If there’s one thing you need to remember from today, it’s this: you are NOT alone. And, as I’m sure I’ll be reminded by at least one overly zealous companion, you CANNOT be alone.
While you are responsible for your own salvation, it’s simply not in The Plan do go it alone. On my mission packing list (amongst other things), is a four generation pedigree chart. I thought: “this should be easy. Aren’t there like a million genealogy websites now? I should be able to plug in my name and hit print, right?” Wrong. I made the mistake of getting my parents involved. Instead of four generations, we ended up in the 14th century.
Some common themes were immediately evident: willingness to travel across the known world for religious freedom, dedication to a cause, a dash of stubbornness, and a love affair with Asia. I was in awe. It’s as if the plan from the very beginning was to get me to China. We won’t go all the way back to the Vikings, but here’s the highlights:
1833 — Aggatha Ann Woolsey on July 23 wedded John D. Lee. They encountered Mormon missionaries and moved to Far West, Missouri . They were baptized on June 17, 1838 and experienced hardships created by Governor Boggs’ extermination order. Early in 1839, they fled Missouri along with twelve thousand other brethren and sisters.
In section 52 of the Doctrine & Covenants, Zebedee Coltrin was called to preach in Winchester, Indiana. He attended the School of the Prophets upon his return and would eventually travel to St. George where he died in 1887 as Church Patriarch, set apart by John Taylor.
June 25, 1844 John Solomon Fullmer was one of the last people to see Joseph Smith alive. Joseph sent him for help, but to no avail. The Prophet was martyred two days later. John, having served as Joseph’s private secretary for a period of time, was one of the Brethren left to handle church property after the Exodus from Nauvoo. Once settled in what is now Davis County Utah, John became active in politics and assisted drafting the constitution for the State of Deseret.
Fast forward to 1952. Larry Oler called to serve mission in Samoa. To put it succinctly, he fell in love with the Pacific Islands. After his mission, Larry promptly married his sweetheart and returned to that area as a CES educator and administrator. He’s known throughout the region for his generous nature, his love of the people, and his dedication to building Zion. He died a few years ago, having served as the first President of the Kona, Hawaii Temple.
Though not a relative… In 1980, Russell M. Nelson and his wife headed for China after urging from President Kimball to “be of service to the Chinese, learn their language, pray for them and help them.” Through his medical connections, Elder Nelson developed in Chinese what is known as guanxi. These connections allowed him unprecedented access to decision makers on various levels of Chinese government.
1985 – Craig and Liz boarded a plane at SEATAC that would land in Hong Kong 16 hours later. Transportation arrangements, as they usually do, fell through. So, with not even enough Chinese to buy a watermelon from a street vendor, my parents began their trek to Xi’an. 886 miles, five modes of public transit, and one foot-traffic-only border crossing later… they were in. With only three days before the start of the Fall semester.
One short year later, Elder Nelson was back in China… and looking for my Dad. He’d come with the intention of setting apart at least one, if not two Branch Presidents – one for the ExPats in Beijing and the other for…. well, the rest of China. His travelling companions were Elder Bradford, president of the Asia Area and Brother Rodgers, Polynesia Cultural Center supervisor. Interestingly enough, Brother Bradford grew up with Grandma Marcusen (maiden name, Fullmer… from John Solomon) while Brother Rogers worked closely with Larry Oler (my paternal grandma’s cousin). Thanks to the good ol’ Relief Society grapevine, both knew Craig and Liz were somewhere in China and thriving.
Yes. The world, in that moment, was excruciatingly small.
Family references in hand, Elder Nelson began an in depth interview with my parents — covering everything from flour for Sacrament bread to culture shock. Satisfied, on May 16th the Xi’an China Branch was organized with Craig Oler as Branch President. And now, here I stand. Called to serve in Taiwan — a tiny island off the coast of China, a virtual gateway for pioneers into the Middle Kingdom.
In the Pearl of Great Price, God gives Abraham a similar pedigree. Abraham learns he was “chosen before he was born” just before God shows him the Creation of the Earth, as if to say “this Earth is for YOU.” It’s a staggering thought, but one we should all take a moment to ponder on. It’s easy to think big picture – to say, “oh yes, the Earth was created for us, for all mankind to use and enjoy and gain experience from.” But how often do we, like Abraham, have it laid out so personally? How often do we realize the hundreds and thousands of pioneers gone ahead of us, breaking train just for you?
This divine objective – unity in purpose throughout time and eternity – is an encouraging one. To think you have whole armies of family members rooting for you, making decisions with you and your happiness in mind.
In a fireside address at BYU in 1995, Elder Nelson pointed out: “In stark contrast to that divine objective, the real world in which we live is divided by diverse languages, culture, and politics. Even the privileges of a democracy carry the burden of bickering in election campaigns. Contention is all about us. Ours is a pessimistic and cynical world–one that, to a great extent, has no hope in Christ nor in God’s plan for human happiness. Why such global contention and gloom? The reason is plain. If there is no hope in Christ, there is no recognition of a divine plan for the redemption of mankind. Without that knowledge, people mistakenly believe that existence today is followed by extinction tomorrow–that happiness and family associations are only ephemeral.”
Families – those associations we cherish on Earth – are the nitty-gritty of God’s plan. Without that unencumbered love that can only exist between Father and Son, Mother and Daughter, mankind could not think to the future, could not make decisions for a greater good, could not be steady pioneers. This is truly what it means to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children and hearts of the children to the fathers. The times this phrase is noted in Scripture, two things are always underlined: the why and the consequences if we don’t. The consequences hearken back to Abraham – if we don’t do this the Earth will be utterly wasted. The why reads something like a last will and testament – that whatever promises were made to the fathers can be passed on seamlessly to the children. To seal up these families for eternity, then, becomes vital.
Joseph Smith said about sealing: “It may seem to some to be a very bold doctrine that we talk of—a power which records or binds on earth and binds in heaven. Nevertheless, in all ages of the world, whenever the Lord has given a dispensation of the priesthood to any man by actual revelation, or any set of men, this power has always been given. Hence, whatsoever those men did in authority, in the name of the Lord, and did it truly and faithfully, and kept a proper and faithful record of the same, it became a law on earth and in heaven, and could not be annulled, according to the decrees of the great Jehovah.”
This power – given to Elijah and restored in this time — is the culmination of what we believe and manifests itself today in our Temples. There we offer ourselves – the beneficiaries of our ancestors’ trail blazing and steadfastness – as a thanks for their work and a covenant to continue it. I challenge each of you, especially the youth who have just returned from Nauvoo, to keep the Spirit of Elijah with you always. Rejoice in it! Call upon it in times of need! You are, like Abraham, one of the “noble and great ones.” The Earth was created for you and each human being on it has prepared it to help you accomplish God’s. Find the details in your Patriarchal Blessing, in your family history, and in the Temple.
Paraphrasing President Hunter: This is a time of great hope and excitement and one of the greatest eras of all dispensations. I promise you tonight in the name of the Lord whose servant I am that God will always prepare places of peace, defense, and safety for his people. When we have faith in God we can hope for a better world – for us personally, for our families, and for all mankind. It is incumbent upon us to rejoice a little more and despair a little less, to give thanks for what we have and for the magnitude of God’s blessings to us.
I add to this my testimony that Christ is our Savior. In His name, Amen.