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More copies of the Book of Mormon are being distributed by missionaries than ever before, according to Missionary Department leaders.

In fact, the distribution of the book by missionaries within the last 20 years has grown from thousands to millions. Since 1985 when President Ezra Taft Benson began emphasizing the Book of Mormon, the distribution has more than doubled.In the last year alone, distribution of the book has increased by nearly 18 percent.

Much of the recent increase has been due to the donations of members to the General Book of Mormon Fund, which provides copies to missionaries throughout the world.

In an October 1988 general conference address, President Benson said:

"In this age of electronic media and mass distribution of the printed word, God will hold us accountable if we do not now move the Book of Mormon in a monumental way."

The First Presidency, in a letter to General Authorities and priesthood leaders in the United States, announced in December 1990 the creation of the General Book of Mormon Fund. An additional letter was sent on Nov. 15, 1991, which stated, "Opportunities await our efforts to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ to the nations of the earth. We recognize the faithfulness of Church members in paying their tithes and offerings has made possible the growth of the Church in parts of the world where members are economically less fortunate. Many of our missionaries from these other lands could not serve without assistance from the General Missionary Fund. . . .

"We invite those who are in a financial position to do so to be generous in their support of missionary work by contributing to the General Missionary Fund, the ward missionary fund or the General Book of Mormon Fund."

Elder L. Aldin Porter of the Presidency of the Seventy and executive director of the Missionary Department, said missionaries in all missions are eagerly promoting the book.

"President Benson has urged us, as Latter-day Saints, to immerse ourselves in the Book of Mormon. His counsel is reminiscent of Nephi's challenge: `Wherefore, ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men. Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold, saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life.' (2 Ne. 31:20; italics added.)

"The prophet has also counseled us to flood the earth with the Book of Mormon and to use this sacred treasure as the missionary tool the Lord intended it to be," he said.

"The Book of Mormon is another testament of Jesus Christ. It leads to conversion. It invites and entices men to `come unto the Christ, who is the Holy one of Israel, and partake of his salvation, and the power of his redemption.' " (Omni 1:26.)

Representative of mission leaders whose missionaries are successfully placing copies of the Book of Mormon is Pres. Robert E. Floto of the Indiana Indianapolis Mission.

"We've placed a lot of copies of the Book of Mormon as a result of media advertisements," he said. "When people understand there is another book about Jesus Christ, it interests them.

"One of the first commitments we ask them is to read the Book of Mormon and pray about it. The Book of Mormon is one of the strongest converting tools we have. Once they are converted to the Book of Mormon, the rest comes pretty easy."