Lesson 40: Ezra Taft Benson: Teaching Sacrifice and Service for the Lord

"Lesson 40: Ezra Taft Benson: Teaching Sacrifice and Service for the Lord," The Presidents of the Church: Teacher’s Manual, (1996)


Class members will learn how President Benson helped others to understand the law of sacrifice, thereby helping them become better servants in the kingdom of God.


  1. 1.

    Prepare to show the picture of Ezra Taft Benson in the color section.

  2. 2.

    See that each class member has a Book of Mormon.

  3. 3.

    If the videocassette Testimonies of the Presidents of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (53242) is available, show the section “Ezra Taft Benson.”

Suggested Lesson Development


Scripture index search

(Scriptures in some languages do not have an index in their Book of Mormon and Doctrine and Covenants study aids. If your scriptures do not, study with class members the word sacrifice in a good dictionary.)

Find the word sacrifice in the index to the Book of Mormon and Doctrine and Covenants. You will find a number of scriptural references. (Divide the class into two teams and read the following to the class.)

You will be searching for specific scriptures on sacrifice. I will give a clue from the references listed under “sacrifice,” such as: “broken heart and contrite spirit.” Each of you should look for that reference in the index to find the scripture reference, which in this case would be 3 Nephi 9:20, and then you would find that passage of scripture. When the passage is found, one team member should be chosen to come to the chalkboard and write the third word of the scripture on the board. Score a point for each correct, first response.

(You may wish to have some reward for the winning team. Do not spend more than six or seven minutes on this activity, and after you have found four or five good references, stop and discuss them with your class members. This discussion is one of the most important parts of your lesson; it will bring the class to the focal point of the lesson. The activity is meant to awaken and challenge class members.)

President Benson Learned the Principle of Sacrifice from His Parents


Tell in your own words the following story from President Benson’s life:

“I was about thirteen years of age when my father received a call to go on a mission. It was during an epidemic in our little community of Whitney, Idaho. Parents were encouraged to go to sacrament meeting, but the children were to remain home to avoid contracting the disease.

“Father and Mother went to sacrament meeting in a one-horse buggy. At the close of the meeting, the storekeeper opened the store just long enough for the farmers to get their mail, since the post office was in the store. There were no purchases, but in this way the farmers saved a trip to the post office on Monday. There was no rural postal delivery in those days.

“As Father drove the horse homeward, Mother opened the mail, and, to their surprise, there was a letter from Box B in Salt Lake City—a call to go on a mission. No one asked if one were ready, willing, or able. The bishop was supposed to know, and the bishop was Grandfather George T. Benson, my father’s father.

“As Father and Mother drove into the yard, they were both crying—something we had never seen in our family. We gathered around the buggy—there were seven of us then—and asked what was the matter.

“They said, ‘Everything’s fine.’

“‘Why are you crying then?’ we asked.

“‘Come into the living room and we’ll explain.’

“We gathered around the old sofa in the living room, and Father told us about his mission call. Then Mother said: ‘We’re proud to know that Father is considered worthy to go on a mission. We’re crying because it means two years of separation. You know your father and I have never been separated for more than two nights at a time since our marriage—and that’s when Father was gone into the canyon to get logs, posts, and firewood.’

“And so Father went on his mission. Though at the time I did not fully comprehend the depths of my father’s commitment, I understand better now that his willing acceptance of this call was evidence of his great faith” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1986, pp. 59–60; or Ensign, Nov. 1986, pp. 45–46).

Through his father’s example, President Benson learned the power of sacrifice. He was the eldest child. While his father served this mission, young Ezra had to manage the family dairy. He later went on a mission, opening a period of service to the Lord from his own life.

He served in many positions in the Church, twice as a stake president. Following his service as stake president, he was called into the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. It was here he had to emulate his father’s example and leave his family behind while administering to the needs of the Saints in war-torn Europe following World War II.

President Benson Witnessed Suffering among the Saints in Europe

Brother Frederick W. Babbel accompanied President Benson to Europe after World War II. The following experiences from Brother Babbel’s book, On Wings of Faith, illustrate the sacrifice President Benson saw among the European Saints.


In one of his first speeches in Europe, President Benson said:

“My heart is filled with gratitude, my brothers and sisters, as I look into your upturned faces. My heart goes out to you in the pure love of God.

“While I am grateful for this opportunity, I came here with a heavy heart. As we rode through your green and fruitful land, I saw in every town and hamlet the frightful result of man’s disobedience to the laws of God.

“I support none nor condemn any for what has happened. God will be the judge and his judgments will be just because he sees not only the results of our decisions, but judges us by the intent of our hearts as well. …

“As I look into your tear-stained eyes and see many of you virtually in rags and at death’s door, yet with a smile upon your cracked lips and the light of love and understanding shining in your eyes, I know that you have been true to your covenants, that you have been clean, that you have not permitted hatred and bitterness to fill your hearts. …

“We are all brothers and sisters. We are all members of the Church of Jesus Christ—the kingdom of God on earth. We accept wholeheartedly the statement of the Master that ‘We are our brother’s keeper’” (Frederick W. Babbel, On Wings of Faith [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1972], pp. 37–39).

The following is a true story of an LDS woman President Benson met following one meeting with members who had suffered through the war.

The sister had “burlap sacks wrapped around her feet and legs in place of shoes. Even these were now in shreds. Her clothing was patched and tattered. … This good sister had lived in East Prussia. During the final days of the frightful battles in that area, her husband had been killed. She was left with four small children, one of them a babe in arms. Under the agreements of the occupying powers, she was one of 11 million Germans who was required to leave her homeland and all her basic possessions, and go to Western Germany to seek a new home. She was permitted only to take such bare necessities, bedding, etc. as she could load into her small wooden-wheeled wagon—about sixty-five pounds in all—which she pulled across this desolate wasteland of war. Her smallest child she carried in her arms while the other small children did their best to walk beside her during this trek of over a thousand miles on foot.

“She started her journey in late summer. Having neither food nor money among her few possessions, she was forced to gather subsistence from the fields and forests along the way. Constantly she was also faced with dangers from panicky refugees and marauding troops.

“Soon the snows came and temperatures dropped to about 40° below zero. One by one her children died, either frozen to death or the victims of starvation, or both. She buried them in shallow graves by the roadside, using a tablespoon as a shovel. Finally, as she was reaching the end of her journey, her last little child died in her arms. Her spoon was gone now, so she dug a grave in the frozen earth with her bare fingers.

“As she was recalling these and other difficulties at a testimony meeting, she explained that her grief at that moment became unbearable. Here she was kneeling in the snow at the graveside of her last child. She had now lost her husband and all her children. She had given up all her earthly goods, her home, and even her homeland. She found herself among people whose condition resembled her own wretched state of affairs.

“In this moment of deep sorrow and bewilderment, she felt her heart would break. In despair she contemplated how she might end her own life as so many of her fellow countrymen were doing. How easy it would be to jump off a nearby bridge, she thought, or to throw herself in front of an oncoming train!

“Then she testified that as these thoughts assailed her, something within her said, ‘Get down on your knees and pray.’ And she then rapturously explained how she prayed more fervently than she had ever prayed before.

“In conclusion, she bore a glorious testimony, stating that of all ailing people in her saddened land she was one of the happiest because she knew that God lived, that Jesus is the Christ, and that if she continued faithful and true to the end she would be saved in the celestial kingdom of God” (Frederick W. Babbel, On Wings of Faith, pp. 41–42).

  • Do you think this woman understood the word sacrifice? How do you think her story affected President Benson and others in Europe? (Allow varied answers.)

President Benson Urged Others to Sacrifice

While still in Europe, President Benson urged President Cornelius Zappey, president of the Dutch mission, “to find some land on which the Dutch saints might possibly grow some potatoes to take care of their own welfare needs. At the end of the first year the Dutch saints had harvested 66 tons of potatoes—sufficient to care for most of their own needs.

“Then an unusual request was made of these people. As they were assembled together in a mission-wide conference at Rotterdam to give thanks for the abundant harvest, their mission president … said, ‘Some of the most bitter enemies you people have encountered as a result of this war are the German people. We know what intense feelings of dislike you have for them. But those people are now much worse off than you are and we are asking you to send your entire potato harvest to the German saints. Will you do it?’

“They did it. …

“The following year the Dutch Saints raised about 150 tons of potatoes. In addition, they went fishing and caught sufficient herring to fill several barrels. Their response to that success was in effect this: ‘We enjoyed so much giving the German saints those potatoes last year that we want to send them the entire harvest this year along with the pickled herring!’” (Frederick W. Babbel, On Wings of Faith, pp. 76–77).


Besides sacrificing, the Dutch Saints were asked to “love their enemies.”

  • What special feelings or gospel blessings were their reward? (Allow varied answers.)

  • How did the Dutch Saints help the German Saints? How did they help themselves in a more important fashion? (Lead the class toward an understanding that personal sacrifice brings rich rewards.)


King Benjamin, of the Book of Mormon, says in Mosiah 2:18–19, “Behold, ye have called me your king; and if I, whom ye call your king, do labor to serve you, then ought not ye to labor to serve one another?

“And behold also, if I, whom ye call your king, who has spent his days in your service, and yet has been in the service of God, do merit any thanks from you, O how you ought to thank your heavenly King!”

The Lord Is Aware of Our Sacrifice and Helps Us When We Ask for Help


The following incident, related by Frederick W. Babbel, illustrates how Elder Benson’s sacrifice was rewarded with special help from the Lord.

Conditions, especially in the Russian-controlled sectors of the former war areas, made it difficult for any travel by any Church authorities, even on missions of mercy.

Says Brother Babbel, “Since we would have to enter Poland by way of the air corridor which the Russians had established between Berlin and Warsaw, it was necessary for us to secure valid visas to enter Poland before the military officials would consent to issuing the necessary military orders for our entrance to Berlin. …

“President Benson … inquired anxiously whether I had been able to get the needed permission. When I said no, he was noticeably disappointed. I sensed deeply with him that we were faced with a seemingly insurmountable problem. After a few moments of soul-searching reflection, during which neither one of us broke the silence, he said quietly but firmly, ‘Let me pray about it.’

“Some two or three hours after President Benson had retired to his room to pray, he stood in my doorway and said with a smile on his face, ‘Pack your bags. We are leaving for Poland in the morning!’

“At first I could scarcely believe my eyes. He stood there enveloped in a beautiful glow of radiant light. His countenance shone as I imagine the Prophet Joseph’s countenance shone when he was filled with the Spirit of the Lord” (Frederick W. Babbel, On Wings of Faith, pp. 131–32).

President Benson’s prayer was answered, and he was able to enter even the most remote areas to help and to strengthen the Saints in those war-ravaged areas.

Videocassette testimony

If it is available, show the videocassette, part 9 (3 minutes, 19 seconds), of Ezra Taft Benson’s testimony.

Testimony and Challenge

Bear your own testimony and commit your class members to pray for a personal testimony that Ezra Taft Benson was indeed a prophet of the Lord.

Challenge the class to look deeply into their own lives to see if they are sacrificing and serving. Ask them to ask themselves:

  • Am I helping the poor? the unfortunate?

  • Am I preparing to go on a mission?

Ask the class to look past their own possibly selfish interests and become interested in the larger needs of mankind as a whole.