Elder Quentin L. Cook’s presentation at Family Discovery Day Feb. 14 at RootsTech 2015 was a family affair in more ways than one.
Addressing the topic “Our Heavenly Father’s Plan is about Families,” Elder Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles was joined onstage by his wife, Sister Mary Cook, their three married children with spouses, and several of their grandchildren. Sister Cook helped with his presentation, as did the three eldest grandchildren, who shared experiences and insights they have had with family history.
The One Voice Children’s Choir, directed by Masa Fukuda, sang several songs pertaining to families before and during the session.
“Never forget that family history and the temple ordinances enabled by it are an essential part of the work of salvation,” Elder Cook admonished. “Participating in this sacred work for the dead blesses the lives of the living, it strengthens our faith and commitment to the gospel, helps us to resist temptation and draws families closer together and strengthens our wards and stakes.”
He emphasized a theme that had been repeated throughout the day, the “find, take, teach” process.
“By find, we mean to use the FamilySearch.org website or the booklet My Family: Stories That Bring Us Together to find the name of one or more of our ancestors or their descendants,” he explained. “Then take these names to the temple or share them with others so they can take them. (When possible, go to the temple as a family.) Finally, teach our families this process, and teach others to do the same.”
Elder Cook declared that Heavenly Father’s plan is about families, adding that it is symbolized by a great tree. “In order for a tree to live and grow, it needs both roots and branches. We likewise need to be connected to both our roots — our parents, grandparents and other ancestors — and our branches — our children grandchildren and other descendants.”
He spoke of what is often referred to in the Church as the spirit of Elijah, noting that the mission of the prophet Elijah was to restore the sealing power in latter days by which families are sealed together and the fullness of salvation is available to both the living and the dead.
Citing Doctrine and Covenants 128:15, which states that the salvation of ancestors is necessary to the salvation of their descendants, Elder Cook remarked, “This means that the salvation of the whole human family is interdependent and connected — like the roots and branches of a great tree.”
He cited Doctrine and Covenants 138, the vision of President Joseph F. Smith about Christ’s visit to the spirit world while His body lay in the tomb. In that vision, President Smith recorded, he saw Adam and Eve.
“I have thought about these verses,” Elder Cook said. “It seems to me that so much of family history work and the blessings that come to families as a result of this great work are done by and because of the faithful daughters of Eve. Without Eve and her daughters, there would be no family history, because there would be no family. Without the righteous influence of women, families would disintegrate, and social chaos would prevail.”
Elder Cook showed several video presentations spotlighting families and individuals in the Church who have had success in family history.
“Family commitments and expectations should be at the top of our list of priorities,” he said. “They will protect our divine destiny. I have challenged families to hold what I’ve called a ‘Family Tree Gathering.’ This should be a recurring event. Everyone could bring to these gatherings existing family histories, stories and photos, including cherished possessions of grandparents and parents. For those who are looking for more fruitful ways to observe the Sabbath day as a family, the hastening of this sacred work is fertile ground.”
He observed that though family history is a family affair, not every family has the same situation.
“Many died without being married or having children,” he said. “Some were divorced; some married several times. Many had children who were disabled or who died young. Everyone has a story. Every soul, living or dead, who is accountable for his or her actions needs the blessings of these sacred ordinances, and we can help our family members receive them.”
Elder Cook left an apostolic blessing upon families who do family history “with a promise that if you look beyond the bonds of time and mortality and help those who cannot help themselves, you will be blessed with more closeness and joy in your family and with the divine protections afforded by those who are faithful in His service.”
Sister Cook shared a song with the audience, “Truth from Elijah” (page 90 in The Children’s Songbook). She invited the song’s author and composer, Vanja Y. Watkins, to share what inspired her in composing the song and to provide accompaniment on the piano as Sister Cook taught it to the audience, assisted by the choir.
Sister Watkins said she was assigned in the early 1980s to write a song for the 1983 children’s sacrament meeting presentation.
“The focus would be on genealogy, and specifically the scripture in Malachi 4:5-6,” Sister Watkins said. “I love working with words from the scriptures, and I felt their inspiration from the start. As I pondered those verses I began to get a feeling of the tremendous promise and opportunity that we have as the children to fulfill prophecy.”
Inviting the audience to sing or listen as she and the choir sang the song, Sister Cook asked them to note five “action words” in the middle of the song, “five things we can actually do that help us with family history.”
The words were seek (“we as the children can seek out our loved ones”), preserving (“that means we keep them, we hold them, we write about them and we upload them to FamilySearch”), strive (“we strive to be worthy; that means we try really hard”) kneel (“we kneel in the temple at the altar and do their work”) and bind (“we bind them to us; that means we seal them, or we link them to us”).
After the singing, Sister Cook said, “I testify that what we have just sung is true. We can all record our history. We can search for our loved ones, and we can all submit stories and pictures to FamilyTree. We can all do temple work. We are all part of a family.”
She added, “I’m painfully aware that all families are not ideal. Some have experienced difficult circumstances, and they wonder if this applies to them. It does!”
Sister Cook told the audience that when she was 8, her parents separated.
“With our mother we went to live with our grandmother,” she said. “I know that I had feelings of insecurity about my family situation, about what we were going to do, but I had special spiritual experiences, and I felt that the Savior knew me and that I was important to Him. I recognized the power of the Holy Ghost in my life.”
After two years, her parents reconciled, and they were reunited as a family, she said, but many of the issues that caused the separation remained.
“I thought when my parents were separated, that our family would never be an eternal family,” she said. “But many years later, when I was a wife and mother myself, my parents did go to the temple and were sealed, and I was able to be sealed to them.”
Sister Cook said that one of the blessings of family history is that it gives courage to overcome obstacles in one’s own life.
She said that while she was living with her grandmother, the grandmother told her about her own grandmother who had crossed the plains to Utah with the first Mormon handcart company.
“I knew they had terrific obstacles they had to overcome, and it gave me courage to overcome challenges in my own life,” she said. “As we go through the trials and tribulations, it is through our faith in Jesus Christ and His gospel ordinances that we meet those challenges.”
Elder Cook told the Church News, “It is so important that families get together to do both the family history work and the temple work for their ancestors. The rising generation is beginning to be involved in this in a wonderful way, but it still needs to be taught even more significantly.”
He added, “Both my wife, Mary, and Vanja Watkins have spent so much of their lives essentially being the gospel doctrine teachers for the rising generations — for these children. For example, Vanja has either written, composed or arranged the music for 27 songs in The Children’s Songbook.”