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Why church leaders believe new Book of Mormon Video Library will help bring the scriptures to life

Ryan Wood, who plays the part of Abinadi talks with Sister Reyna I. Aburto second counselor in the general presidency of the Relief Society of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as work on production of the Book of Mormon Videos Series continues in Provo at the LDS Motion Picture Studio on Tuesday, Sept. 3, 2019.
Ryan Wood, who plays the part of Abinadi, talks with Sister Reyna I. Aburto, second counselor in the Relief Society general presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, as work on production of the Book of Mormon video series continues in Provo at the LDS Motion Picture Studio on Tuesday, Sept. 3, 2019.
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

PROVO — Sister Reyna I. Aburto remembers “perfectly” where she was and what she was doing when she had her first spiritual experience with the Book of Mormon.

She was 26 years old when a senior missionary couple gave her a copy of the Book of Mormon and invited her to read. It took her a few days to get started, but when she opened up to Nephi 1, she felt something powerful as she read the words. She was especially touched by the promise that if she obeyed the commandments God would bless her. She was baptized a short time later.

“I could feel the Spirit and I could feel that God had a message especially for me,” she said. “It was a beautiful experience.”

The second counselor in the Relief Society general presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and native of Nicaragua recalled the sweet experience recently as she sat on a Lamanite throne in the palace of King Lamoni, a figure from the Book of Mormon.

Sister Reyna I. Aburto second counselor in the general presidency of the Relief Society of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints talks about the videos as work on production of the Book of Mormon Videos Series continues in Provo at the LDS Motion Picture Studio on Tuesday, Sept. 3, 2019.
Sister Reyna I. Aburto, second counselor in the the Relief Society general presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, talks about the videos as work on production of the Book of Mormon video series continues in Provo at the LDS Motion Picture Studio on Tuesday, Sept. 3, 2019.
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

The palace is part of a small Lamanite village recreated from the Book of Alma, complete with palm trees and an ancient American marketplace. It’s all hidden among the trees at the LDS Motion Picture Studios where The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has been filming season three of the multi-year Book of Mormon Video Library series.

It’s a special project that Sister Aburto and other church leaders hope will bring the sacred words of the Book of Mormon to life for church members and nonmembers alike.

The first videos from the Book of Mormon videos project will be released Sept. 20. The Church released a trailer for I Nephi Thursday.

Sister Aburto, along with Elder LeGrand R. Curtis Jr., a General Authority Seventy, cast and crew spoke with reporters Tuesday as part of a Book of Mormon videos media day at the studio. Members of the press were also invited to observe as filmmakers directed a live scene depicting King Noah and his wicked priests.

Thirty years after her life-changing experience with the Book of Mormon, Sister Aburto serves as a member of the steering committee overseeing the project and prays the videos will inspire people to open the Book of Mormon and lead to special experiences like she had at a pivotal point in her life.

“I think it’s amazing and so timely because we now live in a different world,” she said. “These stories, in a more visual format, will reach even more people in distant corners of the world. The ultimate goal is that when people see the videos they will have a desire to read the book because the book contains truth that changes lives.”

Elder Curtis, who chairs the steering committee, said his own first profound experience with the Book of Mormon came around age 14. As a student in seminary, he read the story of Ammon protecting the flocks of King Lamoni, one that’s popular with a lot of seminary students, he said.

“That trip through the Book of Mormon is when I came to feel the power that there is in the Book of Mormon. I don’t know exactly where it happened, but somewhere I began to feel the Spirit,” Elder Curtis said. “After that, every time I opened the book, even though the stories and teachings were different, there was just a sweet spirit that accompanied me as I read the Book of Mormon.”

As families see people like Nephi say, “I will go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded,” or the portrayal of people holding to the iron rod and partaking of the fruit in Lehi’s dream, the videos should make a significant difference in Latter-day Saint homes. The resource will also help seminary teachers, youth and Primary teachers and missionaries, he said.

“I think of what is going to happen in the hearts of children and youth,” Elder Curtis said. “Members will see the videos and realize, that’s my story too.”

Adam Thomas Anderegg, one of a handful of directors involved in the project, said there’s been a tremendous effort to create videos that are “creative and irresistible to watch” but not a dramatization.

“What we’re trying to do is actually visualize the book,” Anderegg said.

While some scenes involve action, others include lengthy sermons. To keep the audience engaged, they’ve given supporting characters or people in the crowd backstories to see while hearing the words, Anderegg said.

“It makes it really quite compelling to watch,” Anderegg said.

Anderegg, a former bishop who has read the Book of Mormon multiple times, has also gained his own scriptural insights while watching through the director’s monitor. He described one scene involving King Lamoni’s conversion where shafts of sunlight naturally poked through the palace walls at the right time to create a powerful image. It was something the director knows he could not have orchestrated on his own, he said.

Actor Ben Lomu portrays King Lamoni in a scene from the Book of Mormon Video Library project.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

“I know the book, but to see it visually portrayed, I was having new spiritual insights and being taught by the Holy Ghost and understanding things I hadn’t understood before,” Anderegg said. “I think that’s what will happen for both members of the church and also anybody that wants to watch it. I think it will be an effective and awesome tool to access the scriptural text in ways that people haven’t been able to do it before.”

Ryan Wood, who plays the Nephite prophet Abinadi, agrees that these stories can influence lives. He witnessed it as a missionary and has seen it on set during filming.

“Some of these stories really touch people when they hear them. To see it happen in real time is an honor,” said Wood, dressed in a simple Nephite costume. “I think there will be a lot more of an intellectual and emotional connection. When people are looking at their scriptures I hope they will see them and read them a little differently.”

Elizabeth Hansen, one of several writers on the project, applauded the church for creating a visual element for the scriptures. She recently expressed frustration for not understanding the Apostle Paul in the New Testament.

“The scriptures are written in a language that’s kind of archaic. I just go, ‘Paul, what are you saying? Shakespeare is easier than you,’” she said with a laugh. “I just love dramatizing (the scriptures) because it’s simpler and more direct. We’re in a day and age where we are a visually oriented society. The entire world is. These videos will speak to the entire world, not just English-speaking people. It’s going to be great.”

While the videos should enhance study for Latter-day Saints, they should also bring the scriptures to life for people with lower literacy levels, considering some of the hard-to-grasp terminology found in the Book of Mormon, said Aaron Merrell, the project’s executive producer.

“It’s for those that are learning about it, to help them have a better understanding,” Merrell said.

Scenes from the first three seasons have been filmed in church property in Goshen, Utah; Hobble Creek, near Springville; the Hawaiian island of Kauai; Little Sahara, Utah; the Oregon coast; and the studio in Provo, Merrell said.

The locations don’t reflect any opinions on Book of Mormon geography, said Sister Aburto, who was impressed with the Lamanite village in Provo.

“It’s humid today. I feel like we are in Latin America,” she said with a laugh. “But we don’t know exactly where the events took place. It doesn’t matter. We just know that it did happen and it’s a real book that testifies of Jesus Christ.”

The Book of Mormon Video Library project began in November 2016, Elder Curtis said.

Members of the media were first invited to the Goshen set in July 2017.

The first images and scenes of the second year of filming were released in June 2018.

“I would just like to invite our members and nonmembers to view these videos and share them, and to do it with an open heart,” Sister Aburto said.