WORCESTER, Mass. — Concluding a busy, three-day visit to New England — an area rich in Church and U.S. history — President M. Russell Ballard pled with local Latter-day Saints to “join a new movement” by inviting their neighbors, colleagues and friends to pray for the United States, its leaders and its families.
“Our nation was founded on prayer, it was preserved by prayer, and we need prayer again,” said the acting president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. “I plead with you this evening to pray for this country, for our leaders, for our people, and for the families that live in this great nation founded by God.”
Speaking to an estimated 12,000 people gathered in the DCU Center near Boston, President Ballard reminded the congregation that “this country was established and preserved by our founding fathers and mothers who repeatedly acknowledged the hand of God through prayer.”
New England, he continued, was the seedbed of so very much that led to the founding of this nation.
“We must stand boldly for righteousness and truth, and must defend the cause of honor, decency, and personal freedom espoused by Washington, Madison, Adams, Lincoln, and other leaders who acknowledged and loved God.”
President Ballard arrived in New England on Friday, Oct. 18, accompanied by Elder D. Todd Christofferson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and his wife, Sister Kathy Christofferson; and Elder Randall K. Bennett, a General Authority Seventy, and his wife, Sister Shelley Bennett. The leaders participated in a member devotional at the site of the Joseph Smith Birthplace in Sharon, Vermont; spoke to missionaries in the area; met with Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker and other local VIPs; attended sacrament meeting and addressed millennials living in and around Boston.
President Ballard said as he prepared to address Latter-day Saints, he realized that looking for the Lord’s hand in the early history of the United States “might help us recognize His hand in our own lives.”
“Please look for the Lord’s hand in your lives and in the lives of your family, as I do in the lives of my ancestors and family,” he said. “Expect it. Do not dismiss it. Do not relegate the experiences in your lives to coincidences.”
From the signing of the Declaration of Independence in July 1776 through the signing of the U.S. Constitution in September 1787, the “wise men” whom the Lord “raised up unto this very purpose” relied upon divine providence, said President Ballard.
“As an apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ, I have a solemn duty to face the Lord and deliver His message,” said President Ballard. “His words often include words of encouragement and expressions of love. They also include words of warning.”
America and the nations of the earth, as in times past, “are at another crossroad,” he said.
“Let it begin today that we take leadership and reach out in our own prayers and encourage our neighbors, our friends, our families … to pray for this country that we all love much.”
The Book of Mormon
Elder Christofferson spoke on the topic, “Small and Simple Means,” during the devotional.
The Book of Mormon was designed by God to change the course of history and to play a key role in achieving His purposes in the salvation of His children, said Elder Christofferson.
“It seemed almost incredible that in this small space and brief moment in time, far beyond the notice or concern of the world, with such rudimentary instruments as a feather quill for a pen, a centuries-old scriptural record was being translated into English by the gift and power of God; that over the next 200 years, the Book of Mormon would be translated into more than 100 languages and printed in more than 180 million copies; that the coming forth of this book signaled the beginning of the last and greatest gospel dispensation in the history of the earth; and that this book would be the instrument needed to accomplish the long-prophesied gathering of scattered Israel, the Lord’s covenant people.”
Noting that “God works in us by small and simple means,” Elder Christofferson said, “What are the small and simple means by which our Redeemer and the Holy Spirit may work in us to convert weakness to strength?”
This happens through prayer, scripture study, and following the Lord’s will and purpose, he said.
“If we are to have (the Lord’s) help, including in our day-to-day concerns, we need more or less constant recourse to our Heavenly Father in prayer,” Elder Christofferson said. “He can and will guide us in the small and simple things as well as the things of greater consequence — which, though we may not realize it, are usually one and the same.”
Prayer keeps God’s children centered on their Heavenly Father and His love and expectations.
“Let your prayers typically include some quiet time, time when you are listening and feeling,” he said. “Often in those moments will come answers, promptings, understanding, gentle correction, and sometimes just simply reassurance and peace.”
Closing, he said, “I bless you that your service to the Lord and your fellowman will bring you great joy and that you and those who depend on you will have the strength to deal with any challenges that may come in the years ahead.”
The light of the gospel
During her remarks, Sister Christofferson spoke of an opportunity to attend a movie premier. At the end of the movie, she and Elder Christofferson stayed to watch the credits. “It caused me to think about all those people that were sitting in the audience that helped on that movie that nobody knew. Nobody knew their names,” she said. “Those were the people that really made that movie what it was.”
She then thought of the gospel. “Isn’t it those people around us that maybe no one knows outside our ward or stake and how important they are to us?” Those are the people who “influence our lives for good and help us to live the gospel and help us to become what the Lord wants us to be.”
She asked those in the congregation to be Christ-centered examples for those around them. “How very important you are,” she said, noting they are the “fruits of the gospel in this area.”
Elder Bennett spoke of observing President Ballard’s zeal to share the gospel of Jesus Christ. “Brothers and sisters, I promise you, people around you see and feel your light. They feel of your bright countenances and they wonder why you aren’t sharing what you have.”
They are ready to accept an invitation to come and see, come and help and come and stay.
“Actually,” he added, “with some you may need to start with come and eat, come and play, come and participate, come and celebrate with us, come and belong. The Lord will do the heavy lifting in this work if we will simply be more inclusive of others and invite [them]. …
“We can begin by praying daily, with greater faith, to have personal opportunities to come invite.”
Sister Bennett shared her gratitude for the opportunity to learn from President Ballard and Elder Christofferson. “I am so thankful for prophets and apostles on the earth today that show us the way,” she said.
The leaders participated in the devotional after meeting with young single adults from the 16 stakes in the Boston area and participating in a VIP reception. The day before, President Ballard, Elder Christofferson and Elder Bennett met in Boston with Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, NBA executive Danny Ainge, Harvard professor Roger Porter, businessman Kevin Rollins and the Rev. Eugene Rivers. The group discussed the state of politics, the impact of social media, the power of strong families and the importance of religious freedom.
‘Peace, joy and happiness’
“Trying to get the simple messages of peace and joy and happiness and how you find them is very difficult today,” said President Ballard.
Gov. Baker spoke passionately about raising his own children, family mealtime and regular parental check-ins. President Ballard shared what he has learned in 91 years of living: “When you get as old as I am, family is everything,” he said.
The Rev. Rivers called it an honor and privilege to meet with President Ballard, Elder Christofferson and Elder Bennett and learn more about the “disciplined, focused organization” they lead.
When leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints call, he said, “it is a phone call you take and it is a request that you satisfy, given who they are. … You are going to respond just out of respect for the extraordinary work they do around the planet Earth.”
He also wished to thank the Church for its support of the Seymour Institute for Black Church and Policy Studies.
Progress of the Church
President Ballard began the weekend with a “tender experience” at the site where the Prophet Joseph Smith was born in 1805 in Sharon, Vermont.
“It was that year, 1805, when Lewis and Clark reached the Pacific Ocean on their expedition to explore the Louisiana Purchase and the Church, of course, didn’t even exist,” said Elder Christofferson. “Here was the new prophet just a babe and within 15 years, of course, will be the First Vision and then 10 years after that the Church organized.
“What strikes me is to see the progress of the Church here, where he was born, since that time and see the congregations, the stakes, the wards and the missions.”
There are now 28,000 Latter-day Saints and a temple in Massachusetts.
During a mission meeting on Saturday, Oct. 19, President Ballard’s message from the visitors’ center in Sharon, Vermont, was broadcast to 3,200 missionaries in 19 missions.
Those full-time missionaries “carry the message that came to us through the little boy that was born there and later became the prophet.”