LDS Church is Providing an Army of Volunteers to Red Cross

LDS Church is Providing an Army of Volunteers to Red Cross

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (sometimes inadvertently called the Mormon Church) and the American Red Cross have a similar mission: to help others in need. Both depend on an army of unpaid volunteers to get the work done. And sometimes their efforts overlap, as both organizations are often among the first to respond in times of natural disaster. So it’s no surprise that the two have partnered together for more than 25 years.

Leaders from The Church of Jesus Christ and the Red Cross have been working to improve and coordinate their efforts on the community level so they are more prepared when disasters strike. Two years ago, the Church and the Red Cross signed a “memorandum of understanding” designed to improve their joint efforts in disaster planning, including training, drills, and identifying and using shelter locations.

This year, the organizations are taking their partnership to the next level—The Church of Jesus Christ has a goal of providing 200 volunteers to the charitable organization by the end of 2014, according to Kristy Denlein, volunteer services director for the Red Cross’ Utah region. The initiative began in Utah earlier this year, but both groups see potential to expand outside of the state. Denlein said:

The Red Cross and the LDS Church have a strong partnership nationwide, so I think it’s something here, modeling that good relationship with a community partner like the LDS Church, that could definitely be modeled throughout the country.

Prophets and apostles of Jesus Christ encourage members to be prepared for all types of emergencies—including natural disasters, job loss and long-term power outages, just to name a few. The Red Cross also teaches emergency preparedness so their volunteers are ready to help in times of need.

This joint effort will provide “breadth in our services and some depth in our responses through disaster preparedness and response,” according to Lynne Killian, who is one of the Red Cross volunteers from The Church of Jesus Christ’s initiative. Denlein said, “It’s a great opportunity for the Red Cross. We’re enjoying working with our partners and we’re just excited to see … where it takes us through the year.”


The Mission of The Church of Jesus Christ



The mission of The Church of Jesus Christ is to rescue souls—sometimes physically as well as spiritually. Latter-day Saints are disciples of Jesus Christ, who taught that the greatest commandment was to love God and our neighbor. Sometimes that means sharing what we know about the gospel and the Savior, and sometimes that requires us to step up and help others in their time of need. The parable of the Good Samaritan is one of my favorites, and illustrates this point well. A Jewish man was walking on a road when two men attacked him, robbed and beat him and left him for dead. Two religious men walked past him and didn’t help. But the third, a Samaritan, stopped and helped the man. This is how disciples of Jesus Christ honor Him. Elder Russell M. Nelson, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles (with the First Presidency, the governing body of The Church of Jesus Christ), said:

This is the call of Christ to every Christian today: “Feed my lambs. … Feed my sheep”—share my gospel with young and old, lifting, blessing, comforting, encouraging, and building them, especially those who think and believe differently than we do. We feed His lambs in our homes by how we live the gospel: keeping the commandments, praying, studying the scriptures, and emulating His love. … And we feed His sheep throughout the world by being good Christian neighbors, practicing the pure religion of visiting and serving the widows, the fatherless, the poor, and all who are in need.


… Like the good Samaritan, the Savior was continually reaching out to rescue, love, and nurture people around Him, regardless of their culture, creed, or circumstances.

Missionary service isn’t always young men in suits and ties knocking on doors—but it is always being an example of Jesus Christ, ready to serve.


Called to Serve in the Red Cross


Red Cross Helping HandsService is an integral part of The Church of Jesus Christ. Indeed, it is part of the covenant (or two-way promise between a person and God, and the terms are set by God) that members make when they are baptized into the Church. The Church of Jesus Christ functions in large measure because of the unpaid volunteer ministry of its members, or its lay clergy. From the Sunday School teacher to the bishop (leader) of the ward (local congregation), all are unpaid volunteers.

But members do not campaign for their assignments. Rather, they are “called,” or invited, to serve in these positions by their local Church leaders, who pray and ask God whom they should call. Most members willingly accept assignments. What does this have to do with the Red Cross? The Church of Jesus Christ will fill their Red Cross volunteer positions through callings, church service and missionary assignments. Although many associate Latter-day Saint missionaries with young men in shirts and ties, some members are called to serve part-time or full-time in humanitarian assistance or other service missions.

Lynne Killian and her husband, Val, were among those called to serve a 24-month humanitarian service mission for The Church of Jesus Christ with the Red Cross. Lynne helps to oversee assistant programs, delivering Christmas cards to veterans and keeping the Red Cross office in order. Her husband, Val, works to ensure that emergency response programs, shelters and kits are all in place. Both are also taking multiple emergency preparedness classes.

The point, said Val, is this: “If you’re not trained and if you’re not proficient and if you haven’t an interest, then all you are is just one that needs help, rather than one that can give help.” And being of service to your neighbor is what the gospel of Jesus Christ is all about. Val said:

We’re all members of the community. No matter what religion or race or creed we are. It behooves each one of us to help each other, to help our neighbor, to know what it means to be neighborly.

As disciples of Christ, we seek to emulate Him by serving those around us.


Helping Hands in Times of Need




In The Church of Jesus Christ, members believe in helping others. Latter-day Saint Helping Hands volunteers are hard to miss with their trademark yellow vests. But this is just one line of defense, so to speak, as we seek to take care of those around us. Elder Dallin H. Oaks, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, explained:

… Using funds donated by generous members, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints sends food, clothing, and other essentials to relieve the suffering of adults and children all over the world. These humanitarian donations, totaling hundreds of millions of dollars in the last decade, are made without any consideration of religion, race, or nationality.


Our massive relief effort following the 2011 Japanese earthquake and tsunami provided $13 million in cash and relief supplies. In addition, more than 31,000 Church-sponsored volunteers gave more than 600,000 hours of service.


Our humanitarian assistance to the victims of Hurricane Sandy in the eastern United States included large donations of various resources, plus almost 300,000 hours of service in cleanup efforts by about 28,000 Church members. Among many other examples last year, we provided 300,000 pounds (136,000 kg) of clothing and shoes for the refugees in the African nation of Chad. During the last quarter century we have assisted nearly 30 million people in 179 countries.

Rather than boasting, Elder Oaks’ remarks illustrate how one person’s contribution can really make a difference. Elder M. Russell Ballard said:

Honeybees are driven to pollinate, gather nectar, and condense the nectar into honey. It is their magnificent obsession imprinted into their genetic makeup by our Creator. It is estimated that to produce just one pound (0.45 kg) of honey, the average hive of 20,000 to 60,000 bees must collectively visit millions of flowers and travel the equivalent of two times around the world. Over its short lifetime of just a few weeks to four months, a single honeybee’s contribution of honey to its hive is a mere one-twelfth of one teaspoon.


Though seemingly insignificant when compared to the total, each bee’s one-twelfth of a teaspoon of honey is vital to the life of the hive. The bees depend on each other. Work that would be overwhelming for a few bees to do becomes lighter because all of the bees faithfully do their part.

The same is true as disciples of Jesus Christ seek to do His work, serving others around the world. Each person’s contribution adds to the whole. And while each donation of time, money, energy or other resources may seem insignificant, when compiled together it adds up to a great work that blesses the lives of many people.

I have seen countless visual examples of this throughout the years, but I’d like to recount one experience. A member of our ward was struggling to get his hay bales from the field to his ranch, and the rain (and snow) was coming—which would ruin his hay. So another ward member organized an old-fashioned hay bucking party (without telling the owner of the hay). A small army of volunteers of all ages showed up at the hay field and loaded the bales onto trucks.

Then, to the owner’s surprise, at least a half-dozen trucks and trailers loaded with hay pulled up at his ranch and began unloading. This job was too much for one person to accomplish in such a short time. But with many hands, we were able to finish the job in one night. It was cold and wet, but there were no complaints—especially when several ladies brought out hot chocolate and cookies for everyone. And the tearful gratitude of the rancher and his family was a powerful reminder that God hears our prayers, and He often answers them through other people.


Ready to Help after Disaster in Austin, Texas


Service God Mosiah


Members of The Church of Jesus Christ are also taught to be prepared. Because, in truth, when the storms come the time to prepare has passed. Latter-day Saints in Austin, Texas, saw a need for more preparation last fall as they were helping to clean up after massive flooding. The work of the American Red Cross of Central Texas was slowed because too few people were trained to conduct damage assessments—which is essential before those affected can receive aid. Kevin Christensen, vice chair of Central Texas Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster, said:

After the flood, we realized the need for more people to be trained to provide disaster assessments. The quicker an assessment is completed, the faster help can be provided to those in need.

More than 50 members of The Church of Jesus Christ teamed up with the Red Cross to receive disaster assessment training. Bill Dorman, disaster services volunteer chair for the American Red Cross of Central Texas, said that these newly trained volunteers can be deployed in a future disaster. He said:

There are three phases in the disaster cycle: preparedness, response, and recovery. LDS members can now work as part of a damage assessment team during disaster response. Providing accurate and timely disaster assessment is essential for good planning and to verify families’ disaster-caused needs.

Kent Huntsman, president of the Round Rock Texas East Stake (a stake is a geographic region consisting of a group of wards), said:

As members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we seek to follow the example of our Savior, Jesus Christ, in our service to mankind. We are pleased to partner with the Red Cross as we prepare to assist those in need during times of disaster.

Their preparation will greatly bless the lives of others in an area that has seen flooding, tornadoes and flooding in recent years.


Emergency Preparedness Begins at Home


Bottled beansThe scriptures teach us to be ready in all things— financially, spiritually and economically. Ezekiel 38:7 states: “Be thou prepared, and prepare for thyself, thou, and all thy company that are assembled unto thee, and be thou a guard unto them.” Indeed, you can’t be a guard or a help to others if you haven’t taken care of your own house, so to speak. Members of The Church of Jesus Christ are counseled to gather a year’s supply of food and have money in reserve, among other things. Elder Boyd K. Packer, of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, told the story of a woman who was striving to follow this counsel. He said:

Someone ridiculed her determination to gather her year’s supply. She had stored enough for herself and her husband, with some to spare for her young married children who were without the means or the space to provide much for themselves. She told him she did it because the prophets had counseled us to do it. He chided her, “In the crunch you won’t have it anyway. What if your leaders call everything in? You’d have to share it with those who didn’t prepare. What will you think then?”


“If that should happen,” she said, “at least I will have something to bring.”

I love this story because I have seen it played out from both sides on many different occasions. When we moved to Idaho about seven years ago, we hit some financial stumbling blocks, as did many others in our area. One husband and wife shared some of their food storage with us in our time of need—and were able to do so because they had it. At another time, we were able to share some food storage with another family because we had it. When we are prepared spiritually and otherwise, we need not fear. And we will be in a position to be a helping hand to others in need. That is what the gospel of Jesus Christ is all about.

Faiths Uniting in Support of Families at the United Nations

Faiths Uniting in Support of Families at the United Nations

The United Nations has set 8 Millennium Development Goals to help the world’s poorest countries improve their situations by 2015. They include eradicating diseases, promoting gender equality and empowering women, improving maternal care and reducing child mortality rates. But conspicuously absent from these goals is the strengthening of families. The leaders of nations, it would appear, don’t seem to notice. But the religions of the world are not only taking notice, they are uniting to do something about it. Nicholeen Peck, a mother and blogger who was invited to present a symposium at this year’s U.N. Conference, wrote:

It is no secret that boundaries are being crossed and topics are being legislated at the United Nations that are not the proper role of national government let alone international government. “The family” a term we are very used to hearing is not a term that many organizations and world leaders favor now days. They think the term is too limiting. Many of these groups also don’t like the term “motherhood,” as they see it as degrading to women. …

For years now, many great people have traveled to the United Nations to impact positive change….  Great pro-family pioneers started productive conversations about the importance of life, the family and motherhood which we are still benefiting from. Currently, there are multiple organizations that are following in the footsteps of these great pioneers. In fact, there were more pro-family organizations attending the CSW conference than I realized existed! This was exciting for me. And, what was even more exciting to me was who was running these organizations. Religious people! So many faithful people from all over the world, Islamic, Catholic, Christian, Mormon and Jew are all working side by side to spread love and brotherhood/sisterhood as well as influence world leaders to support the most holy of organizations, the family. …

What these supporters of traditional family understand is this: The family is the foundational unit of society. If the family fails, then society fails. In contrast, if you support the family, you support and build up society. The late President Gordon B. Hinckley, until his death, the president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, said:

A nation will rise no higher than the strength of its homes. If you want to reform a nation, you begin with families, with parents who teach their children principles and values that are positive and affirmative and will lead them to worthwhile endeavors.

It is this reason that The Church of Jesus Christ and other religious faiths are joining forces to defend the family as well as to help strengthen the traditional family in many nations that are struggling to survive. If a nation will rise no higher than the strength of its homes, then we need to help those in impoverished nations improve their homes—so they can improve their nation. It is, of course, only one area of focus to help a country. But we can’t underestimate its vital role in the process of building a nation.

The Family is of God

True love can alter human livesThe family is the basic, fundamental unit of any society. The family is also an essential element of our existence here on earth. We are all spirit children of a loving Father in Heaven, who sent us here to earth to gain a physical body and to see if we would obey His commandments in all things. Elder Dallin H. Oaks, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles (with the First Presidency, the governing body of The Church of Jesus Christ), explained:

Our understanding of life begins with a council in heaven. There the spirit children of God were taught his eternal plan for their destiny. We had progressed as far as we could without a physical body and an experience in mortality. To realize a fulness of joy, we had to prove our willingness to keep the commandments of God in a circumstance where we had no memory of what preceded our mortal birth.

In the course of mortality, we would become subject to death, and we would be soiled by sin. To reclaim us from death and sin, our Heavenly Father’s plan provided us a Savior, whose atonement would redeem all from death and pay the price necessary for all to be cleansed from sin on the conditions he prescribed (see 2 Nephi 9:19–24).

But a loving Father in Heaven didn’t send us to earth alone—He sent us to earth in families. Elder Russell M. Nelson, an Apostle of Jesus Christ, taught:

Individual progression is fostered in the family, which is “central to the Creator’s plan for the eternal destiny of His children.” The home is to be God’s laboratory of love and service. There a husband is to love his wife, a wife is to love her husband, and parents and children are to love one another.

The Family: A Proclamation to the World states:

The divine plan of happiness enables family relationships to be perpetuated beyond the grave. Sacred ordinances and covenants available in holy temples make it possible for individuals to return to the presence of God and for families to be united eternally. …

The family is ordained of God. Marriage between man and woman is essential to His eternal plan. Children are entitled to birth within the bonds of matrimony, and to be reared by a father and a mother who honor marital vows with complete fidelity. … By divine design, fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness and are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families. Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children. In these sacred responsibilities, fathers and mothers are obligated to help one another as equal partners.

Elder Boyd K. Packer, an Apostle of Jesus Christ, taught:

Children are the past, the present, and the future all blended into one. They are consummately precious. Every time a child is born, the world is renewed in innocence…. Parents are responsible to provide for their children…. We are to look after their physical, their spiritual, and their emotional needs. … Nothing compares with a father who is responsible and in turn teaches his children responsibility. Nothing compares with a mother who is present with them to comfort them and give them assurance. Love, protection, and tenderness are all of consummate worth.

The family is the protective shelter into which children are born, nurtured, loved and taught. It is there that they learn their values, morals and how to treat other people. And parents and grandparents also benefit from lessons provided by the young. Elder Packer said:

When it comes to understanding our relationship with our Heavenly Father, the things my wife and I have learned as parents and grandparents that are of most worth knowing, we have learned from our children.

As a child, it’s difficult to comprehend the love that our parents have for us. But as we become mothers and fathers, we gain a greater appreciation for that unconditional love. And, as Elder Packer said, we gain deeper insight into the relationship we have with our Father in Heaven. Families serve a divine purpose here on earth.

The Power to Bind Traditional Families Together Forever

LDS Temple MarriageFamily relationships also have a divine purpose in the eternities. A loving Heavenly Father did not intend for us to develop deep and abiding love for family members on earth only to be forever separated when we die. Rather, families are designed to be together forever, if certain conditions are met. Forever families begin in the holy temple. Temples are literally houses of the Lord, holy places of worship where a person makes sacred covenants (or two-way promises between a person and God, and the terms are set by God). To enter the temple, a person must have a valid temple recommend—which is available to members of The Church of Jesus Christ who are in good standing. In the temple, a man and woman are sealed together for eternity, provided they keep the commandments and honor their covenants. This means that their marriage does not end at death but will continue beyond the grave. This is possible through the power of the priesthood, which is the power that God gives to man to act in all things for the salvation of His children. It is the same power by which Jesus Christ organized His church on the earth and performed miracles. Only one who has the proper priesthood authority has the power that Matthew described: “Whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 16:19). The greatest joys in this life and the next are found in families. Indeed, the definition of exaltation, or eternal life, is to live in God’s presence as families. Elder Nelson taught:

Marriage is the foundry for social order, the fountain of virtue, and the foundation for eternal exaltation. Marriage has been divinely designated as an eternal and everlasting covenant. Marriage is sanctified when it is cherished and honored in holiness. That union is not merely between husband and wife; it embraces a partnership with God. … Marriage is but the beginning bud of family life; parenthood is its flower. And that bouquet becomes even more beautiful when graced with grandchildren. Families may become as eternal as the kingdom of God itself. …

Marriage was intended by the Lord to endure beyond physical death. His plan offers eternal perpetuation of the family in the kingdom of God. His plan provides temples and opportunities to officiate therein for the living and the dead. A marriage sealed there launches a husband and wife into that grand order of unity so necessary to the perfection of God’s work.

A husband and wife, sealed in the holy temple, are bound together for eternity. Any children born into the union are also bound to them. If the couple already has children, these children can be sealed to them in the temple. It is a powerful bond that will remain in force after death.

Linking Generations

God’s grand plan for His children is to have generations linked in love, by the sealing power. One husband and wife, sealed together for eternity, is but a single link in the human chain. My husband is sealed to his parents and siblings. I am sealed to my parents and siblings. Each of our siblings is sealed to his or her spouse. Our hope is that our children will be sealed to their spouses. When my husband and I were sealed together in the Salt Lake Temple, there were two mirrors across from each other. When we looked into the mirror facing us, we saw images of us stretching back for eternity. When we turned around, we saw the same image stretching back for eternity. This is symbolic of the human chain. Each of us has ancestors who came before us, and each of us has countless numbers of descendants who will follow us. We are the current link in the chain. Each one of us will, at some point in our lives—either here on earth or after we die— have the opportunity to accept or reject the teachings of Jesus Christ. Each will have the opportunity to make and keep the sacred covenants necessary to bind our families together forever. It is for this reason that members of The Church of Jesus Christ perform vicarious work in the temples of God for the dead. The ancient prophet Malachi prophesied:

Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord. And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse. (Malachi 4:5-6)

Elder D. Todd Christofferson, an Apostle of Jesus Christ, explained:

The vicarious ordinances we perform in temples, beginning with baptism, make possible an eternal welding link between generations that fulfills the purpose of the earth’s creation. Without this, “the whole earth would be utterly wasted at [Christ’s] coming.” Elijah has, in fact, come as promised to confer the priesthood power that turns hearts and establishes the welding links between the fathers and the children so that once again what is bound on earth “shall be bound in heaven.” When he came, Elijah declared, “The keys of this dispensation are committed into your hands; and by this ye may know that the great and dreadful day of the Lord is near, even at the doors.”

We are anxiously about the task of searching out our fathers and mothers of generations past and binding them to us and us to them. Is not this the strongest possible evidence of our conviction that Jesus Christ will come again to reign upon the earth? We know He will, and we know what He expects we will have done in preparation for His return.

Elder Nelson said:

When I think of the love I feel for each member of our family, I sense, to a slight degree, the love that our Heavenly Father bears for His children. … God’s love for His children is infinite. Regardless of race, nationality, or gender, He loves all of them. … Every human being who comes to this earth is the product of generations of parents. We have a natural yearning to connect with our ancestors. This desire dwells in our hearts, regardless of age.… When our hearts turn to our ancestors, something changes inside us. We feel part of something greater than ourselves. Our inborn yearnings for family connections are fulfilled when we are linked to our ancestors through sacred ordinances of the temple.

Defending the Family

lds-traditional-familyThe world today seeks to redefine what a family is—that a family is just any group of people of any gender who want to live together. But this isn’t true. There is no power in such a loosely defined term. The traditional family is powerful because it was instituted by God. No other family structure, no matter how well-intended, has the power to extend beyond the grave. In speaking of different options for marriage, Elder Nelson compared it to shopping. He explained:

Wise shoppers study their options thoroughly before they make a selection. They focus primarily on the quality and durability of a desired product. They want the very best. In contrast, some shoppers look for bargains, and others may splurge, only to learn later—much to their dismay—that their choice did not endure well. And sadly, there are those rare individuals who cast aside their personal integrity and steal what they want. We call them shoplifters.

The patterns of the shopper may be applied to the topic of marriage. A couple in love can choose a marriage of the highest quality or a lesser type that will not endure. Or they can choose neither and brazenly steal what they want as “marital shoplifters.”

The subject of marriage is debated across the world, where various arrangements exist for conjugal living. My purpose in speaking out on this topic is to declare, as an Apostle of the Lord, that marriage between a man and a woman is sacred—it is ordained of God. I also assert the virtue of a temple marriage. It is the highest and most enduring type of marriage that our Creator can offer to His children. … The noblest yearning of the human heart is for a marriage that can endure beyond death. Fidelity to a temple marriage does that. It allows families to be together forever.

Marriages and families that aren’t based on the Lord’s standard for marriage—which is a legal, lawful union of one man and one woman—will not stand the test of time. They also undermine the traditional family. Elder Nelson said:

Throughout the world, the family is increasingly under attack. If families fail, many of our political, economic, and social systems will also fail. And if families fail, their glorious eternal potential cannot be realized. Our Heavenly Father wants husbands and wives to be faithful to each other and to esteem and treat their children as an heritage from the Lord.

People of all faiths feel the need to defend traditional marriage because they know the divine importance of the family. While governments and civil leaders may feel the need to bow to social pressures, people of faith do not. They know that traditional marriage is the proper setting for the bearing and rearing of children. And they know that developing countries need to strengthen their own homes and families to build a stronger foundation for their nation. As Elder M. Russell Ballard, an Apostle of Jesus Christ, said:

Our communities and neighborhoods will be safer and stronger as people of all faiths work together to strengthen families. It is important to remember that all larger units of society depend on the smallest and most fundamental unit, the family. No matter who or what we are, we help ourselves when we help families.

Why Mormon Women are Choosing a Mission over College

Why Mormon Women are Choosing a Mission over College

As another school year is winding to a close (I know it’s more than a month away, but according to my kids, the school year is almost over because they are done learning new things), high school seniors are planning their next move. For many young men in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (sometimes inadvertently called the “Mormon” Church), this means deciding between going on a proselytizing mission for the Church first or taking a semester of college classes before their missionary sabbatical. Since The Church of Jesus Christ lowered the age requirement for missionary service for young men and young women (from 19 to 18 for males and from 21 to 19 for females), thousands more young adults are opting for missionary service.

This is especially true for young women. Before the age change, 15% of Latter-day Saint missionaries were young women. Now that has increased to 28%. And Utah colleges and universities are feeling the effects. Enrollment at Utah’s colleges and universities has dipped over the past 3 semesters since the October 2012 announcement lowering the missionary age. And enrollment of young women has dropped more than young men—4.2% of females compared to 3.8% of males. Utah higher education officials are concerned that this means fewer females will graduate from college, a valid concern given that the state ranks last in the nation for degrees earned compared to their male counterparts.

Young women in Utah start college at about the same rate as others around the country, but fewer finish four-year degrees, according to Susan Madsen, founder of the Utah Women and Education Initiative. She said that many Utah women drop out to get married and have a family, opting instead for two-year associate degrees. Madsen said:

Many women aspire to go to college but not necessarily to graduate. They’re thinking they’re going to get married and it’ll be great, and hopefully it will for them, but statistics show it doesn’t always happen that way.

But the discussion doesn’t need to be whether women should choose going on a mission over finishing college. Both prepare young adults for the rigors of life—which is what gaining an education is all about. Each of us has a different life path. I am the third oldest of eight kids—and the third oldest girl—in my family. I was the first of my siblings to graduate with my bachelor’s, and I’m very proud of that (maybe too much so, but when you’re the 3rd child, not much of what you do is the first in the family). Of my sisters, 3 went on missions and 4 have finished college. The one sister who served a mission and graduated from college also went on to earn her master’s. All of us have attended college, and the two who haven’t graduated are close (one is really close!). But the measure of our success isn’t in our college degrees or mission experiences, it’s in how we have applied what we learned from our experiences to our lives—and how we’ve passed it on to our children.

The Importance of an Education

Service Involves LearningMy parents always told us that we needed to go to college. Underscored in this discussion were my grandmothers—both of whom were college graduates and elementary school teachers. One grandpa wasn’t able to finish his education as a young man, but he earned his bachelor’s at the age of 81. On the other side, my grandmother quit school and went to work so my grandfather could finish his education. When he had earned his degree in engineering, he turned to my grandmother and said, “Now that I’m done, it’s your turn. You need to finish school.” Decades later, my grandfather was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s at the age of 55 and my grandmother supported their family—thanks to the education my grandfather insisted she obtain. As Susan Madsen pointed out, life doesn’t always work out the way we think it will, so we need to be prepared for whatever comes our way. In speaking to women, President Thomas S. Monson, the President of The Church of Jesus Christ, said:

We do live in turbulent times. Often the future is unknown; therefore, it behooves us to prepare for uncertainties. Statistics reveal that at some time, for a variety of reasons, you may find yourself in the role of financial provider. I urge you to pursue your education and learn marketable skills so that, should such a situation arise, you are prepared to provide.

But for members of The Church of Jesus Christ, our education doesn’t begin and end at the doors of a school. President Henry B. Eyring, First counselor in the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ, taught:

Our education must never stop. If it ends at the door of the classroom on graduation day, we will fail. And we will need the help of heaven to know which of the myriad things we could study we would most wisely learn. We cannot waste time entertaining ourselves when we have the chance to read or to listen to whatever will help us learn what is true and useful. Insatiable curiosity will be our hallmark.

Education is important not only in this life but in our eternal progression. We take not only what we learn with us when we die, we take what we have become through our learning. President Eyring said:

The purpose of God’s creations and of His giving us life is to allow us to have the learning experience necessary to come back to live with Him in eternal life. That is only possible if we have our natures changed through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, true repentance, and making and keeping the covenants He offers all of His Father’s children through His Church. True learning must have a powerful spiritual component. That spiritual element, when it is effective, refines and uplifts the aims of our total education.

Thus our education never stops. We are always learning, growing and trying to improve ourselves. Life is our classroom, and experiences our teacher. In this respect, a mission is another educational opportunity.

A Mission is a School All its Own

A mission is a unique opportunity of learning and growth for young adults. There are few other times in a person’s life when all of his or her energies is centrally focused on one goal. Elder M. Russell Ballard, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles (with the First Presidency, the governing body of The Church of Jesus Christ), said:

We know that great things happen in the lives of those who faithfully serve full-time missions. Missionary service is not easy, but it is infinitely worth it. Those who serve and return home with honor have established a pattern of living and serving that will bless their own lives and the lives of generations to follow. They return better prepared to be strong leaders and teachers in the organizations of the Church. They return better prepared to be righteous fathers and mothers and able to teach their children the gospel. Full-time missionary service is a blessing for those whom the missionaries find and teach as well as for the missionaries themselves.

A mission is a learning experience like no other. Missionaries willingly give 18 months (for women) to 2 years (for men) of their lives in the service of a cause greater than themselves—in service to the Lord. They learn how to manage their time, budget their finances and discipline themselves. They learn interpersonal skills—and how to deal with rejection. They learn to be nice even when those around them aren’t. They learn grace under pressure as well as faith in God in times of trial. They learn to love others as the Savior does. They return home with an increased faith in God as well as an increased willingness to learn. Speaking of this drive to learn, President Eyring said:

When the Saints in Utah were still struggling to produce enough food, they started schools. They felt driven to lift their children toward light and to greater usefulness by education. That drive is more than a cultural tradition. It is the natural fruit of living the gospel of Jesus Christ. You see it today across the world as missionaries return home from their brief service in the field. Those who have planted the good word of God and have served faithfully invariably have awakened in them a great desire for self-improvement. And with that comes a desire to learn more and to gain greater skills.

As Elder Russell M. Nelson, an Apostle of Jesus Christ, said:

The decision to serve a mission will shape the spiritual destiny of the missionary, his or her spouse, and their posterity for generations to come. A desire to serve is a natural outcome of one’s conversion, worthiness, and preparation.

And this desire to serve others and to improve oneself stays with the missionary throughout his or her life.

‘Class’ Begins with the Preparation

The blessings of missionary service begin as a young man or woman prepares. Elder Russell M. Nelson, an Apostle of Jesus Christ, said:

Preparation for a mission is important. A mission is a voluntary act of service to God and humankind. Missionaries support that privilege with their personal savings. Parents, families, friends, and donors to the General Missionary Fund may also assist. All missionaries, younger and older, serve with the sole hope of making life better for other people.

Where it would appear that the world is lowering its expectations of young people, The Church of Jesus Christ is raising them—including in terms of morality and accountability. Elder L. Tom Perry, an Apostle of Jesus Christ, said:

Raise the bar higher in your intellectual preparation. Take your schooling seriously. It is important to be able to read, speak, and write with intelligence. Expand your knowledge of the world around you by reading good books. Learn how to study. Then apply your improved study habits to learning the gospel of Jesus Christ. Consistently and regularly read from the Book of Mormon.

Young adults must also be prepared for the emotional and spiritual demands of a mission as well. Elder Perry said:

You must recognize that missionary service is emotionally demanding. Your support system is going to be withdrawn from you as you leave home and go out into the world. Many of the ways you use now to cope with emotional stress—like hanging out with friends, going off by yourself, playing video games, or listening to music—are not allowed by the rules of missionary conduct. There will be days of rejection and disappointment. Learn now about your emotional limits, and learn how to control your emotions under the circumstances you will face as a missionary. By doing this, you raise the bar to greater heights and, in effect, fortify yourself against emotional challenges during your missionary service.

… Prospective missionaries also must be prepared with the social skills needed to serve a mission. More and more, young people are isolating themselves from others by playing video games; wearing headphones; and interacting through cell phones, e-mail, text messaging, and so on instead of in person. Much of missionary work involves relating face-to-face with people, and unless you set the bar higher in the development of your social skills, you will find yourself underprepared. Let me offer a simple suggestion: get a job that involves interacting with people. As an increased motivation, set a goal to earn enough money from your part- or full-time work to pay for at least a significant part of your mission. I promise great blessings—social, physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual blessings—to every young man who pays for a significant part of his mission.

Sister Missionaries Perform a Unique Work

Sister missionaries perform a unique work as representatives of The Church of Jesus Christ. Worthy young men are commanded to serve missions because it is part of their duty as bearers of the priesthood of God—which is the power that God gives to man to act in all things for the salvation of His children. The late President Gordon B. Hinckley, until his death, the president of The Church of Jesus Christ, taught:

All young men who are worthy and who are physically and emotionally able should prepare to serve in this most important work. … There has been some misunderstanding of earlier counsel regarding single sisters serving as missionaries. We need some young women. They perform a remarkable work. They can get in homes where the elders cannot. But it should be kept in mind that young sisters are not under obligation to go on missions. They should not feel that they have a duty comparable to that of young men, but some will wish to go (“To the Bishops of the Church,” Worldwide Leadership Training Meeting, June 19, 2004, 27).

Women are a powerful force for good in the world. Elder D. Todd Christofferson, an Apostle of Jesus Christ, said:

Women bring with them into the world a certain virtue, a divine gift that makes them adept at instilling such qualities as faith, courage, empathy, and refinement in relationships and in cultures. …

My plea to women and girls today is to protect and cultivate the moral force that is within you. Preserve that innate virtue and the unique gifts you bring with you into the world. Your intuition is to do good and to be good, and as you follow the Holy Spirit, your moral authority and influence will grow. To the young women I say, don’t lose that moral force even before you have it in full measure. Take particular care that your language is clean, not coarse; that your dress reflects modesty, not vanity; and that your conduct manifests purity, not promiscuity. You cannot lift others to virtue on the one hand if you are entertaining vice on the other.

These are the unique gifts and talents that young sister missionaries bring in the service of God. Young men and young women each bring different qualities to the table of life—and to missionary service—and both are needed in the work of the Lord.

Our Education Prepares Us to Serve

Whether we receive our education in the missionary service or the halls of higher institutional learning—or both—our education prepares us to help and serve others. This is one of the reasons that we are here on earth. President Eyring said:

The thirst for education can be a blessing or a curse, depending on our motives. If we continue to seek learning to serve God and His children better, it is a blessing of great worth. If we seek learning to exalt ourselves alone, it leads to selfishness and pride. …

The Lord and His Church have always encouraged education to increase our ability to serve Him and our Heavenly Father’s children. For each of us, whatever our talents, He has service for us to give. And to do it well always involves learning, not once or for a limited time, but continually.

I am a firm believer that the Lord will guide us—and our learning— throughout our lives as we seek to follow His will. And He will place us where He needs us. My oldest two sisters served missions for The Church of Jesus Christ. They came home more mature emotionally and spiritually. They were humble and had strong faith in the Lord and in His plan for each one of us. They had a deeper love and concern for others around them. And they were excited to apply the lessons they learned on their missions to their own lives. They served as powerful examples to us, their younger siblings, of how a mission can change you. (Not that they were bad before— they just came home better.) The beautiful thing about a mission is that as you strive to help other people change their lives for the better, the Lord also helps you to change your life for the better.

Women and their Role in the Priesthood

Women and their Role in the Priesthood

The semi-annual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (sometimes inadvertently called the Mormon Church) is a worldwide meeting for all members. Included in the schedule is one session for men and one for women. Each highlights the separate and distinct roles that men and women have in the gospel of Jesus Christ, in their families and in the world. The session for the men is called the Priesthood Session, as it is for boys and men ages 12 and older who are eligible to receive the priesthood (which is the power that God gives to man to act in all things for the salvation of His children). Some have questioned why there are separate meetings for men and women, and why women aren’t ordained to the priesthood. Men and women have divine, distinct and complementary roles in God’s plan for his children. As we come to know and understand God’s plan for His children, we can see that all are eligible for and entitled to the blessings provided by the power of the priesthood. Elder Neil L. Andersen, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles (with the First Presidency, the governing body of The Church of Jesus Christ), said:

We sometimes overly associate the power of the priesthood with men in the Church. The priesthood is the power and authority of God given for the salvation and blessing of all—men, women, and children.

A man may open the drapes so the warm sunlight comes into the room, but the man does not own the sun or the light or the warmth it brings. The blessings of the priesthood are infinitely greater than the one who is asked to administer the gift. [1]

What is the Priesthood?

Answering the question of why only men are ordained to the priesthood must begin with a definition and history of the priesthood.  The priesthood is the power and authority of God on the earth. President Boyd K. Packer, an Apostle of Jesus Christ, explained:

Priesthood is the authority and the power which God has granted to men on earth to act for Him. When priesthood authority is exercised properly, priesthood bearers do what He would do if He were present. [2]

The priesthood of God has existed from before the creation of the world. Elder Robert D. Hales, an Apostle of Jesus Christ, said:

The priesthood of God is timeless. … The formation of the universe and of the world upon which we live was brought to pass—not by chance, but through the power of the priesthood. … The processes of nature that enable us to exist on this planet, the resources of this world that sustain life—all were set into motion and continue their course through the power of God’s magnificent priesthood. While most of the earth’s inhabitants do not recognize this priesthood power, all living creatures are its beneficiaries. …

It was through the priesthood that the Son of God, the Savior, Jesus Christ, established his church. … Jesus Christ atoned for the sins of all who will repent and be baptized through the power of the holy priesthood. Through the Atonement, our Savior broke the bands of death and became “the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him” (Hebrews 5:9). [3]

The ordinances and covenants of the gospel of Jesus Christ are administered through the power of the priesthood. When He established His Church on the earth, He ordained 12 Apostles to carry on His work after He died. But that did not last. Elder M. Russell Ballard, an Apostle of Jesus Christ, explained:

Early Christians endured the challenges of persecution and hardship. Peter and his brethren had a difficult time holding the Church together and keeping the doctrine pure. … Eventually, with the known exception of John the Beloved, Peter and his fellow Apostles were martyred. The Apostle John and members of the Church struggled for survival in the face of horrifying oppression. To their everlasting credit, Christianity did survive and was truly a prominent force by the end of the second century A.D. Many valiant Saints were instrumental in helping Christianity to endure.

Despite the significance of the ministries of these Saints, they did not hold the same apostolic authority Peter and the other Apostles had received through ordination under the hands of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. When that authority was lost, men began looking to other sources for doctrinal understanding. As a result, many plain and precious truths were lost. [4]

Thus, the power and authority of the priesthood were taken from the earth. Paul and other ancient prophets foretold of this. (See 2 Thessalonians 2:3 and 2 Timothy 4:3-4.) But Peter spoke of the “times of refreshing” and “the restitution of all things” (Acts 3:19-21)—which was that the gospel of Jesus Christ would be restored to the earth. The gospel of Jesus Christ was restored to the earth through Joseph Smith, who was the first prophet of God in the modern days. All of the principles and ordinances of the gospel that Jesus Christ instituted when He walked the earth—including His priesthood authority—were restored through the prophet Joseph Smith.

It’s essential to understand that the priesthood is God’s power and authority—thus God dictates the terms of its use. It is neither capricious nor biased that God gave men to the right to hold the priesthood. It is part of His grand design. From the time of Adam, as Elder Hales explained, the priesthood was passed “from father to son.” [3] Today, as often as permits, the priesthood is still passed from father to son in the same manner.

The Role of Women in the Priesthood

The priesthood is the same power that Jesus Christ used when He organized His Church anciently. When He called and ordained Apostles, Jesus Christ called a lay clergy—fishermen, publicans, etc. The Church of Jesus Christ in modern days is set up the same way. Because of the divine roles that Heavenly Father designed for His children, men are given the responsibility of carrying and bearing the priesthood. Women are given the responsibility of carrying and bearing children. Each is essential in God’s plan. Women are not ordained to the priesthood, but their role in the priesthood is just as important. President Packer said:

We are sometimes charged with being unkind to the sisters in that they do not hold the priesthood and therefore do not hold the offices that the brethren do. But it is well understood that whether or not we are exalted depends upon the sister who is at our side—the wife, the mother of our children—and no holder of the priesthood would in any way depreciate or mitigate the value and power of his wife. When I hear those comments that the sisters are less than the brethren, I wish that they could see inside the heart of every worthy holder of the priesthood and understand how he feels about his wife, the mother of his children—a reverence, not quite worship but a kind of worship, a respect for the companion in life that causes it to be that he can be exalted ultimately. [5]

In The Church of Jesus Christ, women have the important role of being wives and mothers, helpmeets for their husbands and teachers of their children. The Family: A Proclamation to the World states:

By divine design, fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness and are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families. Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children. In these sacred responsibilities, fathers and mothers are obligated to help one another as equal partners.

Elder D. Todd Christofferson said:

A woman’s moral influence is nowhere more powerfully felt or more beneficially employed than in the home. There is no better setting for rearing the rising generation than the traditional family, where a father and a mother work in harmony to provide for, teach, and nurture their children. Where this ideal does not exist, people strive to duplicate its benefits as best they can in their particular circumstances.

In all events, a mother can exert an influence unequaled by any other person in any other relationship. By the power of her example and teaching, her sons learn to respect womanhood and to incorporate discipline and high moral standards in their own lives. Her daughters learn to cultivate their own virtue and to stand up for what is right, again and again, however unpopular. A mother’s love and high expectations lead her children to act responsibly without excuses, to be serious about education and personal development, and to make ongoing contributions to the well-being of all around them. Elder Neal A. Maxwell once asked: “When the real history of mankind is fully disclosed, will it feature the echoes of gunfire or the shaping sound of lullabies? The great armistices made by military men or the peacemaking of women in homes and in neighborhoods? Will what happened in cradles and kitchens prove to be more controlling than what happened in congresses?” [6]

Happiness in the HomeThe world would take this to mean that in The Church of Jesus Christ, women are somehow less than men because their focus must be the home. What the world is missing is that the home and family should be the main focus for both husbands and wives—they work together in the home and help each other.

As my oldest child, who is a son, was nearing the age of 12—which is the age at which boys who keep the commandments of God are eligible to be ordained to the priesthood—I started wondering if I had taught him enough about his upcoming responsibilities as a priesthood holder. After he was ordained to the priesthood, I talked to him about how his actions reflected on his priesthood. I also realized that I needed to teach my daughters to respect their older brother and his priesthood authority. I needed to teach my children—through words and actions—about how to honor and support the priesthood in our home. Rather than playing a supporting role, women are equal partners with their husbands in this work.

Women Have Their Own Organizations in the Church

Just as women have complementary roles to their husbands in the home, they have complementary roles in The Church of Jesus Christ. In the temples, which are holy houses of worship where men and women make sacred covenants with God, women have their own duties to perform under the umbrella of the priesthood. In the Church, women are leaders in their own organizations, which also function under the umbrella of the priesthood. The late President Gordon B. Hinckley, until his death the president of The Church of Jesus Christ, said:

Women do not hold the priesthood because the Lord has put it that way. It is part of His program. Women have a very prominent place in this Church. Men hold the priesthood offices of the Church. But women have a tremendous place in this Church. They have their own organization. It was started in 1842 by the Prophet Joseph Smith, called the Relief Society, because its initial purpose was to administer help to those in need. It has grown to be, I think, the largest women’s organization in the world… They have their own offices, their own presidency, their own board. That reaches down to the smallest unit of the Church everywhere in the world…

The men hold the priesthood, yes. But my wife is my companion. In this Church the man neither walks ahead of his wife nor behind his wife but at her side. They are co-equals in this life in a great enterprise. [7]

More than 20 years ago, Elder Ballard taught:

In a recent council meeting with the presidencies of the women’s auxiliaries, the sisters told me that very few women in the Church express any interest in wanting to hold the priesthood. But they do want to be heard and valued and want to make meaningful contributions to the stake or ward and its members that will serve the Lord and help accomplish the mission of the Church.

For example, not long ago we were talking about the worthiness of youth to serve missions. [General Relief Society] President Elaine Jack said, “You know, Elder Ballard, the sisters of the Church may have some good suggestions on how to better prepare the youth for missions…. After all, you know, we are their mothers!” [8]

Sister Sheri L. Dew, at the time a counselor in the General Relief Society presidency, offered an insightful analogy:

This summer I injured a shoulder and lost the use of an arm for weeks. I hadn’t realized how much one arm depends upon the other for balance, or how much less I could lift with one arm than two, or that there were some things I couldn’t do at all. This disability not only renewed my respect for those who deal so well with a physical limitation, but helped me realize how much more two arms working together can do.

Two are usually better than one, as our Father confirmed when He declared that “it was not good that the man should be alone” and made a help meet for Adam—someone with distinct gifts who would give him balance, help him shoulder the burdens of mortality, and enable him to do things he couldn’t do alone. For “neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord.”

… Some will try to persuade you [women] that because you are not ordained to the priesthood you have been shortchanged. They are simply wrong, and they do not understand the gospel of Jesus Christ. The blessings of the priesthood are available to every righteous man and woman. We may all receive the Holy Ghost, obtain personal revelation, and be endowed in the temple, from which we emerge “armed” with power. The power of the priesthood heals, protects, and inoculates all of the righteous against the powers of darkness. Most significantly, the fulness of the priesthood contained in the highest ordinances of the house of the Lord can only be received by a man and woman together. [9]

The priesthood is not the men who are ordained to it. It is not a society from which women are banned. It is the power that God gives to man to bless, heal and protect all of His children.

Men and Women Have Meetings Designed Specifically for Them

My family is really excited for General Conference this April. We will celebrate a momentous milestone in our family: my husband and 13-year-old son will attend the General Priesthood Session of the General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ at the Conference Center in Salt Lake City. The priesthood meeting is for all men and boys ages 12 and older—because they are the ones eligible to receive and administer the priesthood. This is a momentous occasion for our family because my husband and son will have the opportunity to sit at the feet of the prophet of Jesus Christ and learn, instead of watching it over live broadcast. Watching it over broadcast is great, but actually being in the Conference Center is a powerful experience. But this won’t be momentous just for the boys. For the first time, I get to take my daughters to the General Women’s Meeting (although not in the Conference Center)—as now it is for all women and girls ages 8 and up.

Why do they have one meeting for the guys and one for the girls? Certainly, both meetings will be powerful and uplifting for all. As a wife and especially as a mother, I am excited for my son to have priesthood bonding time with his dad. I am equally as excited to have my own bonding time with my daughters. In the Relief Society general meeting, we feel a sisterhood and a unity that is different from the rest of the meetings. I imagine the men also feel a brotherhood and unity in their meetings. It is a sacred bond that is necessary to strengthen these ties. It’s about helping the boys and men to become better sons, fathers, brothers and holders of the priesthood. The women’s meeting is about helping women become better wives, mothers, sisters and upholders of the priesthood.

The scriptures teach that “Neither is the man without the woman, nor the woman without the man in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 1:11). The separate meetings for men and women aren’t meant to diminish one gender role or the other. Rather, they are meant to help us better complement each other. My husband and I are better together because of our differences—not in spite of them. That is the Lord’s plan for us.

Does a Sunny Outlook Preclude Literary Greatness?

Does a Sunny Outlook Preclude Literary Greatness?

The true measure of literary greatness depends on, well, how you measure it. Is great literature defined by critics, readers or awards? Longevity through generations? Literature that inspires change—political, cultural or religious? What yardstick is used, so to speak, in making a judgment? A recent New York Times column stated that in 1888, Orson Whitney—a leader in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, sometimes inadvertently called the Mormon Church—spoke of the possibility of Mormon literature, saying, “We will yet have Miltons and Shakespeares of our own.” The column stated that, 125 years later, this has not happened. [1] The columnist is both right and wrong. By the world’s standards, Latter-day Saints might not have their own literary giants. But Bishop Whitney never intended Latter-day Saints to be literary giants according to the world’s standards—he intended them to be literary giants according to the Lord’s standards. He said:

It is by means of literature that much of this great work will have to be accomplished: a literature of power and purity, worthy of such a work. And a pure and powerful literature can only proceed from a pure and powerful people…. Experience has taught me that it is the heart, not simply the head, we must appeal to, if we wish to stir the soul. The intellect may shine, but it is the bosom that burns, and warms into life every movement that is born to bless humanity. …

We will yet have Miltons and Shakespeares of our own. God’s ammunition is not exhausted. His brightest spirits are held in reserve for the latter times. In God’s name and by his help we will build up a literature whose top shall touch heaven, though its foundations may now be low in earth. [2] (more…)

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