To the "beloved sisters" of Relief Society, President Thomas S. Monson spoke of "who you are" and "what God expects you to become."
"Your challenge is to bring all for whom you are responsible to a knowledge of this truth. The Relief Society of this, the Lord's Church, can be the means to achieve such a goal."
President Monson, first counselor in the First Presidency, addressed the General Relief Society Meeting broadcast on Sept. 25 from the Conference Center in Salt Lake City. Sitting on the stand were President Gordon B. Hinckley, who presided, and his second counselor in the First Presidency, President James E. Faust. Also present were Elder Dallin H. Oaks and Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve and Elder Dale E. Miller of the Seventy.
The General Relief Society Meeting was broadcast to meetinghouses in the United States, Canada, the Caribbean, and in Mexico, Central America and parts of South America. Conducting was Relief Society General President Bonnie D. Parkin, who also addressed the congregation, along with her counselors in the general presidency, Sisters Kathleen H. Hughes and Anne C. Pingree.
Providing the music for the annual meeting were women of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, their daughters, women who formerly sang in the choir, female family members of choir office staff and female members of the Orchestra at Temple Square. Directing the music was Rebecca Wilberg, with Bonnie Goodliffe and Linda Margetts accompanying on the organ.
In his address, President Monson spoke of seeing a photograph taken in 1905 of a Sunday School class in the Sixth Ward of the Pioneer Stake in Salt Lake City and of a girl in pigtails in that photo. That little girl was Belle Smith, who was later Belle Smith Spafford, general president of the Relief Society. He quoted her as writing, "Never have women had greater influence than in today's world."
President Monson referred to one of the goals of the Relief Society, which is to eliminate illiteracy. "Those of us who can read and write do not appreciate the deprivation of those who cannot read, who cannot write. . . . Sisters of the Relief Society, you can lift this cloud of despair and welcome heaven's divine light as it shines upon your sisters."
He related that years ago in Monroe, La., he met at the airport an African-American woman who was a Church member. She told him how, before joining the Church and becoming a part of Relief Society, she could not read or write. "You see," she said, "we were all poor sharecroppers. President, my white Relief Society sisters — they taught me to read. They taught me to write. Now I help teach my white sisters how to read and how to write."
"I reflected on the supreme joy she must have felt when she opened her Bible and read for the first time the words of the Lord: 'Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heaven laden, and I will give you rest.' "
President Monson added, "That day in Monroe, La., I received a confirmation by the Spirit of the exalted objective of the Relief Society to help eliminate illiteracy."
In speaking of the concern parents everywhere have for their children and their eternal happiness, President Monson referred to the musical, "Fiddler on the Roof." In one scene, the old-fashioned Jewish father, Tevye, gathers his lovely daughters around him "in the simplicity of his peasant surroundings" and counsels them, "Remember, in Anatevka each one of you knows who you are and what God expects you to become."
President Monson then quoted President David O. McKay: "The first and foremost opportunity for teaching in the Church lies in the home. A true Mormon home is one in which if Christ should chance to enter, He would be pleased to linger and to rest."
"What are we doing to ensure that our homes meet this description?" President Monson asked. "It isn't enough for parents alone to have strong testimonies. Children can ride only so long on the coattails of a parent's conviction. . . . A love for the Savior, a reverence for His name, and a genuine respect one for another will provide a fertile seedbed for a testimony to grow."
He then shared a "sublime example depicting how a treasury of testimony can bless and sanctify a home." While traveling by airplane from Sydney, Australia, to Darwin some years ago, he and the mission president, Horace D. Ensign, met a woman by the name of Judith Louden, along with her two young children, at a remote mining community named Mt. Isa during a fueling stop. "She explained that her husband was not a member of the Church and that she and the children were indeed the only members in the entire area. We shared experiences and bore testimony," President Monson reflected.
Sister Louden asked President Monson how "she might influence her husband to show an interest in the gospel. We counseled her to include him in their home Primary lesson each week and be to him a living testimony of the gospel."
President Monson said he has never returned to Mt. Isa. "I shall, however, always hold dear in memory that sweet mother and those precious children extending a tear-filled expression and a fond wave of gratitude and goodbye."
Several years later, while speaking at a priesthood leadership meeting in Brisbane, Australia, President Monson shared the account of "Sister Louden and the impact her faith and determination had made on me."
One of the leaders then raised his hand and said, "Brother Monson, I am Richard Louden. The woman of whom you speak is my wife. The children (his voice quavered) are our children. We are a forever family now, thanks in part to the persistence and the patience of my dear wife. She did it all."
President Monson added, "Not a word was spoken. The silence was broken only by sniffles and marked by the sight of tears."
After encouraging women to pursue an education and learn marketable skills should they someday have to provide for their families, President Monson declared that the "role of women is unique" and that "being a mother has never been an easy role. Some of our oldest writings in the world admonish us not to forsake the law of our mother, instruct us that a foolish son is the heaviness of his mother and warn us not to ignore our mother when she is old."
Speaking of the different and varying backgrounds and circumstances of the women of Relief Society, President Monson counseled: "In reality, no one need stand alone, for a loving Father will be by her side to give direction to her life and provide peace and assurance in those quiet moments where loneliness is found and where compassion is needed.
"Also significant is the fact that the women of Relief Society stand side by side as sisters."
Offering the invocation and benediction, respectively, during the General Relief Society Meeting were Heidi Swinton and Connie D. Cannon of the Relief Society general board.