One Million Missionaries, Thirteen Million Members

They are as much a symbol of the Church as the Salt Lake Temple and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir—clean-cut, well-dressed young men and women on bikes or on foot going door-to-door with a gospel message. Mormon missionaries have fanned across the globe since the earliest days of the Church and in the process have reached a major milestone.

“We have made great progress in our missionary work in recent years,” said President Gordon B. Hinckley at the Missionary Training Center in Provo during the most recent New Mission Presidents’ Training Seminar. “We have more missionaries—and more effective missionaries. It is reliably estimated that a million missionaries have served since the organization of the Church.”

“It is not possible to pinpoint exactly who the millionth missionary is,” said Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles during a news conference while at the orientation sessions with 118 new mission presidents. “We do know that young men and women, senior sisters, and couples have volunteered to serve at their own or family expense in spreading this message to 145 nations and territories.”

Emphasizing the importance of understanding the mosaic of missionaries this milestone represents, Elder Ballard spoke of the unique traits that make each of these million missionaries special.

“A young Peruvian sister grilled hamburgers at a street cart to finance her mission in her home country,” he said. “A young elder from India served in Toronto, Canada, and a retired couple left children and grandchildren to help dig clean water wells in West Africa. Missionaries serve where they are assigned, not knowing beforehand where in the world that may be.”

In fact, the work these volunteer missionaries perform is as diverse as the missionaries themselves. On any given day missionaries are working on everything from assisting with humanitarian projects and helping others trace their genealogy to helping with public affairs efforts and teaching the restored gospel of Jesus Christ.

“From personal experience I can tell you that they study, they pray, they worry intensely about each child of God and especially the souls of those they are able to teach,” said Elder Ballard. “They face rejection and sometimes verbal abuse. But they soldier on. They serve, they help others, and they go the extra mile to lift and bless people in all walks of life and in all human conditions.”

At the press conference, Elder Ballard stood among missionaries he said exemplified the missionary spirit. They included a native African couple from Kenya called to preside over a mission in Nigeria; a pair of young sister missionaries, one from South Korea and one from Mexico, serving on Temple Square in downtown Salt Lake City; a senior couple from Utah serving a humanitarian mission that takes them all over the world helping to provide clean water to many communities; and a pair of young men, one from Brazil and one from Idaho, who just entered the Missionary Training Center in preparation to serve in Japan.

The young men, Samuel Pelaquim and Brandon Soelberg, are both postponing college to spend the next two years of their lives without television, dating, and other teenage activities to preach the gospel. “Some people think I’m giving up a lot to serve a mission,” said Elder Soelberg. “But the reality is I feel I have a lot to give. I have always known I wanted to serve a mission, so it doesn’t really feel like a sacrifice to me. I need to do this; I want to do this.”

Elder Pelaquim agreed. “It is a wonderful opportunity to serve,” he said. “Since I was very young I have noticed a difference between my other friends and me. They had problems that I did not have to worry about, and I have always known that it was the gospel that made that difference.”

It’s that difference that brought Unbyul Cho’s parents into the Church, according to the 22-year-old from Seoul, South Korea. “I’ve always wondered what would have happened to my family and me if the missionaries hadn’t served in Korea,” she said. “I wanted to serve a mission to help others have the same blessings my family enjoys.”

Likewise, Gazelem Munoz saw several family members join the Church in her native Mexico. “It changed my family. It changed my life, and hopefully it will help to change for good other people’s lives as I [teach] them as a missionary.”

The news conference was held next to a life-size bronze statue of Samuel Smith, the Church’s first missionary. In 1830, the year the Lord organized the Church through the Prophet Joseph Smith, there were only 16 missionaries called. Now, 177 years later, some 53,000 missionaries—young men, young women, senior sisters, and senior couples—currently serve in nearly 350 missions throughout the world.

And their work is striking a chord with many. President Hinckley also announced that Church membership has now reached 13 million, spread all across the world. There continue to be more members outside of the United States than inside, reflecting the global depth and diversity of Church membership.

Elder Saldanha (left) from Brazil put a promising soccer career on hold to serve as one of the Church’s first million missionaries. (© 2007 Intellectual Reserve, Inc., all rights reserved.)

God Loveth His Children Booklet Released

The First Presidency has released a new booklet, titled God Loveth His Children, aimed at helping both those who struggle with same-gender attraction and members of their families.

“We encourage all leaders to reach out with love and understanding to those affected by same-gender attraction,” the First Presidency said. “As you do so, please remember to teach true doctrine, as explained in the … booklet, and to counsel in a spirit of warmth and love.”

The booklet discusses the nature of individual identity and potential, the plan of happiness, self-mastery, filling a life with goodness, and going forward in life.

The booklet will be available in 27 languages and will be distributed through stake, branch, and mission leaders. The languages include: ASL, Cebuano, Chinese, Danish, Dutch, English, English Braille, Fijian, Finnish, French, German, Hungarian, Indonesian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Norwegian, Portuguese, Russian, Samoan, Spanish, Swedish, Tagalog, Tahitian, Thai, Tongan, and Ukrainian.

Additional copies of the booklet are available through distribution centers. The booklet will also be available on the Church’s Web site in these languages.

God Loveth His Children is a booklet aimed at helping those who struggle with same-gender attraction.

Work on Temples Begins, Ends around World

The Nuku‘alofa Tonga Temple is set to reopen following renovations, ground has been broken for the Kiev Ukraine, Tegucigalpa Honduras, and Vancouver British Columbia Temples, and a new temple has been announced in Manaus, Brazil. There are now 124 operating temples in the world, with 12 under construction or announced.

Nuku‘alofa Tonga Temple

The newly renovated Nuku‘alofa Tonga Temple was rededicated in November, following months of preparatory work.

The open house began on September 29, 2007, and continued through October 20, excluding Sundays. Following the open house, two rededicatory sessions were held on November 4, 2007, to accommodate Latter-day Saints in the area who will be served by the temple. A cultural celebration was held on November 3, 2007.

The Nuku‘alofa Tonga Temple, first dedicated in August 1983 by President Gordon B. Hinckley, serves Latter-day Saints throughout Tonga and the Line Islands of the Pacific Ocean. Tonga now has some 52,400 members.

Kiev Ukraine Temple

Groundbreaking services for the Kiev Ukraine Temple took place on Saturday, June 23, 2007.

Presiding over the service was Elder Paul B. Pieper, President of the Europe East Area. Elder Aleksandr N. Manzhos, Europe East Area Seventy, conducted the ceremony.

The temple, the first to be built in Ukraine, was first announced in July of 1998. Since 1992, Latter-day Saints in Ukraine have had to travel 30 hours one way to attend the nearest temple. Ukraine now has more than 9,900 members in one stake and five districts.

Tegucigalpa Honduras Temple

Elder Spencer V. Jones, then President of the Central America Area, presided as Church leaders broke ground for the Tegucigalpa Honduras Temple on June 9, 2007.

Currently, members in Honduras must travel some 12 hours to attend the Guatemala City Guatemala Temple. Honduras now has more than 116,400 members.

The temple is the first in Honduras and will be the fourth operating temple in Central America after the Guatemala City Guatemala, Panama City Panama, and San Jose Costa Rica Temples. The Panama City temple is nearing completion. A temple has also been announced in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala.

Vancouver British Columbia Temple

The Church held a groundbreaking ceremony for the Vancouver British Columbia Temple on Saturday, August 4, 2007. Elder Ronald A. Rasband of the Presidency of the Seventy presided at the services.

Announced on June 2, 2006, the temple will be the first in British Columbia. British Columbia has more than 28,400 members in 8 stakes and 1 district. Altogether, Canada has more than 166,000 members and 6 temples—the Cardston Alberta, Edmonton Alberta, Halifax Nova Scotia, Montreal Quebec, Regina Saskatchewan, and Toronto Ontario Temples.

Ground was broken for the Vancouver British Columbia Temple on August 4, 2007.

Church Offers Aid to Disaster Victims Worldwide

Each year, millions are affected by war, floods, earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes, and other disasters. In these desperate circumstances, quick response is often the difference between life and death.

The Church continually gathers donations of food, clothes, medical supplies, and relief items. The resources are then pre-positioned in key locations for shipping on short notice. Because of this preparedness, the Church is able to respond immediately in times of emergency.

When the timing of response is critical, international relief agencies have come to rely on the Church for food and materials. In addition to providing materials, the Church also helps with funds and volunteers. Volunteers often make the most difference in restoring hope in the lives of those in crisis.

From 1985 to 2006, the Church shipped 54,905 tons (50,000 tonnes) of food and 107,061 tons (96,000 tonnes) of other supplies to more than 150 countries. In 2006, the Church provided $14.9 million (USD) in cash and materials in response to the conflict in Lebanon, the earthquake in Indonesia, for refugees in Burundi, Sudan and Uganda, and 76 other disasters.

Members in England Respond to Extreme Flooding

After massive flooding throughout parts of central and western England left more than 15,000 homes in Gloucestershire without power and up to 350,000 people without running water in July, Elder Kenneth Johnson of the Seventy, Europe West Area President, made a £25,000 donation to the Red Cross’s relief efforts in Gloucestershire on behalf of the Church. Church leaders near Sheffield also worked with civil authorities to distribute cleaning and other emergency relief supplies to those affected. Members helped each other and their neighbors clean up in the aftermath of the worst flooding in recorded UK history.

The areas of greatest concern were along the Severn, Avon, and Thames Rivers. Royal Navy helicopters and personnel rescued residents in areas covered by six feet (1.8 m) of water and more.

It took at least a week for officials to reconnect 80 percent of the homes cut off from running water, although the water remained unsafe to drink for some time, even after boiling, because of the failure of a water treatment plant.

A number of member families were affected by the flooding, but all members and missionaries were accounted for. The Hull England Stake Center suffered a significant amount of water damage.

Environment Agency spokesman Anthony Perry told the BBC that flooding of this magnitude has never been seen before in this region. In March of 1947 rivers in the south of England, Midlands, East Anglia, and North Yorkshire burst their banks, causing extensive damage, but this flooding exceeded that, Mr. Perry said.

Church Responds to Quake, Typhoon in Japan

Japan was reeling after being struck by Typhoon Man-Yi from the south and shaken by a 6.8 earthquake in the north.

At least 11 people were killed and more than 1,990 were injured on July 16, 2007, when the reported 6.8 magnitude quake struck the west coast of Japan near Kashiwazaki, where 300 of the estimated 800 damaged or destroyed homes were located.

About 9,000 people spent time at makeshift evacuation centers, and tens of thousands were left without power, gas, or running water for days.

The home of one member family was destroyed by the quake. An elderly member was inside when it collapsed, but was rescued with only minor scratches. All other missionaries and members were reported safe.

The quake could be felt in Tokyo, more than 125 miles (201 km) to the south of the epicenter.

Man-Yi, a typhoon with sustained winds of 100 miles per hour (160 km per hour), swept the southern islands of Kyushu and Shikoku on July 15, 2007, killing 6 people and injuring 79 more. About 30,000 people were evacuated from their homes. Reports list 15 homes destroyed and another 1,500 flooded. One member home was damaged earlier as the typhoon passed over Okinawa, but no members or missionaries were reported injured, and no Church property was damaged.

Following both disasters, local priesthood leaders worked with government officials to determine how the Church could be of assistance.

Church Provides Relief to Community Affected by Wildfire

The Church sent donations from the Humanitarian Aid Fund to the local Red Cross chapter in June, in response to a blaze that forced hundreds of residents from their homes in Meyers, California, near Lake Tahoe.

As part of their emergency response plan, Fallon Nevada Stake leaders made emergency supplies available to evacuees and those in need. Items included hygiene kits and blankets prepared by members. While most evacuees stayed in hotels, the Church offered the local meetinghouse as a shelter if needed.

The fire destroyed 276 buildings and homes, randomly skipping some homes and demolishing others. The neighborhoods affected are made up of cabins, modest homes, and million-dollar vacation retreats.

More than 1,800 firefighters, aided by seven helicopters, were involved in trying to suppress the fire that threatened another 500 homes.

One member family was among those who lost their homes and most of their possessions. At least 17 other member homes in the Meyers area were threatened and the families were evacuated.

Earthquake Shakes Guatemala and El Salvador

A powerful 6.8-magnitude earthquake rattled Guatemala and El Salvador, swaying buildings for 30 seconds but causing no deaths, on June 13, 2007.

The quake struck in the Pacific Ocean, 70 miles (112 km) from Guatemala City at a depth of about 40 miles (64 km). There was no threat of a tsunami.

Despite the magnitude of the earthquake, the countries escaped virtually unscathed—unlike when two earthquakes struck El Salvador in 2001 and killed more than 1,150 people, most of them in mudslides near San Salvador, the capital.

Reports from the Central America Area Office indicated there were no deaths or injuries to members or missionaries as a result of this quake. Local priesthood leaders helped assess potential needs.

Church Helps Fund Relief for Colombia Flooding Victims

The Church sent emergency funds to several regions of Colombia where more than 50 people died and thousands were left homeless after severe flooding took place in the early weeks of June.

Heavy rains have affected large parts of the country, with the north particularly badly hit. The rain has triggered mudslides and damaged or destroyed 270,000 homes and businesses since the rainy season began in March 2007.

Members Help Clean Up After Australia Flooding

Members and missionaries left church after sacrament meetings on Sunday, June 10, 2007, to join sandbagging and cleanup efforts as flooding in New South Wales, Australia, caused nine deaths and left insurance companies bracing for a bill that could exceed AUS $300 million.

The floodwaters forced an estimated 1,700 families from their homes. State Emergency Services logged a total of 13,830 calls for help over the weekend of flooding.

Some businesses in the retail area of Wallsend and industrial precinct of Cardiff might never recover, said Hunter Business Chamber chief Doug Parish to The Australian.

On June 12, more than 30,000 homes were still without power, down from the 130,000 homes that were without power over the weekend.

Floodwaters at Chittaway Bay, near Tuggerah Lake, eventually receded allowing more than 400 residents to return to their homes.

Firefighters watch over a prescribed burn meant to help fight a wildfire in California that destroyed more than 200 homes. (Photograph courtesy of Sacramento Bee/mct/landov.)

Clean Water Is Major Aim of Church Humanitarian Program

In the remote mountain village of Navunimono, Fiji, drinking water used to come directly from the river that passes through the community. Cattle farms upstream, rainstorms, and other environmental factors make the river water unsafe for drinking, necessitating the recent installation of three water storage tanks.

The storage tanks, installed under the auspices of the Church’s Humanitarian Services, are among more than 50 similar installations made by the Church throughout Fiji.

Tomujani Boginivalu, leader of the Navunimono village, noted, “Our water supply is now clear and easily obtained for the whole community.”

“In order for the villagers to claim that ownership,” explained Leo Wright, humanitarian services missionary for the Church in Fiji, “the locals take responsibility for the water tank maintenance. They build, at their own expense and labor, the block and concrete bases for the tanks. In addition, a local individual is appointed as the ongoing caretaker of the tanks. In this way the villagers have an investment in the project and become more aware of its usefulness.”

Local resident Joseva Vitinavulagi observed the changes following the installation. “The clay base of the reservoir servicing the village is dirty because there’s no water purification plant. With the new tanks installed, I’ve already noticed the change in the skin of the children and adults in the village. I am proud to say that schoolchildren now go to school with plastic bottles of clean water.”

Access to clean water is one of the Church’s major humanitarian initiatives. In 2006 clean water projects were completed in 34 different countries.

Concern for clean water sources, according to the World Health Organization, is significant worldwide. More than a billion people lack access to a healthy water source; many of these individuals suffer from waterborne diseases such as cholera, diarrhea, and typhoid. Ninety percent of all infectious diseases in developing countries are caused by unhealthy water supplies.

Depending on local needs and requirements, the Church program provides community water supplies through a variety of methods, including wells, boreholes, storage tanks, and water purification systems.

“It is the aim of our program,” explained Brett Bass, project manager of Humanitarian Services of the Church, “to support local people and organizations as they find sustainable solutions for their water needs. In the case of Fiji, the people have come together to identify a suitable solution and then have put forth the effort to make it happen.”

Joseva Vitinavulagi fills the first bucket from new water tanks the Church helped install in Fiji. (© 2007 Intellectual Reserve, Inc., all rights reserved.)

Additional Sharing Time Ideas, December 2007

The following are additional ideas Primary leaders may use with the Sharing Time printed in the December 2007 Liahona. For the lesson, instructions, and activity that correspond with these ideas, see “The Greatest Gift” on pages F4 and F5 of the children’s section in this issue.

  1. 1.

    Display three wrapped gifts. Tell the children that at Christmastime we celebrate the gift of Jesus Christ coming to the earth (see John 3:16). Explain that by coming to the earth and promising to return again, Jesus has given us three wonderful gifts! Tell them that by answering questions about Jesus Christ they can find out what those three gifts are. (Before Primary, write in large print the words peace, happiness, and love, and then cut each word into puzzle pieces.) Invite three children to hold the packages. Explain that as the children answer each question correctly, they will get a puzzle piece that will tell them what their gift is. Ask questions such as “Who is Jesus’s mother?” (Mary), “Who is Jesus’s father?” (Heavenly Father), “Where can we read about Jesus?” (in the scriptures), “When we take the sacrament, what does the bread represent?” (Jesus’s body). Each time a correct answer is given, give a puzzle piece that goes with the box to the child who is holding it. Let groups of children work together to complete the puzzle and reveal the word. At the end of the game, the boxes will display the words peace, happiness, and love.

    When the children have assembled the words, have them open the packages. Inside each have a key word and a scripture: Peace—John 14:27; Happiness—Mosiah 2:41; Love—John 15:13. Have the child holding the box read the scripture. Sing a song or hymn about the Savior, and bear testimony of the peace, happiness, and love that come through following Him.

  2. 2.

    To learn more about Bethlehem, divide the Primary into three groups. Give each group one of the following: a map of the Holy Land (found in the Bible or your meetinghouse library); scripture reference Micah 5:2; and scripture reference John 6:51. Have the first group show the location of Bethlehem. Have the second group read Micah 5:2 and explain that our Heavenly Father’s plan was for Jesus to be born in Bethlehem. Have the third group read John 6:51 and explain why Jesus is the Bread of Life. Tell the children that the meaning of the word Bethlehem is “House of Bread.” Point out that the Bread of Life was born in the House of Bread.

    Teach the first verse of “O Little Town of Bethlehem” (Hymns, no. 208) or another Christmas hymn. Describe how Bethlehem might have looked on the night Jesus was born. Tell how people beginning with Adam and Eve looked forward to Christ’s coming to earth. People hoped that He would come, and some feared that He might not come.

    Have the children draw a picture of Bethlehem (see “Drawing Activities,” Teaching, No Greater Call [1999], 166–67). Testify that Jesus Christ, by coming to the earth, fulfilled the prophecies and made it possible for us to live with God again.