Plain and precious testimonies, in word and deed

Stevenson Devotional

Devotional Talk Given at  
Brigham Young University-Hawaii 

September 21, 2010
Gary E. Stevenson  
Area President
Asia North

We feel blessed to be with President Wheelwright, Brother Bill Neal, a longtime family friend, and all of you on this beautiful BYU Hawaii campus-paradise in Paradise.

I am reminded of my time here many years ago. Earlier, we walked by the dormitory where I lived for three months as a young missionary learning Japanese, attending the LTM. My mind was flooded with memories of my struggles learning the Japanese language, and my many prayers asking for help. I think the walls of those buildings are sacred, having witnessed the struggles and miracles of the modern-day restoration.

I begin today with an experience.

There was a sense of excitement among the contingent of foreign students who had been accepted to university level coursework at two prestigious Japanese institutions. For many, this was the realization of a dream to study in Japan; they were enrolled in coursework to deepen their understanding of the culture and language. Others viewed it as a stepping stone to eventual employment in Japan. Each had left the familiarity of homes and families to study in a foreign country. Undergraduate and graduate students alike, were ready for the start of a new school year. The majority of foreign students accepted in the respective programs were from North America, although students also hailed from other international locations. Because of the close proximity of the two universities, the foreign student community in this Japanese city was rather large.
Word of a party to be held on the rooftop of a private residence that night soon spread among these students. It was an open invitation to the foreign student population, designed as a social icebreaker to celebrate the beginning of their new academic adventure.

Numbered among this group was a dear friend of mine, John. He too, like the others, felt blessed to have been accepted into this Japanese university, and he had left his home in Canada to begin his graduate studies. When he and his two friends got word of the roof-top party, they considered it a chance to connect with fellow students with whom they would be studying, and to become acquainted with many who would be attending the neighboring school. As day turned to night, they made their way to the advertised address.

Following an elevator ride to the top floor of the building, John and his two friends navigated the single narrow stairway which led to the rooftop gathering space. They stepped into a scene of fellow students abuzz with the excitement of the moment. As the night wore on, the atmosphere began to turn from wholesome to rowdy. Noise and music grew louder as alcohol found its way onto the rooftop. John's enjoyment of the activity began to sour. As he framed his thoughts to suggest to his friends that they leave, someone on the rooftop began organizing the students into a large circle. The purpose for this soon became clear. "We will start with me, and each of you will get a chance to draw on a marijuana cigarette as we pass it around the circle," an unknown figure announced to everyone. John grimaced at this development. He quickly informed his two friends that he not only was uncomfortable with the activity, but thought they should immediately leave the party. Both friends protested at this announcement. "John, if we leave now, everyone here will see us." His two friends further explained that they did not intend to smoke the illegal drugs, and some others on the rooftop would likely not do so either. Almost in ridicule, one friend said, "John, this is easy; all we do is stand in the circle and when it is our turn, we just pass it along rather than smoke it." He further rationalized, "This way, we're not embarrassed, being seen leaving by everyone, and we haven't done anything illegal." John became emphatic at this point. "I am not going to stay; you can come with me if you like, but I am leaving, now!" he replied.

With this announcement, John's friends made their decisions. The first friend joined the dubious circle. The second friend reluctantly joined John. Visible to all of their peers now in the circle, they departed down the stairs to catch the elevator one floor below.

Much to the surprise of John and his friend, the elevator doors opened and a group of officers of the local Japanese police force moved quickly from the elevator to ascend the stairs to the rooftop. As this scene unfolded before them, one of the officers barked a command to another who abruptly grabbed the hands of John and his friend and smelled their fingers. "Leave now," he grunted as John and his companion quickly boarded the elevator to the street below. As the police appeared at the top of the stairs, the students quickly disposed of the illegal drugs by throwing them off the roof. Sealing the only exit from the rooftop, the officers began their interrogation. This came at the protest of many students who claimed innocence, describing that they had not done any illegal drugs. Undaunted, the officers lined up everyone on the roof and announced how they would determine offenders of the law. They asked each student to extend both of their hands. The officers then walked in front of each student and smelled their thumbs and index fingers. The smell of the foul smoke on their fingers was their indictment of guilt. This method cast a broad net over all those who stood in the circle, both those who smoked, and those, like John's friend, who just held and passed.

The consequences of this fateful night were substantial. Almost without exception, each of the students on the rooftop, including John's friend who chose to stay, were expelled from their respective universities. The instigators of the drug use, convicted of a crime, were deported from Japan, with a prohibition of return for ten years. Years of preparation, dreams of an education and future employment in Japan, were dashed with finality in a moment.

For John and his friend who left the party, it was bittersweet. They were deeply saddened as they saw the consequences of the actions of their fellow students played out. They were humbled and grateful for their own courage that night, responding in the Lord's way in their moment of truth.
John's friend, not a member of the Church, who reluctantly departed the party that night with him, finished school in Japan, and went on to earn degrees from two top-tier universities in the USA. His career took him back to Asia where he has enjoyed immense professional success. He recently saw John and commented on how grateful he was that John followed the precepts of his faith, and convinced him to "depart from the rooftop" that fateful night.1

The consequences in John's life are immeasurable. His future was shaped by the time spent in Japan earning his graduate degree that year. He now marvels how this led to his marriage to his wife and subsequently the birth of his children, and to his very successful professional career which has been centered mostly in Japan. "Stand ye in holy places," "clean hands and a pure heart," and "be not ashamed" (D&C 87:8, Psalms 24:4, D&C 90:17) are scriptures which stir John's memory of the rooftop party each time he hears them. One can only imagine how different his life would have been had he been expelled from school and sent home in shame.

What about each of you?

How do you respond to moments of truth in your life? There is a considerable difference between sitting and doing nothing, and standing and doing what is right.
I would like to relate another experience as told by a university professor, Kevin Mumford, when he was a young high school-age boy:

My turn in the line came, and the official-looking woman asked for my name. She looked at her list and said, "So you're the young man from Utah."

"You mean I'm the only one?" I asked.

"Yes, you're our only student here from Utah." She then handed me my nametag with a bold

"Utah" printed below my name. As I clipped it on, I felt like I was being branded.

I walked to the hotel elevators with my luggage. Five other high school students with nametags like mine crowded into the elevator. "Hey, you're from Utah. Are you a Mormon?" said a tall guy.
I felt out of place with all of these student leaders from all over the country. "Yes," I hesitantly admitted.

"Yeah, my minister told me all about you. You're the guys who believe in John Smith and his golden glasses, right?"

"I think you mean Joseph Smith," I responded.

"Yeah, that's right. He's the one who said he saw all those angels and stuff. You don't actually believe any of that, do you?"

I didn't even know what to say. The other students in the elevator were all staring right at me. I had just arrived, and already everyone thought I was different. I became a little defensive and spoke up.

"I know that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God."

Where had that come from? I wondered. I didn't know I had it in me. But the words felt true as they left my mouth.

"Yeah, my minister told me that you were all just a bunch of religious nuts," he said.

With that, there was an uncomfortable pause as the elevator door opened to our floor. As we gathered our luggage, the tall student walked down the hall laughing to himself. I felt a little humiliated.

Right then, a voice from behind me asked, "Hey, don't Mormons have some sort of another Bible?"

Oh no. Here we go again, I thought. I turned to see one of the students who had been in the elevator with me, a very tan guy named Christopher from California.

"It's called the Book of Mormon," I said, half wanting to drop the subject. I picked up my bags and started walking down the hall.

"Is that the book that Joseph Smith translated?" Christopher asked.

"Yeah, it is," I answered. I kept on walking, not wanting to embarrass myself any more.

"Well, do you know how I could get one?"

A phrase from a scripture that had been taught to me by my ninth-grade seminary teacher suddenly came to my mind. "I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ" (Romans 1:16). As this thought entered my mind, I felt ashamed that I had been so embarrassed.

For the rest of my week with all of the student leaders, that same scripture wouldn't leave my mind. I was asked all sorts of questions about the Church, and I made many friends. As I answered the questions that I could, I discovered I was proud of my religion. I think I learned as much about myself as they did.

I gave Christopher a Book of Mormon, and he later wrote to me, telling me he had invited the missionaries to his home.

I learned that I don't have to be embarrassed by my beliefs. I know this is the true gospel of Christ, and I am not ashamed of it.2

These two stories are examples of testimonies, one born by word and one born by deed. Opportunities to bear our testimony come in different times and places. There is great power when a testimony is born properly. At times we feel uncertain, what to say and do, or how to say and do it.

While I speak to you throughout the remainder of this devotional, I would like you to reflect upon your testimony. As you do this, I have three areas I would like to address:

1. What is a testimony?
2. How do we properly bear our testimony?
3. What are the obstacles to bearing our testimony?

What is a Testimony?
First of all, a testimony is knowledge or spiritual witness of truth given to us by the Holy Ghost. Receipt of this knowledge will change the things we say and the things we do.
A testimony is composed of key elements of truth of which the Holy Ghost will bear witness. A Church resource of which many of you are familiar, True to the Faith, identifies those key elements of truth:

The foundation of a testimony is the knowledge that Heavenly Father lives and loves us; that Jesus Christ lives, that He is the Son of God, and that He carried out the infinite Atonement; that Joseph Smith is the prophet of God who was called to restore the gospel; that we are led by a living prophet today; and that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the Savior's true Church on the earth.3

Thus, we see that the foundation of a testimony is comprised of precepts that are the "root structure of the gospel."

How do we properly bear our testimony?
When we share our spiritual knowledge or our spiritual witness, to others, we "bear our testimony." Likewise, when others observe our righteous behavior, actions, or deeds, this also is a way we "bear our testimony." Bearing our testimony in word or deed is a way of sharing plain and precious truths of the gospel with others. It is an invitation for others to "come unto Christ."
As members of the Church, we have opportunities to bear our spoken testimonies in formal Church meetings. Many find they do not know exactly how to articulate the stirrings of the Spirit within them when called upon to bear their testimony. I would like to provide some instruction concerning this.

We previously identified key elements of truth fundamental to bearing a testimony.
A simple way to remember these key elements is something called a testimony glove. Are any of you familiar with this?

Let me offer you some background as I put this glove on my hand. When Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve and Sister Oaks were serving in the Philippines, Sister Oaks refined a teaching method to help one recall the elements of a testimony. It involves a glove with images affixed to each finger. This is a very visual and simple aid for children and adults alike to assist in bearing a testimony. It proved to be a valuable tool as Sister Oaks taught many "how to bear a testimony" throughout all of the Philippines.

As you can see, it is really quite simple. First of all, notice the white covering of the glove over my whole hand while we review the definition of testimony: knowledge or spiritual witness given to us by the Holy Ghost. The glove represents the Holy Ghost. Now, please observe that I have a picture affixed to each of my fingers. Let's once again review the key elements of a testimony as I point to each finger:

* I know that God is our Heavenly Father and that he loves us.
* I know that his Son Jesus Christ is our Savior and Redeemer.
* I know that Joseph Smith is a prophet of God, that he restored the gospel of Jesus Christ upon the earth, and translated the Book of Mormon by the power of God.
* I know that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is God's church on the earth today.
* I know that the Church is led by a living prophet who receives revelation.

With my hand raised and fingers extended, my hand represents the five key elements of truth given to us by the Holy Ghost. The same five fingers extended, pointing downward, represent the firm and immovable root structure of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

When put in these terms, a testimony becomes simpler and more natural. We begin to focus on the truths of which the Holy Ghost will bear witness and less on such things as a recent travelogue.
As I indicated, Elder and Sister Oaks distributed testimony gloves throughout the Philippines while they lived and served there. When they returned to Salt Lake City, their travel, of course, once again extended to the four corners of the world and so did that of testimony gloves. At last count, about 70,000 gloves have been distributed in 20 languages. I can testify of this labor of love by them. While I have been assigned in the Asia North Area, we have had the blessing of having Elder and Sister Oaks visit us a number of times. We have learned to be prepared when they come. Each time, they arrive with their personal belongings packed very efficiently in briefcases and rolling carry-on bags. However, we have learned to expect large, heavy luggage accompanying them also-suitcases filled with testimony gloves. These gloves have blessed the lives of Latter-day Saints around the world.

Let me also suggest one other thing: it is that you should be mindful of the audience to whom you bear your testimony so as to assure it will be understood. Recently a public opinion pollster who is also a member of the Church, Brother Gary Lawrence, gave some guidance on the subject of improving others' understanding of Mormonism. It was reported in the Church News. He suggested that we take care to use language others will understand, adding that people don't know where to find the truth "because we have not told them in words they can understand." He cited a stock statement that Church members often use: "The gospel has been restored and the keys of the priesthood are again on the earth."

In focus groups, Brother Lawrence found that the word "gospel" only conveys the same meaning that it does to Mormons to about 15 percent of non-Mormons; that is, that gospel means the totality of Christianity including its authority and doctrines. So instead, he suggested the words: "'Jesus Christ organized a church; men changed it, and it has been re-established.' If we can get that simple set of phrases across, we will have accomplished a great amount of work," Brother Lawrence declared. "If you want to put it in one sentence," he said, "'We claim to be the re-established, original Christian church.' Even an atheist can understand those words."4

What are the obstacles to bearing our testimony?

The first obstacle may be uncertainty. Mathew Cowley, an apostle of the early twentieth century, shared this experience:

"I will never forget the prayers of my father the day that I left. I have never heard a more beautiful blessing in all my life. Then his last words to me at the railroad station, 'My boy, you will go out on that mission; you will study; you will try to prepare your sermons; and sometimes when you are called upon, you will think you are wonderfully prepared, but when you stand up, your mind will go completely blank.' I have had that experience more than once.

"I said, 'What do you do when your mind goes blank?'

"He said, 'You stand up there and with all the fervor of your soul, you bear witness that Joseph Smith was a prophet of the living God, and thoughts will flood into your mind and words to your mouth, to round out those thoughts in a facility of expression that will carry conviction to the heart of everyone who listens.' And so my mind, being mostly blank during my five years in the mission field, gave me the opportunity to bear testimony to the greatest event in the history of the world since the crucifixion of the Master. Try it sometime, fellows and girls. If you don't have anything else to say, testify that Joseph Smith was the prophet of God, and the whole history of the Church will flood into your mind."5

Elder Oaks recently stated "Someone once said it is easier to gain a testimony standing and bearing it than kneeling and asking for it." The spirit bears witness to the speaker and listener alike.

Another obstacle is fear and embarrassment. President Thomas S. Monson counsels us to "teach through testimony" as he points to the examples of Peter and Paul. "Paul declared to the Romans, 'I am not afraid of the Gospel of Christ; for it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth.' The Apostle Peter urged, 'Sanctify the Lord God in your hearts; and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you.'"6

The experiences which I related earlier both demonstrate how John and Brother Mumford overcame fear and embarrassment which produced remarkable outcomes.

Many of you recall President Hinckley describing valuable counsel he received from his father: "When I left for a mission some sixty-two years ago, my good father handed me a card on which were written five words. They were the words of the Lord to the ruler of the synagogue who had received news of his daughter's death: 'Be not afraid, only believe'" (Mark 5:36).7 This counsel served as an inspiration throughout his mission.

Recently when I was out of town, my wife, Lesa, and her sister went to a movie. She felt comfortable that the movie would be appropriate based upon the rating that had been applied to it. Within a few minutes from the start, Lesa was affronted with content that was offensive to her spirit. She quickly extinguished the thought that maybe the "bad scene" was over, gathered her things, and walked out with her sister. The fear of acting boldly was drowned in the exhilaration she felt as they exited the doors of the movie theater.

President Hinckley further counseled, "Yes, this work requires sacrifice, it requires effort, it requires courage to speak out and faith to try. This cause does not need critics; it does not need doubters. It needs men and women of solemn purpose. As Paul wrote to Timothy: 'God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind. Be not therefore ashamed of the testimony of our Lord' (2 Tim. 1:7-8)."8

I currently live in Tokyo, Japan, quite near the Tokyo Temple. Whenever I get in a taxi cab in Tokyo, rather than giving my home address I immediately say, "Mormon Temple, please." I know the first response will be a look of bewilderment. I then say, "You know, the beautiful building across from the Arisugawa Park, the one with the gold statue of the angel on top." Once they know where to go, then comes my next question: "You must know who the Mormons are; you see the missionaries on their bikes with helmets and white shirts all the time, don't you?" Every cab ride leads to a discussion about the Church.

Opportunities abound everywhere. Many of your friends know you by your Facebook page. Do your Facebook friends know the really important things about you? Do your language and photos represent your testimony? The recent campaign on Mormon.org teaches us to show to people our goodness. We are honest, kind, motivated, educated, good people. We are Mormons. Make certain the image and words you use online are a testimony of your goodness and beliefs.

Brother and Sisters, in summary, as you more fully understand what a testimony is and as you practice bearing a testimony properly, you will overcome the obstacles of uncertainty and fear and embarrassment. We are blessed to have countless examples of ancient and modern-day prophets who boldly bore their testimony.

Who can forget the words of Peter when he stood before the Sanhedrin, still mourning the crucifixion of his Lord as he testified without regard to consequence?

Be it known unto you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom ye crucified, whom God raised from the dead, even by him doth this man stand here before you whole. . . . For there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved (Acts 4:10, 12).

Or Amulek standing, following Alma's sermon on faith and bearing testimony:

And now, behold, I will testify unto you of myself that these things are true. Behold, I say unto you, that I do know that Christ shall come among the children of men, to take upon him the transgressions of his people, and that he shall atone for the sins of the world; for the Lord God hath spoken it (Alma 34:8).

Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon memorialized the vision opened to them in the Kirtland Temple by recording their testimony:

And now, after the many testimonies which have been given of him, this is the testimony, last of all, which we give of him: That he lives!
For we saw him, even on the right hand of God; and we heard the voice bearing record that he is the Only Begotten of the Father-
That by him, and through him, and of him, the worlds are and were created, and the inhabitants thereof are begotten sons and daughters unto God (D&C 76:22-24).

I would like to ask each of you to try a little harder to find a place to bear your testimony, both in word and in deed. When the moment comes, be bold and stand up. You will feel the warmth of the Comforter inside when you do.

I add my testimony also:
We have a loving Heavenly Father, and we are his children.
I have faith in and a testimony of Jesus Christ and of his role as our Savior and Redeemer.
I bear witness of the restoration of the gospel; Joseph Smith is the Prophet who stands at the head of this dispensation, and the Book of Mormon is the word of God.
I bear testimony that we are the re-established, original Christian church.
I bear testimony that the Church is led by a living prophet who receives revelation, Thomas S. Monson.

Notes:
1. John, personal interview with author, September 6, 2010.
2. Kevin Mumford, "How I Know: I'm Not Ashamed ," New Era, Jan. 1996, 26.
3. True to the Faith, 178.
4. R. Scott Lloyd, "View of LDS," Church News, Aug. 14, 2010, 5.
5. Joseph Fielding McConkie, Here We Stand, (1995), 189.
6. Thomas S. Monson, "Preparation Precedes Performance," Ensign, Sep. 1993, 70.
7. Gordon B. Hinckley, "'Be Not Afraid, Only Believe'," Ensign, Feb. 1996, 2.
8. Ensign, Feb. 1996, 2.

Photo by Monique Saenz