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Sarah Jane Weaver: How Latter-day Saint leaven lifts society’s loaf — in 1846 and today


HANOI, Vietnam — On a quiet evening in November 2019, Elder D. Todd Christofferson — traveling with President Russell M. Nelson — looked across a hotel ballroom filled with 432 members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Vietnam, a country of 97 million.  

This is “a tender time, a beginning for the Church here,” said the member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. “But it will happen. It will grow. It will be strong. … There’s great hope for the future.”

Their faith, he promised the Vietnamese Saints, would change their nation. Later he would speak of the “sense of future” he felt that evening.

“We are the leaven in the loaf, as opposed to the loaf, but it makes all the difference,” he said. “You can feel it, can’t you — what’s coming because of their leaven, in this society, in this nation?”

Read more: Why President Nelson traveled 7,526 miles to address hundreds of Vietnamese Latter-day Saints

I thought of that small gathering last weekend as thousands, including Elder Christofferson, gathered in San Diego, California, to celebrate another small group of “faith-filled, faith-driven” Latter-day Saints.

Just as the modern-day Saints in Vietnam are elevating their nation, members of the Mormon Battalion, who marched 2,100 miles in response to a Prophet’s call, had a leavening impact on the early Church.

Their historic march funded the westward journey of other struggling Saints. They helped build San Diego, forging friendships in the then-fledgling settlement. They learned about irrigation and modeled honesty — even amid extreme physical suffering.

“To me it is an interesting thing,” said Elder Christofferson. “It takes faith to begin to do something. But when you do act on faith it increases the faith, so it is a wonderful, virtuous, upward cycle that faith leads to work, which leads to greater faith and greater works and so on. I salute them, the members of the Mormon Battalion for a tremendous model of faith-filled and faith-based action.”

It has been 175 years since the Mormon Battalion marched into San Diego. I wonder now if they felt what was coming, if they knew their leaven would give rise to something so much more grand.

Did they have “sense of future”?

Members of the battalion march in the street as they take part in the Mormon Battalion celebration in Old Town San Diego on Saturday, Jan. 29, 2022. Elder D. Todd Christofferson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, joined in the festivities.

Members of the battalion march in the street as they take part in the Mormon Battalion celebration in Old Town San Diego on Saturday, Jan. 29, 2022. Elder D. Todd Christofferson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, joined in the festivities.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

Could they have imagined that 175 years later, almost 17 million Latter-day Saints would represent their cause in almost 200 lands? Or that 265 temples would dot the globe? Or that hundreds would gather in San Diego to reenact their historic march and the simple, yet powerful, gesture of moving forward one step at a time?

Elder Christofferson said the Church’s focus on history is not only to honor those who have gone before but also to “take courage from their example.”

When we see what others have done, we think, “I can do that too,” he explained

Looking back also reveals the hand of God in our lives, he said. Our faith is fortified. “God has been there from the beginning; He has been there all along. He never abandons His people, whatever their trials or challenges.”

Read more: Remembering ‘faith-infused actions’ of the Mormon Battalion 175 years later

It is the same message Elder Christofferson gave another group of faithful Latter-day Saints in Vietnam — the leaven in their society.

“God knows where you are,” Elder Christofferson promised them. “The Holy Ghost doesn’t require a visa to come here to testify to you. He will find you anywhere. … I say it again, your Heavenly Father is mindful of you. Because of your example and your faithfulness, He will bless this nation.”

Having also sensed their future in that sacred moment in a Vietnamese hotel ballroom, I have no doubt that one day, hundreds will gather in Hanoi to reenact — and celebrate — their “faith-filled, faith-based action.”

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