Church Courses Aim to Strengthen Marriage and Family Relationships
With shifting societal values undermining the traditional family, the Church is committed to help “maintain and strengthen the family as the fundamental unit of society” (“The Family: A Proclamation to the World,” Liahona, Oct. 2004, 49).
While worldwide divorce rates fell slightly in 2007, a rise in the incidence of cohabitation and unmarried child-raising are demonstrative of society’s failing faith in traditional marriage and family.
In an effort to combat these trends, the Church has three courses and accompanying manuals available to help members understand the doctrines regarding the importance of families that will help them build and maintain enduring family relationships.
Courses Provide Resources
Revised in 2000, the Marriage and Family Relations manual gives special emphasis to the proclamation on the family. The manual is divided into two parts: Part A, “Strengthening Marriage,” and Part B, “Parents’ Responsibilities to Strengthen Families.” The course is usually taught during Sunday School, and members may attend one or both parts of the course, depending on individual needs.
More recently, in 2006 LDS Family Services produced two new course manuals—Strengthening Marriage and Strengthening the Family. These courses are being taught in LDS Family Services agencies and in some wards and stakes, though they are taught outside of the Sunday meeting schedule.
The Sunday School and the Family Services courses are similar in that they can help both those who are already married and those who are preparing to wed. The family sections assist parents in learning the importance of their roles in raising children “in the nurture and admonition of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4).
There are also some key differences between the manuals. The Marriage and Family Relations manual addresses mainly members, focusing heavily on doctrines and principles found in the scriptures and taught by latter-day prophets and apostles to help members find answers for their own circumstances.
“A person who goes through this course would come away with a better understanding and testimony of the divine principles that are fundamental to happy marriages and family relations,” said David Marsh, manager of Curriculum Development for the Church.
While also centered on gospel principles, the Family Services manuals provide additional insights from professionals such as family counselors and therapists, explain pertinent research findings, and provide training to help participants (members or not) improve relationship skills through role-playing exercises.
Endorsing Marriage, Strengthening Family
The courses are particularly helpful in teaching newlyweds and converts the importance of eternal families and how to fortify families against societal influences.
“We have a lot of families coming into the Church from different cultures, traditions, and backgrounds,” Brother Marsh said. “The Marriage and Family Relations manual helps them learn what the Lord teaches about families.”
The couples in Sergio Navarro’s class in the Puebla Mexico Cholula Stake said the Strengthening Marriage manual gave them a desire to become better husbands and wives, and the role-playing exercises helped them develop skills to solve relationship problems.
Each lesson in the Family Services manuals contains three or more learning activities to help participants set goals and integrate gospel teachings. For example, in the “Communicating with Love” chapter in the Strengthening Marriage manual, the trained instructor helps participants practice responding to a spouse’s accusation without being defensive.
Brother Navarro said he has seen couples on the verge of divorce decide to stay together after learning these important gospel principles related to families. “It has been a wonderful experience to see how these marriages have benefited,” he said.
Prophets Encourage Couples to Continue Dating
The relationships of many LDS couples are in less danger from a blowout than they are from relationship burnout. Burnout occurs when the flame of love in a marriage dims because of neglect. The Marriage and Family Relations course teaches the importance of continued dating within a marriage—that is, making time for each other and showing affection in small ways.
President Spencer W. Kimball (1895–1985) said, “Love … cannot be expected to last forever unless it is continually fed with portions of love, the manifestation of esteem and admiration, the expressions of gratitude, and the consideration of unselfishness” (“Oneness in Marriage,” Liahona, Oct. 2002, 36).
Finding Strength as Parents and Participants
The Strengthening the Family manual and the parenting section of the Marriage and Family Relations manual build on the marriage lessons by helping spouses to become united in how and what to teach their children. Sister Marta Tilley, a Family Services missionary in the Lakeland Florida (USA) Stake, said differing parenting styles produce a feeling of distrust and discord between parents and lead to chaos in the home.
Both manuals help parents to be united in their efforts and describe positive parenting skills, such as having family home evenings and family meetings. The Strengthening the Family manual specifically helps parents understand children better so problems can be resolved with love and patience.
“These programs give you skills you can implement within the gospel standards and help you become a more successful parent,” Sister Tilley said.
Instructors have found that the real strength of each program comes from the commitment and active involvement of the participants. Each course encourages open discussion and interaction so couples can learn new skills from one another.
Ultimately, participants finish the courses with a better awareness of Heavenly Father’s love for them and how He is involved in every aspect of their lives.
For More Information
The Marriage and Family Relations manual is available through Distribution Services (LDSCatalog.com in the U.S. and Canada) in 38 languages, with production scheduled for 17 additional languages.
The LDS Family Services manuals are currently available in English, Portuguese, and Spanish, with translations underway for German, Japanese, Russian, Swedish, and Ukrainian. Ward and stake leaders interested in sponsoring a course should contact their local LDS Family Services office. Those in areas without a local Family Services office should contact Sharon Parr at email@example.com.
Photograph by Kelly Larsen, ©IRI
President Monson Meets with Panamanian President
Following the Sunday dedicatory service of the Panama City Panama Temple on August 10, 2008, President Thomas S. Monson joined with other Church leaders in a Monday meeting with Panamanian president Martín Torrijos and his wife, Vivian Fernández de Torrijos.
In response to President Torrijos’s inquiries, President Monson shared details of the temple construction and dedication. President Monson also accepted the Panamanian leader’s gratitude for the humanitarian efforts extended by the Church in Panama. Of particular interest were the numerous projects that benefit children, such as wheelchair distribution, measles and polio vaccine initiatives, and literacy efforts.
Mrs. Torrijos described her visit to the temple open house and shared her impressions of the temple and the Church members who guided her tour of the facility.
During the discussions, President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, Second Counselor in the First Presidency, offered his perspective on the value of the temple to the members of the Latter-day Saint community in Panama and suggested that the temple would bring strength and blessings to all the residents of the country.
Elder Richard G. Scott of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles discussed the impact of the Panama Canal on the world and noted the changes facilitated by the construction and operation of the canal. He shared his feelings that the Panama City temple would also become an important part of the country’s landscape.
President Monson presented President Torrijos and his wife with a sculpture depicting a child’s first steps and explained his interpretation of the art. He believes it sends the message that relationships begin with small steps as we learn from one another and strengthen one another.
The first congregation in Panama was organized in 1941. Today there are more than 41,000 Church members in Panama.
Photograph © Presidency of the Republic of Panama
Church Sends Atmit to Ethiopia
The Church sent more than 1.4 million pounds (635 tonnes) of Atmit, special food for the severely malnourished, to Ethiopia over a span of three months, with the final shipment scheduled to arrive in the drought-stricken country by November 2008.
At least 14 million Ethiopians were in need of food or cash assistance. While the crisis stemmed mainly from a severe drought that destroyed the entire spring crop in some places, the country has also dealt with high food prices, a number of disasters, and a rebellion in the Somali region that disrupted food delivery.
Remembering the significant aid the Church provided during the 2003 famine, government officials in Ethiopia sent a request for help. The Church answered by sending more than 30 containers of Atmit to the country. Beginning in late August and ending in October, the Church shipped five containers per week to the country, with each shipment taking six to eight weeks to arrive.
As in 2003 the Church worked closely with Project Mercy, a nongovernmental relief agency with experience in Ethiopia. In close coordination with the Ethiopian government, Project Mercy oversaw the distribution of the Atmit.
Atmit is a mixture of oat flour, powdered milk, sugar, salt, vitamins, and minerals that is mixed with water and cooking oil to reach the consistency of cream soup. It has been proven a successful resource for feeding the severely malnourished.
The Church first sent food aid to Ethiopia in 1985 as the country suffered through a yearlong famine that killed more than one million people. During Ethiopia’s 2000 food crisis, grain from Church-owned farms in England was bagged by British members and shipped to the country, and in 2003 the Church provided more than 5,000 tons (4,500 tonnes) of supplementary food to distressed areas.
Photograph by Adam C. Olson
Church Promotes DR Congo Program
With help from Church Humanitarian Services, vaccination campaigns are spreading from the main cities to the most remote villages in Africa to prevent contagious diseases.
With one out of five children dying there each year from preventable diseases, the Democratic Republic of the Congo has received promotional assistance from the Church to help reverse the trend.
“The childhood death rate in the Congo is very high, because people are unable to afford health care and often delay seeking help until it is too late,” said Sister Marilyn Barlow, a humanitarian services missionary serving in the DR Congo with her husband, Farrell. “Even among Church members it is hard to find a family that has not lost at least one child, and some have lost many.”
But the real tragedy is that a simple, inexpensive vaccine could have saved many lives. In 2007 Church humanitarian volunteers helped publicize the country’s measles vaccination program. As a result, more than 670,000 children received measles vaccinations.
DR Congo health officials were so impressed by how the Church handled its part of the measles campaign, which included radio and television advertising, they asked for help with another project.
In 2008 the Church paid for the production of updated materials—posters and flip charts—so the government could train health specialists and educate mothers about the importance of primary vaccinations such as measles, polio, tetanus, and tuberculosis.
“[The Church’s] gift will help us educate families and make them healthier,” said Dr. Charlotte Ngokaba, National Director of Vaccinations in the DR Congo.
Since 2003, nearly 60,000 Church volunteers have teamed with the World Health Organization (WHO), UNICEF, the American Red Cross, and local Ministries of Health to decrease the measles death rate.
According to a WHO report, these efforts are paying off. Measles deaths in Africa have dropped 93 percent since 1999. Worldwide measles deaths have fallen 73 percent, from nearly 900,000 in 1999 to an estimated 242,000 in 2006.
Photograph courtesy Farrell Barlow
Church Assists Flood Victims in Eastern Europe
Church Humanitarian Services sent funds to the Europe East Area on August 22, 2008, for the purchase of emergency supplies and materials to assist hundreds of thousands of people affected by the area’s worst flooding in 200 years.
At least 65 people died and nearly 90,000 homes received flood damage in parts of Ukraine, Moldova, and Romania. Some residents fled the area, while others stayed.
“Many just sit in their yards and look at their homes and cry,” said Elder Austin Hinkle, a full-time senior missionary in the Ukraine Kyiv Mission, serving with his wife, Sister Susan Hinkle.
Church members and missionaries near each of the affected areas formed groups and traveled to flood-stricken communities and villages to help with the cleanup. Saints also assembled hygiene and cleaning kits to distribute to local villages.
“Those who suffered the greatest loss are simple people, but they are grateful people,” said Sister Connie Durrance, who is serving as an area welfare specialist in Europe.
Church members also helped victims repair their homes, which in some cases were primarily made out of mud and straw. Elder Hinkle said the flood also damaged some people’s winter supply of food.
The floods began after nearly a week of torrential rains in late July 2008. The rain caused rivers to overflow, submerging homes, bridges, and roads. The flooding also damaged more than 200,000 acres (90,000 ha) of farmland.
Aid continued to arrive in towns and villages throughout August and into September.
Photograph by Gerald D. Jacobs
Sister Thompson Promotes Adoption
Photograph by Busath Photography
As a young social worker, Barbara Thompson, second counselor in the Relief Society general presidency, felt heartbroken when a co-worker actually thought abortion was a good option for pregnant girls unable to support a child.
She explained to the fellow social worker that adoption blessed more lives.
“I’ve seen the blessings that come into the lives of young parents who lovingly place their children for adoption,” Sister Thompson said at the Families Supporting Adoption (FSA) national conference held on August 8 and 9, 2008, in Layton, Utah, USA.
Several states and five Canadian provinces participated in their own regional FSA conferences, with Sister Thompson’s keynote address broadcast to each area during the general session on August 9.
Through a variety of workshops and panel discussions, the conference helped birth mothers and adopting couples become more familiar and comfortable with the adoption process.
Dan and Aranne Urbancic, members of the Palo Verde Ward, Lake Mead stake in Henderson, Nevada, USA, said each presentation provided audience members with open, honest feedback. The couple, who attended the conference in Layton and want to adopt, were also impressed by the expertise of the various teachers.
“You knew they understood the situation and were not just reading out of a book,” Brother Urbancic said.
Sponsored by LDS Family Services, FSA aims to promote positive views of adoption and provide support to birth parents, adoptive families, and friends of adoption.
Updated Meetinghouse Locator Available on LDS.org
An upgraded version of the Church’s meetinghouse locator launched on August 20, 2008, and can be accessed at maps.lds.org or through LDS.org (click on About the Church, then Find a Meetinghouse) and Mormon.org (click on Worship with Us).
The enhanced program incorporates features from Google and Microsoft map search engines, providing users with an accurate and visual outlay of streets, distances, and locations of meetinghouses worldwide.
Larry Richman, director of Internet Coordination, said that when compared to the former version, the upgrade provides users with more precise directions to meetinghouses throughout the world.
The site provides access for mobile devices and lists different types of congregations nearby, including language-specific wards or branches and young single adult units.
Country Web Sites Continue to Grow
New Church country Web sites in English for the countries of the Pacific Area and in Tahitian for Tahiti launched on August 4, 2008.
Located at www.sdj.org.pf, the Tahiti site contains materials of local interest, such as messages from the Area Presidency, local Church history, news, activities, and calendar items.
There are now 64 country sites with others (Croatia, Hungary, Belgium, Portugal, Philippines, Paraguay, and Uruguay) under construction. A link to the different country sites can be found on LDS.org under “About the Church.”
Book of Mormon Printed in Sinhala
Translation and production of the Book of Mormon in Sinhala, one of Sri Lanka’s official languages, were finished in August 2008.
Distribution of the Sinhala version of the Book of Mormon to Church units began in September. Since 1983 Sinhala-speaking members have had only selections of the Book of Mormon available to them in their language. There are more than 16 million Sinhala speakers.
Sri Lanka, located just off the southeast coast of India, is home to more than 20 million people and is part of the Singapore Mission. The Church was officially recognized in Sri Lanka on March 2, 1979. The other official language in Sri Lanka is Tamil.
Church Members Granted Free Access to Partners’ Census Images
Through FamilySearch.org, access to census images provided by partner organizations such as Ancestry.com and Findmypast.com will become available free to Church members in 2009, when FamilySearch will enable a member validation system for registered users on its Web site. In addition, any FamilySearch volunteer or indexer who meets basic contribution requirements each quarter will also have free access. All data indexed by FamilySearch volunteers will continue to be available free to the public.
FamilySearch Pilot Site Nears Half Billion Searchable Names
With more than 467 million names available, the Record Search pilot Web site is helping FamilySearch increase access to genealogical records. Recently 46.3 million names and 1.2 million images were added to the site at pilot.familysearch.org by updating the 1850 United States Census, adding 15 states from the 1870 U.S. Census, and updating the 1930 Mexico Census. The 1841 and 1861 England Censuses were also published with links to images at Findmypast.com.
FamilySearch and Ancestry.com Team Up on U.S. Census
FamilySearch and Ancestry.com have exchanged resources to publish new online indexes and images of the U.S. Federal Census Collection (1790 to 1930). In July 2008, FamilySearch gave improved digital copies of the original censuses to Ancestry.com. In return, Ancestry.com gave FamilySearch copies of its existing census indexes. FamilySearch will merge its own indexes with those from Ancestry.com to create enhanced census indexes with several new fields of searchable data.
FamilySearch, Partners Increase Availability of British Censuses
FamilySearch partnered with three United Kingdom organizations in July 2008 to significantly increase Internet availability of English and Welsh census records. Findmypast.com, The Origins Network, and Intelligent Image Management joined with FamilySearch to publish online indexes to censuses for England and Wales from 1841 to 1901. Census records from 1841 and 1861 are currently accessible at FamilySearch.org and Findmypast.com, with other years to follow as the project moves forward.
Additional Sharing Time Ideas, January 2009
The following are additional ideas Primary leaders may use with the Sharing Time printed in the January 2009 Liahona. For the lesson, instructions, and activity that correspond with these ideas, see
Recite together Doctrine and Covenants 138:56, substituting the words they and their with we and our. We lived with Heavenly Father and were given responsibilities. Display pictures of people in the scriptures who were given responsibilities in the premortal life to help accomplish Heavenly Father’s work (examples: Jesus; Mary, mother of Jesus; Adam and Eve; John the Baptist; Joseph Smith). Make wordstrips that tell the work each person did on earth. Pass around the wordstrips in a sack while the pianist plays “I Will Follow God’s Plan” (Children’s Songbook, 164–65). When the music stops, have the child holding the sack read a wordstrip and match it with the correct picture.
Ask each class to discuss a responsibility that they might have in the future (examples: missionary, father or mother, Primary teacher, bishop). Have the classes discuss with their teachers what they can do now to prepare for that responsibility and whatever other responsibilities may come to them. Make wordstrips of different colors with phrases from “I Will Follow God’s Plan” that tell what we can do now to prepare for our responsibilities (examples: “seek for God’s light,” “I will follow,” “I will work,” “I will pray”). Have the children wearing the same color as the wordstrip stand up when that phrase is sung. Testify of the importance of preparing now for responsibilities we have been given.
Write on the chalkboard “The family is ordained of God.” Have the children say it together. Erase one word, and have the children recite it again. Continue to erase words and have the children recite until all the words are gone. Ask: “Why do you think Heavenly Father planned for us to live in families?” Have one of the older classes stand and sing the first line of the chorus to “The Family Is of God” (Liahona, Oct. 2008, F12–F13). Ask: “In what ways can a family help us become who God wants us to be?” Show a picture of Joseph Smith’s family (3-7 from the Primary 3 picture packet).
Read together Joseph Smith—History 1:22, 50. Point out that Joseph’s father supported Joseph Smith and helped him accomplish his mission. Beforehand and with the bishop’s or branch president’s approval, invite several adults or children to share a positive experience when the love and support of a family member helped them. Hand out paper and pencils, and invite all the children to write or draw a picture of one thing they will do this week to build love in their family. On the same paper have them write “The family is ordained of God.”