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ESPN NBA insider Chad Ford speaks at LDS International Society conference

PROVO — Chad Ford, who doubles as a sportswriter covering the NBA and international basketball for ESPN, decided as a young man to pursue a career of international peace-building after being inspired by words and teachings of David O. McKay, a late president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

“I wanted to learn how to make peace,” said Ford, director of the David O. McKay Center for Intercultural Understanding at BYU Hawaii. “I felt inadequate. I felt like I didn’t understand it, but I felt moved to try.”

It's a side to Ford with which sports fans may not be familiar. The ESPN analyst has been especially busy in recent weeks, updating his highly popular NBA mock draft following the NCAA men's basketball tournament. His frequently updated draft predictions are often highlighted during SportsCenter, as his knowledge of professional basketball prospects both local and international is considered the best available.

During and after his education, Ford had a few experiences that changed his view of peace-building on a spiritual and religious level, Ford said Monday at BYU, where he and other speakers at the 24th annual conference of the LDS International Society addressed the importance of international diplomacy from an LDS perspective.

One of Ford’s professors for a mediation class was a Mennonite who taught of his religion’s historical quest for peacemaking. Along with the Quakers, the Mennonites studied how Christ handled conflict and solved problems. Their findings were termed "mediation" in the late 1800s.

“Suddenly all the things that I was learning were taking on a spiritual significance that I had not understood before in doing mediation, in doing facilitation, in doing reconciliation,” he said. “We were really trying to model the Master on how he had done things, and it deeply impressed me.”

Later, in 1998, Ford traveled to Jerusalem with a group of his students to learn and teach them more about conflict and peace. They visited the Wailing Wall, where people come to leave messages and pray.

“Every time I’ve gone, I’ve been blown away by the faith and devotion of people of many faiths who believe that God hears prayers and that if they go and ask that he will answer and that they will receive,” Ford said.

He decided to offer a prayer, but found his mind wandering and confused, unable to articulate his thoughts. Discouraged, he left wondering what he had done wrong.

“In that moment of despair,” he said, “a voice in my mind said simply, ‘I am not here.’ ”

Sometime later on that trip, a local man asked Ford and his students to help with olive harvesting in a nearby village, as he did not have enough workers. After a long day of hard work, the man requested their company at his dinner table. At dinner, he expressed hope that the students’ perspectives of the people had changed for the better. He also said his own opinions of Americans had become more respectful after seeing them unafraid of hard work and getting dirty. He then asked Ford to pray over the meal, which resulted in another spiritual and peace-building experience.

“As I searched for the words, I heard a voice again,” Ford said. “It simply said, ‘I am here.’ I don’t remember exactly the words that came out of my mouth that day, but I do remember the idea that simply this: Heavenly Father does not reside in stones or tombs. He doesn’t reside in religious sites or in cathedrals or churches. But his spirit will always be there when his children are joined together, unified in purpose, unified in heart, trying to understand, trying to make peace. There, his spirit will always be.”

Ford said the village now has respect for Latter-day Saints; likewise, the students feel reverence and peace toward the village. The lesson of compassion and respect was Ford’s message of hope for the conference attendees.

Robert Wood, an emeritus general authority and Distinguished Service Award recipient, also endorsed the need for the LDS Church to be perceived positively throughout the world and offered counsel on how to achieve that.

“The people who get to know Latter-day Saints actually like us,” he said. “That’s comforting to know that. … Our enemies are those who don’t know us, have never met us, have never had any kind of interaction with us whatsoever. One of the crucial ways in which we have that interaction is to have these various groups travel throughout the world, get to know people, entertain, and, in fact, it really does lay a positive foundation.”

The LDS International Society was organized in 1989 and is comprised of internationally interested members or friends of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Members of the society can go to the website later in the year for a PDF file of the conference proceedings. Also visit the website for information about becoming a member of the society.