As a teenager, I thought of friends as people near my own age whose association I enjoyed. I now realize that friends can also be those of any age we hold in high esteem because of their positive influence in our lives.
Such a friend and teacher came into my life when I served my mission in England in the early 1960s. Marion D. Hanks became my mission president, and his teachings and example have blessed me throughout my life. What truly characterized his life and teaching was his understanding and commitment to the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Let me share three of his lessons that have been particularly helpful to me.
The Attributes of the Savior
Elder Hanks wanted his missionaries to understand the attributes of the Savior. He had us read the Book of Mormon, marking each reference to the Savior, and then asked us to think about the implications of being a follower of Christ. “Therefore, what manner of men ought ye to be? Verily I say unto you, even as I am” (3 Ne. 27:27).
His testimony and the demonstrated love, appreciation, and awe which he obviously felt for the Savior established an example which has been highly influential.
The Wise Use of Agency
Elder Hanks taught that agency is much more than a gift; it is something you have whether you want it or not (2 Ne. 2:27). We cannot control circumstances, but we can control our spiritual reaction to those circumstances.
On July 8, 1962, Elder Hanks wrote to us:
“Years ago a great friend and benefactor shared with me a great thought. I believed it then and decided to build it into the foundation of my life. The years have increased to absolute knowledge my assurance that it is true. When we first came here I shared it with you and asked you to memorize it and live by it. I would like all of you to learn it:
“There is no chance, no destiny, no fate, can circumvent or hinder or control the firm resolve of a determined soul.”
Determining in advance to live all the commandments has enormous power. This has served me well throughout my life.
The Importance of Service
Elder Hanks taught that if the purpose of religion is to learn to love God and your fellowmen, then to be religious is to be of service, as his own life demonstrated. He not only fulfilled and magnified his callings, but he also extended his love and service without restraint to those in need.
I have not had significant contact with Elder Hanks in more than 35 years since returning from the mission field. However, the impressions he left were so strong, and his teachings, particularly from the Book of Mormon, so influential, that they have been magnified many times over in my life and in the lives of those who served under him. We all consider him a dear friend.