generally treat us well. We enjoy a good reputation, for which we are grateful.
If we will go forward, never losing sight of our goal, speaking ill of no one, living the great principles we know to be true, this cause will roll on in majesty and power to fill the earth. Doors now closed to the preaching of the gospel will be opened. The Almighty, if necessary, may have to shake the nations to humble them and cause them to listen to the servants of the living God. Whatever is needed will come to pass.
The great challenges facing us and the key to the success of the work will be the faith of all who call themselves Latter-day Saints. Our standards are certain and unequivocal. We need not quibble about them. We need not rationalize them. They are set forth in the Decalogue written by the finger of the Lord on Mount Sinai. They are found in the Sermon on the Mount spoken by the Lord Himself. They are found elsewhere in His teachings, and they are found plainly set forth in the words of modern revelation. From the beginning these have served as our code of conduct. They must continue to so serve.
The future will be essentially the same as the past, only much brighter and greatly enlarged. We must continue to reach out across the world, teaching the gospel at home and abroad. A divine mandate rests heavily upon us. We cannot run from it. We cannot avoid it.
Declared the risen Lord to those He loved: “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.
“He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned” (Mark 16:15–16).
The figure of Moroni, atop many of our temples, is a constant reminder of the vision of John the Revelator: “And I saw another angel fly in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach unto them that dwell on the earth, and to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people,
“Saying with a loud voice, Fear God, and give glory to him; for the hour of his judgment is come: and worship him that made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and the fountains of waters” (Rev. 14:6–7).
There must be no diminution in our effort to carry the gospel to the people of the earth. 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 wherever necessary. I am grateful for the humanitarian aid we have been able to extend to the poor and the unfortunate. This very day hungry children are eating food in North Korea because of the aid which you have sent. In a world where there is so much of hunger and suffering, where death walks hand in hand with little children, we must continue and enlarge our efforts, not permitting politics or other factors to hold back the hand of mercy.
As we look to the future we must extend the great work carried forward in the temples, both for the living and the dead. If this people cannot be saved without their dead, as the Prophet Joseph declared, then we must make it possible for many more to accomplish this work. We now have 50 operating temples. We need twice that number, and as I explained last evening, we have in place a program to reach that goal to accommodate the needs of the people. Those on the other side, who are not dead but who are alive as to the spirit, will rejoice and be made glad as they awaken and go forward on their way to “immortality and eternal life” (Moses 1:39).
But there are many other things we must do as we move forward the work to a new and promising century. Simply put, we must be better Latter-day Saints. We must be more neighborly. We cannot live a cloistered existence in this world. We are a part of the whole of humanity.
A lawyer cometh unto Jesus, asking: “Master, which is the great commandment in the law?
“Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.
“This is the first and great commandment.
“And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.
“On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets” (Matt. 22:36–40).
Let us love the Lord, yes, with all our strength and power. And let us also love our neighbors. Let us banish from our lives any elements of self-righteousness. Many regard us with suspicion, as having only one interest and that is to convert them. Conversion is more likely to come as a consequence of love. Let us be friendly. Let us be helpful. Let us live the Golden Rule. Let us be neighbors of whom it might be said, “He or she was the best neighbor I ever had.”
And as we move forward into a wonderful future, there are what some may regard as the lesser commandments but which are also of such tremendous importance.
I mention the Sabbath day. The Sabbath of the Lord is becoming the play day of the people. It is a day of golf and football on television, of buying and selling in our stores and markets. Are we moving to mainstream America as some observers believe? In this I fear we are. What a telling thing it is to see the parking lots of the markets filled on Sunday in communities that are predominately LDS.
Our strength for the future, our resolution to grow the Church across the world, will be weakened if we violate the will of the Lord in this important matter. He has so very clearly spoken anciently and again in modern revelation. We cannot disregard with impunity that which He has said.
We must observe the Word of Wisdom. As we read our newspapers, as we watch the television news, these remarkable words first spoken in 1833 come to life before our very eyes: “In consequence of evils and designs which do and will exist in the hearts of conspiring men in the last days, I have warned you, and forewarn you” (D&C 89:4). People are becoming increasingly health conscious. We have a running start on the world, a code so simple and easily understood. Not long ago I met Dr. James E. Enstrom of the University of California at Los Angeles. He is not a member of the Church. He speaks with complete objectivity. His studies indicate that actuarially speaking, Latter-day Saints live about 10 years longer than their peers.
Who can set a price on 10 years of life? What a remarkable and wonderful blessing is this Word of Wisdom.
Reporters whom I have met simply cannot believe that we pay 10 percent of our income as tithing. I explain that this is a spiritual phenomenon. We pay because we are obedient to the commandment of the Lord. We pay because we have faith in His munificent promises. Let us teach our children while they are yet young of the great opportunity and responsibility of paying tithing. If we do so, there will be another generation, and yet another, who will walk in the ways of the Lord and merit His promised blessing.
Perhaps our greatest concern is with families. The family is falling apart all over the world. The old ties that bound together father and mother and children are breaking everywhere. We must face this in our own midst. There are too many broken homes among our own. The love that led to marriage somehow evaporates, and hatred fills its place. Hearts are broken, children weep. Can we not do better? Of course, we can. It is selfishness that brings about most of these tragedies. If there is forbearance, if there is forgiveness, if there is an anxious looking after the happiness of one’s companion, then love will flourish and blossom.
As I look to the future, I see little to feel enthusiastic about concerning the family in America and across the world. Drugs and alcohol are taking a terrible toll, which is not likely to decrease. Harsh language, one to another, indifference to the needs of one another—all seem to be increasing. There is so much of child abuse. There is so much of spouse abuse. There is growing abuse of the elderly. All of this will happen and get worse unless there is an underlying acknowledgment, yes, a strong and fervent conviction, concerning the fact that the family is an instrument of the Almighty. It is His creation. It is also the basic unit of society.
I lift a warning voice to our people. We have moved too far toward the mainstream of society in this matter. Now, of course there are good families. There are good families everywhere. But there are too many who are in trouble. This is a malady with a cure. The prescription is simple and wonderfully effective. It is love. It is plain, simple, everyday love and respect. It is a tender plant that needs nurturing. But it is worth all of the effort we can put into it.
Now, in closing, I see a wonderful future in a very uncertain world. If we will cling to our values, if we will build on our inheritance, if we will walk in obedience before the Lord, if we will simply live the gospel we will be blessed in a magnificent and wonderful way. We will be looked upon as a peculiar people who have found the key to a peculiar happiness.
“And many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem” (Isa. 2:3).
Great has been our past, wonderful is our present, glorious can be our future.
Arise, O glorious Zion,
Thou joy of latter days,
Whom countless Saints rely on
To gain a resting place.
Arise and shine in splendor
Amid the world’s deep night,
For God, thy sure defender,
Is now thy life and light.
We have glimpsed the future, we know the way, we have the truth. God help us to move forward to become a great and mighty people spread over the earth, counted in the millions, but all of one faith and of one testimony and of one conviction, I humbly pray in the name of our great Redeemer and Savior, even Jesus Christ, amen.