Under the inspiration of the Lord and the courageous action of Joseph Smith, the first Latter-day Saint missionaries ever to serve beyond North America brought the restored gospel to the British Isles in 1837. Heading that first group of elders was Heber C. Kimball, who set a great example for all newly called missionaries. Humbled by the responsibility and fully aware of his limitations, he poured out his heart in prayer.
“O, Lord,” he cried, “I am a man of stammering tongue, and altogether unfit for such a work; how can I go to preach in that land, which is so famed throughout Christendom for learning, knowledge and piety; the nursery of religion; and to a people whose intelligence is proverbial!”
But rising from his knees and accepting his duty, he said, “The moment I understood the will of my Heavenly Father, I felt a determination to go at all hazards, believing that He would support me by His almighty power, and endow me with every qualification that I needed” (Life of Heber C. Kimball, Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1945, p. 104). Surely God responded to the faith of that young elder, because Brother Kimball and his companions were endowed, “with every qualification” they needed.
Following the arrival of these first elders at Liverpool, England, and their first proselyting efforts in Preston, England, the work took root and flourished. Over the next decade, the efforts of men such as Brigham Young, John Taylor, and Wilford Woodruff brought the restored gospel to thousands.
Growth was dramatic, but most new converts soon crossed the Atlantic Ocean to America to gather in “Zion.” It is estimated that between 1837 and the turn of the century, perhaps as many as 100,000 new converts left the British Isles for the American frontier. These strong converts not only helped build the Church in Salt Lake City, but also played a major role in colonizing some 350 townships in the American West.
Today there are new frontiers and new challenges, especially for you young members of the Church in the United Kingdom and Ireland. You live in a society of transition, like many other parts of today’s ever-changing world. A land steeped in tradition is coming to terms with other cultures and influences, brought closer by rapid advances in the technology of transportation and communication.
For example, the long-standing character of the traditional British ‘Sunday’ is gradually being lost, as the Sabbath becomes just another day for business, shopping, and recreation. As in other parts of the world, there is a growing lobby in Great Britain advocating such things as a national lottery, easy abortion, increased latitude toward homosexual activity, and other destructive practices. The drug problem and the AIDS problem are escalating here, as in so many other parts of the world.
But far more important than potential problems is the fact that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has come of age, and is increasingly a strong force for greater faith and righteousness.
Since the Church stopped calling for Saints to gather to Utah and instead encouraged new converts to build the kingdom in their native lands, the progress has been remarkable. As late as the mid 1950s there were just over 6,500 members in Great Britain. Today, membership stands near the 170,000 mark, and a beautiful temple outside of London symbolizes the permanence of the Latter-day Saint presence in Britain. Virtually the whole of U.K./Ireland is now under stake administration, with 40 stakes and eight missions.
The reality is that many of today’s Church leaders here are still first-generation members of the Church, “pioneers” in their own right. But coming through to leadership positions now and in the near future is your generation, which includes sons and daughters of faithful members, you young men and women who have been born and reared in the Church, attended seminary, served missions, and married in the temple. Your generation will have the exciting task of leading the Church in Great Britain into a new era, and making you pioneers in your own right.
The courage and commitment of your generation—and those who follow—will surely be put to the test. Never has the need been greater for youth in Britain to influence others by the eloquence of example.
You of the new generation must not fail in the dynamic movement of the kingdom of God. Be involved! Be of service. Fill your lives with opportunities to feel the Spirit. Spiritual truth cannot be transferred from one to another except by spiritual experience; testimonies are not “taught” so much as they are “caught”—and earned.
It is the task of our generation to ensure that the souls of your generation are given the opportunity to be enriched by service and influenced by the Spirit. And it is the task of your generation to seize these strong, faith-promoting forces that will take you into an enriching and fulfilling lifetime of happiness and devotion in the kingdom of God.
It is the opportunity and blessing of youth in the latter days to dream dreams and see visions (see Joel 2:28). Out of such idealism and wholehearted effort will come a future filled with hope and promise. Such are the dreams and plans of the youth in the United Kingdom and Ireland today. May the Lord bless you, too, to be able to serve “at all hazards.”