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3 stories of faith, hope in how God fulfills His promises, BYU professor Kenneth Alford shares at Ensign College


From a prompting to share lessons about the Book of Mormon’s stripling warriors with a military division in the Middle East to a story about pioneer-era first generation Church members in Scotland immigrating to Utah and a recent experience in his own family, Kenneth L. Alford pointed out to Ensign College students and faculty how God keeps His promises. 

“That important principle is clearly and consistently taught throughout the scriptures and across the dispensations,” Alford, a BYU professor of Church history and doctrine, said during the Tuesday, Feb. 15, devotional in the Assembly Hall on Temple Square in Salt Lake City. 

In the scriptures, it is seen in the Prophet Joseph Smith’s translation of Matthew 24, the book of Lamentations and in 3 Nephi 27 during the Savior’s visit. In Doctrine and Covenants 1, the Savior declares: “What I the Lord have spoken, I have spoken, and I excuse not myself; and though the heavens and the earth pass away, my word shall not pass away, but shall all be fulfilled.” 

And in looking at how God has kept his promises in the past, people can be hopeful for the future.

“Because God has been faithful and kept His promises in the past, we can hope with confidence that God will keep His promises to us in the present and in the future,” Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles taught.

Alford noted that God’s promises to His children can be found in the scriptures, covenants, temple ordinances, patriarchal blessings and through spiritual promptings from the Holy Ghost. 

“Sometimes, though, the challenge we have in mortality centers around the fact that we would like those fulfilled sooner than later,” Alford said. 

And those promises may be fulfilled quickly, sometimes it may take years, and sometimes it may not be until after this life, he added. He shared an example of each. 

“We should always keep in mind that God has a perfect track record when it comes to keeping His promises,” Alford said. 

The stripling warriors’ example

Kenneth L. Alford, a BYU professor of Church history and doctrine, speaks during the Tuesday, Feb. 15, 2022, Ensign College devotional in the Assembly Hall on Temple Square in Salt Lake City. On the screen is a photo of Col. Richard Hatch.

Kenneth L. Alford, a BYU professor of Church history and doctrine, speaks during the Tuesday, Feb. 15, 2022, Ensign College devotional in the Assembly Hall on Temple Square in Salt Lake City. On the screen is a photo of Col. Richard Hatch.

Credit: Christine Rappleye, Church News

Richard Hatch, a U.S. Army colonel, lawyer and friend of Alford, was serving with the 101st Airborne Division in March 2003. He commanded a unit of 75 soldiers who were primarily officers who were lawyers and enlisted legal clerks. They were stationed in Kuwait near the border with Iraq.

Hatch, whose experience is shared in the “Saints at War” project, said he felt impressed to gather the soldiers and officers together and talk to them, as it was the first Army tour for many. He had prayed for days to know what to share with them, and it was on the way to the meeting that he go his answer — Helaman’s stripling warriors. He was hesitant as he didn’t want to push his religious convictions. 

Read more about Col. Hatch’s experience: ‘Saints at war: Preserving stories’

“I knew there were truths to be had from this familiar Book of Mormon story,” Alford quoted from Hatch’s experience. “Why were these young, experienced Nephite fighters able to be successful in battle having lots of wounds but no fatalities?”

Three things came to his mind: Conviction of a just cause; confidence in abilities from their upbringing and training; and obeying commands with exactness. 

Hatch said that he felt impressed to specifically talk about being in the required uniform, including flak vests, even if it was hot and uncomfortable. He also felt impressed to promise that if they obeyed with exactness, “we, like the stripling warriors, may suffer wounds but would all return alive.”

Three days later, shortly before the beginning of hostilities, grenades were rolled into tents that housed the brigade’s leadership and those leaving the tents were shot at. One of those with serious injuries was one of Hatch’s legal officers who had laid out his protective gear so he could quickly find it in the dark, if needed. The officer had heard the grenades explode in the first two tents, grabbed his vest and helmet and was leaving his tent when a grenade exploded five feet from him. While a grenade fragment penetrated his vest causing injuries, it stopped other fragments that would have been fatal. The surgeon said the officer wouldn’t have survived without his body armor.

“Rich did not have to wait long to see the fulfillment of a promise he had received from the Holy Ghost,” Alford said. 

Digging an air shaft

Kenneth L. Alford, a BYU professor of Church history and doctrine, speaks during the Tuesday, Feb. 15, 2022, Ensign College devotional in the Assembly Hall on Temple Square in Salt Lake City.

Kenneth L. Alford, a BYU professor of Church history and doctrine, speaks during the Tuesday, Feb. 15, 2022, Ensign College devotional in the Assembly Hall on Temple Square in Salt Lake City.

Credit: Ensign College

In the mid-19th century, Alford’s third great-grandparents Robert and Mary Henderson joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Penston, Scotland. Robert was a coal miner, and their family was poor and had difficulty making ends meet.

Robert was baptized seven weeks after Mary joined the Church. “During his confirmation blessing, Robert was promised that he would travel to America with his wife and children to gather with the Saints here in Utah,” Alford said. This was concerning to him as “no one could promise such a thing and expect it to come true.” 

He did remain active in the Church and served in local leadership positions. The family grew to have nine children, increasing the cost of emigration, Alford said. 

At the mine Robert was working in, many of the workers were ill due to bad air in the mine. The mining company was looking for bids to dig a new air shaft from the surface to the mine several hundred feet down. 

“You can imagine Robert’s surprise when Mary suggested that he should submit a bid,” Alford said. He didn’t own a shovel and didn’t know about bids and contracts. On his wife’s insistence, he submitted one. And he won the bid. 

“He had no idea how to begin, but Mary insisted that he must try,” Alford said. With a borrowed shovel and pick, he picked a spot and began digging, throwing the dirt over his head until the hole was deeper than he was tall. 

“Just as he was reaching the point of frustration — and most likely exhaustion because he was digging all day — he put his shovel in the ground and struck a fault,” Alford said. The fault was a large crack that extended from his hole to the mine below. “The fault sent more air rushing into the mine than a regular air shaft could have provided.”

The mining company paid Robert the full amount he asked for in his bid. And now the family had the money to go to the United States. 

“After arriving in the United States on July 19, 1863, they made their way to Utah — exactly as Robert had been promised during his confirmation blessing 14 years earlier,”  Alford said. “Even though it seemed impossible, it was fulfilled.”

Relying on eternal promises

Kenneth L. Alford, a BYU professor of Church history and doctrine, speaks during the Tuesday, Feb. 15, 2022, Ensign College devotional in the Assembly Hall on Temple Square in Salt Lake City. On the screen is a photo of his daughter Suzanne, her husband Kendall, and their four children.

Kenneth L. Alford, a BYU professor of Church history and doctrine, speaks during the Tuesday, Feb. 15, 2022, Ensign College devotional in the Assembly Hall on Temple Square in Salt Lake City. On the screen is a photo of his daughter Suzanne, her husband Kendall, and their four children.

Credit: Daniel Lemos, Ensign College

Alford’s daughter Suzanne and her husband, Kendall, met in high school and married in the Washington D.C. Temple after he returned from serving a mission. They now have four children. 

In the summer of 2020, Kendall started having back pain. Doctors found a large tumor in his back that had broken vertebrae, Alford said. He had an eight-hour corrective surgery the following September. 

The day after the surgery, he was informed that “he had acute lymphoblastic leukemia — only the fifth such case in an adult in documented history.”

He started chemotherapy and in the next seven months, had treatments to fight the leukemia, including chemotherapy, radiation, bone marrow transplant and other drugs, procedures and treatments.

“He died in the hospital at the end of March last year with our daughter by his side,” Alford said. “It was truly heart-breaking.”

Alford shared what his daughter wrote about the experience as they chose to take an eternal perspective: “We very consciously made the decision at the beginning of this cancer experience that our family was going to choose faith and gratitude and keep our focus on Jesus Christ. And it was not easy. It’s far from easy now.”

Alford added about keeping an eternal perspective: “Please know that I have absolute confidence that Suzanne, Kendall, and their family can still receive all of the blessings that they have been promised. Some of those blessings will just be delayed for a little while, but I have hope in Christ that those promises will be fulfilled.”

Alford encouraged those at the devotional to “be wise enough to listen to and act upon the righteous counsel we receive — whether God’s promises are fulfilled quickly for us as they were for Col. Hatch, or after many years as they were for my great-grandparents Robert and Mary Henderson, or if they will not be fulfilled in mortality as is now the case for many of the blessings promised to my sweet daughter and her good husband. 

“Regardless of how long it will take, please know that all of God’s promises to you will be fulfilled.” 

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