It is exciting to be with you in the Africa Southeast Area. Sister Cook and I began our service here in August, and we are grateful to be with you. Thank you for your faith and dedication to the gospel. Thank you for your many hours of service, for your tireless efforts in building the kingdom, and for your unselfishness in caring for the poor. We are humbled to serve with you.
It is a sacred privilege to be part of the historic events that are unfolding in this part of the world. The Church is well established in some our areas, but it is in its infancy compared to the growth yet to come. Each of us is blessed to witness the powerful hand of the Lord moving across this land. As covenant members of His Church, we must do all in our power to further the work. We must establish centres of strength from which the Church can expand, so that all of God’s children might enjoy the full blessings of the gospel. We create centres of strength by establishing the Lord’s kingdom in our personal lives, our families, branches, and wards. As we do this, the Lord’s work will progress, and each of us will be richly blessed, as will future generations to come.
Learn from History
We can understand more about our role in the Lord’s work by studying how He has led others in establishing His kingdom. When children of Israel were led by the hand of the Lord out of bondage, they experienced severe trials and hardships, as well as miraculous blessings. They suffered as slaves under cruel taskmasters prior to being led out of Egypt into the wilderness. Pharaoh pursued them with 600 chariots and all of his army and horses, and overtook them. The children of Israel, “were sore afraid: and...cried out unto the Lord.”1 The prophet Moses said unto the people, “Fear ye not, stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will shew to you today...The Lord shall fight for you....” 2 The Lord then instructed Moses to tell the people to go forward, and He parted the Red Sea. The children of Israel passed through on dry ground, and the armies of Pharaoh who followed were drowned in the depths of the sea. “Thus the Lord saved Israel that day...And Israel saw that great work which the Lord did upon the Egyptians: and the people feared the Lord, and believed the Lord, and his servant Moses.”3 In the midst of their hardships the children of Israel experienced miracles, the Lord’s purposes were fulfilled and their faith increased. (Exodus 14)
The children of Israel faced seemingly overwhelming challenges. We also face challenges today, including difficult economic conditions, the deteriorating morals of society and perilous times. We have challenges in our homes, families and relationships. If we move forward and trust that the Lord will open up the way before us, He can help us solve our problems. To qualify for needed blessings, the Lord has admonished us to exercise faith, follow our prophet and priesthood leaders, repent, keep His commandments, and follow the promptings of the Holy Ghost. The adversary and other enemies of the Church will not prevail. The course is set, and though there are obstacles along the way, the Lord is with us and will lead us. We will experience miracles as we move forward. “What I the Lord have spoken, I have spoken, and I excuse not myself; and though the heavens and the earth pass away, my word shall not pass away, but shall all be fulfilled, whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same” (D&C 1:38).
Each can serve
Each of us has a unique role, and talents to contribute to the Lord’s work. We can discover and understand our role if we are prayerful, accept and fulfil callings in the Church, receive and study our patriarchal blessings, and follow the spirit. Our path will be illuminated as we follow the Lord’s plan for us.
We must not underestimate the value of our service. Every person’s contribution of time, talents and energy is significant to the work. They are the building blocks the Lord uses to build His Church. President Boyd K. Packer described how the Lord uses individuals in bringing about miracles to establish the Church. “As we proceed [with the Lord’s commands] we are joined at the crossroads by those who have been prepared to help us. They come with skills and abilities precisely suited to our needs. And, we find provisions; information, inventions, help of various kinds, set along the way waiting for us to take them up. It is though someone knew we would be travelling that way. We see the invisible hand of the Almighty providing for us....”4 May we be at the crossroads giving whatever is needed to help the work! The Lord knows our capacities and will use us to build His kingdom.
Follow God’s Plan
As we follow God’s plan for us, we must remain committed and endure whatever hardships may come. We must remain worthy. We must not be short sighted, evaluating our efforts on immediate results or on what is happening directly around us. We must look up, and be patient with the Lord’s timing. We must not allow ourselves to become tired, or question if our sacrifices are worth it. I am inspired by the example of early pioneers who established the restored Church at great personal sacrifice to benefit those who followed. Though mobs combined and enemies threatened, the early saints were not deterred from establishing Zion. Some were the only members of the Church in their families; some were uprooted from their homes multiple times; many lost family members; and most endured long, agonizing, work-filled days without the material comforts of life. My great, great grandfather, Joseph Skeen was such a man.
Joseph Skeen’s Example
Joseph was born in 1816 in Pennsylvania in the United States, and was one of nine children.5 His father died when he was nine years of age, and he worked hard as a young man to help support the family.6 After he was married, he learned about the gospel from a missionary. In his journal he recorded that he believed, but did not obey it initially. About six months later he and his wife were baptized.7 Joseph was the only member of his father’s family who joined the Church at that time.8 At the request of Church leaders, he and his wife sold all of their belongings and moved to Nauvoo to join the Saints.9 After arriving, he went to see the prophet Joseph Smith and asked him for counsel as to what he should do. He was told to go and work a farm, and do the best he could, which he did. Shortly afterwards, Joseph Skeen, his wife and their two children got sick. They had no friends come to administer to them. Eventually, the elders came and gave them blessings, but they endured many hardships. As a new convert, he said, “...we worked along, hung onto the Church with what little faith we had, though the devil tried to destroy us and turn us back. It was a very dark time with me, for I had no money and we were all sick and among strangers. So I worked along, doing the best I could...to support my family”.10 Joseph eventually recovered. He later joined the Mormon Battalion, once again experiencing many hardships.11 After a time, he arrived in the Salt Lake Valley and was part of the original settlers of Plain City,12 where I was born several generations later. During the course of his life, Joseph lost his wife and four of his children. He endured droughts; plagues, snowstorms, and the pain of seeing a child go astray. Joseph became ill and died in 1882.13
Speakers at his funeral described Joseph as, “A man of integrity and sterling worth. He was always true to his trust; he never showed any disposition to flinch from duty or to desert his colours....He was ever found at his post, faithful and true to his trust....” The white headstone marking Joseph Skeen’s final resting place in Plain City, Utah reads, “He died as he lived, a true Latter-Day Saint.”14
I wonder if Joseph Skeen could have conceived the impact his relatively simple life would have on me, and upon countless others of his posterity? I am a fifth generation descendent of this great man. There are hundreds of us who have experienced the blessings of the gospel he helped to establish in our family. I will be forever grateful for his life of sacrifice and commitment in laying a strong foundation for future generations.
Many of you fill a role similar to Joseph Skeen, in your family tree, and among the people you live. You live in various countries, and you are pioneers--sacrificing, serving, and inviting others to follow Christ through words and by example. Some of you have served for many years and have been instrumental in bringing others into the Church. Some of you are parents with young children, striving to help them embrace the principles of the gospel. Some of you quietly serve, week after week in the auxiliaries of the Church. Many of you are recent converts, and may be the first member of the Church in your family. Your lives are filled with difficulties, but you press forward with faith in God. Thank you, each one of you, for your tireless efforts in living the gospel. Thank you for not giving up when trials come. Thank you for standing by your post and being a true Latter-Day Saint.
You have the opportunity to establish and strengthen the foundation of the Church here in the countries of the Africa Southeast Area. You are the modern-day pioneers of Africa, and its neighbouring islands of the sea. As in times past, we will be required to sacrifice as we go about the Lord’s work. The prophet Joseph Smith said, “A religion that does not require the sacrifice of all things never has power sufficient to produce the faith necessary unto life and salvation...Those who do not make the sacrifice cannot enjoy this faith, because men are dependent upon this sacrifice in order to obtain this faith.”15 I know as we sacrifice we will be richly blessed, and we will be guided and comforted in our work. I know with the Lord’s help, the Church will grow and flourish. May the Lord bless us in this work, that our names might be held in fond remembrance by those who we influence for good, for many generations to come.
Thank you once again to each of you, for who you are, and for all you do. May the Lord bless you and your families this Christmas season with peace in your hearts, and in your homes. I pray that He will strengthen each of us, and help us to do His will. In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.
2. Exodus 14:13-14.
3. Exodus 14:30-31.
4. Boyd K. Packer, Regional Representatives Seminar, April 1, 1977.
5. Journal and History of Joseph Skeen, p. 1.
6. History, p. 6.
7. History, p. 10.
8. History, p. 12.
9. History, p. 14.
10. History, p. 23.
11. History, p. 63.
12. History, p. 252.
13. History, p. 294.
14. History, p. 295.
15. James E. Faust, “Opening the Windows of Heaven,” October 1998 General Conference, (from Lectures on Faith, 1985, 69-70).