To the Saints in the Utah South Area

By Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles


The following is the text from an address given by Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in a broadcast to the 235 stakes in the Utah South Area on September 13, 2015.


My brothers and sisters, all of you who are here in the Marriott Center and throughout the Utah South Area, as we know from the New Testament, the Apostle Paul kept in touch with the ancient Saints through letters or epistles that he sent to communicate his love, direction, and teachings.

Because I am unable to personally meet with all of you in your 235 stakes where you are gathered in your many chapels, I am giving to you my own epistle today to express my love and gratitude and provide you some specific counsel.

To the Saints in Corinth, Paul wrote, “Paul, called to be an apostle of Jesus Christ through the will of God.”[1] I have also been called to be an Apostle of Jesus Christ, and as a special witness of the Lord, I testify, as Paul did in his letters, that Jesus Christ gave Himself for us and that the Father raised Him from the dead. I further testify that Christ restored His Church through the Prophet Joseph Smith in these last days and that the fulness of the blessings associated with the covenants He restored is available to every one of you.

In greeting you, I will paraphrase Paul’s words: “Unto the church of God [in the Utah South Area], to them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, ... grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ.”[2]

Paul often praised the Saints for their example, as he did in his letters to the Romans: “I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, that your faith is spoken of throughout the whole world.”[3] The same can be said today about you Saints in the Utah South Area—your faith, dedication, and devotion are well known throughout the entire Church.

In one sense, the Church in Utah is the heart of the worldwide Church body. The heart is a muscle which pumps blood through the blood vessels of the circulatory system, providing the body with needed oxygen and nutrients.

The Saints in Utah help pump gospel truths through the entire world—giving the members important spiritual oxygen and essential nutrients.

As you may know, the Gallup organization releases a poll from time to time regarding trends in religious practices in the United States. It won’t surprise you that the Provo area was ranked as the most religious metro area in the United States. They noted, “The 77 percent level of frequent church attendance among residents of Provo is clearly exceptional.”[4]

And in February 2015, the Gallup organization reported that Utah is the most religious state in the nation, with 51 percent of the population saying they attend religious services each week.[5]

We see this faithfulness through the Utah South Area in the lives of people dedicated to becoming disciples of Jesus Christ. Additionally, your dedication to the Lord is revealed in the religious landscape of the Utah South Area, with:

  • Three missions
  • Six temples, with two under construction
  • the largest religious university in America
  • vibrant institutes of religion programs associated with the great colleges and universities in the area
  • an expanding missionary training center in Provo
  • Numerous ward, stake, and seminary buildings from Mesquite, Nevada, and St. George, Utah, in the south to Moab and Vernal in the east and to Alpine and Heber City in the north

In terms of tithes and offerings, missionary service, temple work, good deeds, and leadership, the Utah South Area provides the Church a generous resource to help build the kingdom of God and to establish Zion throughout the world.


The Lord has blessed you with unprecedented prosperity when compared to all those who have lived on the earth. Your access to medical, dental, clean water, education, transportation, and sanitation services is unparalleled in world history.

You have also been blessed with recreational and entertainment options, and you are surrounded by a beautiful, rich, and diverse natural world.

Productive farms, ranches, and orchards dot the land, and small and large businesses provide employment—paying mortgages, medical expenses, and educational expenses of employees. Sports and the arts flourish in your communities, drawing attention to Utah from around the world.

The Book of Mormon and Isaiah’s prophecies are being fulfilled in our very own time—the Saints are prospering in the land, and the land is blossoming as a rose.

Your contributions are significant and important. I thank you for your dedication and commitment to bless your families, communities, and the entire world.

To keep the heart healthy, we need regular medical checkups. As I have reviewed ecclesiastical, governmental, and news reports, conferred with your leaders, and prayed for heaven’s help, I have some recommendations for the Utah South Area that will keep this heartland healthy and strong. These recommendations include maintaining healthy practices you are already engaged in and, in some cases, recommending adjustments in your spiritual exercise and well-being.

Paul warned the Saints in his own day of the spiritual dangers they faced. To the Galatians he wrote:

“I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel:

“Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ.

“But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed.”[6]

I raise my warning voice, as Paul did, that there are those “that trouble you”—people that “pervert the gospel of Christ.” I would be shirking my duty if I did not raise my voice to warn you of the challenges we face today.


There are two powers, brothers and sisters, in the universe; one invites us to choose the right and experience eternal joy and happiness, and the other invites us to choose the opposite, bringing sadness and regret. Our doctrine teaches us that life is a test—a time to see which invitation we will accept.

I remind you of Jesus’s prophecy regarding the last days in which we now live: “For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect.”[7] We are saddened when we witness some of the “very elect” deceived as Jesus warned.

Recently I visited a small grove of sequoia trees planted years ago on the BYU campus not far from where this broadcast is originating today in Provo.

A friend of mine explained to me that sequoias are the world’s largest trees and that they can grow to between 164 and 279 feet tall in the wild. They can live to more than a thousand years.


Another interesting fact about the sequoias is that their unique and resilient bark protects the trees from forest fires and also repels bugs and fungi that can damage and kill a tree.

BYU students have walked past the grove for more than 50 years. Sadly, one of the trees died last year, and the dead tree needed to be cut down, leaving only a stump to remind anyone passing by that a tall, majestic tree once stood there.

The campus arborist wanted to know what killed the tree, as the sequoia certainly did not die of old age. After an examination, he determined that the tree’s feeding roots had died from a lack of water.

How was that possible inasmuch as the tree had flourished there for more than five decades?

The arborist discovered that the aquifer that nourished the little grove had shifted as an unintended consequence of the construction of the new Life Sciences Building, just east of the grove.

To me this is a perfect analogy of what happens when stalwart Church members, the “very elect,” those who for all appearances seem to stand tall and erect in the faith, die spiritually.

Like the dead sequoia, these Church members once received their spiritual nourishment from the well of living water offered by Jesus Christ, but having been disconnected for one reason or another from that source, their spirit was dulled, and they eventually died spiritually.[8]

Now I ask you brothers and sisters, how can we ensure that our spiritual feeding roots are always connected to the well of living water?

Essential habits

The Lord outlined simple, personal habits that keep us rooted, grounded, and connected to Him. Such habits, when done with full purpose of heart, real intent, and without hypocrisy and deception, allow us to be unwavering disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ.

These essential habits include the things that seem to easily slip away in the rush of our very busy lives, even when we are engaged in good things like pursuing an education, working to support a family, and involving ourselves in community and Church service.

They include sincere daily prayer, faithful fasting, regular study and pondering of the scriptures and the words of the living prophets, making the Sabbath day a delight, partaking of the sacrament with humility and always remembering the Savior, worshipping in the temple as often as possible, and, finally, reaching out to the needy, poor, and lonely—both those close by and across the world.


When someone stops doing these simple but essential things, they cut themselves from the well of living water and allow Satan to muddle their thinking. Sin and guilt cloud the mind—leading them to deny past inspiration and revelation and causing a “de-conversion” from the truths of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

One thing that is constantly on my mind is knowing that individuals who don’t stay focused on the simple doctrine and gospel of Christ will eventually listen to false teachers and self-declared prophets and adopt worldly philosophies. These alternative voices include:

  • The allure of prideful wealth
  • Recreation and entertainment that can take away from the goodness of the gospel
  • Not observing the Sabbath day
  • Viewing podcasts and Internet sites that raise questions and doubt without being intellectually honest and that do not adequately and honestly present the Lord’s perspective

Help others find answers to questions

Let me make sure that you are hearing my epistle and that you understand this important point. There is absolutely nothing wrong with asking questions or investigating our history, doctrine, and practices. The Restoration began when Joseph Smith sought answers to his sincere questions.

Parents; Young Men and Young Women leaders; Church teachers, including seminary, institute, and BYU religious educators; bishops; and Relief Society and stake presidents: When someone comes to you with a question or a concern, please do not brush the question off—do not tell him or her to not worry about the question. Please do not doubt the person’s dedication to the Lord or His work. Instead, help the person find the answers to their questions. Let me illustrate this point with a personal experience.

“When someone comes to you with a question or a concern, please do not brush the question off—do not tell him or her to not worry about the question. Please do not doubt the person’s dedication to the Lord or His work. Instead, help the person find the answers to their questions.” —Elder M. Russell Ballard

One of our outstanding missionaries that served with us in the Canada Toronto Mission years ago came to my office in Salt Lake City. During our visit, he told me that he was losing his faith and his testimony and that he had many questions. I asked him to write down his questions and promised to find answers to them, certainly as many as I could. As he was about to leave—he had his hand on the doorknob of my office—I said, "Elder, how long has it been since you have studied the scriptures; specifically, how long has it been since you have read from the Book of Mormon? He lowered his head and said he had not been doing that. I gave him an assignment to begin reading the Book of Mormon for an hour each day while I worked to prepare answers to his questions. He agreed to do so.

Two weeks later, he came back to my office, and as he entered in and sat down he said, “President, I don’t need answers to those questions anymore. I did what you asked—I know the Book of Mormon is true and I know Joseph Smith is a prophet of God.” I was very happy to hear that but said, “Elder, I spent a long time answering your questions so you will have to sit down and hear the answers!” What a joy! The Spirit and light of the gospel had returned to him. I commended him and gave him a big hug before he left.

We have heard stories where someone asking honest questions about our history, doctrine, or practice were treated as though they were faithless. This is not the Lord’s way. As Peter said, “Be ready always to give an answer to every man [or woman] that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you.”[9]

We need to do better in responding to honest questions. Although we may not be able to answer every question about the cosmos or about our history, practices, or doctrine, we can provide many answers to those who are sincere.


Help those with questions to realize that the Lord does not require His Saints to have advanced degrees in history and Church doctrine. Therefore, we should not expect that parents, leaders, and teachers will have all the answers to every question. Even among the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, there are those who have very different backgrounds and training that allow a sharing of a wide range of experience to our discussion and deliberations.

When I have a question that I cannot answer, I turn to those who can help me. The Church is blessed with trained scholars and those who have devoted a lifetime of study, who have come to know our history and the scriptures. These thoughtful men and women provide context and background so we can better understand our sacred past and our current practices.       

The Church is dedicated to transparency and has donated precious resources to provide new insights and offer even more context to the story of the Restoration through the Joseph Smith Papers website and the Gospel Topics essays on LDS.org. It is a remarkable time to study Church history and doctrine, with abundant resources and experts providing helpful background and understanding of our past.

Turn to prophets and apostles

Another concern I have is you live so close to the Church headquarters that some of you have become casual in listening to the Lord’s servants. Some choose to miss sessions of stake and general conference because they see those special weekends as a time off from their Church assignments. It is hard for me to understand why anyone turns to other voices on the Internet without first turning to voices of the scriptures or the voices of the living prophets and apostles.


Live within means

I also worry that some members in the Utah South Area live beyond their means as they attempt to keep up with their neighbors. We make a very serious mistake when we compare our lives with those who have much wealth, forgetting that most of us have already prospered in the land. Please be content and enjoy the blessings you have already received instead becoming a slave to unwise use of consumer debt.

Enjoy each other’s company

Now, some of you may be overprogrammed with lots of activities, including good ones. Please be careful not to overprogram your children. Turn off social media and other outside distractions from time to time to sit and talk and enjoy each other’s company.

You don’t always have to fill up your schedule totally. Please carefully look at your calendars and consider where you might cut back a little and enjoy a less hectic life more fully. The Lord counseled us to find time to “be still, and know that I am God.”[10]


My epistle to you dear Saints is almost completed, so please hang in there. Using a smartphone for calling and sending text messages is dangerous while driving, and it is also dangerous when they distract us from being with those we love. I heard a story of a wife and mother who left the family room where her family members were sitting with their eyes glued to their smartphones, laptop computers, and notebooks, not talking with one another. From the other room she sent them all a message on her smartphone suggesting that they turn them off and talk with one another face to face.

Recently, one of my colleagues in the Twelve attended a Shabbat service with a Jewish family in their home. He reported that he was impressed because during the Shabbat dinner, everyone in the family had turned off their electronic devices so they could give their full attention to each other. I think we could be more like this faithful Jewish family in choosing to spend time with our family without distraction.
 


 

Love thy neighbor

A word about our friends, neighbors, and associates at school and work who are not members of the Church. Our history is full of stories where we were in the minority and suffered various forms of discrimination and persecution. We finally came to these valleys to build a covenant community of caring where we could live in peace.

The Lord reminded the ancient Israelites, after they had settled in their promised land, “Love ye therefore the stranger: for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt.”[11] This is an important reminder to modern Israel that we should treat one another with respect and kindness and especially those living among us who are not members, because we were once strangers too.

The Book of Mormon reminds us, “Now there was a strict law among the people of the church, that there should not any man [or woman], belonging to the church, arise and persecute those that did not belong to the church.”[12]

Although we take seriously the great commission and charge from the Lord: “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost,” we honor and respect everyone's agency.[13]

If a neighbor, work colleague, or schoolmate is not interested in investigating the gospel, we must always continue to extend the hand of friendship.


I invite every parent listening today to talk with your children about how they should treat others not of our faith on the school playground and in our neighborhoods. Our children learn best by the example of parents and leaders. Let us be careful regarding what we say about others and how we treat our fellowmen.

Remember, the Lord commanded, “Thou shalt not bear false witness.”[14] We ask other faiths not to speak about our church based on misrepresentations; therefore, we must not do so with them.

Jesus taught, “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.”[15] If we are His disciples, we must practice Christian civility and kindness to all we meet, including those who have chosen to disassociate themselves from the Church.

Let us join hands with all people of goodwill in every good cause and include them in our circles of friends and associates. Let us truly welcome them into our chapels and ward activities.

Now a warning particularly applicable today because of the unprecedented access to educational opportunities, especially in the Utah South Area. It comes from the Book of Mormon: “O that cunning plan of the evil one! O the vainness, and the frailties, and the foolishness of men [and I add women]! When they are learned they think they are wise, and they hearken not unto the counsel of God, for they set it aside, supposing they know of themselves, wherefore, their wisdom is foolishness and it profiteth them not. And they shall perish.”[16]


Those who have the gift of knowledge or who have had the opportunity to obtain an education should never look down on any of God’s children with disdain because an individual lacks the gift or the opportunity of education. Too often, Facebook and blog posts mock and ridicule humble members who are doing their best in teaching and speaking at Church. Often, like the widow’s mite, these members are giving all they have, and we should rejoice that God’s grace is sufficient to work through the “weak things of the earth.” In His eyes, are we not all "weak"?

I testify that if you will carefully consider this counsel and direction you have received from each one of us today, you will find your feeder roots connected to the "well of water springing up into everlasting life.”[17] You will not die spiritually like the beautiful sequoia tree, but rather I testify that you will have more peace, joy, and happiness in your lives by accepting Jesus Christ and the servants He has called and sent and by following His gospel plan.

My beloved brothers and sisters, it is a deep honor for us to be able to speak to you today. We love you. We love you students who are here in the Marriott Center. It is my privilege to invite our Heavenly Father to bless you. May you have peace. May you have joy in your hearts. May you have the courage to repent if you need to. If there is something going on in your lives, wherever you may be hearing this broadcast, may you have the courage to deal with it today. May the Lord give you the strength to turn to Him, to love Him, and to serve Him, that you may find yourselves safely moving through this process of mortality prepared to one day be held in the arms of our Father in Heaven and His Beloved Son.

I testify to you that I know that Jesus is the Christ. He is the Son of God. These things that we have spoken to you today I hope you will receive in the spirit in which we have given them. If we need to do better, may God bless us to so do. This is the Church of Jesus Christ. He is the head of it. We know His will; we fight His battles.

May God bless you, my beloved brothers and sisters, to join the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and other Church leaders as we fight the battle preparing for that day when the Savior and Redeemer of the world will come once again is my humble prayer, testimony, and blessing, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.