Posts Tagged ‘Mormons’

The Silent Influence of Virtuous Living

Thursday, December 4th, 2014

What is meant when we refer to someone as being virtuous? What we are saying in essence is that person lives his or her life according to high moral standards. Whether we are conscious of the fact or not, our speech, our behaviors, and our lifestyle in general, can have a tremendous influence on the life of people whom we meet on our life’s journey. Even though people may not say anything to us, we can be assured that they are watching us, and some even begin to imitate the virtues that they see in us.

Our Life Story Influences the Lives of Others

Virtue Begins in the Heart and MindHelen Mirren, an English actress, is quoted as saying, “You write your life story by the choices you make. You never know if they have been a mistake. Those moments of decision are so difficult.” Therefore, if we are to write a life story which will have an indelible mark for the good, we must take care in how we present ourselves to others because we are the living pages of that story that is being written daily. We must realize that people make decisions about the type of person they perceive us to be according to the life that we live and the example that we set before them. If we live our lives virtuously, many people will want to follow our example in improving their own standards of living.

As means of a personal example of what I am speaking of, some time ago I had a conversation with someone whom I had never met. After our brief conversation, the person felt impressed to write me a little note to express the impression that I had made on him. This is the note that he wrote to me:

You are a man who has felt deep sorrow yet has climbed high above it to reach a true satisfaction yet not a true happiness. You are sometimes righteous and pure but often mischievous and playful. You are very childlike but rarely childish. You enjoy hearing secrets yet are hard pressed to keep them. You are able to like and enjoy people even if they do not like you but there are times where you hate people for liking you.

You are eclectic and eccentric in thought, mind and idea. You are hungry for many things. You hunger for more knowledge of the world and of the universe, of the heavens and beyond. You hunger for true, honest and real love. You hunger for a soul quenching spiritual awakening.

You are a man who really does wish “joy to the World and peace on Earth” and quite often feels some sadness, regret and frustration that you, yourself, cannot be the bearer of such tidings. You sometimes feel angry because the world won’t let you change it.

You have so much to give to others. Knowledge to impart, love to give. You are able to raise the spirit of others and to give them confidence. You are a man of great wisdom, you are an old soul.

You have high morals and you are a man of integrity and you do not judge others. However you view with impunity those whose moral compass is off. You are always the first to apologize, the first to forgive. You do not know what revenge is or how to be vindictive and you are unable to hold a grudge. Your thoughts and ideas mean more to you than monetary wealth for they are priceless.

You are a man of principal and will fight for what you believe even if you are the lone fighter. You will also fight for the rights of others. You are not afraid to stand alone in a crowd. You are a leader, a man of vision, a man of honor, a man of his word. You are an interesting man and a man of interest….

Making Virtue a Part of Your Life

making-righteous-choicesIvan Nikolayevitsh Panin, a Russian emigrant to the United States who achieved fame for claiming to have discovered numeric patterns in the text of the Hebrew and Greek Bible and for his published work based on his subsequent research, is quoted as having said, “As you do not sweeten your mouth by saying honey, so you do not grow virtuous by merely talking of virtue.” In other words, knowing what virtue is, and actually living a virtuous life are two different concepts. This is perhaps an important life lesson that was learned recently by Arthur C. Brooks, a contributing opinion writer, and the president of the American Enterprise Institute.

In an op-ed article in the 27 November 2014 online edition of The New York Times, Brooks recounts a trip that he made several years ago to Provo, Utah, to deliver a lecture at Brigham Young University. He recalls that he was sent home with a generous amount of souvenirs with the Brigham Young University (BYU) logo stamped on each. One of the gifts that he was presented with was a new briefcase which had the name of the university on the front. He admits that although he needed a new briefcase, “the logo gave me pause because it felt a little like false advertising for a non-Mormon to carry it.” Nevertheless, having been encouraged by his wife that his thoughts were laughable, he began using the briefcase and carried it with him on business trips. He further commented, “In airports, I quickly noticed that people would look at my briefcase, and then look up at me. I could only assume that they were thinking, “I’ve never seen an aging hipster Mormon before.”

Although he found this observance to be a bit humorous at first, he soon noticed that there was a major difference in his attitude and behavior. He stated,

I found that I was acting more cheerfully and courteously than I ordinarily would — helping people more with luggage, giving up my place in line, that sort of thing. I was unconsciously trying to live up to the high standards of Mormon kindness, or at least not besmirch that well-earned reputation. I even found myself reluctant to carry my customary venti dark roast, given the well-known Mormon prohibition against coffee.

Almost like magic, the briefcase made me a happier, more helpful person — at least temporarily.

However, it was not anything magical that Brooks found himself experiencing. What he was experiencing is what psychologists refer to as “moral elevation” or an emotional state where we begin to act virtuously when exposed to the virtues of others. The briefcase that Brooks had been given as a gift had a similar effect in that it reminded him of the virtuous qualities of his Mormon friends.

The New York Times article also points out, “We can be the passive beneficiaries of moral elevation. But we can actively pursue it as well by rejecting bad influences and seeking good ones. We can even create the circumstances for moral elevation ourselves.”

That is the very reason it is so important to remember that first impressions can and do make lasting impressions. We may often feel that nothing that we say or do really matters, but we will never know the influence that it has upon the life of another. Thomas Jefferson in a letter to Peter Carr on 19 August 1785, gave this sound counsel:

Whenever you are to do a thing, though it can never be known but to yourself, ask yourself how you would act were all the world looking at you, and act accordingly.

Encourage all your virtuous dispositions, and exercise them whenever an opportunity arises, being assured that they will gain strength by exercise, as a limb of the body does, and that exercise will make them habitual.

As we strive to live a virtuous life, let us also be reminded of the words of Confucius who quipped, “Virtue is not left to stand alone. He who practices it will have neighbors.”


Global Faith Leaders Meet at Vatican to Discuss Marriage

Wednesday, November 5th, 2014

The Family: A Proclamation to the World, a treatise that is familiar to members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, as well as members of other prominent faiths, emphatically declares:

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. Happiness in family life is most likely to be achieved when founded upon the teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ. Successful marriages and families are established and maintained on principles of faith, prayer, repentance, forgiveness, respect, love, compassion, work, and wholesome recreational activities.

However, in the realm of today’s ever changing society, the definition of traditional marriage and family have become misinterpreted through deceptive agendas used by some to expand the definition to include same-sex marriages. Same-sex marriages were never a part of God’s plan, therefore He does not ordain or condone such actions. However, there are many, including many good-hearten Christians, who have gone great lengths to establish the concept and practice as a societal norm.

Such actions and opinions are being supported by the liberal media, as well as politicians. Even people such as the President of the Institute for American Values, David Blankenhorn, whose statement in an op-ed titled “Don’t give up on marriage now” in the Deseret News National edition dated 10 October 2014, “And consider this new-coalition possibility: Gays and lesbians, having fought bravely and successfully for the right to marry, can now by their leadership and example help the nation as a whole to rediscover marriage’s promise,” also demonstrates disdain for the sanctity of marriage between a man and a woman.

The Importance of Traditional Marriage

The Family: A Proclamation to the World further declares:

The first commandment that God gave to Adam and Eve pertained to their potential for parenthood as husband and wife. We declare that God’s commandment for His children to multiply and replenish the earth remains in force. We further declare that God has commanded that the sacred powers of procreation are to be employed only between man and woman, lawfully wedded as husband and wife.

National Marriage Project director, W. Bradford Wilcox, stated the following in a commentary for the Heritage Foundation:

A half-century ago, marriage was the cornerstone for adulthood, and the anchor for the bearing and rearing of children. This is no longer the case: The marriage rate has fallen by approximately 50 percent since the 1960s, and the divorce rate about doubled from 1960 to 1980 (it has since decreased). Consequently, stable marriage is less likely to ground and guide the experience of adults—and especially children—in America. Indeed, the nation’s retreat from marriage means that only about half of the nation’s adults are currently married, and that about half of the nation’s children will spend some time outside an intact, married home.

Interracial FamilyHe further exhorts that if people are genuinely concerned about the well-being of children, or worried about growing inequality in America, or care about renewing the American Dream, then they should care about marriage. He also adds that “rebuilding a marriage culture should not be a matter of nostalgia for a bygone era, but rather, ordinary Americans [must] recognize marriage as a key to their—and their country’s—future.”

Concerning the importance of the marriage union, Ezra Taft Benson, the 13th President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints taught, “Marriage. . . is the most glorious and most exalting principle of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  No ordinance is of more importance and none more sacred and more necessary to the eternal joy of man.  Faithfulness to the marriage covenant brings the fullest joy here and glorious rewards hereafter” (The Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson [1988], 533–34.)

And President Henry B. Eyring, First Counselor in the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ has taught,

At the creation of man and woman, unity for them in marriage was not given as hope; it was a command! ‘Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh (Genesis 2:24).

Our Heavenly Father wants our hearts to be knit together.  That union in love is not simply an ideal.  It is a necessity (Ensign, May 1998, 66).

In Defense of Traditional Marriage and Family

LDS Temple WeddingGordon B. Hinckley, the 15th President of The Church of Jesus Christ taught, “Marriage, in its truest sense, is a partnership of equals, with neither exercising dominion over the other, but, rather, with each encouraging and assisting the other in whatever responsibilities and aspirations he or she might have” (Ensign, August 1992, 6.)

Building on that premise, later this month, the Catholic Church will host a historic meeting at the Vatican which will comprise religious leaders and scholars who will represent 14 different faiths and 23 countries, to discuss how men and women complement each other in marriage.

The Vatican has designated the auspicious gathering which will take place 17-19 November 2014 as a “colloquium” and Pope Francis will open the proceedings. According to a 3 November 2014 Mormon press release, “The academic assembly will feature presentations and “witness testimonies” from leading religious figures and scholars.” President Henry B. Eyring, First Counselor in the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will be attending and will be accompanied by Elder L. Tom Perry of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and Bishop Gérald Caussé of the Presiding Bishopric. He is scheduled to address the assembly on 18 November 2014.

The press release also makes mention of the following:

The gathering will also premiere six short films treating men and women and marriage the world over. Each film features a variety of illuminating interviews with young and old, single and married, women and men, lay and religious, from many cultures, continents and religions. Topics range from the beauty of the union between the man and the woman to the loss of confidence in marital permanence to the cultural and economic woes that follow upon the disappearance of marriage.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has also issued an official statement regarding its participation in the colloquium in Vatican City:

At this time of rapidly declining moral values and the challenges to traditional family structures and relationships throughout the world, we are pleased to unite with the Catholic Church, other fellow Christian denominations and other world religions in standing firm and speaking clearly about the sanctity of marriage between a man and a woman.

The Family: A Proclamation to the World concludes with two powerful statements which serve as an appropriate capstone to discussions surrounding the sanctity of marriage and family:

We warn that individuals who violate covenants of chastity, who abuse spouse or offspring, or who fail to fulfill family responsibilities will one day stand accountable before God. Further, we warn that the disintegration of the family will bring upon individuals, communities, and nations the calamities foretold by ancient and modern prophets.

We call upon responsible citizens and officers of government everywhere to promote those measures designed to maintain and strengthen the family as the fundamental unit of society.


The Sad Reality of Youth Who are Bullied at Church

Wednesday, September 3rd, 2014

Bullying can be defined in many different ways. A standard dictionary definition of the word “bully” is “the use of superior strength or influence to intimidate (someone), typically to force him or her to do what one wants.” Synonyms for the verb “bully” include: persecute, oppress, tyrannize, browbeat, harass, torment, and intimidate.

It is interesting to note that the United Kingdom has no legal definition of bullying, while some states in the United States have strict laws governing the bullying of others. Normally when the subject is discussed its reference is to incidents that occur among students in schools. Unfortunately, the school campus is not the only place where bullying occurs. It may also occur among youth in the Church.

Made to Feel as an Outcast among Peers

School bully, child being bullied in playgroundBullying, which can be classified into four different types – verbal, social, physical, and cyber – is a serious problem, especially among youth. It can range from simple one-on-one bullying to more complex bullying in which the primary bully may have another person or persons to assist in his or her bullying activities.

According to the website, in order for behavior to be considered bullying it must be aggressive and include:

  • An Imbalance of Power: Kids who bully use their power—such as physical strength, access to embarrassing information, or popularity—to control or harm others.
  • Repetition: Bullying behaviors happen more than once or have the potential to happen more than once.

The “targets” or “victims” of bullying are often made to feel inferior to their peers. They are often the recipients of unwarranted threats (including cyber threats), the subject of malicious rumors, the objects of physical or verbal abuse (to include inappropriate sexual comments), and deliberately excluded from certain groups.

When a Supposed Safe Haven No Longer Feels Safe

Girl being bullied at ChurchMost people think of church as a safe place where children can be protected from the wiles of the world. In the minds of most people, church is the last place where they would expect anyone to be the victim of bullying, but yet it does happen.

In an LDS Living Magazine article dated 28 August 2014 titled “The Sad Truth about Bullying at Church,” Kelsey Berteaux recounts the episode of a young teenage girl who was contemplating suicide by jumping off the roof of her home because she was being bullied by the youth in her ward. In the article, Judy Wells, the mother of the young teenage girl, recalls the events that led up to her daughter wanting to commit suicide, “The girls took her journal and read it when she left it on her chair to go to the library to get a Book of Mormon. Then, when she came in, they were quoting it.” She further stated that this was only one of a hundred things those young men and young women did. She continued,

When she [her daughter] went and sat down next to some girls, the girls would get up and create a new row and leave her sitting all alone. They invented fake physical relationships she could have had with boys and teased her about them, leaving notes about it on classroom whiteboards for others to find. They even harassed her outside of church, calling her to borrow equipment for a party she wasn’t invited to, and later, calling again to say how glad they were that she wasn’t at the gathering with them.

Fortunately, Wells was able to talk her daughter down from the roof, but she found herself at a loss as to what the next steps should be in trying to help her distraught daughter.

Children and the Damaging Effects of Bullying

Boy being bullied at schoolKids can bully others, be bullied themselves, or witness someone else being bullied. Often kids who are involved in a bullying situation play multiple roles – they may themselves be the targets of bullying by others, or they may witness other innocent kids being bullied.

According to the website:

The roles kids play in bullying are not limited to those who bully others and those who are bullied. Some researchers talk about the “circle of bullying” to define both those directly involved in bullying and those who actively or passively assist the behavior or defend against it.

Even if a child is not directly involved in bullying, they may be contributing to the behavior. Witnessing the behavior may also affect the child, so it is important for them to learn what they should do when they see bullying happen.

Most kids play more than one role in bullying over time. In some cases, they may be directly involved in bullying as the one bullying others or being bullied and in others they may witness bullying and play an assisting or defending role. Every situation is different. Some kids are both bullied and bully others. It is important to note the multiple roles kids play, because…

  • Those who are both bullied and bully others may be at more risk for negative outcomes, such as depression or suicidal ideation.
  • It highlights the need to engage all kids in prevention efforts, not just those who are known to be directly involved

Addressing the Issue of Bullying in the Church

Wells eventually had her daughter attend a different ward in a different stake in an effort to keep her away from the youth who were bullying her. Unfortunately, every parent who has a son or daughter who is the victim of bullying at Church is not able to attend a different ward or stake.

The LDS article lists some ways that experts suggest can be used to recognize, prevent, and correct bullying in a church environment:

Clark Burbidge, author of the youth help series Giants in the Land, commented that “due to the more positive, value-based, and supportive overall environment of a church setting, bullying can play out in more subtle ways. We can see it in exclusive or cliquish behavior. These can also include hurtful or devaluing statements.”

The article also suggests that another form of bullying in the Church is often found in pranks that are played on unsuspecting youth during various youth activities. Judy Wells, now an advocate against bullying, made the following observation:

They’ve got to have fun out there, right? There has to be some sort of an outlet. Locking a girl in a latrine at girl’s camp, that’s okay. It’s kind of funny. She’s stuck in a smelly latrine and can’t get out until somebody comes and lets her out. But, she says, “It’s not funny.” How someone experiences a “harmless” prank can emotionally affect them for the rest of their life.

Burbidge further suggests that the process of deterring bullying behavior begins in the home. Parents have an obligation to teach their children right from wrong, and bullying other children should be at the forefront of those things that are taught as being wrong behavior. He suggests that bullying behavior can be cut off at the pass if families are doing their part to create a loving, faith-filled, family environment in the home.

Licensed family therapist, Dr. Jonathan Swinton, recommends that on the ward level, bullying can be deterred by “celebrating diversity and differences, not being judgmental, and feeling love for all of God’s children.” He further commented:

The more people appreciate the doctrines that God ‘hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on the face of the earth’ (Acts 17:26), and that he ‘denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; … and all are alike unto God’ (2 Nephi 26:33), the behavior will more easily follow.

Just teaching kids to be nice will not be sufficient if they don’t really view everyone as their brothers and sisters. If they really do understand that it is their brother or sister they are doing this to, they can better show love for anyone that is different.

Wells further contends that Bishops and other Church leaders need to become actively engaged in resolving bullying issues that may occur in their wards or branches. She states that leaders should immediately alert parents of any child who is involved in a bullying situation so that they are aware of their child’s behavior towards others during church activities.

Burbidge further commented that leaders should respond to these types of situations “in a way that both supports and protects the person targeted, as well as responds in a loving but correcting way to the person responsible for the bullying. This can include counseling with both parties and their parents to provide the positive reinforcement and guidance so that alternative behaviors may be developed and replace the destructive ones.”

Every member can have an active role in ensuring that this type of behavior does not occur in his or her ward or branch by practicing charity – the pure love of Christ – towards their brothers and sisters. Every effort should be made to make everyone feel comfortable, welcome, and a part of the Church family. Each member should make the effort to be the first to offer the outstretched hand of friendship. A person may be appear different because of race, culture, or language, and they may not be known by name, but yet, they are known to us as brother and sister. When these practices are put in place, there will be no more strangers in Zion, and such adverse behaviors as bullying will cease to exist.


Latter-day Saints Singles Wards – Perfecting the Saints

Friday, August 1st, 2014

Why does there appear to be a vast number of 20-somethings who are leaving religious institutions of all faiths? Christian author Naomi Schaefer Riley addresses this important question in her new book Got Religion? She answers the question from an optimistic viewpoint as she discusses ways some religious communities are actively engaged in helping to make sure that number of 20-somethings who are exiting remains at a minimum.

How Religious Communities Can Help Perfect the Saints

Jana Riess in her Religion News Service (RNS) article dated 18 July 2014 points out that Riley cites three important key elements that the most successful religious communities incorporate in order to help retain their number of 20-somethings:

  • They provide stability during a period of transience. .
  • They give them important things to do to make the religious community work.
  • They help them form spiritual habits to last a lifetime.

Mormon Single WardsAn entire chapter in Riley’s book is devoted to discussing how Mormon singles wards are providing crucial help in all three of these areas. The following guidelines as set forth in section 16 of Handbook 2: Administering the Church (instructions for leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) which is titled “Single Members” supports what she says in the chapter:

Men and women who have not married or who are divorced or widowed make up a significant portion of Church membership. Priesthood and auxiliary leaders reach out to these members and include them in the work of the Church. Worthy single members should be given opportunities to hold leadership and teaching positions, including positions in Elders Quorum presidencies, High Priests Group leaderships, and auxiliary presidencies.

Leaders support single members by helping them draw near to the Lord, strengthen their testimonies, and take responsibility for their own spiritual, social, and temporal well-being.

In ministering to single members, leaders seek to strengthen family life, not compete with it or detract from it. They teach and testify of the importance of marriage and parenthood. Even when young single adults are not living with their parents, Church leaders encourage them to honor and nourish their relationships with their parents. Leaders also support single parents in their efforts to teach and nurture their children.

Important Questions That Warrant an Answer

In a follow-up conversation with author Naomi Schaefer Riley, Riess was able to ask some pointed questions regarding the mass exodus that religious institutions of many faiths are currently experiencing. She specifically focused on the chapter in Riley’s book about Mormon singles wards and asked questions about Mormon dating and marriage, leadership opportunities, and the pros and cons of the singles ward system. What follows are a few of those questions and answers.

Question: How has the overall trend toward later marriage affected Mormons in their 20s and 30s?

It looks like the Mormon age of marriage is starting to creep up as well.

During the 1990s, the General Social Survey found an average age of Mormon first marriage of 21.6. In a survey I conducted in 2010 for my book on interfaith marriage, it was up to 23.

This age may not seem high yet, but if the Mormon population follows the trend of the rest of the American population (albeit at a slower pace), it could have a significant effect on rates of religious observance and retention across generational lines. In that survey I found also found the later the age of marriage the more likely people were to marry someone of a different religion.

Young Single Adult LeadershipQuestion: You make the point that religions that don’t provide leadership opportunities to young adults are doomed. The success stories are religious traditions that are enlisting 20-somethings into service. How does Mormonism fit into that?

As we are living longer, healthier lives, some church members start to get a little territorial, staying in the same volunteer position for years or even decades. Young adults who show up often feel as if their presence is superfluous.

This is one of the things that really impressed me about Young Single Adult wards. The LDS church was willing to say to 20-somethings, “Even though your parents may treat you like children because you’re not married, not done with school, don’t have full-time employment, etc., we, the church, are going to treat you like grownups — putting you in charge of collecting tithes, religious education and a variety of other important functions.”

The church came to what I think is the correct conclusion — if you treat 20-somethings like adults, they will act like adults.

Question: You talk about the poignant transition when YSAs age out, Logan’s Run style, after age 30. What are the pros and cons of such a system?

I think the pros are that these young people are able to take more responsibility and that the services and messages of religious leaders can be more closely tailored to their needs.

I think the cons are that the ward itself has a very transitional feel. People are constantly moving in and out. Whether they age out or get married, it can feel very impermanent. Which is how a lot of 20-somethings feel already. Every time you force a young adult to make a transition, you risk losing him or her and so adding another step to this process can be risky.

Riley also praised the multi-generational experience that Young Single Adults (YSA) get in The Church of Jesus Christ. She notes that such an experience helps to keep them grounded and helps them to realize that the world does not revolve around them and their needs alone. She also notes that this has been a recurring problem with such Christian programs as Campus Crusade. She further commented, “I think the Mormon Church avoids some of the problems that could come with an YSA arrangement because many of the young people are still living close to large extended families. So they get the multi-generational experience outside of church.”

Soldiers and Missionaries – Serving on the Battlefield

Saturday, July 26th, 2014

When we think of a person as being a soldier, we generally picture someone who dons a military uniform, puts his or her life on the line each day defending the freedoms that we at home so dearly cherish, and stands a vigilant watch by land, air, or sea. These are valiant men and women who consider it a great honor to serve, some giving their last full measure of devotion, to protect the country that they love. Their life is not necessarily a glamorous one. They face day-to-day challenges as they fight to stay alive, and not everyone, including some of their own countrymen, is appreciative of the service that they provide. The service that they provide is strictly voluntary, and in most cases they spend days, weeks, months, or even years separated from their families.

Missionaries are Also Soldiers

MOrmon Missionarines Sharing the GospelContrast that to the life of a missionary. He or she willingly leaves their family for a period of 18 months to two years to also provide a service. The service that they provide is going throughout the world teaching and preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ. Like the military soldier, they too don a uniform; however, their uniform consists of a nice suit for the males, and nice skirts and dresses for the females. They also wear a name tag as part of their “uniform” to identify them as missionaries of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In a sense, they are also soldiers – soldiers who march to the orders of their Commander-in-Chief, the Lord Jesus Christ. Their life is not necessarily glamorous either, as they are often called to serve in many parts of the world that do not quite have all the comforts of home that they may be accustomed to. Like the military soldier, not everyone is appreciative of the service that they render, and so they also face day-to-day challenges as they are rejected and criticized by some of the people they try to present the gospel message to, not only in faraway lands, but at home in their own country as well. In some areas of the world, their lives could also be placed in danger at a moment of social up rise or political upheaval. However, like the military soldier, they consider it an honor to be serving.  They are on the Lord’s errand, doing what He would have them to do.

Soldiers and missionaries both serve on battlefields, albeit the battlefields where they serve are somewhat different. Both have a goal and a purpose for their mission. As they go forth to fulfill their missions, the words that the Lord spoke to Joshua can provide great comfort, “Have not I commanded thee? Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the Lord thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest” (Joshua 1:9). In times of loneliness, discouragement, and despair, there are also the words of the Apostle Paul to help strengthen them, “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me” (Philippians 4:13). And the Psalmist gives this gentle reminder as recorded in Psalm 18:31-36:

For who is God save the Lord? Or who is a rock save our God? It is God that girdeth me with strength, and maketh my way perfect. He maketh my feet like hinds’ feet, and setteth me upon my high places. He teacheth my hands to war, so that a bow of steel is broken by mine arms. Thou hast also given me the shield of thy salvation: and thy right hand hath holden me up, and thy gentleness hath made me great. Thou hast enlarged my steps under me, that my feet did not slip.

The Soldiers Return Home with Honor

Soldier Returns HomeWhen a military soldier returns home after his or her tour of duty, or a missionary returns home after his or her mission, both are returning home with honor. However, the world may seem a bit out of sorts, and it may almost seem to them that they have entered a new dimension, as life may not be quite the same as when they had left. In addition, there will be people who cannot begin to understand the impact that their tour of duty or missionary service has had on their life. They are definitely not the same people that they were when they left.

In a recent Meridian Magazine article dated 21 July 2014, Hermana Rachel Raynor, a returned missionary from Laie, Hawaii, recounted what it was like when she arrived at the Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport in November 2012 after serving an 18 month mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. She realized that for the first time in 18 months, she was in a public place alone without her companion. As she sought to gain her bearings, she recalled the words of her grandfather who had once told her that war changes men. In the article she commented,

It [war] makes the soldier either believe in God or it makes one question Him. He chose to believe. I used to think it was because it was the only way for him to stay sane in battle. Now, I know, it’s because grandpa knew that God was the only one who would ever understand what he had experienced and been through.

She further commented on her experiences upon returning home,

As I checked into my flight, I couldn’t help but feel confusion engulf my mind: what was I supposed to do now? How was I supposed to cope in a world that that knew nothing of what I had experienced, a world that knew not the journey I had just taken, the things I had learned, the people I had met, or who I had become. How was I to cope?

As she walked through the airport in route to the departure gate for the flight that was to take her to her final destination that day, these are some of the thoughts that flooded her mind. When she arrived at the gate she observed people standing up and cheering. Through the disillusionment that she was experiencing at the time, it appeared to her that people were standing and cheering for her – a missionary who had just returned home with honor, but in reality, the crowd that day were cheering as three older, uniformed men who were being pushed through the airport in wheelchairs. These men were wearing WWII and Korean War Veteran hats. She recalls that she also joined the crowd as she arose to her feet to applaud these brave soldiers who had valiantly fought for their country to protect the freedoms that she and everyone around her cherishes. As she stood to applaud, the thought occurred to her,

Those men had probably been shot at, beaten, abused, held in captivity, scared, seen their friends die and yet they had continued to fight. I am sure that they had served to the best of their ability; that they had given all that they had. They likely had experienced and endured many things that no man or woman should ever experience, things that no one would ever understand without being in combat. They had fought for their families, their friends, their country, their religions, and for me. I was grateful for their service.

MIssionary Homecoming CelebrationWhen the final boarding call was made and she was about to board her plane, she started to reflect upon her own service as a missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ. Like the soldiers, she too had been in the thick of a war, a spiritual war. Her battlefield included the areas of Arlington, Alexandria, and Fredericksburg, Virginia. During the time of her mission she had seen people who were battle worn from the heavy burdens that they carried – people who prayed for help and relief. She had been one who had been called upon to rescue those souls from the heat of the battle. Although she gave of her service valiantly, there were those who cursed her, despised her, and rejected her help – her message of hope. She too bore battle scars – bloody and callused knuckles from knocking on thousands of doors, and blistered feet from walking countless miles through all of the streets in the areas where she served, in every type of weather imaginable.

However, through it all, Sister Raynor, like the many returned soldiers from war, is able to hold her head high, knowing that she had done what her Commander-in-Chief had asked her to do, and that she had served to the best of her ability. She, like the soldiers, had stood on the front lines battle – the soldiers as representatives of the country that they love, and she as a representative of the Lord Jesus Christ. She further commented,

I had bags under my eyes from exhaustion. I had experienced physical and spiritual highs and lows that no one would ever understand. I had served the Lord to the best of my ability. And now, I had a permanent smile on my face from an indescribable joy that I felt from serving my brothers and sisters. I had done the best I could.  I had been obedient.  As I boarded the plane, I felt a wave of satisfaction sweep over me and a confirmation of God’s acceptance of my sacrifice. I knew that up in heaven, there were people, friends and relatives, standing and cheering for me, grateful for my individual efforts in fighting this spiritual war on earth.

Liahona Children’s Foundation – Humanitarian Service to the Children

Friday, July 11th, 2014

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a global Church, which according to the latest Church statistics, has 15,082,028 members worldwide and still growing. One of the overarching goals of The Church of Jesus Christ is to fulfill the Lord’s Great Commission to take the message of the Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ to the far-reaching corners of the earth.

As members go forth to share the “Good News,” they find that a large part of having an effective ministry involves providing humanitarian assistance to those who live under less fortunate circumstances. It is for this reason that the “Lord called his people Zion, because they were of one heart and one mind, and dwelt in righteousness; and there was no poor among them” (Moses 7:18). As members strive to emulate the life of the Savior, they begin to fully understand what it means to “lift up the hands which hang down, and [stable] the feeble knees” (Hebrews 12:12).

The Church of Jesus Christ and Humanitarian Aid

The Church of Jesus Christ is involved in many humanitarian efforts around the world to help those in need. The objective is to not only render assistance where needed, but to ultimately teach those who require the assistance how to become self-reliant. It is further hoped that once people learn how to help themselves, they will have a desire to pay it forward to help others in need, and teach them how to help themselves as well.

Such humanitarian organizations as LDS Charities, established by the Church in 1996, provide wheelchairs, clean water, emergency response, food production, vision care, neonatal resuscitation training, and immunizations to people in 179 countries of the world. Donations from Church members, as well as, others through partnerships with organizations around the world, provide the necessary funding for the projects. Largely run by volunteer labor, assistance is “rendered without regard to race, religious affiliation, or nationality and is based on the core principles of personal responsibility, community support, self-reliance, and sustainability.”

The Church of Jesus Christ also maintains the Latter-day Saint Humanitarian Center which was established in 1991 in Salt Lake City, Utah to “prepare humanitarian supplies for use worldwide and train those desiring to develop employable skills to become self-reliant.”

The Liahona Children’s Foundation – Nurturing the Potential of the Children

King Benjamin in the Book of Mormon in his timely discourse asked the pointed question,

For behold, are we not all beggars? Do we not all depend upon the same Being, even God, for all the substance which we have, for both food and raiment, and for gold, and for silver, and for all the riches which we have of every kind? (Mosiah 4:19).

He continues in verse 21 by saying,

And now, if God, who has created you, on whom you are dependent for your lives and for all that ye have and are, doth grant unto you whatsoever ye ask that is right, in faith, believing that ye shall receive, O then, how ye ought to impart of the substance that ye have one to another.

King Benjamin also taught the people that “when ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God” (Mosiah 2:17). And so Latter-day Saints throughout the world do so willingly, knowing that their labors are not in vain and that as they serve their fellowman, they are in the service of God. Individual Latter-day Saints are an active part of the Liahona Children’s Foundation whose mission is “to nurture the potential of children to lead healthy and productive lives by eliminating malnutrition and providing educational opportunities among LDS children and their friends.” The Foundation began its operation in eight stakes in Ecuador and Guatemala in 2008. This summer the Foundation will be screening children in new areas of the world to include the Philippines (multiple areas), Cali Colombia, Paraguay, Nicaragua, Honduras, and Guatemala.

One of the major problems that the Liahona Children Foundation faces as it renders humanitarian service around the world is the large number of cases of malnutrition among the children. According to UNICEF,

Over one quarter of the children in resource-poor countries are malnourished, over 100 million under the age of five are under weight, and 165 million are stunted in height. Many malnourished children suffer lifelong cognitive and physical defects that significantly reduce their earning potential as adults, invariably leaving them in poverty and reducing their capacity to fully contribute to society. These effects in turn contribute to a cycle in which their poverty leads to their own children and grandchildren being malnourished.

Liahona Children's FoundationLargely due to the success of the Church’s missionary efforts to take the gospel to the remote parts of the earth, it is not surprising that a number of malnourished children are found among Latter-day Saint communities in many countries worldwide. This is an ongoing issue that the federally recognized 501 (c) 3 non-profit organization (which is independent from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) has striven to address for the past six years. Although the Foundation is not directly affiliated with The Church of Jesus Christ, it is administered by faithful Latter-day Saints and funded by contributions from Latter-day Saints in the United States and other parts of the world. Based on their experience over the past six years, it is estimated that at present, there are at least 120,000 malnourished LDS children in the world. The Church of Jesus Christ has over 15 million members worldwide.

According to the article in the Wednesday, 9 July 2014 of the online edition of Meridian Magazine by Robert A. Rees, Ph.D.:

The inspiration for establishing the Liahona Children’s Foundation came when Dr. Bradley Walker, the Foundation’s co-founder and current president, saw the emaciated body of a young Latter-day Saint child in Ecuador. The child, who was under the care of an LDS physician (and former stake president) in the ICU unit of a pediatric hospital in Guayaquil, had been fed platano (banana) water because his parents were too poor to afford milk. Dr. Walker made a commitment to do whatever he could to end malnutrition among Latter-day Saint children.

Liahona Children's Foundation ScreeningLiahona volunteers include students from BYU and Utah Valley University. Since its inception in 2008, the Liahona Children’s Foundation has conducted scores of screenings of LDS, as well as non-LDS children, and provided nutrition supplements for the malnourished in the countries of Guatemala, Ecuador, Peru, South Africa, Cambodia and the Philippines. It is projected that the program will expand into other areas of the world such as Asia, Africa, Central and South America, the South Pacific, and Haiti where the levels of malnutrition are significantly high.

According to a recent report by UNICEF,

There is better understanding of the crucial importance of nutrition during the critical 1,000-day period covering pregnancy and the first two years of a child’s life, and of the fact that stunting reflects deficiencies during this period. The damage that stunting causes to a child’s development is irreversible. Under nutrition early in life has major consequences for future educational, income and productivity outcomes.

The Meridian Magazine article further emphasized that without help “a malnourished child is less likely to succeed in school, graduate from high school or technical school, go on a mission, become employable, make a good marriage decision, and become a leader in the church or community.” And so, organizations like the Liahona Children’s Foundation are doing their part to combat the problem of malnourishment among LDS children throughout the world. All the while being reminded of the admonition of the Savior Himself when he taught, “Verily I say unto you, inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me” (Matthew 25:45).

Shield of Faith – Why Mormon Youth Are Happy and Successful

Saturday, June 28th, 2014

Research and studies show that teens who are active in their religions – in particular, Mormon teens – are less prone to get in trouble, because they live their lives according to gospel principles, which help them to avoid the snares of worldly temptations. As a result, they are also more likely to live healthier, happier lives.

Mormon Teens are Living Testimonies of Their Faith

LDS TeenIn the Oxford book Soul Searching, and its follow-up volume Souls in Transition, sociologist Christian Smith, based on his research about the religious behavior and attitudes of American teenagers, revealed that “although American youth profess belief at a high level (in God, the afterlife, and the Bible), their level of religious practice does not typically match what they say they believe.” Using that research as a foundation, Princeton Theological Seminary professor Kenda Creasy Dean, one of the researchers in the National Study of Youth and Religion, drew some interesting conclusions. In the book Almost Christian: What the Faith of Our Teenagers Is Telling the American Church, Dean shares the following observations:

If teenagers don’t have a firm grasp of core Christian doctrines and instead worship at what she calls “the Church of Benign Whatever-ism” — or don’t worship at all — it’s because youth pastors and other leaders have watered down the message, she claims. Teenagers in Protestant churches get the idea that they’re supposed to feel good about themselves, but that little is expected of them; Christianity is designed to make them “nice,” but it’s not supposed to form them as disciples. . . .The problem [is] that Protestant teens are being taught a brand of Christianity that is a mile wide and an inch deep.

In the chapter in the book titled “Mormon Envy,” Dean, who admits that she has deep theological disagreements with Mormonism, cites the religious group as one that is doing right by its teenagers. She states,

From a sociological perspective, Mormonism is succeeding in creating young adults who firmly understand what they believe and why their faith needs to have a claim on their behavior. She says that Mormonism is giving teens the four things they need in order to have a growing adult faith: 1) they are sufficiently catechized in beliefs by their own parents and by a spiritual community that expresses consistent expectations, 2) they acquire a personal testimony, 3) they have concrete religious goals and a sense of vocation, and 4) they have hope for the future.

In short, Mormon teens are taught from the early days of their youth that their faith is not just a Sunday religion, but rather they are to be living testimonies to the world as they strive to walk in the footsteps of the Great Exemplar, the Lord Jesus Christ. They are reminded of the Apostle Paul’s counsel to his young son in the gospel, Timothy, “Let no man despise thy youth; but be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity” (1 Timothy 4:12). They are further admonished from the scriptures:

Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven (Matthew 5:14-16).

Religious Teens: The Evidence of Their Faith

Christian TeensCorrie Ten Boom, the author of The Hiding Place is quoted as having said, “Faith is like a radar that sees through the fog.” In the vernacular of today’s teens, faith is that guiding light that helps them to navigate safely through the dense fog of obscurity caused by the temptations of the world. Their faith is evidenced as they learn to stand in holy places and not be moved (see Doctrine and Covenants 87:8). Daily prayer and scripture study help to fortify their faith as they are reminded to “be ye steadfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 15:58).

A recent study from the National Longitudinal Study of Youth, which represented over 14,000 American youth, revealed that religious youth with intact families are less likely to:

  • get into fights
  • use hard drugs
  • have ever committed a theft of $50 or more
  • have ever shoplifted
  • have ever run away
  • have ever been drunk
  • have been expelled or suspended from school
  • engage in physical intimacy

Additionally, the study indicated that religious teens also have higher GPAs in high school.

Another study indicated that teens who put the religious principles that they are taught into practice will:

  • achieve a higher level of marital happiness and stability
  • develop greater educational aspirations
  • contribute more generously to their community
  • live longer and healthier lives
  • display higher levels of self-control and self esteem

All of this is not meant to convey the idea that teens who govern their lives by religious principles will necessarily go through life on a bed of roses, but rather when the thorns from the rose bushes begin to prick them from time to time, they will be better equipped to cope with the pain. As someone has wisely stated, “Faith makes things possible, not easy.”

What Sets Latter-day Saint Teens Apart from Teens in Main Stream Protestantism?

In her book Almost Christian: What the Faith of Our Teenagers Is Telling the American Church, Princeton Theological Seminary professor Kenda Creasy Dean asserts:

In Mormonism, there’s a great emphasis on personal testimony. More than half of LDS teens (53%) reported giving a talk or presentation in church in the last six months, compared to one in seven Southern Baptist youths and one in twenty-five Catholics. Mormon teens also exercise leadership, which Dean says is a crucial part of faith formation; 48% reported attending a church meeting where they were called upon to make a decision that would be binding on a group. These practices aren’t just window dressing, according to Dean; they pave the way for other crucial faith-forming events, such as missionary service.

In Mormonism, children prepare for missions and the temple; start fasting with the community every month at age eight; are expected to pay tithing just like adults; give up time on weekends to clean the church building and do service projects; and actually track these things in personal progress journals. They work toward Eagle Scout status or being a Young Woman of Excellence.

In Mormonism, Dean says, teens talk confidently about the purpose of this life (which they understand as being tested and growing spiritually so they might return to their Heavenly Parents after death). In Protestantism, she says, there has been an erosion of eschatological hope.

ILDS Seminaryt is interesting to note that the studies and research that have been conducted emphasize the fact that while many religious youth are devoted to their faith, they are uneducated in their doctrine, and therefore, they have no knowledge or understanding of what they believe. Latter-day Saints, on the other hand, are taught the principles and doctrines of their faith from an early age, and as they mature in their faith, their testimony of what they believe is strengthened, thus enabling them to confidently explain their doctrine. That Mormon youth have milestone ordinances and responsibilities to attain to leads them on along a marked path to gospel fluency and commitment.

Mormon youth teaching gospel principlesThe National Study of Youth and Religion points out “Mormon youth were off the charts in terms of their articulacy and understanding of their faith.” In his article “Why Mormons Do a Better Youth Ministry than We Do,” Greg Stier from explains, “Mormonism pushes their kids harder and takes them deeper and farther than even the most ardent of evangelical youth ministries would ever dare.” He continues, ““Mormons expect a lot out of their teenagers. We don’t. Mormons ordain their young men into the ministry at the age of twelve. We don’t. Mormons require their teens to attend seminary every day of high school. We don’t. Maybe that’s why Mormons give more, work harder and are exploding as a religion.”

What Can Parents Do to Help Their Youth Remain Strong and Grow in the Faith?

President Harold B. Lee taught, “”The most important . . . work you will ever do will be within the walls of your own homes.” Therefore, parents have an awesome responsibility to raise their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. They are to “train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6). They can best do this by:

  • being a good example for their children to follow
  • holding regular family home evening, family prayer, and scripture study
  • teaching practical applications of gospel principles
  • providing settings for potential spiritual experiences
  • encouraging children to come to know for themselves

Youth today face many challenges and temptations from the effects of peer pressure to the influence of social media. In order to live happy, healthy, productive, and successful lives, they must remain true to their faith, and adhere to the religious principles that they have been taught as they journey through life.

Changing the Atmosphere of Mormon Missions Worldwide

Wednesday, May 7th, 2014

On April 4, 2014, Tad Walsh wrote an article for the Deseret News explaining the new roles that sister missionaries are taking on. Real experiences are shared about how sisters in the Las Vegas, Nevada and in the Provo, Utah missions are implementing these new positions and responsibilities. These new roles include: taking part in the newly created monthly mission leadership council; training elders and sisters in district, zone, and mission meetings; taking on responsibility over the welfare of all of the sister missionaries; and reporting to the mission president or his wife on issues other sisters face.

Mormon Sister MissionariesI am a proud advocate of the new responsibilities that the sister missionaries have been given. From what I understand, there were roadblocks that hindered sisters from doing their jobs properly. For instance, from Walsh’s article, Elder Austin Fuller “recalls feeling frustration about the responsibility he had for sister missionaries when he had fewer tools to help them. Elders and sisters can’t go on exchanges, for example, and elders are not allowed to counsel sisters.” Now that has all changed. The sisters have become more effective as missionaries. This has caused a change for good in the efforts of missionary work.

I believe that the reason for the changes is that women are a strong force within the Church, and President Thomas S. Monson, thePresident and Prophet of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (often called the “Mormon” Church by the media and others), and his Apostles have felt and were given divine revelation to implement these changes for sisters and wives of mission presidents. Giving sisters more responsibility and more roles to use together with their fellow missionaries, whether they are elders or sisters, will make the process of spreading the gospel easier.

This article was written by Melissa Muse

Where Two or Three are gathered – The LDS Church in Hong Kong

Wednesday, May 7th, 2014

Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (often called the “Mormon” Church by the media and others) realize the importance of meeting together to worship the Lord. They also realize that worship is not restricted to Sunday, although that is the usual day of worship in most parts of the world, but they are admonished to not forsake the “assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching” (Hebrews 10:25). The Savior Himself taught, “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matthew 18:20). And so, there are some places in the world where Church services may be conducted more frequently.

The Church of Jesus Christ in Hong Kong, China

Hong Kong China Mormon TempleIn Hong Kong, Church meetings are held every day of the week in order to accommodate the domestic helpers who only get one day a week off, and that day may vary from week to week.

Melissa Inouye of the University of Hong Kong stated that there is a missionary couple specifically called to conduct daily church meetings for members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, for whoever comes. Inouye also made mention of the fact that the missionary couple’s Preparation Day (P-day) is actually on Sunday.

Bridging the Differences between Schedules and Cultures

Hong Kong China District Humanitarian AidOn 27 March 2014, in Berkeley, California, in her presentation at the Global Crossroads: Mormonism and Asia in the Twenty-First Century Conference, Staci Ford, also of the University of Hong Kong, discussed the “Gathering and Grafting in the Hong Kong International District” in greater detail.

In introducing the voice of a domestic helper by the name of Marissa Carino Estipona, Ford commented, “With over 1,000 domestic helpers, our district is the most gender imbalanced of its type in the church. We are a predominantly matriarchal society at church.” Estipona recalled being asked by a woman in Church if the long hours that she worked as a domestic helper away from her family in order to support and sustain them was worth it, and replying that everything was worth it for the sake of her family.

During her presentation Ford also quoted Benjamin Tai, the International Hong Kong District Leader, as saying,

In my view, the purpose of church boundaries is not to cause grief, heartache and headache for members of those in leadership callings. I am just very glad that anyone is willing to come and spend three-plus hours of his or her day off with us. My only desire is to make sure that for those that come, we are organized appropriately so that they can get the most out of their time and that spiritual growth is fostered.


Mormons Are Still Going to Church–Why?

Tuesday, November 19th, 2013

Religion is falling out of vogue. We’ve all heard it. Though people may identify with Christianity on a census form, in reality they are not  particularly interested in religion anymore. People don’t attend church with regularity. But, what about  Mormons (members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints)? They still attend Church services on a regular basis.

Why? And how does The Church of Jesus Christ manage to grow and stay strong in a world that continually diminishes the importance and role of religion? The answer is simple: Mormons keep the message of the gospel at the forefront of their lives.

Doctrine Never Changes

mormon-jesus-christ4The message of The Church of Jesus Christ is simple: Jesus Christ is our Savior and Redeemer, and when we commit ourselves to Him, we find lasting peace, qualify for saving ordinances, and will eventually live with God and our families forever. The core doctrines of The Church of Jesus Christ remain constant, and if there is a change in church operations or policy, it comes directly from general church leadership. (more…)