Like many young people today, the Prophet Joseph Smith was in his teens when he was introduced to the concept of salvation for the dead.
It was in fact at the very dawn of the Restoration, when the resurrected and glorified prophet Moroni appeared to the 17-year-old Joseph. The angel quoted Malachi 4:5-6, with the wording somewhat varied from the way it is written in the King James Bible:
"Behold, I will reveal unto you the Priesthood, by the hand of Elijah the prophet, before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord.
"And he shall plant in the hearts of the children the promises made to the fathers, and the hearts of the children shall turn to their fathers. If it were not so, the whole earth would be utterly wasted at his coming" (see Joseph Smith — History 1:38-39).
Latter-day Saints today understand these verses to pertain to the sealing power held by the ancient prophet Elijah, which he brought to earth in the latter-day dispensation to open the way for work conducted in temples whereby both the living and the dead can receive the ordinances of salvation, be sealed together as families across generations and ultimately inherit with Christ all that the Father has.
The phrasing in the prophecy, "and the hearts of the children shall turn to their fathers," though it has broader application, is particularly timely right now. Perhaps more than at any time in this dispensation, young people in the Church are being called upon — and are answering the call — to add to the genealogical pool, search out their own kindred dead, and ultimately provide the saving ordinances for them by serving as proxies in the House of the Lord.
Consider these lines from a letter from the First Presidency sent Oct. 8 of this year to Church members, emphasizing temple ordinance work:
"We especially encourage youth and young single adults to use for temple work their own family names or the names of ancestors of their ward and stake members. Priesthood leaders should assure that young people and their families learn the doctrine of turning their hearts to their fathers and the blessings of temple attendance."
Young men and women in the Church who serve as missionaries these days are asked to embark on their missions with at least four generations of their own genealogical records in hand. Thus having experienced the labor of love that is family history research, they are better prepared to teach it to others as part and parcel of the gospel of Christ that they proclaim to the world.
That young people are responding to this call to action as it pertains to redemption of the dead is illustrated in these incidents collected and shared by the Family History Department of the Church:
At a Church devotional in Benemerito de las Americas, Mexico, a young man tearfully testified and told of being baptized in the temple for his uncles. He said that when he came out of the font, he heard in his mind, "Gracias, gracias."
In the Russia Rostov Mission, youth participating in the worldwide effort to index online computer images of genealogical records were challenged to index 2,000 names and find at least one name each to take to the temple. Those meeting the challenge were provided with bus transportation to the Kyiv Russia Temple some nine hours away. A number of youth met the challenge. Elder Richard G. Scott of the Quorum of the Twelve referred to this group in his recent general conference address and quoted one young man as saying he gave up video games for indexing because it is a better use of his time.
In Chorley, England, Mackenzie Hughes, 17, was invited by her stake president to begin indexing. Once she started, she didn't want to stop. She introduced her parents and siblings to it and then her grandparents. Over time, her family became curious and began researching their own ancestors. As a result, MacKenzie and her brother were able to participate in temple baptisms for their own direct ancestors.
Some 5,000 young men and women from three stakes in Cache Valley, Utah, joined for a celebration of family history on Oct. 28 of this year. Elder David S. Baxter of the Seventy, who spoke at the gathering, shared these highlights from the service and accomplishments of some of the young people there:
In one stake, 66 percent of the young people now have temple recommends.
A deacon who is disabled, Spencer Rigby, went to the temple to be baptized for the dead. He was at the water's edge when the officiators began to worry about what they should do. Cameron Lindsay, a teacher in Spencer's ward, without being asked or prompted, went to Spencer, picked him up and carried him into the font. "Everyone had to pause due to the sanctity of the moment before they could proceed," Elder Baxter related.
Many of the youth who were at the gathering are now serving in their wards as family history consultants. A young man, 14, and his sister, 12, spent time with their grandmother and using computers generated ordinance work for 24 of their ancestors.
A rancher told his son, 14, that he would take care of his chores with the livestock so the boy could spend time on family history research. The boy now spends every Sunday evening with his father continuing the research. The father has said this is "some of the most special time they spend together — better than calf roping or sports, which are important to this young man."
Interest among LDS youth in the guiding light of the temple and redemption of the dead is reflected in several of the entries at the current international youth art exhibit at the Church History Museum in Salt Lake City, "Arise and Shine Forth."
One abstract entry by Deseret Fowler, 17, of Idaho, titled "Lead Them," depicts a girl holding a shining beacon leading people from the darkness of the world to the refuge of the temple situated on a high prominence symbolizing the "mountain of the Lord."
"Construction of Eternal Blessings" by Tristen Eaton, 16, of Utah, depicts the 19th century construction of the Salt Lake Temple to symbolize "how we construct our lives to enjoy the blessings of eternity."
"Looking Toward the Future" by Elli Tobiasson, 13, of Utah, depicts her great-grandmother holding her as a baby. "She is looking into the future — her future and mine," the artist wrote in describing the piece. "She looks into the heavens and sees the castle she has built in heaven and also the temple that binds her to me and to her posterity and us to our ancestors. The leaves represent a family tree. I want to honor my ancestors' lives by shining my light and sharing what they have given me."
Like Elli, Latter-day Saint youth are heeding the call to action and learning very early in life of the importance of that doctrine revealed so long ago to the youthful Prophet Joseph Smith.