"May our testimonies ring forth with power and authority and conviction concerning the Prophet Joseph Smith - the greatest prophet who ever lived - and concerning the Book of Mormon which he brought forth," said President James E. Faust.
President Faust, second counselor in the First Presidency, was the first speaker at the opening session of the weeklong Mission Presidents Seminar June 23.During the seminar, held at the Missionary Training Center, emphasis was also placed upon retention of new converts and caring for missionaries. Mission presidents were counseled to listen to their wives, and their wives were counseled to be wise companions to their husbands.
President Faust was accompanied to the seminar by his wife, Ruth. Many other General Authorities and their wives also attended, including President Boyd K. Packer, acting president of the Quorum of the Twelve; Elder David B. Haight and his wife, Ruby; Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin and his wife, Elisa; and Elder Richard G. Scott of the Quorum of the Twelve; all seven presidents of the Seventy who each conducted a training session that morning; many members of the First and Second Quorums of the Seventy; and Bishop Richard C. Edgley of the Presiding Bishopric.
The scope of the work to which the new presidents and their wives have been called became more evident as Elder Scott introduced them individually along with their missions in such rarely visited places as Banglore, India; Port Harcourt, Nigeria; and Samara, Russia, to name a few.
As President Packer described the mixed emotions of the new leaders who are leaving their homes to embark on such demanding callings, the group laughed because of the accuracy of his description.
Other leaders who spoke in the first session included President Packer and Elder Haight, chairman of the Missionary Executive Council. Coverage of the rest of the seminar, held June 23-26, will be in the July 4 Church News.
In his remarks, President Faust noted that he had called about half the 111 new mission presidents and their wives, and quipped, "I've raised some of you."
He paid tribute to the new leaders for their willingness to lay aside personal affairs and leave children and grandchildren behind.
"It is not easy. However," he assured, "the prayers that ascend to heaven in your behalf and in behalf of your missionaries literally number in the millions, and those prayers will be answered."
President Faust, referring to young Joseph Smith, said that "those who are unlearned still need teaching. This was true in the case of Joseph Smith. For him, the Spirit was the teacher. And the Spirit would be your teacher, and the Spirit would be the teacher of missionaries."
Joseph Smith called the Book of Mormon the keystone of the gospel, President Faust said. Such is its importance that as it was being translated, Joseph Smith "was given no other gift."
Shortly after the book was published, however, the Church was organized and the first missionary was sent out, he continued. "We can conclude from this that the Book of Mormon was necessary to both weave the threads of the prophetic mantle of Joseph and also lay the foundation for restoring the dispensation of the fulness of times."
So important is the mission of Joseph Smith that "your investigators will never be truly on the road to conversion until they have at least a beginning witness of Joseph Smith as a prophet of God and the Book of Mormon as `Another Testament of Christ,' " he said.
He said all Church members must accept some absolutes. These absolutes are that:
- Jesus is the Christ, the Savior, and Redeemer of all mankind through His atonement.
- Joseph Smith is a prophet of God who restored the gospel of Jesus Christ in its fulness and completeness.
- The Book of Mormon is "Another Testament of Christ."
- All presidents of the Church since Joseph Smith have been successors of Joseph Smith, possessing the keys and authority which he restored.
- President Gordon B. Hinckley is the prophet, seer and revelator to the world at this time.
"The importance of the Book of Mormon to missionary work cannot be overestimated," said President Faust. "It is the text for this dispensation."
He noted that "the Lord has made clear that this generation shall remain under condemnation until they repent and remember the new covenant, even the Book of Mormon."
He spoke of the early missionary work in Brazil, in which he was involved, where in one year missionaries without the Book of Mormon baptized only three converts. By contrast, missionaries in 1997, using the Book of Mormon, baptized more than 40,000 converts in Brazil.
"There are now 175 stakes in Brazil," he said.
President Packer emphasized the importance of careful watchcare over the missionaries, who now number nearly 58,500.
"Missionaries are your first responsibility," he emphasized, and said that as leaders watch out for missionaries, other responsibilities will naturally be cared for.
To provide watch care for the missionaries, he said, "Be susceptible to constant revelation. The way to get revelation is to ask for it. `Ask and ye shall receive.' "
Mission presidents, he said, "can have the power of discernment. It is inherent in the setting apart of mission presidents. To discern is to see."
He said that, as described in the Doctrine and Covenants, the priesthood "is a consummate power."
"I've learned that the Lord gives power commensurate to responsibility. The Lord gives no commandment save He prepares a way. So we have unlimited confidence in you," he said.
He cited a scripture indicating that angels speak by the power of the Holy Ghost, and therefore they speak the words of Christ. (See 2 Ne. 32:3.) He counseled the leaders to "feast on the words of Christ."
"My interpretation of this is that you will be attended constantly by angels who will speak to you by the power of the Holy Ghost."
He promised the new leaders that they would rejoice in their work, and grow spiritually as they serve.
In his remarks, Elder Haight, referring to the broad scope of assignments of those in the room, exclaimed, "What has happened to that little organization of 1830 that started with six members!"
He spoke of the "miraculous way" that the new leaders were called and their challenges to fulfill their callings had been resolved.
He cited the first section of the Doctrine and Covenants, where Joseph Smith and others are given power to "bring the Church out of obscurity and out of darkness." (D&C 1:30.)
"Those `others' are sitting right here. We're here. We are the others today. You are the ones called and selected and prayed over, going out to teach and train and inspire these marvelous young men and young women who will be under your direction."
He said that the Church has made great progress in coming out of obscurity.
"Today, we are looking at a different world than the one that the Prophet Joseph looked at."
It is a marvel to behold how the Church has, "line upon line and precept upon precept unrolled and unrolled and unrolled," Elder Haight said.
He told the new leaders that this service would change their lives. This change will come "while you are spending three years in the mission field, relying on . . . your Father in Heaven to bless you. You will develop that warm, wonderful relationship with your companion. You'll see more of each other than you ever had in your life. You're going to be together."
He said that during missionary service, leaders "pull down the shades on Babylon" as "we commit ourselves through our faith and our obedience and our hope and our aspirations - all that is good about us. We devote ourselves to finding and teaching and explaining and testifying and praying for the Spirit of the Lord to touch the lives of the people to whom we are called.
"We hope that you bring about many baptisms," he concluded. "They will no longer be strangers. They will be fellow citizens.
"We do it right; we teach them the right way, we fellowship them and integrate them. We work with the members."