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Children of Lehi: Gospel is first loyalty

Native Americans hear messages tailored to their needs, circumstances

NAVAJO RESERVATION, Ariz. — United in testimony, more than 2,600 Native American Latter-day Saints from several Indian nations gathered in northeastern Arizona March 18 and 19.

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, center left, and Elder Charles Didier, with Tuba City stake President Frankie J. Gilmore, left, and Elder Perry M. Webb, right, sing hymn at conference held in Kayenta, Ariz.
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, center left, and Elder Charles Didier, with Tuba City stake President Frankie J. Gilmore, left, and Elder Perry M. Webb, right, sing hymn at conference held in Kayenta, Ariz. Photo: Photo by Gerry Avant

Navajos, Hopis, Zunis, Apaches and Utes — and a sprinkling of Anglos — met on consecutive days in gymnasiums at two schools to hear messages tailored to their specific needs and circumstances. Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve and Elder Charles Didier of the Presidency of the Seventy, along with Elder Perry M. Webb, an Area Seventy, went to the Navajo Reservation to speak in priesthood and general meetings held in Monument Valley High school gymnasium in Kayenta and the Ganado High School gymnasium.

Reflecting their rich cultural heritage, many Native Americans — especially women and girls — wore traditional dress. Many — men as well as women — wore pieces of traditional jewelry, whether necklaces, rings, or belts and bolo ties of turquoise and silver, or beadwork.

The visitors complimented Native Americans for retaining elements of their heritage that are in harmony with gospel teachings and for turning away from those things that would divert them from the words and examples of Jesus Christ.

A key point of Elder Holland's message was universal in nature yet particularly applicable to Native Americans: "We must be Latter-day Saints first, and any other identity second."

Elder Holland spoke of his Irish ancestry and of Elder Didier being from Belgium, and said, "I must be a Latter-day Saint first, and an Irishman second. Elder Didier must be a Latter-day Saint first, and a Belgian second. And you must be a Latter-day Saint first, and an Indian second.

"Everybody comes from a culture; we keep the good part and make it compatible with our first loyalty — and our first loyalty forever is the gospel of Jesus Christ."

Elder Holland visits with Alma Touchin, at Kayenta, Ariz.
Elder Holland visits with Alma Touchin, at Kayenta, Ariz. Photo: Photo by Gerry Avant

He spoke of the apostle Paul, born by race a Jew, by citizenship a Roman, and taught in his education as a Greek. But from the day he was converted "he wasn't Jew, or Roman or Greek. He was Christian. He was a disciple of Christ. That is what's called for in every one of us, wherever we come from."

Further, Elder Holland said, "While we talk about the children of Lehi blossoming as a rose, you are blossoming individually. This is not going to happen overnight. We will not just wake up one morning and find that the whole Navajo Nation, or the Apaches, or any other tribe in this land has suddenly 'blossomed' with the fulness of the gospel." It is a process of daily living up to the covenants that each has made individually, he explained.

Elder Holland referred to the Church's Indian placement program, which functioned in an era when many Native American children lived in host Latter-day Saint homes in order to attend school. He spoke of "a new placement program — placing ourselves within the covenants, ordinances and promises of the gospel of Jesus Christ."

"Let's place ourselves and our children and our children's children right in the middle of that 'placement program,' in the promises, the opportunity, the love of the Lord, and faith in God. I pray that we will place ourselves in righteousness, emphatically and forever. I want us to do so, at least in part, for the next generation, the children in this room. They will carry this nation and the Church of Jesus Christ forward to its great latter-day fulfillment." In that spirit, Elder Holland made a strong appeal for every young Native American boy to serve a mission and as many of the young women who felt to do so. He said marriage in the temple should be the goal of every Native American child.

Before concluding, Elder Holland left an apostolic blessing on each congregation.

Elder Didier's message contained a plea and admonition: "Do not retreat from the covenants you have made."

Congregation at Ganado, Ariz.
Congregation at Ganado, Ariz. Photo: Photo by Gerry Avant

He said that members had gathered with expectations and would "leave with a new determination, a new fire." He explained that much of life depends on fire, and that "spiritual life depends on the burning fire we have within ourselves." The Holy Ghost, he said, promotes that burning fire.

Elder Didier spoke of the senses — particularly those of sight, hearing — and how they help people connect and come to an understanding of what is going on around them. As some people age, he said, some of their senses diminish; their sight grows dim or their hearing becomes impaired. A result, he said, is that they don't connect as well as they once did. He urged members of the congregation to keep sharp their spiritual senses.

He spoke of being taught by the Spirit, and said, "The mind and the heart are two organs that receive revelation. Section 8 of the Doctrine and Covenants contains a revelation given to Oliver Cowdery, in which the Lord promised, "You shall receive a knowledge of whatsoever things you shall ask in faith, with an honest heart. . . . Yea, behold, I will tell you in your mind and in your heart, by the Holy Ghost, which shall come upon you and which shall dwell in your heart."

He spoke of having been recently in the Philippines where the streets in Manila were very crowded. He said he noticed a sign on the rear window of a taxi: "How is my driving?" A telephone number was included on the sign.

"What if we were asked to wear a T-shirt on which is the question, 'How am I doing as a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints?' and there would be a telephone number, perhaps that of our bishop, or stake president, or Church headquarters in Salt Lake City. How is your spiritual driving?"

In one of the gatherings, Elder Webb stood at the lectern to conduct the meeting. He started to speak, then paused for several seconds. He looked out over the congregation, mostly Native Americans. He resumed speaking, but was halted again by a catch in his voice. "I can see in my mind's eye the Savior appearing to your ancestors at the temple in the land of Bountiful," he finally managed to say.

Jessica Axline, wearing traditional Navajo dress, served as an usher at conference in Kayenta, Ariz.
Jessica Axline, wearing traditional Navajo dress, served as an usher at conference in Kayenta, Ariz. Photo: Photo by Gerry Avant

He spoke of the privilege it was to have a modern apostle visiting among the children of Lehi.

Native American speakers were Tuba City Arizona Stake President Frankie J. Gilmore, Carolyn Luna and Lester Lansing at the Kayenta meeting, and Chinle Arizona Stake President DuWaine Boone and Rita Gambler at the Ganado meeting.

President Gilmore bore testimony of Jesus Christ and said, "He did come to our people."

Sister Luna spoke of her family's conversion when she was a young girl. She said that she watched her parents pack their bags to go to the temple. "They always came back happier."

Brother Lansing, a recently returned missionary, was called from the congregation to bear his testimony. "The Savior, Jesus Christ, is the founder of this Church, and like the Book of Mormon says, the author and finisher of our faith," he said.

Sister Gambler spoke of the temple and how members' testimonies are strengthened as they attend the temple often.

President Boone asked, "Can you imagine what Father Lehi felt when Laman and Lemuel would not follow the gospel? They let go of the iron rod. Holding onto it was something they had to do for themselves, with their own hands. No one else could do it for them."

Arizona Phoenix Mission President C. Scott Gill and his wife, Elizabeth, attended the conference, as did Albuquerque New Mexico Temple President Allen E. Litster and his wife, Jan Louise; and Snowflake Arizona Temple President Larry B. Brewer and his wife, LaDawn.

Cameron Branch Pres. Alan Numkena, wife, Louise, and children leave Monument Valley High School gym, after conference in Kayenta, Ariz.
Cameron Branch Pres. Alan Numkena, wife, Louise, and children leave Monument Valley High School gym, after conference in Kayenta, Ariz. Photo: Photo by Gerry Avant
Anciel Twitchell of Gallup New Mexico Stake and daughter,   Hannah, 3, attend Native American Conference in Ganado, Ariz.
Anciel Twitchell of Gallup New Mexico Stake and daughter, Hannah, 3, attend Native American Conference in Ganado, Ariz. Photo: Photo by Gerry Avant
A choir comprised of Native Americans sings during conference held March 18 in Kayenta, Ariz., part of Navajo Reservation.
A choir comprised of Native Americans sings during conference held March 18 in Kayenta, Ariz., part of Navajo Reservation. Photo: Photo by Gerry Avant

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