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Raising ourselves to the bar is no easy task. “Upon hearing the title of our book,” the authors said, “One friend replied, 'You would probably sell more copies if you called it How to Sneak Under the Bar or Avoid It Completely.'” While directing the work in Chile, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland said on several occasions, “The bar is not an obstacle to get over, but a vision to reach for.” Parents, leaders, and young people must catch that vision.
In this invaluable book for these latter days, Brad Wilcox (former mission president in Santiago, Chile) and his son, Russell (recently returned from his mission in Malaga, Spain), share their combined insights and experiences on themes selected from Preach My Gospel. Brad shares what he and his wife tried to do to prepare Russell before his mission, and Russell shares what did or didn't work for him. Finally, the authors have prepared keys for action — specific suggestions that can be completed for, with, and by young people as they prepare.
Everyday Lives, Everyday Values Interview with Brad Wilcox and Russell Wilcox, authors of Raising Ourselves to the Bar.
Program originally aired on KSL Radio on November 18, 2007.
Host: Doug Wright
Doug: And a warm welcome to the program! It’s always great to have you along on Everyday Lives, Everyday Values. We have a brand new book to talk about called Raising Ourselves to the Bar: Practical Advice and Encouragement for the Next Generation of Missionaries and their Parents. And a person that I always love to see come through the door here for our program, Brad Wilcox, is here. Brad, welcome to the program! It’s good to have you here.
Brad: Thank you, Doug. I always enjoy seeing you, too; it’s great.
Doug: You, for many, many years, have talked about your son, Russell, and talked about your family in general, of course. And Russell is here with us. Russell, welcome. You may want to just pull that microphone right over to you. It’s not fragile at all.
Russell: All right. Well, thank you very much.
Doug: It’s great to have you here. It truly is. As I mentioned, your dad has talked often about the family and it’s nice — he actually tipped me off that you two were working on a book — so it’s nice to have you both here, and have you here together. Raising the bar. When my son went on his mission I can remember that this was something that was still kind of being buzzed about within the church. “The raising of the bar.” Even if maybe we didn’t end up with this big army of missionaries out in the field, the idea was to make sure that people were truly prepared, ready to receive the inspiration, ready to teach by the spirit, and ready to go out and be a missionary. Even if, maybe, it wasn’t 60,000 and it ended up being a few less.
Brad: Well, I think we’ve seen a positive effect, because even in our mission in Chile we were able to see a decline in missionary number in our mission, but the productivity increasing, and I think other missions report the same thing. And so I think that many of the goals that were set had been reached, but they are always trying to improve.
Doug: Even though that original concept was introduced several years ago, the fact of the matter is you can tell how important it is to church leadership in that Elder Perry brought that up again in this past general conference just weeks ago.
Brad: I think the brethren are still seeing a great need for making sure that missionaries are arriving at the mission prepared. They are not going to the MTC to start to prepare, but they are preparing so that when they hit the MTC and the mission they are hitting the ground running. And that’s why Russell and I tried to do this is because we wanted to try to help with that effort.
Doug: We have such a unique combination here, and that’s why this is such a unique book. Brad, just a little background — I always assume everybody, because we’ve had you on the show before, knows somewhat something about you. I mean, we have talked about books, we have talked about talks on tape and all kinds of things. CD’s now would be the proper term. Last we talked a lot about your mission in Chile and just the resurgence down there in Santiago, in the east mission. And then, also, Russell has served in Spain and was there very recently, 2004 to 2006, and teaches at the Missionary Training Center. So we have an interesting perspective from someone who has been a mission president, someone who has been a missionary and, of course, you were a missionary before that. But a very interesting perspective. The way the book is structured, I’d like to talk a little bit about this. And Russell, maybe you can address this, because you will be going along reading and all of a sudden there is Russell’s response in here. Tell us a little bit about how the book actually worked.
Russell: Well, it was fun to be able to write with my dad and we went through and we took things from Preach My Gospel and we were able to write some of our thoughts and experiences on each of those things, and then my dad wrote a response and a section where he said things that he and my mom tried to do. . .
Russell: . . . to help prepare me as a missionary, and then I wrote a response on things that worked, and maybe sometimes on what didn’t work so good.
Doug: Exactly. You know, Dee and I, I cannot tell you how many times we have had this conversation. You know, what worked. Did we hinder, did we help, what did we do? You know, I wish this book had been available for us. The introduction says Missions: Hard on the Shoes but Good for the Soul. I have yet to find a missionary, and I’ve had some who have been in some tough missions — friends, and friends’ sons now — that have been in some tough, tough areas. I have yet to have one who has come back and said that it didn’t enrich their lives and that it wasn’t a learning experience and an expansive experience. What it is about a mission that is so good for the soul?
Brad: I think Russell and I were in a unique position to do this because we were on missions at the same time. And I think sometimes when you get home from a mission you tend to look back with rose-colored glasses. You remember only the good times. But because were both so fresh from our missions — and, I mean, we served at the same time. In fact, Russell got home a few days before we did. He actually welcomed us home at the airport.
Doug: Boy, that is an unusual thing, isn’t it? Usually the parents are standing there weeping, little signs and everything. Was anybody there for you?
Russell: My sister; but I dropped them off and then picked them up.
Doug: Got ripped off.
Brad: I think because we were both on missions so recently we were able to kind of keep each other honest and we were able to approach the mission from a very honest perspective in that we do point out that there were some hard times and that there are some challenges, and that young people have to be prepared for that, but we were also able to point out that during that mission they gain so much as far as their ability to prepare for their future lives, as far as self-esteem, as far as work ethic, as far as study skills, as far as being able to interact with people and being able to care about people. I think these are the things — and a lot of humor along the way, being able to laugh when you don’t think you can ever laugh at it. But you just are able to sit down and there is nothing to do but laugh. I think that by pulling all of that together you start realizing that on the scale you definitely are getting more out of it than you realize.
Doug: Listening to you describe that I remember the old Woody Allen formula for comedy. It’s “Tragedy plus time equals comedy.” Sometimes, you know, that tragedy, it isn’t so funny when it happens, or that hard knock when it happens. But time does seem to modify, and it is amazing, the more time the funnier it starts looking.
Brad: I remember when I was doing an interview with one of the sister missionaries and she was a Spanish speaker. She asked me if I thought she was “fea,” which means ugly. But I heard, I understood “fiel,” which means faithful. And so the poor sister, I looked straight at her and I said, “Yes, very.”
Doug: Oh no!
Brad: And that was a moment that was not funny at the time, but in retrospect it has become really a funny story.
Doug: Oh, yeah. When you look back on your mission experience, Russell, you were in Spain…
Doug: What are some of the things that pop to mind for you that was soul expansive?
Russell: Uh, just the people. More than anything I think I just love thinking about the people that I was able to work with and just watching them start to change their lives and just understanding how it doesn’t have to be about us all the time, and how when we focus on other people and focus on helping them how much more enriching that is to ourselves. And I think that was one of the things that — still to this day I love calling them and talking to them and writing them and just seeing how happy it makes them.
Doug: Right. You know, I was interested, in the book, very early in the book you talk about God and how he loves me, Satan, he loves me not. But, I want to fast-forward a little bit. We are not going to be able to, obviously, talk about every single chapter and part, but – God Parted the Red Sea and He Will Help You. There is just something so stark in that comment that is so true. And so many of us think, “Why and how would God help me out of this situation?” And then when somebody, like you, to put it in perspective like that. I mean, for heaven’s sake, he can free an entire nation. He can part a sea. He can swallow up the Egyptians in the wake. Why in the world wouldn’t he be able to help me out of my miniscule problem if he chooses to do so.
Brad: Yeah, and he’s there to help. That’s what the missionaries have to realize, and these young people have to realize, is that, although it is frightening to take these steps they are not alone. There is always support there. Not just support from friends and companions and family, but support from God. There were two missionaries who were on their way home on their mission and they were getting so close to their apartment and they were so tired, and they saw a man pushing a car. And they thought, “Oh, we should go help him, but we want to just go home to our apartment.&rdqou; And they tried to talk themselves out of it, and they tried to say, “Well, we better hurry home so that we are home on time.&rdqou; And finally they looked at each other and said, “We’ve just got to go help this guy.” So they went and helped push this car into a gas station, and the little boy who was steering, while the father was pushing, steered it into the gas station. The man said to them, he said, “I’m not a member of your church, but my wife is, and my son here was just made a deacon, and when the car broke down I said ‘I better push, you better steer.’&rdqou; And he said, “I don’t think I can do it alone.” And the boy said, “Don’t worry dad, I just prayed and I asked Heavenly Father to send the missionaries.”
Doug: Oh, goodness.
Brad: You know, when you look at an experience like that, that is a true experience that happened in our mission, and you realize that, yes, God does send the help we need.
Doug: Absolutely. I — this was something, and I’ve mentioned it several times on this program, but it hit me in such a profound nature when I heard a talk, and I wish — I remembered this, and I don’t even remember who delivered it. It was basically something to the effect of when we meet our maker on the other side, when we review our lives, we will be stunned at how often intervention was sent, how often angels were ministering to us, how often the Lord intervened. In other words, how often he was right there at our shoulder, right there at our side. Angels ministering to us and helping us out. That has just indelibly stuck in my mind. And I believe that to be true.
Brad: I fully agree with that. I saw that every day on my mission. It is a lot of time in retrospect, when you are able to look back. You know, when I look back and think of that you can see God’s hand in your lives so much, and just every experience, every day, it is just amazing.
Doug: What to do When They Say It’s Not True. I told you about an experience I had with a guest on my regular weekday show, and I know missionaries run into this all the time. What do you do when people are just right in your face? As a mission president, as a missionary, and as a regular rank and file member of the church, and they say, “It is not true. How can you be such a dolt and believe this?”
Brad: In the chapter we kind of compare it to The Wizard of Oz and how Dorothy received help from the scarecrow, and we can think things through. Also, that she received help from the tin man — that we can follow our heart and trust the feelings that we have; and that she received help from the lion, who helped her to be courageous. And we can be courageous in standing up for what we believe and for standing up for the doctrines that we know to be the truth. I think as young people get a few solid answers in their minds — because some of the questions that come up come up over and over. Elder Ballard, in the last general conference, counseled the members of the church to just have a few answers prepared so that when questions come up we are not caught off guard. But if we know a few of the questions that are usually asked and we have a short answer prepared then we feel a little more courageous. In the book we have tried to provide a few answers that young people can start to work with in their own minds and in their own interactions.
Doug: I remember hearing several people, and all the way to the highest levels of leadership within the church and conference talks and so on, to those who are at a more professorial level, who have talked about how unique the Mormon church is that in the keystone of the religion — not the cornerstone, but the keystone of the religion — in other words, it’s gone, everything falls, is the Book of Mormon. I like the way you have titled your chapter, and it’s Our Sickle — The Book of Mormon. Your thoughts on that, both of you, for Russell and for Brad. Russell, first with you.
Russell: Well, I think it was actually Elder Christofferson who went down and visited my parents’ mission and he was teaching the missionaries and he told them that in Doctrine and Covenants 4, when it talks about “He who thrusteth in his sickle with all his might, the same layeth up in store that he perisheth not,” said that our sickle is the Book of Mormon. Because a sickle in farming is used for gathering and that nature, and that is what the Book of Mormon is for us. It is the tool God specifically prepared for our day to help us gather in his children, to help bring them unto the truth, and I think one of the biggest promises is right in Doctrine and Covenants 4 — that if we use the Book of Mormon with our whole heart that we also are bringing salvation unto our own soul, as well as others.
Brad: A movie that my wife really enjoys is the movie “Contact.”
Brad: And my father-in-law read the book and they’ve enjoyed that through the years. But I love the parallels in that movie with Joseph Smith, because this scientist ends up going out into space and finds out that we are not alone in the universe, but then when she comes back everyone says, “You never left.” And she says, “Oh, but I did.” But she has no proof except for 18 hours of blank videotape that they can’t explain away. I think, in a similar way, Joseph wasn’t the only one who claimed visions. Joseph Smith wasn’t the only one who claimed to see angels and visitors from another world — you know, from a heavenly world. He wasn’t the only one. But he is the only one who provided evidence, tangible evidence that we can hold in our hands. Eighteen hours of blank video tape, so to speak, but it is even more fascinating because it is not blank. Many people write about the future and many religious people will write about the millennium or the second coming or heaven, and nobody can say whether they are wrong or right because they are writing about futuristic events. Joseph provided a history that opens itself up to scrutiny, and as many times as that book has been under the magnifying glass, it has held up. And that is what I think is so remarkable is that our missionaries are not going out without a tool, without a sickle. They are going out with a powerful tool. Evidence we can hold, evidence we can touch. Oh, these people who are learning about the church, they may never have a chance to know Joseph Smith, or to know people who knew Joseph Smith, but because of that book they can know for themselves. That is evidence of not only the fact that Jesus Christ is divine, but also that Joseph Smith was his instrument.
Doug: Oh, absolutely. Let’s take a brief break and when we come up we will talk a little bit more about this book. It is called Raising Ourselves to the Bar: Practical Advice and Encouragement for the Next Generation of Missionaries and their Parents. We are delighted to have Brad and Russell Wilcox with us, the authors of the book, on Everyday Lives, Everyday Values.-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Doug: We’re back on Everyday Lives, Everyday Values. Raising Ourselves to the Bar: Practical Advice and Encouragement for the Next Generation of Missionaries and their Parents. Published by Deseret Book, authored by Brad Wilcox and his son, Russell Wilcox, here with us. Boy, the time is slipping by so, so quickly, and I just wanted a final thought or two from both of you. As we approach this book, we take it off the shelf, we enjoy it, we talk about some of the concepts in it — I wanted to just mention this last part, or near the last part. Get Out There and Astonish Someone. Let’s talk about astonishing people. I think many missionaries come back somewhat astonished at the success, somewhat astonished at — I know their parents are astonished — at what they were able to accomplish. Something as simple — to just regularly making their bed to actually taking the word of God out to people who have not heard it before. Just kind of a final thought on the book, where that astonishment is kind of a theme for the end. Brad, maybe we could wrap up with you first.
Brad: That phrase came from a visit of Elder Holland to our mission, and that’s what he told the missionaries to do. He said, “Our message is astonishing, now get out there and astonish someone.” And the missionaries took it to heart. It was remarkable to see them deal with people with courage, with boldness, and to not be apologetic about approaching people. I think some of our young people are a little nervous about talking to others and they don’t feel comfortable or confident in their people skills. That is something that parents can really work on, if we can kind of steer away from some of the electronic media and some of the electronic games and the texting and such that are keeping them from developing the people skills that they are going to need to be able to really interact with people and astonish them.
Doug: Russell, your thoughts, and maybe reflecting on your mission. What was astonishing, and what do you hope will astonish people who will take this to heart?
Russell: Well I think, during my mission Elder Hillam came and visited our mission and taught us as missionaries. He, at one point, pounded his fist on the table and he said, “You preach a strong gospel. And if you are not going to preach a strong gospel you should go home.” And it just really impacted me and I realized the importance of really being bold and recognizing the power and authority that missionaries have been given, and going out and teaching people with that same kind of power and authority. And it is something that, right from that moment on, really changed my mission and the impact I was able to have on people and be able to see them start to respond to that bold testimony.
Doug: Uh-hmm. It has been a joy to have you both with us. What a pleasure to have you here in the studio together. Brad Wilcox, his son, Russell Wilcox. Again, the title of the book — Raising Ourselves to the Bar: Practical Advice and Encouragement for the Next Generation of Missionaries and their Parents. I wish you both, as we approach this holiday season, the very, very best. Thank you for sharing your gifts and your skills with us.
Brad: And thank you.
- Running Time: 312 minutes
- Number of Discs: 4
About the Authors
Brad Wilcox is a professor of teacher education at BYU, where he also works with Especially for Youth and Education Week programs. He served a mission to Chile and later presided over the Chile Santiago East Mission. He currently serves as a member of the Sunday School general board. Brad and his wife, Debi, are the parents of four children and grandparents of three. He is also the author of The Continuous Atonement and The Continuous Conversion.
THE BOOK OF MORMON
“What’s a sickle?” That is the question elders and sister missionaries were asked by Elder D. Todd Christofferson of the Presidency of the Seventy. He had been assigned to reorganize a stake in Santiago and while there also consented to speak to the missionaries. During his talk, he referred to the fourth section of the Doctrine and Covenants where missionaries are instructed, “For behold the field is white already to harvest; and lo, he that thrusteth in his sickle with his might, the same layeth up in store that he perisheth not, but bringeth salvation to his soul” (v. 4).
The missionaries were slow to respond. Most had not come from farming backgrounds and were not sure what a sickle was. Even those who had grown up on farms were unfamiliar with this simple hand tool, which was commonly used before the development of the large machinery of today. Some had seen pictures of wheat being cut with an implement that had a curved blade and finally concluded that a sickle is a tool used to harvest grain.
Elder Christofferson verified the answer and then asked, “Now, what’s our sickle? What tool are we using to harvest?”
One missionary raised his hand and responded with confidence: “Our sickle is the Book of Mormon.”
Elder Christofferson agreed. He then bore testimony of the power of that tool and the abundant harvest that awaits us when we use it effectively. A sickle is a unique tool that gathers, cuts, and harvests. The Book of Mormon does the same thing.GATHERING
The long, curved blade on the sickle allows workers to efficiently cut a large swath of wheat in one swipe. In testifying of Jesus Christ, the Book of Mormon touches hearts and souls, gathering believers from every nation and culture. The title page of the Book of Mormon says it was written “to the convincing of the Jew and Gentile that Jesus is the Christ, the Eternal God, manifesting himself unto all nations.”
One young woman said, “I recently joined the Church of Jesus Christ, but I had been blessed to grow up in a religious home. We learned lots of songs about Jesus and how he loves everyone. Still, even when I was little, I thought it was strange that if he loved everyone, he would come only to the people who lived in ancient Israel. I never said anything about it, but it was a thought that crossed my mind. Imagine my surprise when one day my friends asked, ‘Did you know that Jesus Christ came to the Americas after his death and resurrection in the Holy Land?’”
Her Mormon friends showed her the scripture in John where Jesus says, “And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd” (John 10:16).
The young woman said, “It was as if they had read my private childhood thoughts. I was thrilled to think that Jesus had gone to others besides the people in Jerusalem. I thought of those songs I had learned about how Jesus loved everyone. They really were true.”
The Savior commanded his disciples, “Go ye into all the world” (Mark 16:15). Since when did Jesus ever expect from his disciples something he was unwilling to do himself? Just as he was baptized as an example, he also went into all the world as an example.
In 2 Nephi 29:8 we read, “Know ye not that the testimony of two nations is a witness unto you that I am God, that I remember one nation like unto another? Wherefore, I speak the same words unto one nation like unto another. And when the two nations shall run together the testimony of the two nations shall run together also.”CUTTING
A sickle is a sharp instrument that cuts the wheat. The Book of Mormon is also a sharp tool that cuts through years of apostasy, false perceptions of God and Christ, and mistranslations of the
Bible. Elder Dallin H. Oaks has said, “Written by inspiration,
[the Book of Mormon] is an unfailing antidote for the doctrinal confusion and behavioral excesses of our day.”16
Not only does the book speak of Christ’s visit to the Americas, but of prophets who wrote clearly of Christ’s teachings, divinity, atonement, resurrection, and relationship to us. Their record reverberates with his name and spirit on every page. In fact, the Book of Mormon speaks about Christ on the average of every 1.7 verses. It mentions the Atonement more than any other scripture: thirty-six times, compared to only once in the New Testament, three times in the Pearl of Great Price, and eleven times in the Doctrine and Covenants.
When Grandma and Grandpa Wilcox were on their mission in Macon, Georgia, one of their assignments was to deliver copies of the Book of Mormon to those who requested them after viewing a televised Church commercial. One evening they found an address they had been given, approached the front door, and knocked.
A man answered and asked them who they were. Grandma said, “We are missionaries of the Church of Jesus Christ and are here to deliver the copy of the Book of Mormon you ordered.” She showed him the book.
“Well,” he said. “What is it?”
Grandma explained, “This is the Book of Mormon. It is another testament of Jesus Christ.”
To which the man responded, “Another testament? Why another testament? Jesus has the Bible. That’s testament enough.”
Grandpa asked, “How many Christian churches are there?”
The man responded, “Maybe two or three hundred. Perhaps even as many as four hundred.”
“In actuality,” said Grandpa, “there are thousands—thousands of Christian denominations—all testifying of Christ in thousands of different ways, all interpreting the same Bible and doctrine in thousands of different ways. Maybe another testament of Christ is exactly what we need.” The man accepted the book.
In Jesus’ time there were faithful Jews who loved the Old Testament and expressed feelings similar to those of this man. When those Jews heard early New Testament Saints speak of their faith in Christ and new revelations, some probably feared such testimonies threatened to replace the Old Testament. However, believers learned it was not necessary to reject the old in order to believe the new. The two testaments complemented each other and were written to the same end—each testifying of Jesus Christ. Ultimately the two separate collections of sacred writings were brought together—literally bound together—so that many have come to think of them as one book.
In the same way, the Book of Mormon is not to displace the Bible but to be a second witness of the truths contained therein. It is interesting to note that having gone through only one (inspired) translation, the Book of Mormon in many, many instances teaches gospel principles more clearly than the Bible.
But there is another reason for the existence of the Book of Mormon. Paul the Apostle restated an ancient standard of truth when he said: “In the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be established” (2 Corinthians 13:1). The Bible is one witness of Christ, and the Book of Mormon is another, both testifying that God is the same yesterday, today, and forever.
One missionary testified, “The Book of Mormon changes lives. It tells it like it is and that’s what the world needs. It’s not a politically correct book. It speaks the truth with clarity, and it is not afraid of offending those who need to be offended. I’ve seen people change their lives because of that book. It has changed mine.”
Another enthusiastic missionary said, “The Book of Mormon has a voice and it is more powerful than ours. It can say things in a strong way. Our voices might reach someone’s ears, but the Book of Mormon is the voice that cuts right to someone’s core.”
Yet another missionary felt the sharpness of this harvesting tool in his own life. He said, “In the world, time is divided between before and after Christ. My life can be divided into before I read the Book of Mormon and after I read it because that is when I became aware of Christ in my world.”
A sickle gathers and cuts, but not without purpose. Its purpose is to harvest. The Book of Mormon is not meant to be just another interesting or inspirational book. Its purpose is also to harvest. Like every missionary’s purpose, the Book of Mormon’s purpose is to “invite others to come unto Christ by helping them receive the restored gospel.”17
This purpose is accomplished not only by the inclusive nature of the book and the powerful and clear doctrine it contains, but also by how it came to be. In its ability to harvest, the origin of the book is as powerful as its content.
The Bible came to us through the sacrifice of many people over the centuries, but the Book of Mormon came to us from an angel. The Bible was translated by many scholars and saints using their experience, talents, and abilities. The Book of Mormon was translated by Joseph Smith, a young man with little formal education who had no experience, talent, or innate ability when it came to translating ancient texts. The book came to us, as we are told right on the title page, by “the gift and power of God.” For that reason the book stands as convincing evidence that Joseph Smith was a prophet—an ordinary man through whom God did extraordinary things. There simply is no other satisfactory explanation for the book’s existence.
Joseph Smith is not the only person in frontier America to claim visions. During his youth an exciting religious revolution was sweeping the country. Many claimed to have had visions and organized new churches. Why is it, then, that Joseph’s claims are still heard throughout the world while most of the others have long since been ignored and forgotten? What did Joseph provide that no one else provided to substantiate his claims?
The Book of Mormon is a tangible evidence we can hold in our hands to support the intangible visions we did not witness. It contains 500 pages filled with complex literary structures and parallels to much that is known about the old world. There are three dating systems, 300 references to chronology, and 700 references to geography, which are all maintained with amazing consistency. Add to this the fact that Joseph was an uneducated farm boy and produced the manuscript in about 90 days, sometimes translating up to ten pages a day. It took 47 scholars four years to translate the King James Version of the Bible at a rate of about one page a day.
The book Joseph translated was not about some futuristic place or event. It is a record of the past. Some religious writers find it safe to muse about the Second Coming or heaven since no one can discredit their predictions. However, a book about the past is different. It opens itself to inspection—even scrutiny—and as many times as the Book of Mormon has been under the magnifying glass, it has always held up.
Some readers feel uncomfortable as they find out how Joseph translated the ancient record. They read how he used interpreters called the Urim and Thummim as well as a seer stone. The mention of such objects in today’s world raises eyebrows, to say the least.
I once spoke to a group of seminary students who had questions about the Urim and Thummim. They were skeptical and wanted to know what these interpreters looked like and how they functioned. I am admittedly no expert on the subject, but I explained how they have been described by those who viewed them—something like a special set of glasses through which Joseph could look that in some way allowed him to know what the translation should be.
Then I asked the students how many had seen a popular movie at the time called National Treasure. The film tells the story of several treasure seekers who discovered an invisible map on the back of the original copy of the Declaration of Independence of the United States of America. The treasure hunters were aided in their search by a set of glasses supposedly invented by Benjamin Franklin through which they could look and see a map no one else could see.
I asked the young people, “How is it that most people who watch that movie will buy into the idea that a pair of glasses exists that allow people to see an invisible map, yet when we talk about ‘glasses’ with which Joseph could translate, most people dismiss the idea as impossible?”
This fictional movie grossed millions and ignited the imagination of viewers who had never before considered that there might be a hidden map and a way to view it. For a few hours in a movie theater, people were willing to open their minds to the possibility of “What if?” Yet, when we speak of Joseph Smith, many people close their minds and will not even give his claims the time they would spend watching a movie. They refuse to suspend judgment long enough to even consider the chance that, in this case, fact could be more compelling than fiction.
The seminary students asked me about the seer stone. One young woman said, “On the Internet there was something that said that Joseph claimed he translated using a seer stone interchangeably with the interpreters.” I explained that Joseph indeed used both. The seer stone was described by those who saw it as being a small stone, about the size of an egg. It was not black, but was dark in color. Apparently, as Joseph translated, words would appear on the stone in English—so clearly that Joseph could actually read them and even spell them for his scribes when there was a question.
The girl said, “A stone? The size of an egg? Dark in color? With writing that would appear on it? How are we supposed to get people to believe that?”
I asked her to please pull her cell phone out of her pocket and then said, “It looks like your cell phone is hard like a stone and about the size of an egg. It’s dark in color and has words that appear on it that you can read. How are people ever going to believe that?”
Though many people wish for a more academic or reasonable explanation of the translation process, they don’t realize that such an explanation would weaken rather than strengthen the book’s impact. Consider the Dead Sea Scrolls. They were discovered by a shepherd boy in 1947. He saw no angel who led him to the place where the scrolls were buried. Rather, he stumbled upon the cave. The scrolls have been translated by some of the most knowledgeable and respected scholars of our time. In fact, professors at Brigham Young University have been enormously helpful in the translation and preservation of those ancient records. The story of the discovery and translation of the Dead Sea Scrolls is reasonable and acceptable. Unlike the Book of Mormon, the Dead Sea Scrolls have caused little controversy, but they have also had little impact. We don’t mean to disrespect the amazing find or the fascinating contents of the scrolls. Historically, it was a discovery of great significance. However, we have yet to meet or even hear about one person whose life was changed or who got baptized or went to the temple because they read the Dead Sea Scrolls.
Conversely, the Book of Mormon’s existence cannot be separated from stories of angels, interpreters, seer stones, and even the appearance of God and Jesus. Were it just a book filled with the teachings of ancient prophets, it would be no more valuable to us than the Dead Sea Scrolls. The Book of Mormon is evidence that there are prophets in our day, that God continues to reveal himself to man. That truly sets it apart.
The influence of both the Book of Mormon’s teachings and its origin are explained in a wonderful book by Terryl L. Givens, By the Hand of Mormon: The American Scripture That Launched a New World Religion.18 In that book the author also discusses the importance of the witnesses of the Book of Mormon. Before reading that book, I had never considered why the testimony of the three and eight are separated. Why is there not one statement signed by all eleven? Givens points out that the three witnesses did not see only the plates but also an angel, and they even heard the voice of God, declaring the truthfulness of the book. The testimony of the eight “is lacking in any traces of supernaturalism. Joseph Smith simply showed them the plates, allowing them to make their own examination and draw their own conclusions.”19 They saw the plates, handled them, described them, and even “hefted” them.
Givens writes, “Taken together, the two experiences seemed calculated to provide an evidentiary spectrum, satisfying a range of criteria for belief. The reality of the plates was now confirmed by both proclamation from heaven and by empirical observation, through a supernatural vision and by simple, tactile experience.”20 Those who would choose to disregard the supernatural as unbelievable cannot disregard the empirical observation, and the acceptance of one witness leads us to examine the other with increased interest.
In 2 Corinthians 13:1 we read, “In the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be established.” Not only does this speak of the need for both the Bible and the Book of Mormon, it also speaks of the need for various witnesses of the Book of Mormon. The first witness is found in the combined testimony of three. The second witness is found in the combined testimony of eight. Add to them a third, that of Joseph Smith himself, and we have twelve—a quorum of twelve—establishing the word.
The introduction to the Book of Mormon makes it clear that as we come to know its truthfulness by the power of the Holy Ghost, we can also come to know that Joseph Smith is a prophet and that Jesus lives and has restored the fullness of his gospel in preparation for his second coming.
Such remarkable news can be accepted or rejected, but either way, it demands that we take sides. The Book of Mormon cannot be apathetically brushed aside like the Dead Sea Scrolls. Because of how the book came to be, we cannot ignore its teachings without facing serious consequences. The book is a call to action, a call to change. Those who pay little attention to the Book of Mormon are not just missing an interesting bit of history. They are literally missing salvation.AN EFFECTIVE TOOL
The Book of Mormon is an effective tool in the work of bringing souls to Christ and giving them the power to make positive changes. It is amazing to see the impact it has and the difference it makes in the lives of those who are willing to read, ponder, and pray.
One missionary confessed, “I completed reading the Book of Mormon again yesterday. Independent of anything said by others—whether prophets or anti-Mormon street preachers—I have read the book for myself, and have my own testimony of it. I can say that I have learned more from that book than any other. I have become a better person as a result of reading it.”
One convert, still dripping wet from his baptism, testified, “The Book of Mormon is proof that Jesus was resurrected and lives. Not just because he showed himself in the Americas. Not just because he showed himself to Joseph Smith, but because now he is alive for me. Jesus was dead in my life, but the Book of Mormon brought him to life for me.”
Two elders were knocking on doors, and a man told them he wasn’t interested so they moved on. Several minutes later, the same man caught up to them, carrying a copy of the Book of Mormon in his hand. He said, “When I moved into my house I found this book as I was cleaning. Would you tell me what it is?” The missionaries were happy to do so, and soon the man was progressing toward baptism. The missionaries were grateful for the member or missionary who placed that book with someone in that house, never suspecting that the one who was ready to receive it would be the next home owner.
Another set of missionaries taught a man and offered to give him a copy of the Book of Mormon. The man thought the title sounded familiar, so he hurried to his shelf and retrieved a copy someone had given him thirty years before. When he later joined the Church, he said, “For thirty years I had this book in my home, but now I have it in my heart. I am sad to think I could have had the truth thirty years ago if I had just opened the book that was already sitting on my shelf.”
A sickle can be a useful and effective tool, but it does little good hanging unused in the toolshed. Even in the field it will not be productive for those who choose to wave it aimlessly in the air or casually brush it across the top of the wheat. Even the greatest of harvesting tools requires the thrust of a worker who knows how to use the tool and does so with all his might. Only then does “the same layeth up in store that he perisheth not, but bringeth salvation to his soul” (D&C 4:4).WHAT I TRIED
There is so much confusion in the world about Jesus Christ. Some say he never existed at all. Others claim he was a prophet and a great teacher, but they don’t think he was the son of God. Even many religious leaders doubt his divinity. On the other hand, some claim that he was a God who came to earth but never experienced mortal life as we know it.
Once I saw an article in a magazine that claimed to “expose the real Jesus” by saying that the words and teachings we attribute to him really came from his disciples at best and at worst were all made up by some monks in the Middle Ages. The article claimed that Christ never performed miracles. He didn’t walk on water. He waded in it. He didn’t heal the lame, but simply ministered to them and helped them feel better about themselves. It is not uncommon to hear the events of Christ’s life as recorded in the Bible explained away by some as being nothing more than folktales—legends or fantastical stories passed down through the ages that became more exaggerated with every telling.
Such are the perspectives and beliefs that confront our children on all sides. That is why is it is so vital that our children come to know that the Book of Mormon provides a true perception of Jesus. Many LDS children love the stories of the Book of Mormon, and Debi and I shared them with our children, too. It is important that they know the characters and events. However, we also tried to point out the purpose of those stories is to teach us about the character and attributes of Christ—who he was, what he did, and the role he plays in our lives today. We wanted our children to know the stories, but more importantly, we wanted them to find Christ through the Book of Mormon.
Susan Easton Black wrote, “Unfortunately, many readers settle for something far less than finding Christ in the Book of Mormon. Failing to find the key, they fail to recognize the reason that has moved missionaries, pioneers, and Latter-day Saints to devote all to the quest. These Saints have discovered that the Book of Mormon is an amazingly rich and powerful witness of Jesus Christ.”21
How do we know Jesus actually gave the Sermon on the Mount and that it was not made up by some monk in the Middle Ages? Because Jesus gave the same sermon almost word for word in the Americas. How do we know Jesus was actually divine and that he performed miracles and wasn’t just a “really nice guy”? Because the Book of Mormon testifies, “The time cometh, and is not far distant, that with power, the Lord Omnipotent who reigneth, who was, and is from all eternity to all eternity, shall come down from heaven among the children of men, and shall dwell in a tabernacle of clay, and shall go forth amongst men, working mighty miracles. . . . And he shall be called Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (Mosiah 3: 5, 8).
While we served our mission in Chile, my youngest children, Whitney and David, attended an international school in Santiago. We appreciated the wonderful teachers and the multicultural environment. However, Whitney and David quickly realized that many of the teachers and students thought differently than they did. Our kids had to learn to defend their positions on everything from alcohol and drugs to gay marriage.
One day Whitney’s teacher made the comment that he did not believe in God or Jesus. The teacher said, “There is no proof that either God or Jesus exist.” Many in the class probably felt differently, but none voiced their opinions—except Whitney, who raised her hand and said, “But there is proof.”
The teacher said, “Really? Proof besides your own belief?”
Whitney said, “Yes, it’s called the Book of Mormon.”
Of course, the teacher brushed her words aside. Not being familiar with the book’s teachings or origin, he was unable to understand Whitney’s comment. But the important thing is that Whitney understood. She recognized that the Book of Mormon is indeed tangible evidence that God and Jesus live, love us, and lead us today.
I am proud of my younger sister and brother who learned to stand up for themselves against opposition. I don’t think I would have had the courage to do that at their ages. It took me a lot longer to arrive where they are in their testimonies.
I don’t think I fully appreciated what the Book of Mormon is and what it can do until right before my mission. I had the opportunity to be in Chile for a few weeks before I entered the MTC on my way to Málaga. While I was there, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland spoke to all the missionaries. I was excited for the opportunity to participate in the conference even though I was not yet a full-time missionary. I took careful notes as Elder Holland taught about how God’s work must be done in God’s way. I listened intently as Elder Holland focused on the power of the Book of Mormon in the conversion process. In the middle of his talk he stopped, looked down from the pulpit directly at me, and said, “Russell, you take the Book of Mormon to the people of Málaga.” He then went right on with his talk without missing a beat. I replayed his words many times in my mind.
When I arrived in Spain, I realized why he emphasized the Book of Mormon. Without exception those investigators who progressed toward baptism were those who read the Book of Mormon. Not once did I see an investigator get baptized who had not had a spiritual experience with the Book of Mormon beforehand.
When my companion and I moved into a new apartment, our landlady, Adela, welcomed us warmly. She was eighty years old, had white hair, and though she was not a member of the Church, she had a copy of the Book of Mormon. A few years earlier some missionaries had given her a copy but never explained to her what it was or why it was important. As we began to teach Adela more about the importance of the book, she got really excited about reading it. When we came home for lunch we’d find her reading the book, and at night we’d hear her turning pages. She took notes and asked us lots of questions when we’d teach her. As her testimony grew, she decided to get baptized.
Adela joined the Church in November of 2005—the same year that President Hinckley had issued his challenge to the Saints to read the Book of Mormon before the end of the year. After Adela’s baptism we told her of the prophet’s direction and the promises that awaited those who followed through. During the Christmas holidays, she went to her daughter’s house to spend the vacation with family. However, she hadn’t quite finished reading the Book of Mormon. On New Year’s Eve she asked her daughter to take her home early so she could finish the book before the end of the year as the prophet instructed. The next day she grabbed my shoulders with both arms and said, “Thank you for coming into my life and for bringing this book to me.”
While working in the area of Fuengirola, we had a car and always kept a few extra copies of the Book of Mormon in the back seat. One day a young man about our age saw the Book of Mormon through the back window as he walked by and asked us if he could have a copy. We eagerly obliged and marked a few chapters for him to read. We learned his name was Shoucri and wrote down his phone number to see if he had questions later on. A few days later we called Shoucri and not only had he read the chapters we’d marked, but he had also started reading straight through from the beginning. He told us that he’d had a dream similar to Lehi’s a few years earlier, but hadn’t understood it until then. Shoucri continued reading in the Book of Mormon because he said doing so made him happy.
After attending church for several weeks, he asked me about “this baptism thing” he kept reading about. His question made me feel like a batter in a game of baseball who had just been thrown a very slow pitch. My companion and I taught him about baptism and just as we were getting ready to commit him to a date he asked, “So, when can I be baptized?” I felt like I was living inside a New Era article. On the day of Shoucri’s baptism, he gave away over twenty copies of the Book of Mormon with his testimony written inside it to nonmember friends he’d invited to the ordinance.
When Preach My Gospel came out during the first months of
my mission, I wasn’t at all surprised to read, “The Book of Mormon, combined with the Spirit, is your most powerful resource in conversion.”22
I grew up hearing Book of Mormon stories, quoting verses, and reading in the Book of Mormon. Even so, it wasn’t until my mission that I was able to internalize the powerful message of the book and witness for myself its impact in changing lives. In following Elder Holland’s direction to “take the Book of Mormon to the people of Málaga,” I was able to fully appreciate the unique sickle God has provided us to use in the work of saving his children.KEYS TO ACTION
What Can We Do FOR Young People?
Perhaps one of the greatest things we can teach young people is that when it comes to a testimony of truth they don’t have to take our word for it. They can know for themselves. The Book of Mormon itself contains this assurance: “And if [these] are not the words of Christ, judge ye—for Christ will show unto you, with power and great glory, that they are his words” (2 Nephi 33:11).
Moroni’s promise is not just good news for investigators. It is good news also for young Latter-day Saints who have grown up memorizing the Articles of Faith and attending church and seminary but who still need to know for themselves. The assurance that “by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things” (Moroni 10:5) is a promise to member and nonmember, adult and teenager, teacher and student. The God who inspired Moroni to write that promise is the same God who later sent Moroni to Joseph Smith, and he is the same God who will fulfill the promise in the lives of those who seek with real intent.
What Can We Do WITH Young People?
It is not easy for some young people to share a copy of the Book of Mormon with their friends, but the experience can be extremely beneficial for the recipient as well as satisfying for the giver. They just need some coaching on how to do it effectively. We know of one elementary school girl who gave her teacher a Book of Mormon as a Christmas gift. When she handed him the present she said, “I’m sorry if you don’t like it, but my mom made me give it to you.” Interestingly enough, the teacher did like it, later joined the Church, and has thanked his former student and her family many times for their gift. Still, let’s try to do a little better than “My mom made me give it to you.”
A similarly ineffective approach is to put the book on a doorstep, ring the doorbell, and run away. We get a lot further with a person if in delivering the book we tell him why we appreciate or admire him, explain what the Book of Mormon is, and then share our own feelings—our testimony—of the book.
Consider the young man who invited his nonmember friend to a youth conference. The visitor enjoyed the dances, activities, and workshops. As the conference was coming to an end, the member thanked his friend for coming. He said, “We have been friends for a long time, but I don’t think I have ever actually thanked you for being such a great friend. You know I am a Mormon, but maybe you don’t know why people call us that. It’s because of the Book of Mormon. It is the record of God’s dealings with the ancient people of the Americas just as the Bible is the record of God’s dealings with the people in the eastern hemisphere. The Book of Mormon tells about when Jesus visited the Americas.”
The boy didn’t go into an overview of the whole book. He didn’t mention the names of any of the prophets, which his friend wouldn’t have recognized. He just explained that it was a book, similar to the Bible, that talked about Jesus. That is all it takes.
Finally, the boy told his friend, “I may not be the best example for you all the time, but I want you to know that my life is better when I read this book and apply what I read. I am happier when I try to live by its teachings. That feeling assures me that the Book of Mormon is true, and that’s why I want to share a copy with you.”
What Can Young People Do BY THEMSELVES?
Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles spoke to young people in a Church Educational System fireside on February 4, 2007, in which he told the young people that the scriptures are their key to accessing living water. He told them that along with reading the scriptures straight through to become familiar with them, they also need to explore and apply the scriptures. He suggested studying by topic and also by looking for patterns and connections.23
One young man who had recently received his mission call and had gone through the temple took Elder Bednar’s advice. He said that until he started looking for themes in his reading, he never realized how many scriptures there were just on the first four principles of the gospel. He used the Topical Guide and also the footnotes. He began to see for himself how the Bible and the Book of Mormon go hand in hand. He also noticed similarities between how Nephi obtained the brass plates and how we gain our own testimonies. He saw fascinating connections between the temple endowment and King Benjamin’s address. He noticed patterns in the way the various missionaries in the Book of Mormon taught the people. He became excited at the possibility of following these same patterns in his own mission. Along with examining the missionaries, he also found similarities among converts. He saw similarities in how Alma was born again and how King Lamoni came to a knowledge of the truth.
He said, “The words are the same words that have always been there, but now I see things I have never seen before. It’s like the Liahona that had ‘new writing, which was plain to be read, which did give us understanding concerning the ways of the Lord; and it was written and changed from time to time, according to the faith and diligence which we gave unto it’” (1 Nephi 16:29).
The insight from both a father and a son make this book one of the best for mission prep and life.
by Russell - reviewed on October 31, 2007
This book is excellent! Brad Wilcox always does an amazing job, and I was really impressed with his son as well. I enjoyed the insight from both a father's perspective as well as a son's. I felt like it was full of great ideas, effective suggestions, and it wasn't the same things we hear over and over when talking about missionary prep. I would definitely recommend this book!