It is, as President Pickerd says, another progressive step of Zion being established in Italy, providing in-country temple worship and ordinances to Church members of the peninsula nation jutting into the Mediterranean Sea.A step and a beacon Sister Sadie Decker, center, and Sister Carolyne Dwomoh talk with Rowena Dayandayan, left, as part of their finding efforts in Rome, Italy, on Saturday, November 17, 2018. Photo by Kristin Murphy, Deseret News.Her parents both served as missionaries in their native Ghana and later met, married, and started a family. When Sister Dwomoh was 11, her family relocated from Ghana to Italy, with her father currently serving as bishop of the Reggio Emilia Ward in northern Italy, near Parma.“Wherever they come from, they develop a love for the people, a love for the culture, and certainly a love for the food,” said President Pickerd. “But it starts with the people, because Italian people are very warm, very family-focused, and they value life in terms of its sanctity.”Key agreements Sister Marian W. Pickerd and President Michael D. Pickerd pose for a portrait at the mission home in Rome, Italy, on Friday, November 16, 2018. Photo by Kristin Murphy, Deseret News.“The Italians are very curious people, so they want to know what this building is,” said Sister Sadie Decker of McKinney, Texas, of the temple and its high-profile location less than 250 meters (820 feet) from the upscale Porta di Roma mall just off the Grande Raccordo Anulare, the motorway encircling central Rome. A diorama of the Rome Italy Temple complex, including (clockwise from right) the temple, patron housing and administrative offices, visitors’ center, and stake center. Photo by Scott Taylor.Now, the Church owns dedicated meetinghouses—an increasing number of Church-constructed buildings to add to the converted homes and commercial buildings that have served as previous meeting locations.With more Latter-day Saints to work with, missionaries look for ways to involve the members in finding, inviting, teaching, and reactivating. In addition to applying the Spirit-directed efforts taught by Preach My Gospel, finding and inviting efforts have gone to the streets, with missionaries contacting and seeking service opportunities when on the move from one location to the next—on sidewalks, in the parks, and on the buses, metros, and trains.When President Michael D. Pickerd of the Italy Rome Mission and his wife, Sister Marian W. Pickerd, welcome missionaries to the mission home—whether it be new arrivals, those currently serving, or the elders and sisters departing for home—they have a pretty good sense of what the missionaries are feeling.Interest among families“The temple is a beacon, a great missionary tool for us as we point people toward it,” said Elder Bryce Dickey, a missionary from Happy Valley, Oregon, serving in Rome. “It helps them see that this Church isn’t just something small and isn’t just an American church. Instead, it’s a global Church that is fulfilling prophecy. It’s going to fill the whole earth.”Also recalling her weekly district meetings in the same villa while serving in that area of Rome for seven months, Sister Pickerd says her husband reminds their missionaries they are among the thousands to spend time in the multilevel mission home that can easily sleep 30-plus arriving or departing missionaries.Missionary work, then and now The Italy Rome Mission home, a 1920s villa on Via Cimone in northeastern Rome. Photo by Scott Taylor.The temple and its adjacent buildings—all sitting on a 15-acre elevated site about 10 kilometers (6 miles) northeast from the Roma Termini central station—are a result of the prayers, faith, efforts, and service of tens of thousands of Latter-day Saints and missionaries throughout Italy over the years. Elder Travis Wagstaff looks around a metro car as part of his finding efforts in Rome, Italy, on Saturday, November 17, 2018. Photo by Kristin Murphy, Deseret News.The Church in ItalyBenefits include bishops and stake presidents being able to perform marriages (without having to seek a single-use authorization that previously took up to a year or two to receive), local leaders being able to minister in public hospitals and prisons, visa processes being streamlined for missionaries, and member tithes and offerings being considered as approved tax deductions, said Elder De Feo in a 2017 interview.The population’s demographics are changing in Rome and throughout Italy, with people coming from across the globe the past couple of decades in search of opportunity or political refuge. Italy serves as the Mediterranean’s front step for refugees migrating from Africa or the Middle East.“When we were here 40 years ago, everyone was Italian,” Sister Pickerd said. “Now they’re from all over the world—South Americans, Africans, Filipinos—and that’s reflecting in the Church here too.”Diverse demographicsMissionaries currently assigned to the Rome mission include a number with heritage ties to Italy, having ancestors who immigrated previously to North or South America. The missionaries may represent their respective family’s first, second, or third generation born outside of Italy; some even have Italian citizenship through their parents.The intesa grants greater freedoms and opportunities to the Church as both a religion and a charitable organization, said Elder Massimo De Feo, a native of Italy and General Authority Seventy who currently serves in the Europe Area Presidency. He too served as a full-time missionary in the Italy Rome Mission, from 1981 to 1983.“The missionaries walk through the same doors we walked through, they get interviewed by the mission president in the same office we were interviewed in, and we have their final testimonies in the same room that we did,” said President Pickerd.“It’s a really easy way for us to talk to people because they’re curious and they want to at least come and see it,” she said. “And they’re very family oriented, so when we tell them about eternal families and how inside a temple we can become an eternal family, that really piques their interest.”A pair of governmental legislations in the past quarter-century have aided the Church in Italy. In 1993, the Church received formal legal status—more as a corporate entity than a religious denomination—with a key benefit being the ability to buy and sell properties, build chapels, and provide services.ROME, ITALYThat includes not just the membership but the missionary force as well. Take, for example, Sister Carolyne Dwomoh of Campegine, Italy, who is capable to testify in four languages—her native Twi, Italian, English, and Spanish.But with the construction and dedication of a temple, he adds, comes the realization there is much more to do. Sister Sadie Decker and Sister Carolyne Dwomoh walk through Rome, Italy, on Saturday, November 17, 2018. Photo by Kristin Murphy, Deseret News.The Pickerds join the missionaries and Latter-day Saints in Rome and throughout Italy in looking forward to the coming of another special “house”—the Rome Italy Temple, or “house of the Lord,” which debuts in a public open house next month prior to its March 2019 dedication.Membership in Italy has grown from 66 in 1967 to surpassing 7,000 in 1978, to 12,000 in 1985, to 21,000 in 2005, and to nearly 27,000 in 101 congregations today. The country’s two missions are headquartered in Rome and Milan; additional previous missions were located in Padova and Catania.“It’s a very diverse missionary effort,” she said. “Being in Rome, we meet people from all over the world each and every day. The beautiful thing is that I can always testify about the fact that the gospel is for everyone—no matter where you’re from, no matter what your culture is, it’s for everyone.”“This is a great achievement, but it’s not the end,” President Pickerd said. “We want to fill the Rome Italy Temple with sons and daughters of God from Italy and do the work for their Italian ancestors. The vision we’re striving to create is filling the Rome Italy Temple—to meet that, we’ve got a long way to go.”Just as the membership numbers have steadily risen over the years, so has the missionary work evolved. When the Pickerds served in the 1970s, there were considerably fewer members to work with, much of the proselyting was door-to-door contacting, and worship services were conducted in rented facilities, typically hotels.The visibility of a new religious edifice and the scheduled open house has become a popular conversation piece for missionaries when they contact people on the street or on public transportation.Elder Dickey points to the temple and the visitors’ center tying a latter-day church to the biblical lands traveled by ancient Apostles of the New Testament as “a great indicator that the Lord’s work is rolling forth.”World War II military personnel assigned to Italy helped restart local worship services and ordinances at bases there in the 1940s, while Italians converted elsewhere in Europe also returned home the next two decades. In 1966, the first branch was organized and the Italian Mission reopened—more than a century after the arrival of Elder Snow.Over the next four years, the Book of Mormon was translated into Italian and some 220 converts were baptized. However, the immigration of most members to join the Saints in and around Salt Lake City, coupled with local opposition to the Church, resulted in active proselytizing ending in the 1860s.Modern-day missionary work in Italy began in 1850, when Elder Lorenzo Snow of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles arrived in Genova with companions Thomas B. H. Stenhouse and Joseph Toronto. They headed to northern Italy’s Piedmont Valley and worked primarily with the Waldenses, a protestant religious group of French origin.One unique element of the intesa agreement allows officially recognized churches to receive state donations of tax-generated funds. Elder Travis Wagstaff and Elder Bryce Dickey laugh after finishing lunch in Rome, Italy, on Saturday, November 17, 2018. Photo by Kristin Murphy, Deseret News.The Rome Italy Temple already is drawing their interest, with missionaries underscoring the impact the sacred building and ordinances can have on families. Sister Marian W. Pickerd listens as President Michael D. Pickerd of the Italy Rome Mission talks at the mission home in Rome, Italy, on Friday, November 16, 2018. Photo by Kristin Murphy, Deseret News.
The 1852 edition of the Italian translation of the Book of Mormon. The book is scheduled to be placed in the new Rome Italy Temple Visitors’ Center next month.“As I think of what the missionaries did in the past, our role in the ongoing work is to find people who are ready,” said Elder Travis Wagstaff of Holladay, Utah. “Seeds have been planted, and they continue to be planted every day, and we’re here to find the elect, the people who are ready to hear this gospel.“The Church has been here for a while,” he added, “and I think it’s ready to be harvested.”In other words, member and missionary work has helped to bring a temple to Italy, and that temple in turn will bless the lives of members and help foster additional opportunities for missionaries.The 1920s villa on Via Cimone, situated northeast of the Eternal City’s historical and tourist-laden central district, has functioned as the mission home since the early 1970s. In fact, both President and Sister Pickerd served as Rome-assigned young missionaries in the ’70s, and the mission home they have resided in as mission president and companion for the past 30 months is the same from their service as young missionaries four decades ago.“All the religions recognized in Italy do that, except us. We refused to receive the government funds to operate our religion—that’s part of the agreement,” said Elder De Feo, noting the Church’s practice of self-reliance. “It was a decision made by the Church. We’re the only one in Italy who doesn’t receive this money.”“It was beautiful to come ‘home’ and remember the memories of our mission president, the people we had known before, the converts,” she said, adding, “It’s a beautiful house—we’re lucky to be here.”On July 30, 2012, Italy President Giergio Napolitano signed the Intesa con lo Stato—known simply among local leaders and members as the “intesa”—which gave The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints official status as a church and “partner of the state.”
Quinn Dietlein, executive director for Hale Center Theater Sandy, performed “Silent Night” at the BYU Management Society devotional on December 11, prior to Elder LeGrand R. Curtis Jr.’s address. Photo by Aubrey Eyre.Sharing the example of Scrooge’s response after being shown Mr. Fezziwig, his old boss, by the Ghost of Christmas Past, Elder Curtis explained the power and effect that each individual can have on one another.In most cases, a teacup is no more than a glass vessel used to hold and distribute liquid. But in the home of Elder LeGrand R. Curtis Jr., a General Authority Seventy, there is a teacup that serves as more. The small cup—once part of a 90-piece china set that belonged to his grandfather but now has now been distributed out to his descendants—is a powerful reminder of the principles his grandfather exemplified.“A Christmas Carol is a wonderful Christmas story, but it is not the Christmas story,” he continued. “The Christmas story is the coming of the Savior to save us from our sins, the coming of the Son of God who makes it so we can repent and try to be better than we are.”“I am not the man I was,” Dickens’s Scrooge says in the morning after being visited by the spirits. Elder Curtis said that phrase is one he often uses when he repents or realizes a need to change as well.Elder Curtis recalled reading a story in the New Era magazine years ago that described how a man was accidentally given a bag of cash rather than a bag of medications due to the mistake of an employee at a pharmacy.Each individual has a responsibility to care for people, for one another in their communities and families and in their professional pursuits, said Elder Curtis, and he shared three key principles for how to better make “mankind your business.”Too often people underestimate their ability to make those around them happy and to make their lives and work a pleasure rather than a burden, Elder Curtis said.Perfect honestyAfter watching Mr. Fezziwig host a party for his employees, the ghost says to Scrooge, “A small matter … to make these silly folks so full of gratitude.”Kindness and generosity“So the question is, what is your business?” Elder Curtis asked. “Is it just what you happen to do for a living, or how you manage money, or what you do in the commercial world? Or do you buy into the notion that Jacob Marley had, that mankind was my business, the common welfare was my business? … And how do we go about making the common welfare—charity, forbearance, and benevolence—your business and our business?”The 90-piece china set was given to his grandfather as a gift from the man as a sign of respect and gratitude for his consideration.“It serves as a memory of the heritage that how you deal with people is what really matters at the end of the day,” Elder Curtis said during a devotional on December 11 at the Little America Hotel in Salt Lake City.He described how the employee who made the mistake was shown mercy and kindness from her boss after being honest with him about the mistake. And rather than keeping the large sum of money, the man who had wrongly received the money returned the bag to the company.The chance to be betterThe set of fine china was given to Elder Curtis’s grandfather many years ago when, after making a deal for a land lease in the Sugarhouse area of Salt Lake City, his grandfather allowed the man with whom he made the deal to be released from his contract once he realized the land would not properly serve the purpose for which he had purchased it.An object, much like an action, only holds as much worth as one is willing to attribute to it. Left to right: Elder LeGrand R. Curtis Jr., Sister Jane Curtis, and Matthew Sadowski, chapter president, after the BYU Management Society devotional at the Little America Hotel on December 11 in Salt Lake. Photo by Aubrey Eyre.Speaking to a large crowd at the BYU Management Society Annual Christmas Devotional, Elder Curtis shared stories of his grandfather’s and father’s examples, as well as details from the story A Christmas Carol, which demonstrate the importance of keeping ethical and moral standards in business, both personal and professional.But Scrooge, momentarily upset by the notion that his old friend Fezziwig’s kindness doesn’t matter, responds, “He has the power to render us happy or unhappy, to make our service light or burdensome, a pleasure or a toil. Say it is that his power lies in words and looks, in things so slight and insignificant that it is impossible to add and count them up. What then? The happiness he gives is quite as great as if it cost a fortune.”“Our goal as a society is to improve moral and ethical leadership around the world,” said Dave Austin, the BYU Management Society Salt Lake chapter vice president. “We feel like that’s a huge need we have in our society … with the way things are now and with everything you see in the news with different companies. Having companies and individuals that are moral and ethical is of the utmost importance for us, … so that is our entire focus with everything we do.”Both people serve as examples of how an individual’s choice to be both kind and honest can benefit others around them, Elder Curtis said, adding that he particularly likes the story because it was his father who had mistakenly received and returned the money.Speaking to those same themes, Elder Curtis shared the words of Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol character Jacob Marley when he said, “Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business. Charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence were all my business,” while visiting his old business partner Ebenezer Scrooge in a ghostly form.“It is always essential that we model moral and ethical behavior even where corruption is normal,” he said.“We believe in honoring and sustaining the law,” said Elder Curtis, citing the twelfth article of faith. And whether those laws are the laws of the land or the laws of God, honoring them serves to benefit mankind and help continue to build a moral and ethical world for all, he explained, sharing various examples of how the Church strives to remain obedient to the laws of the land and of moral and ethical standards, particularly in areas where corruption is prevalent. Elder LeGrand R. Curtis Jr. speaks at a devotional for the BYU Management Society at the Little America Hotel on December 11. Photo by Aubrey Eyre.Christmas is a reminder that each person can be more than they feel they are, Elder Curtis concluded. “Because of Christ we can say, ‘I am not the man I was’ and start doing better … and be the kind of man or woman that God wants us to be.”Obedience to the law
A common practice for the Master Teacher, Jesus Christ, was to ask questions. Oftentimes Jesus would ask questions in such a way that would give Himself the opportunity to testify boldly of His divine sonship. We see this pattern exemplified in the following interaction He had with the Pharisees: “While [they] were gathered together, Jesus asked them, Saying, What think ye of Christ? whose son is he?” (Matthew 22:41–42).As we talk of Christ, rejoice in Christ, preach of Christ, and prophesy of Christ this Christmas season, may we remember that the greatest gift that we can ever give our children is to help them come to know Him, their older brother and friend, who is mighty to save (see 2 Nephi 25:26).“Jesus Christ is my great example to follow. Every day I try to emulate Him. I can feel that I am closer to Him when praying, reading the scriptures, attending seminary, and being a light to the world with my example. I know that He loves us, and I am infinitely grateful for His Atonement, and I know that if we follow His example, we will be happy.”Jasmine Faaumanu Afoa, age 15, Melbourne, Australia: The Young Women General Presidency (from left): Sister Michelle D. Craig, First Counselor; Sister Bonnie H. Cordon, President; and Sister Becky Craven, Second Counselor.Giovana Sarinho, age 16, João Pessoa, Brazil:Madison Martin, age 13, Mendon, Utah:“Jesus Christ is the Son of God. He suffered for our sins so we could live with Heavenly Father again.”“Jesus Christ is perfect. This can make us feel separated from Him, but because He is perfect, it makes me try my best and strive to be like Him.”What a question! Is He the literal Son of the living God? Is He the Savior and Redeemer of mankind? The Great Jehovah, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace, the First and the Last, the Great I Am, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob? The healer of our souls? Or do we even think of Him at all?“Jesus Christ has the greatest kindness and mercy. If we keep the commandments and have strong faith in our Savior, we can live a happy life here and then have an eternal life with God. I testify that because of the Atonement of Jesus Christ, if we make the decision to repent and turn our hearts fully to the Savior, He will help us to get through all the difficulties in our lives.”“I know that He loves me for who I am. He has never-ending patience with me. He is holding me in His hand every day so that I can be safe.”He Qian, age 16, Mingchien Township, Nantou County, Taiwan:Deldris Amador, age 12, Montréal, Canada:Cailyn Challen, age 13, Frankfurt, Germany:“When I think of Christ, I think of a peacemaker and a friend. He is always there for me and prepares me spiritually and physically for things that may come my way. He is one of the greatest people, and I can always turn to Him for peace and comfort. I know that He is always there.”“I think of Him as one who gave His life and sacrificed Himself for my sins. I feel His presence daily in my life. I could never deny His existence and His supreme love for me.”“Jesus Christ is our Savior. He loves us even with all our sins. Seven months ago, my mother died of cancer and left me, my three sisters, and my dad, but I know that my family is eternal. Jesus knows each one of us and will always be there when we need Him. He gives us comfort and knows how to help us.”“Jesus Christ is the center of my life. He is my greatest example. His example of charity and service has motivated me to dedicate my life to help my neighbor.”Lilly Nuttall, age 16, San Antonio, Texas:Our Father in Heaven loves us so much that He sacrificed His Only Begotten Son, Jesus Christ. Christlike actions have shown me how to be an example to those around me, to care for those in need, and love everyone equally as Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ have taught us. He is my light in the darkest of times and will forever be a shining beacon in my life.”“What think ye of Christ?” is a question that has been answered universally through all ages of time. It is a question that is not only answered with words but more significantly with actions. It is the most important question we will ever answer in mortality.“Jesus Christ is someone who helps us return to our Heavenly Father. He showed us many examples so we can follow Him.”Ana Rubí Segura Vásquez, age 17, Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic:Anna Tebenkova, age 17, Izhevsk, Russia:“Christ is my Savior and my Redeemer.”Olymar Hurtado, age 15, Puerto La Cruz, Venezuela:As we travel throughout the world, we have had many opportunities to see, hear, and feel this question answered by the young women of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Their answers are inspiring and edifying.“I am so grateful for the knowledge of my Savior. I know that He is happy when I follow His example. I love the fact that He saved all of us because He knew we were each precious sons and daughters of God and that we are worth saving.”“Jesus is our Teacher. He is our Creator. He was crucified for our sins. Jesus is Heavenly Father’s Only Begotten Son.”
“Jesus Christ is my best friend. I'm certain that He's the only one who can truly understand us, that He truly knows how we feel, because He suffered not only for our sins but also for our hardships. Sometimes it is challenging, and we make mistakes, but He is willing to help us get back on the right path.”Myung-sun Shin, age 16, Naju, South Korea:Michelle Cruzado, age 12, Buenos Aires, Argentina:Giulia Balanzin, age 15, Trieste, Italy:Vanessa Borgen, age 16, Bornholm, Denmark:Rachel Stevens, age 13, Horbury, England:Claudia Lopes, age 18, Sao Vicente, Cape Verde:“He is everything in my life, He guides me, He protects me, and He blesses me all the time. Thanks to Him I can be saved if I am obedient to His teachings and principles.”
“Your experience at BYU–Hawaii will be a tremendous blessing as you seek to build a center of gospel learning in your homes,” he said. “You will teach your children the doctrine of Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Ghost. Your children will feel the Savior’s love and see His light in you.”“For some, it is a process that takes time, diligence, patience, and earnest seeking, sometimes for a lifetime,” he said. Prior to delivering the keynote address at BYU–Hawaii commencement, Elder Uchtdorf visited the Polynesian Cultural Center with his wife, Sister Harriet Uchtdorf, on December 13. Photo courtesy of Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf. Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles greets BYU–Hawaii graduates after giving the commencement address on December 14. Photo by Monique Saenz, BYU–Hawaii.Prior to graduation, the Uchtdorfs were able to visit with and sing Christmas carols with students who work at the Polynesian Cultural Center.Gathering light is a full-time day job and is not something only received from a class or sermon, the leader taught. Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf walks with BYU–Hawaii President John S. Tanner prior to BYU–Hawaii commencement on December 14. Photo by Monique Saenz, BYU–Hawaii.“We know what happens to plants that are severed from light. What happens to mortals, what happens to us, who are separated from the Light of Christ?” he asked. “What happens when we walk in paths that shade us from God’s light? Can our spirits thrive without being drenched in the pure light of truth, the Light and Redeemer of the world?”Without light, they cannot sustain life. Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles stands with his wife, Sister Harriet Uchtdorf, and a BYU–Hawaii graduate after commencement exercises on December 14. Photo by Monique Saenz, BYU–Hawaii.“We are celebrating our 56th wedding anniversary,” Elder Uchtdorf said during the college’s commencement exercises. “It occurs to me that there are worse places to celebrate a wedding anniversary than on this beautiful campus here on this beautiful island in this beautiful state. … And we are particularly happy to be surrounded on this special day by people who so naturally radiate warmth, generosity, and love.”“You will feel His watchful hand guiding your steps,” Elder Uchtdorf said.“Many have young families, study hard, … in addition [to] … the regular challenges of life—pain, illness, disappointment, tragic events, doubt, everything—even in a part of the world that most of us would describe as paradise,” Elder Uchtdorf told the Church News. Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf and his wife, Sister Harriet Uchtdorf, at the Polynesian Cultural Center on December 13. Photo courtesy of Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf.President Tanner reminded graduates “who they are and whose they are” and encouraged grads to never forget their “eternal identity.” BYU–Hawaii graduates celebrate after commencement exercises held on December 14. Photo by Monique Saenz, BYU–Hawaii.But this day’s importance goes beyond the campus, the Laie, Hawaii, community, and the Uchtdorf family.“Those of you who have studied the process of plant growth are familiar with the remarkable way plants take light from the sun and transform it into energy and new growth,” he said. “Most plants can’t survive long without light. If there is no light, there is no energy. Plants that are deprived of light begin to wear away and eventually perish.”Other speakers at the event included Elder Kim B. Clark, a General Authority Seventy and Commissioner of Education for the Church, and BYU–Hawaii President John S. Tanner. This semester’s graduating class includes students earning 201 bachelor’s degrees and 15 associate degrees. Graduates come from 29 different countries and 19 U.S. states and range in age from 19 to 47 years old.While belief is available to all, for some it does not come easily.“We understand the role light plays in the growth and survival of plants,” said Elder Uchtdorf. “Do we understand its role in ours?”While those two events are notable, December 14 is an important day for Elder Uchtdorf of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and his wife, Harriet, for another reason.“Although we can spend a lifetime understanding what He meant by that, the doctrine is so simple that a child can understand it. We gather light as we believe. As we love as He loved. And as we do as He did.”“Now, you are stepping across a threshold into a new world,” he said. “Many of you are returning to your homes or moving to areas of the world that may be far from here. Will you become a beacon of light to the world? Wherever you go, no matter your circumstance, a large part of the job description of a disciple of Christ is to become a light gatherer, a light collector, and to bear that light to the world.” Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf and his wife, Sister Harriet Uchtdorf, at the Polynesian Cultural Center on December 13. Elder Uchtdorf gave the keynote address at BYU–Hawaii commencement on December 14. Photo courtesy of Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf. Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles greets a BYU–Hawaii graduate during commencement on December 14. Photo by Monique Saenz, BYU–Hawaii.Six decades—almost to the day—after of the dedication of the Hawaii Church College by President David O. McKay on December 17, 1958, and more than 55 years after the Polynesian Cultural Center opened in October 1963, Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf addressed BYU–Hawaii graduates during commencement exercises on December 14.“We need all of us to grow in our spiritual and temporal knowledge and understanding,” Elder Clark said. “All of us need to be lifelong gospel learners.”“It cannot be checked off a list and considered completed,” he said. “It is a process of every day and every hour of your life. When you awake in the morning, you begin your quest for light. And when you finish the day, you evaluate your engagement in this specific task.”Despite those challenges, “the students earn their living at the PCC in very different responsibilities, always being happy and wonderful ambassadors for the Church.”Though all will experience times of sorrow and trial in life, it is through continuing to be a “light gatherer and disciple of Jesus Christ” that a person will experience “His abiding joy in the midst of your trials.”Recognizing that Hawaii is known throughout the world for its beautiful landscapes, lush forests, and wondrous flowers, Elder Uchtdorf said he always marvels at the beauty of the islands. Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf stands with his wife, Sister Harriet Uchtdorf, during BYU–Hawaii commencement exercises on December 14. Photo by Monique Saenz, BYU–Hawaii.Like plants, individuals must be “gatherers of light” to sustain spiritual life.“The more we are filled with God’s light, the more our hearts are filled with love—for Him and for those around us, His children, our brothers and sisters—the stronger we grow in spirit and in truth, the healthier we are spiritually.”“This great quest for light has the power to enlighten your minds, expand your spirits, and endow you with penetrating understanding and profound joy,” he said. “It allows you to grow in the redeeming and exalting glory that proceeds from the presence of your magnificent Heavenly Father, our Heavenly Father. This is as worthy a quest for a disciple of Jesus Christ and one that is truly worthy of your best and finest efforts.”No matter how long it takes an individual personally, he or she can be certain that God will not “unfriend” any who draw near to Him and seek to follow His way.Elder Clark shared with graduates five elements of a BYU–Hawaii education to incorporate in their own “house of learning.”“How do we acquire this light of which the Savior speaks?” Elder Uchtdorf asked. “Jesus answered, ‘I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.’As a person receives this light, he or she must let it shine so that others will see it and glorify God, he taught.First, make homes a sanctuary of faith in Jesus Christ, focusing on obedience, consecration, humility, and trust. Second, include learning and teaching by the Holy Spirit. Third, keep the house of the Lord close—both spiritually and physically through serving and working in the temple. Fourth, feast on the words of Christ. And finally, create a house of love.Just as Christ taught His disciples they were “the light of the world” and urged His followers to not put their light under a bushel, His counsel continues for all today.Recognizing that graduates have spent the last few years gathering knowledge and increasing their understanding of truth, Elder Uchtdorf spoke of the special time as a season of learning and growth.“This special day, December 14, 2018, is your day,” he said. “It is the day where you start another legacy in your life—a legacy of education, a legacy of strength, a legacy of families.”
“I loved it,” said the smiling conductor.The anchoring purpose of the evening—rejoicing in the birth of Jesus Christ—was celebrated in songs such as “O Holy Night,” “Mary, Did You Know?” and the French carol “Angels from the Realms of Glory.”Even the audience blended into the cast, joining the choir, orchestra, and Chenoweth for “The Twelve Days of Christmas.”And then it was on to her first number, a light-hearted performance of “We Need a Little Christmas.”The talents of the Church-sponsored groups were richly displayed Thursday. The orchestra performed selections from Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker.” Meanwhile, choir organist Richard Elliot found all the right keys in “Carol of the Bells”—that included some humor-tinged assistance from Chenoweth, who rang a massive bell that she hefted across the stage.The evening concluded with a video-reading of Luke 2 and Chenoweth and the choir and orchestra performing “Angels from the Realms of Glory,” bringing the Conference Center audience to its feet.
Kristin Chenoweth sings with the Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square during the opening Christmas concert at the Conference Center in Salt Lake City on Thursday, December 13, 2018. Photo by Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News.Between songs, she shared Christmas memories from her childhood. “I grew up in Oklahoma; not so different from Utah, right?” Performers accompany the Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square during their opening Christmas concert at the Conference Center in Salt Lake City on Thursday, December 13, 2018.Photo by Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News.“Music,” Wilberg told the audience, “is the gift that brings everyone together.”Even in high heels, Kristin Chenoweth won’t be remembered among the tallest artists to ever perform on the Conference Center stage. Performers accompany the Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square during their opening Christmas concert at the Conference Center in Salt Lake City on Thursday, December 13, 2018. Photo by Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News.Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square music director Mack Wilberg had hinted the annual Christmas concert would showcase Chenoweth’s renowned versatility. He wasn’t fibbing.
Performers accompany the Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square during their opening Christmas concert at the Conference Center in Salt Lake City on Thursday, December 13, 2018. Photo by Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret NewsChenoweth also proved a skilled storyteller with her telling of O. Henry’s “The Gift of the Magi.”Image Path: /bc/content/ldsorg/church/news/2018/12/13/christmas-joy-kristin-chenoweth-highlights-annual-tabernacle_14.jpg
The Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square during their opening Christmas concert at the Conference Center at the Conference Center in Salt Lake City on Thursday, December 13, 2018. Photo by Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News“Mack, I want you to know I hit that high E-flat for you,” the soprano told Wilberg at one point.But no one will likely forget how the charismatic actress/singer filled the vast hall with her towering voice and playful enthusiasm. Kristin Chenoweth talks with audience members while singing with the Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square during their opening Christmas concert at the Conference Center in Salt Lake City on Thursday, December 13, 2018. Photo by Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News.“My whole goal is to make him blush,” she said, drawing laughs from the filled-to-capacity Conference Center audience.The opening stanzas of Mendelssohn’s “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing”—performed by the combined Tabernacle Choir, Orchestra at Temple Square, and Bells on Temple Square—invoked the holiday spirit of the evening. Kristin Chenoweth jokes with conductor Mack Wilberg while singing with the Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square during their opening Christmas concert at the Conference Center in Salt Lake City on Thursday, December 13, 2018. Photo by Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News. The popular Chenoweth's repertoire of songs Thursday ranged from the traditional (“What Child Is This?”) to country-influenced contemporary (“Mary, Did You Know?”) to a beloved favorite from the silver screen (“We Need a Little Christmas”).“Is this your first time?” she stopped to ask a surprised concertgoer named Steve.The traditional food and holiday fun were special—but Christmas is “about the birth of Christ,” she said. One special family memory was taking a holiday meal to folks in need.
The Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square sing during their opening Christmas concert at the Conference Center in Salt Lake City on Thursday, December 13, 2018. Photo by Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret NewsHundreds of singers, musicians, dancers, and trumpeters set the stage for Chenoweth, who weaved her way up to the front of the venue from one of the Conference Center aisles. Kristin Chenoweth rings a large bell while playing with organist Richard Elliot and Bells on Temple Square during their opening Christmas concert at the Conference Center in Salt Lake City on Thursday, December 13, 2018. Photo by Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News.Image Path: /bc/content/ldsorg/church/news/2018/12/13/christmas-joy-kristin-chenoweth-highlights-annual-tabernacle_16.jpg
Editor’s note: The “spoken word” is shared by Lloyd Newell each Sunday during the weekly Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square broadcast. The following was given December 9, 2018.
This season of special holidays is all about giving. Young children are often most excited about what they might receive, but over time, we discover that real joy comes from giving—especially when we give with no thought of receiving anything in return. In fact, it might be said that such giving is the source of true happiness and captures the real spirit of the Christmas season.
The saintly Mother Teresa told a story of that kind of giving. One day, she learned of a family of eight children who had not eaten for days. In the book No Greater Love, she said: “I took some food with me and went [to them]. When I came to that family, I saw the faces of those little children disfigured by hunger. … I gave the rice to the mother. She divided the rice in two, and went out, carrying half the rice. When she came back, I asked her, ‘Where did you go?’ She gave me this simple answer, ‘To my neighbors; they are hungry also!’”
Shouldn’t this be what Christmas inspires all of us to do—to notice the needs of others and give what help we can? After all, at this time of year we celebrate the birth of a child who became the ultimate example of giving. He gave everything He had, even His very life, in an act of amazing grace.
Our communities are full of generous, selfless people. Often they leave the comforts of home to help others, seeking no reward or recognition. Advocates for the homeless reach out to those who are in no position to offer anything in return. And who gives more with less intention of receiving than the self-sacrificing mothers and fathers who give so much for their families?
Some people believe that success is receiving more than you give. But those who give more—even if it means receiving less—have achieved a level of success that cannot be matched in any other way. What’s more, they have discovered the true spirit of Christmas, for they are emulating the one whose birth we celebrate, the one who gave His life that we might live.Tuning in
The Music and the Spoken Word broadcast is available on KSL-TV, KSL Radio 1160 AM/102.7 FM, ksl.com, KSL X-stream, BYU-TV, BYU Radio, BYU-TV International, CBS Radio Network, Dish Network, DirecTV, SiriusXM Radio (Channel 143) and on the Tabernacle Choir's website and YouTube channel. The program is aired live on Sundays at 9:30 a.m. on many of these outlets. Look up broadcast information by state and city at musicandthespokenword.org.
The strength of one’s faithAs a family, they are working to create their own new “normal.”Prior to seeing Marin’s profile, Jacob had been on a few unsuccessful dates and had felt a bit discouraged, but something about Marin stood out to him.With a house filled with friends and neighbors there to offer support, Jacob sat down with the three oldest boys—Spencer, Travis, and Nathaniel—to explain to them what had happened.For the kids, some of whom had expressed concern over the idea of their dad remarrying, Cindy Moffitt said Marin came into their lives in a way that lifted a burden. “They wanted their mom back, but Marin just fell into place and she filled this hole, but without taking Katie away.”That same weekend, Marin and Jacob got engaged.Janine Wilson, a member from the stake, offered to drive Spencer to school each day, which, with all the boys attending separate schools, has been an immense blessing, Jacob said.Nearly five years before they lost Katie, the Evans family experienced tragedy when, on July 14, 2013, Jacob’s mother, Tanya Evans, was killed in a car crash while visiting family in central New York.Among the miracles that have occurred for Jacob and his family, including clear promptings of guidance from the Lord and even a chance to meet Elder Gifford Nielsen, General Authority Seventy, and Elder Neil L. Andersen of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and receive a priesthood blessing—which Jacob said has become like a second patriarchal blessing to help direct his new life—perhaps the greatest blessing for the family was the least expected.It was in late February that they first began messaging, and right away they hit it off, Jacob said. And after a few trips from North Carolina to California to meet Jacob and his family, Marin said things really started to click for them.
Katie Evans with her son Spencer on his baptism day. Photo courtesy of Jacob Evans.“We’re still tired all the time but, you know, most parents are. We still have a lot of help, and we’ve had to learn that we still need it. We don’t have everything we want, but we have everything we need,” Jacob said. “And in some cases, we’ve been blessed in ways we couldn’t have anticipated. … I could never have anticipated finding someone like Marin.”“So when Katie died, I was so scared that he was going to fall apart,” Jacob said.A refining processOne of the things that Jacob said he appreciates most about Marin is that she has worked hard to keep Katie a part of their lives.“He loved his mom, and he misses his mom, but for some reason, he was able to just say, ‘Oh I’ve dealt with this kind of crisis before; I’m going to just file this situation there.’ And he had an easier time dealing with Katie’s death than anyone else in the family for some reason,” Jacob said. “For me as a parent, I was really grateful for that because I was already at my wit's end, and if I had had to deal with anything even close to the challenge of dealing with him when my mom died, I would have really struggled with that.” Elder Gifford Nielsen with Jacob Evans and Elder Neil L. Andersen. Jacob Evans visited Elder Nielsen and Elder Andersen during a trip to Salt Lake and received a priesthood blessing. Photo courtesy of Jacob Evans. Jacob Evans with Marin Arnell during her second visit to meet his family in California while they were dating. Photo courtesy of Jacob Evans.In June, at the sentencing hearing for Cina, both Snyder and Jacob spoke openly about the loss they felt at Katie’s passing and the trials they have had to endure as a result. But they also spoke about love and forgiveness for Cina and her family and acknowledged that they too have undoubtedly endured feelings of pain and loss as a result of the situation as well.But it’s not just Jacob that has shown great strength and faith. Despite the numerous trials the Evans family have faced, faith and a sure understanding of God’s love for all His children have been their defining characteristics throughout all they have endured.The thing Jacob said he was most surprised by was how Spencer handled the reality of his mom being gone.An unexpected miracleJust a few months later, in May, when the Evans and the Snyders all gathered for the baby blessings of the twin girls, who were then home from the hospital and doing much better, Marin finally had the opportunity to meet Katie’s parents. Jacob and Marin Evans with the six Evans children and Katie’s parents, Ken and Claudia Snyder, on Jacob and Marin’s wedding day. Photo courtesy of Jacob Evans.“The boys have very open hearts, and they have just completely welcomed me in,” Marin said. “And we’ve worked to make it very clear that I’m not a replacement but that they have two moms.”“She is really special because she loved these kids like they were born to her. They’re her kids in every sense, but they’re still Katie’s kids too,” he said. “Her heart is big enough that she can love them and still have room for Katie, and to me that is maybe the best example of Christlike love I have ever seen.”With the twin girls, Sarah and Hannah, still in the hospital at UCLA, which was just over an hour’s drive away, a list was organized for people to take turns visiting and holding the babies in the NICU, since Jacob couldn’t get there as often as needed.“We hold on to good memories of the past, but we’re also going to make new memories. We want to build memories as a family, and it helps to bring the family together,” Jacob said, noting that they have already instituted regular family dinners, weekly family home evenings, and even taken some family vacations.Since the very beginning, Marin has expressed a profound respect and love for Katie and has encouraged all the children to talk about her and keep their memories of her alive, explained Cindy and her husband, Mike Moffitt.“As much as I hated losing my mom, and I still miss her, in a way it was a blessing because it really did help prepare me for this,” Jacob said. “I want to say it kept me from being broken too, but the truth is this experience did break me.” Christina Hodson, Jacob’s niece who stayed with the Evans family as a live-in nanny for several months, poses with the twins, Hannah and Sarah, on Jacob and Marin’s wedding day. Photo courtesy of Jacob Evans.“I was just at the end of anything I could take. There was nothing left, I was so tired, and I didn’t see a way forward,” Jacob said. “I didn’t see how we could possibly survive this.”The couple were married on July 14, 2018, in the Los Angeles California Temple. Since that time, they have been working as a family to move forward with a new life while holding on to the important memories of their life before.With his dad having experienced a similar loss, Jacob leaned heavily on his father for advice in the weeks and months following Katie’s death.“There has been no shortage of help from the ward and the wider community,” Bishop Adams said. “And there have been so many different little miracles that have happened for them.”The morning following Katie’s death, Jacob worried about how he would handle telling his children the news of their mother. After receiving a blessing from his bishop and stake president in the early morning hours, Jacob waited for his four sons to wake up.After singing, Jacob reminded them of the plan of salvation, which they had been taught at home and in church.It was fitting, Jacob said, because Katie’s legacy is one of love.A showing of loveWhen Tanya died, Spencer was devastated, Jacob explained. As an elementary education teacher, Spencer’s grandmother understood his needs better than most, and the two of them shared a special bond.In the weeks and months following Katie’s death, the Evans family experienced the love of their Heavenly Father through the many contributing hands of their family, friends, and neighbors.“The truth is, we don’t really know how strong our faith is until it’s tested,” Jacob said. Jacob and Marin Evans at their wedding reception. Photo courtesy of Jacob Evans.For Jacob, there is no doubt in his mind that the Savior has been with him every step of the way as he has navigated the unpredictable and rocky terrain of beginning a new life following the loss of his beloved Katie.Before really getting to know her, he even told his father that Marin was someone he could really see himself with.“He never faltered in his faith,” said Bishop Drew Adams, bishop of the Saugus Ward, Santa Clarita California Stake, where Jacob lives. “He might have questioned how many more trials he would be able to endure, but he never questioned whether Heavenly Father was watching over him and taking care of him, and he never doubted whether the gospel was true.” Sarah and Hannah Evans during their time in the hospital at UCLA. They spent the first few months of their lives in the hospital after being born premature. Photo courtesy of Jacob Evans.“Everybody just wanted to do something to help,” Williams said.Remarking on how Jacob and Snyder’s words affected the courtroom, Bishop Anderson said even the judge was in tears during the proceedings and that the defense attorney for Cina noted that he had never seen such compassion shown toward a defendant.“It’s hard to think about it. It’s been the most heartbreaking, terrifying, beautiful, inspiring, and faith-building thing to watch the grace they’ve had through all of this,” Cindy Moffitt said, noting the particularly impressive way in which Jacob’s family handled their actions and words towards the young girl, Alexia Cina, who caused the accident that took Katie’s life.Cindy Moffitt, Katie’s former visiting teacher and dear friend, helped organize visits to the twins as well and spent a great deal of time with the kids. Jacob Evans with his four sons outside the Los Angeles California Temple on his wedding day. Photo courtesy of Jacob Evans.After speaking with Katie’s father, Ken Snyder, about the reality of likely needing to remarry, and after seeking advice from Katie’s aunt who had chosen to remarry after losing her own husband, Jacob had made the decision to begin trying to date as soon as he felt emotionally ready.After putting his kids to bed, Jacob could feel the weight of his situation crashing down on him. But in that moment, in what he described as his “darkest hour,” he did the only thing he felt he could. Kneeling there on the floor, he prayed to his Father in Heaven.One of the greatest blessings for the family was the contributions of Jacob’s niece, Christina Hodson.It had been four months since he had lost his wife, Katie Evans, in a tragic accident caused by a young drunk driver. The accident had happened less than a mile from the Evans’s home late at night on October 6, 2017, when Katie was on her way home from visiting their twin baby girls, who were still in the hospital after being born 12 weeks premature.“The two sides of the courtroom were all embracing as they exited,” Bishop Adams said.It was something she wanted to do before they really moved forward, Jacob said.Marin passed all the questions with flying colors, Jacob said.They started off singing “Families Can Be Together Forever,” one of their family’s favorite songs since they had lost their Nanna four years before.Once the meaning of his words sunk in, the boys were devastated, Jacob said. It was a morning of tears and hugs all around, he said, noting how grateful he was to have close friends and family there to help console the kids. Letting the boys know that their mom wanted them to be happy was made easier by the help and kindness of those around them, Jacob said.“I told them that Heavenly Father has asked us to exercise faith in His plan and that their mom wasn’t going to be coming home and that she’d been killed in a car accident, but that we’d see her again someday.”Looking at it now, a year later, Jacob said that he has realized just how much losing his own mom prepared him and his family for the loss of Katie.The loss of their wife, mother, and grandmother devastated the family, but no one seemed to take the loss as hard as Jacob and Katie’s oldest son Spencer. At just eight years old, Spencer was a child who was often misunderstood by those who interacted with him. (See related story.)Recognizing a need for a more stable system of care for the Evans children than could be provided by friends and family in the Santa Clarita area or from the ongoing rotation of day and night nannies, Hodson, who had just started school at BYU, offered to take a couple semesters off from school to move to California and be a live-in nanny and helper for her uncle and cousins. And as Jacob put it, he doesn’t know what he would have done without her for the months she was there. She was a true blessing in a time of need, he said.Collapsing on the floor in his youngest son’s room after another exhausting day, Jacob Evans felt at a loss. For months he had been trying to balance the responsibilities of being both father and mother, provider and caretaker, while bearing the weight of comforting his six children amidst all the challenges their family faced.Just weeks after that night in February, when Jacob pleaded with the Lord to help him in his darkest hour, Jacob came across a profile of a woman named Marin Arnell online.“When she died, I was so sad because Spencer lost his second-strongest advocate—Katie being the first,” Jacob said. He noted that for years following Tanya’s death, Spencer would spontaneously burst into tears without warning or trigger and say that he missed his “Nanna.”This last year has been a time of testing and trial in more ways than one, but despite all the Evans family has endured and all they’ve lost, together they exemplify the Christlike attributes of faith, love, and forgiveness.Describing that night from February 2018, Jacob Evans said he had never felt more alone.Others offered help by donating money through funds set up to help the family or organizing drives for needed items like diapers for the twin girls and the youngest son, Gideon, who was just two years old at the time. A year later, Jacob said they are still using those diapers, and they couldn’t be more grateful. Spencer Evans waves to the camera at the wedding reception for Jacob and Marin Evans. Photo courtesy of Jacob Evans.Ellie Williams, the Saugus Ward compassionate service coordinator, compiled a list of all the various brands and types of foods that the Evans children could eat, because of their numerous different allergies, and helped coordinate assigning members to provide meals for the family.“But what’s interesting is, looking back, I am confident that I was not alone,” Jacob said, his voice trembling with emotion.Diagnosed with autism, Spencer could be a difficult child at times, and he often struggled to engage with people in way that they understood.“Everyone was thrilled when he found Marin. It was just a miracle. Marin is a gift for that family,” Williams said.“Katie had an open heart. She loved everyone,” he said. “We can see that in the kids, and that’s a really great legacy.”Before getting married, Jacob shared with Marin the interview questions that his sons had come up with to ask any potential future stepmother. Among the questions were “Do you like to hug?” and “Are you willing to follow God’s commandments?”
When Spencer was 7 years old my bishop asked if Spencer understood the gospel well enough to be baptized. The truth was that I had been wrestling with that question for years and still wasn’t sure. We decided to wait and revisit the matter later. A few months after Spencer turned 8 we spoke again, and I was still unsure, but in that moment, I felt the Spirit breathe hope into my soul and answered “yes.”After Spencer was ordained, I sat down with the deacons quorum president and the deacons quorum advisers. I was impressed that the 13-year-old president took the lead in the conversation. He told me that Spencer needed to be to church 20 minutes early the next week so that he could learn how to pass the sacrament. Then he asked me if I would be willing to shadow Spencer as he passed the sacrament until he could do it himself.I am thankful for a ward that is full of kindness and a deacons quorum president who was inspired. But most of all I am grateful that, in a crucial moment, I had the humility to do as an inspired 13-year-old president asked.Apparently, one member had cried as she watched Spencer pass because of a 7-year-old autistic nephew she worried would never be able to participate fully in the Church. Seeing Spencer pass the sacrament brought her a renewal of hope as she reconsidered the possibilities of what her nephew could do.When my bishop asked if I felt Spencer was ready to be ordained a deacon I told him that I felt he was, as long as he had appropriate help. Bishop Adams agreed and then asked me to speak with the deacons quorum president.While other parents dream of their sons growing up to become astronauts, brain surgeons, or president, I dream of my son having a normal life. My son Spencer was diagnosed with autism at age 3. My wife, Katie, and I immediately had a thousand questions. Will he ever be able to get a job? Will he ever be able to live on his own? Will any girl see past his challenges to consider marrying him? We still have those questions, but we’ve learned to focus on more immediate questions.As I struggled with how Spencer could learn and perform priesthood duties, I asked several people for advice. My sister mentioned that they had an autistic boy in her ward who had learned to pass the sacrament with the deacons quorum president shadowing him as he passed for several months. My heart soared as I thought of this autistic boy not only doing his duty but strengthening relationships with others in the quorum as they helped him.There were other hiccups and, in short, it was the least reverent sacrament passing I had ever witnessed, but Spencer had completed his priesthood duty instead of quitting, and I was extremely grateful for that.Editor’s note: This story was written in September 2017 by Jacob Evans of the Saugus Ward, Santa Clarita California Stake. In October 2017, Katie Evans, Jacob’s wife, was killed in a car accident and the article was left unpublished out of respect for the family. It is published now with the approval of the Evans family and in correspondence with an article about the family and how they are doing now, a year after losing their wife and mother.Sure enough Spencer did not remember his instructions well, and I had to keep my hands on his shoulders constantly to help direct him. Then things got harder. On his third row, Spencer sat down in the middle of the aisle and declared that he was too tired to move. I pulled him up and encouraged him to finish.—Jacob Evans, Saugus Ward, Santa Clarita California StakeOverall, every member of the ward, including Spencer, seemed to have been uplifted by Spencer’s first week passing the sacrament.That next Sunday my heart sank as I recognized the stake president on the stand. I wasn’t sure what was going to happen, but I was pretty sure I didn’t want the stake president to see it.
Katie Evans with her son Spencer on his baptism day. Photo courtesy of Jacob Evans.Over the past few years it has become clear we made the right choice. Today Spencer definitely strives to keep his baptismal covenants, but in a Spencer way. He still struggles with the concepts of personal space and appropriate behavior, but his insistence on hugging everyone has been greatly appreciated by more than one widow in the ward, and our choir director loves that he can’t refrain from clapping when the choir sings especially well in sacrament meeting.Other weeks have brought other challenges. Other weeks have brought other challenges. Each time he loses focus I quietly whisper in his ear or place my hands on his shoulders to gently direct him back to his duty, and he gets back on track.The request surprised me. I thought, “No! You or someone from the quorum should do it so he can build relationships with his peers.” Fortunately, I quickly squelched my disappointment as I remembered that this president held the keys for his quorum. I nodded to show my consent. I could certainly shadow Spencer.Afterward the members were more supportive and encouraging than I could have imagined. Many of them, including the stake president, went out of their way to say how much they enjoyed watching Spencer.One of the kind members, recognizing how hard this was for him, quietly thanked Spencer as he took the tray. Spencer responded with an enthusiastic, “You’re welcome!”In the months Spencer has been passing the sacrament he has made slow but steady progress, but I don’t think any of the deacons could have successfully dealt with all the challenges they would have faced as Spencer’s shadow.When Spencer was 11 years old we moved to California. Our new ward was still just getting to know Spencer as his 12th birthday approached. I honestly didn’t know how he could pass the sacrament. I could easily imagine Spencer getting confused or simply losing interest in the middle of passing the sacrament. I imagined him throwing the sacrament tray or running out of the chapel … or both.
Brother Stephen W. Owen, Young Men General President, said a benefit of children and youth progressing as a group is that “there is a unity factor and friendship. They progress together. This change helps in the process of conversion. It creates belonging.” However, the change is not just for friendship, he said, although it will increase feelings of brotherhood in the quorums. “We are about conversion to the gospel of Jesus Christ,” he said. “Youth are part of a battalion, as President Nelson taught; no one needs to feel alone. We are together.”An announcement on Friday, December 14, from the First Presidency changes the timeline of when children and youth complete Primary, move from one class or quorum to the next, and attend the temple for the first time—and for when young men may be ordained to priesthood offices. These changes are effective in January 2019.The change also means that deacons and Beehives won’t have to wait until their 12th birthdays to attend camps. And while dating should still begin no earlier than age 16, Mia Maids and teachers will no longer have to be 14 to attend dances and youth conferences and accept ministering assignments.In a Facebook post Friday, President Russell M. Nelson said, “Though these adjustments lead to some significant logistical changes, I encourage you to focus first on the spiritual benefits. Beginning in January 2019, children will complete Primary and begin attending Sunday School and the Beehive class or deacons quorum as age-groups, not on their individual 12th birthdays as they have in the past.Currently, when children turn 12 years old, they begin attending Young Women or Young Men and they return to Primary for classes or have the option of attending a youth Sunday School class. In 2019, the Valiant 11 Primary class will be discontinued and, in January, all 11-year-olds will attend Sunday School together.
Beginning in January of 2019, worthy young men will be eligible to be ordained to a priesthood office in January of the year they turn 12, 14, and 16.
Beginning in January of 2019, youth will be eligible to obtain a limited-use temple recommend beginning in January of the year they turn 12—based on their “individual worthiness, readiness, and personal circumstances.”These announcements stem from a “desire to strengthen our beloved children and youth through increased faith in Jesus Christ, deeper understanding of His gospel, and greater unity with His Church and its members,” a letter from the First Presidency states.Beginning in January 2019, children will complete Primary and begin attending Sunday School and the Beehive class or deacons quorum as age-groups, not on their individual 12th birthdays as they have in the past.In addition, young men will be eligible to be ordained to a priesthood office in January of the year they turn 12, 14, and 16, and youth will be eligible to obtain a limited-use temple recommend beginning in January of the year they turn 12—based on their “individual worthiness, readiness, and personal circumstances.”Progressing together“Our youth and children are among the best the Lord has ever sent into this world. They have the capacity to be smarter and wiser and have more impact on the world than any previous generation! We must do our part to help them realize their potential.”“This will be a much easier transition for classes to move forward together rather than children leaving Primary one at a time throughout the year,” said Sister Joy D. Jones, Primary General President.“I hope concerned parents will realize how prepared their children really are,” said Sister Jones. “They are ready! This will allow an entire Primary class of children who have been learning and preparing together to continue their growth and progression in Young Women and Young Men.”“I am particularly excited that these changes will make it possible for younger children to be involved in temple work,” said Sister Jones. “They are typically counting the days until they turn 12 to receive a limited-use recommend and perform ordinances in the temple.”Brother Owen wants young men to know how wonderful this change is going to be. “You have friends,” he said. “You don’t have to wait. You advance together. This change aligns with what happens in school and other areas of your life.”Temple serviceAccording to materials released by the Church, ages for ordaining young men to priesthood offices are not “doctrinally mandated” and have, in fact, varied throughout Church history. The announcement also allows for some flexibility due to personal circumstances, with parents and bishops counseling together to decide what is in the best interests of each child or youth, and areas of the Church may choose to use the local transition date they currently follow rather than January.The announcement is “another show of confidence in these remarkable youth,” said Sister Cordon. “These youth have a mighty work to do in the temple—a work that can begin as soon as they enter Young Women and Young Men!”“The Savior is directing His Church,” said Sister Bonnie H. Cordon, Young Women General President. “He knew this change was coming, and He inspired it for this group of 11-year-olds, who are ready for new assignments and for increased opportunities to serve. He knows the capabilities of His sons and daughters. We have complete confidence in them. How grateful we are for revelation!”Sister Cordon said a benefit to progressing by age-groups is that a class presidency can serve without the interruption of losing presidency members to the next class on their birthdays. Instead, presidencies will be “taking time to get to know the young women and planning activities that will bless them and their families.” It will also be a blessing to leaders, she said. “This is joyous. We aren’t losing presidency members continually. We know that we will have young women in each age-group for the same two years. We will have continuity and unity.”
The Boca Raton Stake’s float, with missionaries and other volunteers, appeared in Boca Raton’s 48th Annual Street Parade on December 5, 2018. Photo by Rick Williams.In the past, the stakes have had some difficulty getting entries accepted to the parades, so leaders and members greatly appreciated the opportunity to participate. “Heavenly Father’s hand aided us in planning and putting such a beautiful float together. The full-time missionaries and our youth on the float comprised a special band of modern stripling warriors making a mark on our community with happy vigor,” said Lea Souza, a local Church member.Rick Williams, Boynton Beach Stake photographer, noted how impactful the manger scene on the Boynton Beach Stake’s float was for many parade-goers. “For 30 years I have been actively involved in missionary efforts in the Church. I have never before seen an event where thousands of people were introduced to the Church within only about an hour’s time,” he said. “As I looked through my camera lens, searching for a great shot, I noticed a repeated joyful appreciation on attendees' faces as they saw the only float based upon the Christmas nativity story of Jesus. The community was uplifted as a team of missionaries wished them a personal ‘merry Christmas.’” Volunteers interact with parade-goers during the Boynton Beach street parade on December 1, 2018. Photo by Rick Williams.The floats, featuring Christmas- and gospel-themed messages from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, appeared in two parades on December 1 and 5—the city of Boynton Beach’s “Catch the Spirit of the Holidays” parade and the city of Boca Raton’s street parade, titled “Sights and Sounds of Broadway.”In early December, a large group of full-time missionaries and a few Church members participated in the #LightTheWorld campaign from atop floats in local parades in south Florida. Missionaries hold a banner during Boca Raton’s 48th Annual Street Parade on December 5, 2018. Photo by Rick Williams. The Boynton Beach Stake’s nativity-themed float was staffed by full-time missionaries and other member volunteers on December 1, 2018. Photo by Rick Williams.Some of the missionaries were in their element, running out to the audience and even jumping over bushes to hand out materials about the Church. Their efforts weren’t wasted: because missionaries shared information with parade-goers about the Boynton Beach Stake’s Festival of Nativities—which was the same night at one of the parades—a number of the audience members attended that Church-sponsored event as well. Missionaries hand out pass-along cards and pamphlets during a parade in Boca Raton on December 5, 2018. Photo by Rick Williams. Volunteers sit beside the Boynton Beach Stake parade float on December 1. Photo by Rick Williams.The Boynton Beach Stake created a float depicting the nativity, and it was the only float in the Boynton Beach parade representing the birth of the Savior. The Boca Raton Stake’s float played on the success of the Broadway hit musical The Book of Mormon to introduce audience members to the Church. On the float, a large marquee displayed the words “Now that you’ve seen the show, why not read the book?” The old adage that “any press is good press” may have been true in this instance: thanks in part to the musical’s fame, more than 20,000 community members accepted over 5,000 pass-along cards and other Church pamphlets during the two parades.Joining more than 130 other organizations, entries created by the Boynton Beach and Boca Raton Florida Stakes increased awareness about the Church and the #LightTheWorld campaign within a community of diverse religions, including Jewish, Baptist, and other Christian congregations.
“At 3 a.m., late-early morning in a very quiet hospital, immersed as I was in some sorrow and self-pity, heaven sent me a small, personal, prepackaged revelation, a tiny Christmas declaration. In the midst of my mumbling about the very poor calendaring in all of this, I heard the clear, unbroken cry of a baby.”As my father’s colon cancer was killing him during the 1994 Christmas season, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles unexpectedly visited my parents’ home in Bountiful, Utah, and gave him a blessing before he died.Until then, I hadn’t known the rest of the story, a story of two dear fathers and two sons bereaved in their absences.Nearly a quarter century later, I sat in stunned silence last month in an overwhelmingly beautiful little Anglican chapel in Oxford, England, as Elder Holland delivered a Christmas message about his own father’s massive heart attack just before Christmas in 1976.It is the reality my own angel mother reinforces each December for me and my six sisters. Later this month, she will again gather her children and their spouses for an endowment session at the Bountiful Utah Temple in honor of my father. Together in the celestial room, we will celebrate the prison-bursting Resurrection and look forward to reunions.The calendaring and divine grace of the timing of that birth changed his outlook. He recognized the joy the new child must be in its parents’ lives. He remembered that his own mother always reminded him of the joy he brought her as a Christmas baby himself.Elder Holland said it is justifiable to ask if that ominous warning was appropriate in that season of Christ’s birth. But standing under an ornate ceiling that bore Latin phrases like “Redemptor Omnibus”—Redeemer of all—Elder Holland said Simeon’s prophecy to Mary was appropriate and vital. We all should see the meaning of Christmas the way Simeon saw it.Then he received what he termed a “theological wake-up call.”“By the time we finally got to see him, wired and tubed and gray and unconscious, it was mid-afternoon on December 24, Christmas Eve,” Elder Holland said. “‘Magnificent timing,’ I muttered to no one in particular.”Christmas Eve turned into Christmas morning as he paced and prayed, alone in an unfamiliar hospital, feeling sorry for himself and mumbling questions about why he had to lose his dad at Christmas.His message followed nine hymns and carols alternated with nine readings from Genesis, Isaiah, Matthew, Luke, and John about the Fall, prophecies of Christ, and the story of His birth.Every December, a member of my family inevitably mentions how sad it is to remember our father’s death at Christmastime. It certainly is difficult to juxtapose the joy of Christmas with a loss of such magnitude. As I fulfilled a Church News reporting assignment at Oxford’s Pembroke College Chapel on November 25, I realized Elder Holland had experienced the exact same feelings when his father had heart attacks both during and after a scheduled back surgery in 1976.But I felt like Elder Holland might as well have been ministering to my family again, 24 years after he blessed my father in his final days. He said we must occasionally speak of Christmases and other days “that for whatever reason may not be as joyful or do not seem to be ‘the season to be jolly.’”“The true meaning,” Elder Holland said, “the unique, joyous meaning of the birth of this baby, was not confined to those first hours in Bethlehem but would be realized in the life He would lead and in His death, in His triumphant atoning sacrifice—remember why Joseph and Mary were in the temple—and in His prison-bursting Resurrection. These are the realities that make Christmas joyful.”His message from Luke 2 about Simeon, “this dear old man” who held a weeks-old Christ child in his arms at the temple in Jerusalem, balanced joy and pain. Simeon both rejoiced at the fulfillment of a promise that he would see the Messiah but also issued a dire warning that the child’s death would be like a sword piercing His beloved mother’s soul.Elder Holland was nearly 5,000 miles from Bountiful, speaking in a dimly-but-artfully lit chapel to about 80 people during a traditional Anglican Christmas service called “Nine Lessons and Carols,” which is “the tale of the living purpose of God,” according to the college’s chaplain, the Reverend Andrew Teal.“With new eyes then, that morning, I went back to look at my dad, the great gift-giver who was starting to make his way out of the world on Christmas Day. He was doing so on the wings of the greatest gift ever given—the Atonement and Resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. I thought of another Father who gave that gift.”OXFORD, ENGLAND
“I tried to make Sunday a special day—one where my children felt the Spirit and we learned the gospel together like I had heard wonderful women speak about at BYU Education Week,” Sister Craig said. “But I felt that I spent most of my Sabbath breaking up fights, cleaning up messes, working in the kitchen, entertaining children, and watching the clock for when Boyd would finally make it home. Sunday was anything but a day of rest and spiritual renewal.”Family relationshipsYears ago, while listening to Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles speak at a funeral of a young man in her ward, Sister Michelle D. Craig learned an important lesson:“Character, ordinances, and family relationships—these three things became my ‘vital few’—the things I would give my best time and energy to,” said Sister Craig.The door to success turns on small hinges—habits of prayer and patience, turning to the scriptures, and listening to the still, small voice.The Apostle’s words focused on prioritizing what a person spends their time doing and emphasized three things every person is able to take with them into the next life.Since family relationships are among the few things a person is able to take into the next life, they are one of the very “vital few” things a person should focus on and pay attention to, she taught.“I believe that ordinances and covenants of the gospel are gifts from our loving Father; I believe they are weapons against Satan and that they bring spiritual power,” she said. “Covenants can make an enormous difference in our lives.”“Occasionally we are given true-and-false tests in life—clear right and wrong choices—moments of truth. At those moments, stand up. Stand tall. Choose with courage.”“You cannot always control if those you like don’t seem to like you back, if you don’t get the job or internship you wanted so badly, if your family situation is less than ideal, or if you struggle with physical or mental health challenges,” she said. “But there is something you can absolutely control; you can control if you will participate in gospel ordinances and how you will keep your covenants. And you will find that these ordinances will manifest the ‘power of godliness’ unto you.”“Sometimes they feel like the ones we take and we’re convinced our professor is using to try and trick us,” she said. “Is it A? B? C? All of the above? Or none of the above? All the choices may be good but wrong for this moment.”“[Elder Holland] reminded us what matters most in each ‘new day of opportunity,’” Sister Craig, First Counselor in the Young Women General Presidency, told students at Brigham Young University during a campus devotional on December 11.“We can have faith in the Lord’s arithmetic, that He will multiply and magnify our efforts when we make ordinances and covenants a priority,” she said.Ordinances
Sister Michelle D. Craig, First Counselor in the Young Women General Presidency, speaks during a campus devotional at BYU on December 11. Photo by Madeline Mortensen, BYU.“You may or may not have children who challenge you,” she said. “You may or may not have a career, a calling, or a craft. You may be challenged by a spouse or by not having a spouse. The paths in front of you are as varied as the paths that brought you to BYU.For Amanda Crandall, an employee in the Special Collections section of the Harold B. Lee Library and mother of two 6-year-old boys, Sister Craig’s talk helped her remember to “not see people as interruptions.”Sharing a time in her life when she was home with little children and her husband was busy with work and Church callings, Sister Craig spoke of how she felt exhausted and discouraged.Sister Craig expounded on the three things Elder Holland shared at the funeral—character, ordinances, and family relationships.“I like the reminder to never let a problem be my focus,” she said. “People are more important.” Sister Michelle D. Craig, First Counselor in the Young Women General Presidency, speaks during a campus devotional at BYU on December 11. Photo by Madeline Mortensen, BYU.Character“If we want to avoid wasting our ‘day of opportunity,’ the answer isn’t just to go faster,” she said. “We want to go in the right direction, to focus on the vital few things that determine our success. So, what should we focus on?”“God gives us experiences from which He intends us to forge a more divine character and invites us to join in His work of gathering Israel and helping others enjoy eternal life,” she said. “That’s a big goal, but help comes disguised in small packages.”As an individual uses his or her “day of opportunity” well, they will have opportunities never dreamed of, Sister Craig said.“But one thing I can promise you: God will be with you in the great work that lies ahead of you, whatever it is. Any worthwhile goal will require a lot of work and weariness and well-doing. You’ll need to push ahead when staying back and resting would be easier.”“If you listen to that small voice, truly great things will proceed in your own life,” she said. “The influence of the Holy Ghost will change your character, and you will find that, whatever your path, you will not have wasted your day of opportunity.”“Whatever your challenges, look up and see others around you,” Sister Craig said. “Don’t see only the dirty dishes, the problem sets to finish, the chapters to read, finals to take, or your phone. Notice those around who need help. You can show that you love your sibling more than you love watching your favorite show; you can show that you care more about roommates’ feelings than you care about being right; that your concern for others in your ward is real and your affection isn’t fake. And then you will have relationships that show you have not wasted your time on earth but that you are joining in God’s great work of lifting His children.”Speaking in the Marriott Center on the university’s Provo campus, Sister Craig encouraged students to not waste their “day of opportunity” and compared life to a testing center.“I liked the reminder to take time to talk to a roommate and do things that are more important—minister time,” she said.“It is my prayer that each of us can be intentional in the way we use our time and energy. Making sure that time is spent on the ‘vital few’ activities rather than the ‘trivial many’ will bring happiness and peace not only in this life but in the life to come.”“Multiple-choice tests of life—including our decisions about the use of our time—require wisdom and deeper understanding,” she said. “That’s why they are given to us by our schoolteachers and by the great Teacher and Refiner of our souls.”Sometimes choices are between two good things—between studying and attending the temple, or making the decision of choosing a major.But more often, everyday life hands individuals multiple-choice tests.With those tests, every day is a day of opportunity, the Young Women leader taught.Spending time receiving sacred ordinances and making and renewing covenants will bless a person in every area of his or her life.Recognizing there is much in the lives of students they cannot control, Sister Craig reminded listeners they do have control over participating in gospel ordinances.For Bethany Fry, a student studying statistics from Vancouver, Washington, Sister Craig’s words were a good reminder that “every day is an opportunity.”PROVO, UTAHShe felt peace and light, and her heart was softened as she read that verse.After a long day she remembered feeling sorry for herself and falling into bed. She decided to read one scripture, despite not feeling like doing so. She sat up and opened her scriptures to read one verse, which happened to be Doctrine and Covenants 64:33, which reads, “Wherefore, be not weary in well-doing, for ye are laying the foundation of a great work. And out of small things proceedeth that which is great.”
But performing this week with the world-renowned choir—along with the Orchestra at Temple Square and Bells on Temple Square—is a Chenoweth “bucket list” moment.Choir president Ron Jarrett noted the cast for this year’s concert features over 600 performers. Expect to see plenty of music and dancing.Still, performing with the choir at Temple Square is a “moment in my life that has been a long time coming,” she said. “I want to celebrate the reason for this [Christmas] season. I’m so honored to be able to do this.”But even if seats do not open in the Conference Center, the concert will be live streamed into the Tabernacle for standby patrons.Ron Jarret, president of The Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square, left, and Mack Wilberg, music director of the choir, sit with guest artist Kristin Chenoweth as they share exclusive details about this year’s Christmas concert during a press conference at the Relief Society Building in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, December 12, 2018. Photo by Steve Griffin, Deseret News.Chenoweth has enjoyed a celebrated career. She’s won a Tony Award, an Emmy Award, and appeared in solo concerts at New York City’s Metropolitan Opera.“I’m just a girl from Oklahoma, so I like the normal things.”Meanwhile, Chenoweth said she’s acclimating to Utah’s high altitude and dry air while taking in the local malls and food fare.“But there are some elements that you’ll just have to come and see,” he said.Ron Jarret, president of The Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square, left, and Mack Wilberg, music director of the choir, sit with guest artist Kristin Chenoweth as they share exclusive details about this year’s Christmas concert during a press conference at the Relief Society Building in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, December 12, 2018. Photo by Steve Griffin, Deseret News.“I don’t know if we’ve ever had as versatile a performer as Kristin. She’s not only a classical singer, but she sings pop and country. …You will hear a little bit of each of those elements in this concert.”Growing up in Oklahoma, do-it-all singer/actress Kristin Chenoweth had a trio of must-see television shows: The Tony Awards, the Miss America Pageant, and finally, the annual Mormon Tabernacle Choir Christmas special.Choir leaders said they have had the high-energy Chenoweth on their Christmas concert wish list for about a decade.For decades, The Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square has been an essential element of the cultural fabric for Latter-day Saints across the globe. But Chenoweth said the choir is similarly regarded by some of the biggest names in the performing arts.
Ron Jarret, president of The Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square, left, and Mack Wilberg, music director of the choir, sit with guest artist Kristin Chenoweth as they share exclusive details about this year’s Christmas concert during a press conference at the Relief Society Building in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, December 12, 2018. Photo by Steve Griffin, Deseret News.The choir’s music “draws me in every time,” she said at a Wednesday press conference at the Relief Society Building. “For me, it’s part of my DNA and I’m so honored to share the stage with (choir music director) Mack Wilberg… we’re making music and celebrating the birth of Christ.”Now the popular performing artist is adding her own name to the legacy of The Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square’s holiday concert. She’s headlining this year’s show, which runs from Thursday, Decembe. 13 to Saturday, December 15 in the Conference Center.Ron Jarret, president of The Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square, left, and Mack Wilberg, music director of the choir, sit with guest artist Kristin Chenoweth as they share exclusive details about this year’s Christmas concert during a press conference at the Relief Society Building in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, December 12, 2018. Photo by Steve Griffin, Deseret News.“I look back at the choir’s history and I just think, ‘I want to be a part of this.’”Ron Jarret, president of The Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square, left, and Mack Wilberg, music director of the choir, sit with guest artist Kristin Chenoweth as they share exclusive details about this year’s Christmas concert during a press conference at the Relief Society Building in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, December 12, 2018. Photo by Steve Griffin, Deseret News.Plenty of people share her enthusiasm—there are no tickets available to the free concert for any of the three shows. However, standby lines will form at the north gate of Temple Square each night the concert is held. Standby patrons will be seated in the Conference Center as seats are available.Wilberg said he collaborated closely with Chenoweth in developing the concert program and swapping ideas to ensure the event is a success. He added that the choir has also put in the work to memorize all of the musical numbers.”Audiences will be smitten by Chenoweth’s energy, warmth, and generosity,” said Wilberg.
“This decision comes as Church leaders continue to seek the best use of resources worldwide according to the needs and demands of each area. Plans for future use of this space are still being determined,” according to Newsroom.The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced December 12 that it will close its missionary training center located in the Dominican Republic, effective January 2019. The Dominican Republic MTC in Santo Domingo previously served the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Haiti, West Indies, and Jamaica areas. Missionaries who would have attended the center will instead be trained at one of the 12 remaining MTCs around the world. See a list of MTCs on LDS.org.
Following is the text of the prayer offered by President Dallin H. Oaks, First Counselor in the First Presidency, to dedicate the Barranquilla Colombia Temple on Sunday, December 9. The Barranquilla Colombia Temple. The Barranquilla Colombia Temple.
The Barranquilla Colombia Temple. Photo by Ryan Jensen.Our Father in Heaven, we come to Thee in prayer on this great occasion when we will dedicate this Barranquilla Colombia Temple unto Thee and Thy Beloved Son for Thy work and Thy glory. We thank Thee for Thy many blessings.Please bless the leaders of this great nation of Colombia. Inspire their minds and motives as they lead. Please bless the citizens of this nation and its neighboring nations that they may enjoy freedom and be prospered in their spiritual and temporal activities.
The Barranquilla Colombia Temple. Photo by Ryan Jensen.We give Thee thanks for Thy prophet, President Russell M. Nelson. Bless him in every way and continue to reveal to him Thy will pertaining to the advancement of Thy work among Thy children.We thank Thee for the members of Thy Church whose faithful payment of tithes has made possible the construction of this beautiful temple. We pray for the members of Thy Church who reside in this nation. We pray for Thy blessings to prosper them in every way as they are faithful to the covenants they will make in this holy temple. We pray for the children and youth that they will be drawn to this sacred temple. We pray that through the work in Thy temples the ordinances and covenants of salvation and exaltation will be provided to all Thy righteous children on both sides of the veil. The Barranquilla Colombia Temple. Photo by Ryan Jensen.
The Barranquilla Colombia Temple. Photo by Ryan Jensen.Martin Garzon and Jocelyn Rodriquez represented the Colombian youth in placing mortar on the capstone of the Barranquilla Colombia Temple on December 9, 2018. Photo by Jason Swensen. The Barranquilla Colombia Temple. Photo by Ryan Jensen.
The statue of the angel Moroni atop the Barranquilla Colombia Temple.And now we renew our expressions of love and thanks to Thee as we dedicate this Temple unto Thee and Thy sacred work and pray for these blessings in the sacred name of Jesus Christ, amen.We thank Thee for the plan Thou hast established for the eternal life of Thy children. We thank Thee for Thy Only Begotten Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. We thank Thee for His Atonement for our repented sins, His Resurrection for our immortality, and His experiencing our pains and infirmities that He may succor us in those infirmities. We thank Thee for the Holy Ghost, who testifies of Thee and Thy Son and who leads us into truth.Now, Beloved Father in Heaven, by the authority of the holy Melchizedek Priesthood, we dedicate unto Thee this Barranquilla Colombia Temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. We dedicate unto Thee every part of this sacred structure and its surroundings, including the grounds and ancillary facilities and the landscaping and decorations. We dedicate all of this temple’s structural parts from its foundations to its crowning steeple. We dedicate the baptismal font, the ordinance rooms, the sealing rooms, the beautiful celestial room, and all the other locations in this holy house. We pray that Thy Spirit will always be present in these holy spaces to enlighten and guide and bless those who are here and what is said and done here. We pray that Thou wilt protect this temple and its surrounding facilities from every destructive influence of any kind.
The Barranquilla Colombia Temple. Photo by Ryan Jensen.Visitors mingle outside the Barranquilla Colombia Temple following the Sunday, December 9, 2018, temple dedication. Photo by Jason Swensen. The Barranquilla Colombia Temple. Photo by Ryan Jensen.Please bless the presidents of Thy temples who hold the keys for Thy sacred temple work. And please bless the counselors and matrons and assistant matrons and all who work under their direction as they exercise the authority of Thy holy priesthood in the sacred ordinances and covenants of Thy house. Please bless all who come within the walls of Thy holy temples that they may come in worthiness and participate with joy and understanding in these great teachings and covenants and blessings, that Thy work will go forward in power to fulfill Thy purposes for all Thy children.We thank Thee for the Restoration of the gospel, which began with Thy appearance and Thine Only Begotten Son to the Prophet Joseph Smith. We thank Thee for the Book of Mormon, the second witness of Thy Son, Jesus Christ. We thank Thee for restoring the authority and keys of the holy priesthood by which we teach Thy word and perform the ordinances of salvation. We thank Thee for the pioneers of faith and devotion who established Thy work in Colombia. The Barranquilla Colombia Temple. Photo by Ryan Jensen. The Barranquilla Colombia Temple. The Barranquilla Colombia Temple. Photo by Ryan Jensen.
The Tabernacle Choir has announced the 2018 dates and times for the PBS and BYUtv December broadcast specials Christmas with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir with featured guests Tony Award-winning singer and actress Sutton Foster and renowned actor Hugh Bonneville.
The program was recorded in 2017 over the course of three nights in front of a combined live audience of over 60,000 people in Salt Lake City’s Conference Center with The Tabernacle Choir, Orchestra at Temple Square, and Bells on Temple Square.
Since 2004, the Christmas with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir TV specials—recorded and broadcast one year later—have become a beloved PBS tradition. This will be the second year that BYUtv will co-present the program alongside WGBH, the largest creator of PBS content to TV and the web.
“This program is uniquely special thanks to Sutton’s immense vocal artistry and sparkling personality paired with Hugh’s charismatic delivery and stage presence,” said Mack Wilberg, music director of The Tabernacle Choir. To have both of them perform with us was really a dream come true and a great honor. For the past 15 years on PBS, the choir’s Christmas special has become a sought-after family tradition to enjoy during the Christmas season, and we’re thrilled that through our relationship with BYUtv and WGBH, we can share this remarkable gift with audiences around the world.”2018 Christmas Special Broadcast Schedules
See airtimes for both the PBS and BYUtv TV specials on the choir’s website.
PBS 60-minute version: Monday, December 17, at 7:00 p.m. mountain standard time (check local PBS listings for exact air times)
This annual Christmas special returns for the 15th consecutive year when it premieres on PBS stations. These specials have been the top-viewed holiday program on PBS for over a decade.
In Utah and parts of surrounding states the local PBS station KUED will be airing this 2018 broadcast at the following times (all times listed here and below are mountain standard time):
BYUtv 90-minute version: Beginning Thursday, December 20
The full 90-minute program will be broadcast by BYUtv soon after its premiere showing on PBS stations around the country.
BYUtv broadcast times:
English actor Hugh Bonneville narrates during the Mormon Tabernacle Choir Christmas concert in Salt Lake City on Thursday, December 14, 2017. Photo by Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News.
The Tabernacle Choir Christmas concerts have been a tradition that dates back decades.
Beginning in 2000, the annual concerts moved to the Conference Center on Temple Square in Salt Lake City, where the Tabernacle Choir and the Orchestra at Temple Square have hosted a diverse roster of world-class talent.
See the historical list of special guests who have participated in these wonderful concerts. Memorable CDs, DVDs, and books have been created from these programs to further share the magic of the concert.
In addition to the airings on PBS and BYUtv, the Christmas special with Sutton Foster and Hugh Bonneville is available for purchase or download as a DVD or CD titled A Merry Little Christmas and an illustrated book titled It Is Well with My Soul.
“The biggest thing that helped me get through [the difficult years] was staying close to the gospel and reading my scriptures,” he said.Edwards recovered from his injuries, but it wasn’t easy. Over the past 20 years, that unforgettable day has offered him unexpected perspectives.“I can go a long time without even thinking about lightning,” he said.Twenty years have passed since that unforgettable day on a youth football field in southeastern Idaho, but random people remember his story. “I still get people who say to me, ‘Oh, that was you?’”“As Bryce Reynolds closed that brief but fervent blessing offered in the language of an 18-year-old, A.J. Edwards drew his first renewed breath” (“Sanctify Yourselves”).On September 30, 1998, 12-year-old A.J. and his Little League football team in Inkom, Idaho, were on the field scrimmaging. Seemingly out of nowhere, a bolt of lightning struck A.J., knocking him unconscious and near death.Meanwhile, 18-year-old Bryce Reynolds, who had received the Melchizedek Priesthood just weeks earlier, cradled A.J.’s head and gave the boy a priesthood blessing.And he wears more than one uniform, serving as the assistant Scoutmaster in the Indian Lakes Ward, Boise West Idaho Stake.“I’ve found that the more you rely upon God and your faith, you find that you have the tools to overcome anything.”Military life is demanding. He spends a lot of time away from his wife, Sarah, and their Boise home. But joy is always nearby, he said. The Edwardses are expecting their first child in a month—a baby girl they plan to name Alice.Edwards and many of the boys who witnessed the lightning strike reunited and won a state football championship at Idaho’s Marsh Valley High School.He had hoped to fly helicopters. The Army had other ideas. “So I found another way to fly—I went to Airborne School.”“One of the reasons I joined the military was to try to be an example for others,” he said. “I work with some of the greatest people I’ve ever met. It’s been a unique blessing.”He made a daily choice to endure and overcome his physical challenges. But Edwards is quick to add he was never alone. In the grim moments following the lightning strike he was cared for by people who loved him. That pattern continued throughout his physical and emotional recovery. He credits his parents, Cal and Karla Edwards, and other faithful loved ones.“I had to deal with so many issues, but my family and friends were with me always.”Edwards also relied upon prayer and his growing testimony.His tenacity was further rewarded when he received an officer’s commission by completing the Army ROTC program at Brigham Young University–Idaho. Now a captain, he serves as an armor officer working with tanks.A pair of Latter-day Saints who were both trained emergency medical technicians rushed to the fallen player and began performing CPR.
Army Captain A.J. Edwards stands near a military airstrip. The lifelong Church member was struck by lightning 20 years ago and utilized resilience and faith to recover from his injuries. Photo courtesy of A.J. Edwards.“It was a long recovery,” he said. “I had to learn how to walk and talk again. It was pretty intense.”Lightning doesn’t cross A.J. Edwards’s mind when he wakes each morning. He doesn’t step outside and scan the skies for storm clouds. He’s not even rattled by sudden claps of thunder.Yes, he hopes lightning never strikes twice. But he doesn’t fear storm clouds of any form.After being on the business end of service for many years, Edwards was anxious to serve others.Edwards believes a confluence of medical training and priesthood power preserved his life that autumn day. Men of action and faith saved him. They demonstrated principles that became the subject of the Church-produced video “Sanctify Yourselves” that has been viewed by hundreds of thousands.He also decided in the grueling months after the lightning strike that he would never let another define his limits.
A.J. Edwards, shown with his wife, Sarah, is a captain in the Idaho Army National Guard. Photo courtesy of A.J. Edwards.For one, he found inside himself a tenacious grit that has served him well for two decades.That spiritual reassurance, felt so strongly in the moments after the lightning strike, would help him navigate the typical struggles facing teenagers and young adults.Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles recounted that desperate but faith-filled moment in his October 2000 general conference address:First he served a mission to Chile, where he shared the faith and priesthood power that had profoundly blessed his own life. Missionary work and learning a new language wasn’t easy, but again he opted to persist.Being struck by lightning, he said, “changed the dynamic of my life. If it had not happened it would have been easy for me to go a different route. It gives me something to always remember.”Enough time has passed that he can even find a bit of humor in his ordeal. His buddies, for one, won’t let him forget. “I’ve been called a lot of things: Zap. Sparky. Flash,” he said, laughing.After returning home from Chile he enlisted in the Idaho Army National Guard. Joining the military wasn’t easy. Because of his lightning-related injuries he had to petition for several medical waivers while demonstrating he was physically fit for service.
A.J. and Sarah Edwards were married in the Logan Utah Temple seven years ago. Photo courtesy of A.J. Edwards.Some doctors told him he would never walk again. “I proved them wrong and ran a marathon a year after the accident.” Others doubted he would return to the gridiron. “But I kept playing.”But don’t be mistaken—lightning has shaped, defined, and refined much of Edwards’s life over the past two decades.
I met two representatives of the Franciscan Order of Friars Minor, owners of Shepherds’ Field, who went to watch the documentary being filmed. The choir was already singing of the Savior’s birth when the Franciscans entered the field.The hymn stirred memories. I once stood in Shepherds’ Field and heard an angelic chorus singing of the birth of the Savior Jesus Christ.He said it was a pleasure to hear “such an angelic chorus’ music once again reverberating through the hills and fields of Bethlehem. This is music from heaven.”In addition to concerts in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv and the videotaping of the choir’s weekly Music and the Spoken Word to be broadcast on January 3, the choir sang Christ-centered hymns at several sites of significance in the Savior’s life: Shepherds’ Field near Bethlehem; the Mount of Beatitudes and the Sea of Galilee; the grounds of Dominus Flevit (a church built on the Mount of Olives commemorating the area where Jesus wept over Jerusalem); and the Garden Tomb, believed by many to be where Jesus was buried until His Resurrection on the third day.The documentary, titled “Special Edition: In a Land Called Israel—Mormon Tabernacle Choir,” can be viewed on LDS.org and thetabernaclechoir.org.The Reverend Peter Vasko, director of Pilgrimages, St. Saviour’s Monastery, and the Reverend Raphael Caputo stood near the film crew and choir staff members, listening to that momentous event.The Tabernacle Choir sang several hymns that day in Shepherds’ Field. The one featured in the documentary was “The Lord Is My Shepherd.”“I often wondered what the angelic chorus of long ago sounded like when they sang to shepherds in the fields of Bethlehem,” the Reverend Vasko told me. “I need wonder no more.”I attended a stake conference on December 2, 2018, the opening hymn of which was “Angels We Have Heard on High.” The congregation sang with enthusiasm and joyful energy. It was the first Christmas hymn I sang at the beginning of this year’s Christmas season.“Shepherds, why this jubilee? …
Come to Bethlehem and see
Him whose birth the angels sing,
Come, adore on bended knee
Christ the Lord, the newborn King.”
(Hymns, no. 203.)It was in 1993. I was on assignment to report on the Mormon Tabernacle Choir on its tour to Israel December 26, 1992, to January 6, 1993. (The choir is now named The Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square.)As I sang with members of my stake on December 2, I remembered those sights and sounds from that January day in 1993 and seeing nearby a shepherd with some of his flock, with Bethlehem visible in the background.Ed Payne, producer of the documentary by Bonneville Communications, selected the sites during an earlier visit to Israel and obtained permission for videotaping the choir in the various settings.In Shepherds’ Field, I looked in the distance at “the little town of Bethlehem” as the choir sang of Jesus, who was born in “royal David’s city.”The Reverend Caputo said he and his colleagues were excited when they learned the choir wanted to use Shepherds’ Field. “Your reputation goes before you,” he said in comments to the choir’s president, Wendell M. Smoot. “We’re extremely pleased that you’ve been here, that you’ve given witness in your own way to the Lord in the Holy Land, here in Bethlehem where He was born.”
“When it was canceled, I laid out on my front lawn and bawled and cried and wished I was a plumber,” Bagley said in a previous interview with the Deseret News. “It was my life’s dream. I thought I’d be doing that forever.”Despite his initial discouragement, Bagley continued to draw, and it was during his mission in Virginia for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that Bagley first submitted one of his drawings to the New Era in 1978.Through the years, other cartooning opportunities have arisen that Bagley never even expected, including being commissioned by the Church to “draw a cartoon illustrating a talk by then-Elder Dallin H. Oaks. It was shown during his talk in general conference on April 1, 2001,” Bagley said.In addition, Bagley had a nationally syndicated comic strip called Goblin that ran from 1986 to 1987 in several newspapers, including the Deseret News. His initial excitement at “discovering his calling” was diminished when a survey revealed that Goblin was “overwhelmingly hated.” The comic strip was dropped from syndication soon after.Bagley, however, draws a fine line with his cartoons when it comes to the sacred aspects of the gospel.Returning home, Bagley at first struggled to turn his love of drawing comics into a successful venture.His newest publication from Covenant Communications is the Sunday Activity Book, a 190-page book that includes dot-to-dots, mazes, coloring pages, seek and find, crafts, and games.It was a scripture that brought Bagley back to cartooning.“Pretty much most of my life I’ve known what I wanted to do for a living; I just didn’t know it would be drawing for the Church,” Bagley said.
As a missionary in Virginia, Val Chadwick Bagley served as the mission public relations director and cartoonist. Photo courtesy of Val Chadwick Bagley.Inside pages of the Sunday Activity Book by Val Chadwick Bagley. Photo courtesy of Val Chadwick Bagley. Val Chadwick Bagley with several of his books and drawings. Photo courtesy of Val Chadwick Bagley.Speaking of family, Bagley jokes that “like being a prophet in [my] own country, my family for the most part is unimpressed that I draw for the New Era.”“Yea, and we may see at the very time when he doth prosper his people, yea, in the increase of their fields, their flocks and … in all manner of precious things of every kind and art” (Helaman 12:2).Val Chadwick Bagley has a lot to do with that. His iconic cartoons have been regularly featured in the New Era since 1978 and the Friend since 2000. Having recently celebrated his 40th anniversary of drawing comics for the Church magazines, Bagley estimates he has drawn close to 1,000 cartoons for the two magazines during that time.“I went to college four different times but never finished a quarter,” Bagley said. “They don’t really teach cartooning, which is more of an individual drawing skill. One of my art teachers told me I could be ‘a really good artist if I just gave up this cartooning thing.’”“Sometimes I get the ideas from the things people say, but generally I stare at a blank piece of paper and try to think of relatable situations that the youth will get, then hopefully make it funny,” Bagley said. “My youngest son, who was about 6 at the time, made a comment at church which I turned into a cartoon that was printed.”Yet Bagley acknowledged in a previous article that “he is grateful that his grandchildren can enjoy his books and for the unwavering support of his wife, Ruth.”
The Sunday Activity Book is by Val Chadwick Bagley. Photo courtesy of Val Chadwick Bagley.
Val Bagley and his wife, Ruth, in front of the Star Valley Wyoming Temple, where they are ordinance workers. Photo courtesy of Val Chadwick Bagley.Bagley’s love of drawing can be traced back to his childhood. His mother kept drawings he made when he was 7, which he still has today, and he submitted his first cartoon to the Friend at that same age. It was published six months later, but he was disappointed with the final result because he felt he could do better. He threw the magazine away.“My cartoons may be gospel-related, but they don’t have anything really to do with the gospel itself. I will concede that sometimes my cartoons are based on certain scriptures … but I actually think this is a good thing because potentially it could cause a person to look up that scripture,” Bagley said in an interview. “For the most part, my cartoons are about people living the gospel, not the actual teachings themselves. Also, I already know the New Era would never print a cartoon that made light of sacred things, which I wouldn’t draw anyway.”For more than 40 years, many Latter-day Saint youths, when they received their copy of the New Era magazine, flipped straight to their favorite page: the comics page.
Val Chadwick Bagley’s mother saved this picture, which Bagley drew when he was seven years old. Photo courtesy of Val Chadwick Bagley.And all of it began with drawing a cartoon for the Friend as a 7-year-old.The word “art” gave Bagley the inspiration he needed to begin his cartooning business called “The Cartoonist Guy.”Bagley’s ideas for drawings have referenced many gospel topics, but he notes the ones he’s done the most include Noah’s ark, the Book of Mormon, bishop interviews, missionaries, and other topics for youths.“I kept four cartoon journals on my mission, and that is how I learned how to draw,” Bagley said. “My mission president assigned me to be the mission public relations director. I drew cartoons for visiting General Authorities and also drew cartoons for our mission newsletter.” As a missionary in Virginia, Val Chadwick Bagley kept four different cartoon journals (as well as two “regular” journals). Photo courtesy of Val Chadwick Bagley.Unable to find another job cartooning, Bagley went to work designing cheese labels and hot dog packages for seven years.The ideas for what Bagley draws can come from many different places. Val Chadwick Bagley with several of his books and drawings. Photo courtesy of Val Chadwick Bagley.Bagley’s initial idea was to teach cartooning, but he soon discovered he didn’t like teaching. Instead, with the help of a contact he made at Covenant Communications while designing cheese labels, Bagley drew the pictures for a coloring book back in 1992, his first job for Covenant Communications. That partnership continues to this day.“I’ve pretty much picked all the low-hanging fruit, and yet I still keep thinking of new ideas,” he said.
Nolong Bullock shares a message during a special Light the World fireside held in the Orange County, California, area on November 18. Photo by James Harker.The Bonner family shared their talents and testimony and encouraged others to “light the world” in their own way.“If He would come and live the way He lived and die the way He died for me, how can I not stand? Speak your truth,” Junior said. “None of us are too young in this gospel to do great things. … We all have a responsibility to ‘light the world.’”During the musical portion, the Bonner family sang songs focused on the Savior and His role in their lives and on families. Some of the numbers were original arrangements by family members. Harry Bonner shares a message during a special Light the World fireside held in the Orange County, California, area on November 18. Photo by James Harker.President Tait Eyre of the Irvine Stake said the Bonner family was “proof that with the Savior there is no ordinary. It was their discipleship and love of the Lord that makes them extraordinary.”“We are asked to ‘light the world,’” she said. “All you have to do is start with one. Your light will light someone else’s.”As the Bonner family sang their concluding number, a medley of Primary songs, the audience was asked to join.“Since they were all singing, I wanted to improve my talents to bless others like they did,” Abby Paul said.After the conclusion of the program members of the audience were given luminaries to carry in their hands as they walked along a lighted path to the Newport Beach Temple grounds. There, members of the audience stood around a fountain and joined with missionaries in singing hymns of praise.Guests were given “Light the World” information cards to share with friends and neighbors that had information about other local Church-sponsored Christmas events in the area.It is through the Savior’s Atonement that the family has been able to grow in grace and forgive in hard times, Harry Bonner said. He encouraged all to make their own commitment to love, laugh, cry, and say “I’m sorry” and invited others to share their gifts—whatever they are—to “light the world.”Zhe Yang, who attended, said he felt it was very appropriate that the Bonner family was invited “to illustrate the spirit of Jesus Christ.”
Missionaries serving in the California Irvine Mission participate in the Light the World musical presentation with the Bonner family on November 18. Photo by James Harker.President Samuel Clark of the Irvine California Mission called the event “glorious.” He asked all those in attendance to “choose today to bring forth the Savior’s light. Please commit to sharing our Savior’s light with all those around you.”Nolong asked that each could strive to light their homes and neighborhoods. “This glorifies our Father in Heaven.”“It gave me hope,” Billy Williams said, “and made me want to share the message.”Harry Bonner, the father of the family, described their lives as challenging and wonderful. He said through it all his wife, Debra, “made certain we were in the guiding light of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” Oba and Yahosh Bonner perform during a special music presentation held in Newport Beach, California, on November 18. Photo by James Harker.“Everyone has a potential to be a light in the world but only if they choose to turn the switch on,” Jonathan Esquihuas said.Junior Bonner shared his testimony of the Savior, that “He lived and then He died.”IRVINE, CALIFORNIANolong Bullock, the oldest daughter in the Bonner family, talked about a family tradition of turning off all the lights before lighting the candles on a birthday cake. She said in a totally dark room as they struck a match it provided enough light to see all the candles on the cake.“Just one light provided enough light to see,” Nolong said. Then they lit one candle at a time until the candles provided enough light to illuminate the room.In a musical presentation on November 18, the Bonner family—a family known for their singing performances together—helped launch community #LightTheWorld efforts in part of the Orange County, California, area. The Light the World musical devotional, hosted by the California Irvine Mission and the Irvine California Stake, brought more than 850 guests to the Newport Beach California Stake Center.