PROVO, Utah — With the help of his wife and grandchildren, Elder Neil L. Andersen greeted the 1,516 missionaries at the Provo Missionary Training Center with a family-crafted Thanksgiving card and a message of gratitude for “the three beautiful blessings” given to all — life, choice and the Savior Jesus Christ.
In his Thursday, Nov. 28, holiday devotional, the member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles cited the Savior’s own expressions and examples of gratitude, from “Thou shalt thank the Lord thy God in all things” (Doctrine and Covenants 59:7) to “Father, I thank thee” (John 11:41).
“On your mission, there will be times when you will need to think of all the things you are thankful for as you confront unimagined challenges,” he said. “As you keep a spirit of thankfulness, you will have courage to overcome these obstacles.”
‘Our very lives’
“Before all else, we should thank our Heavenly Father for our very lives — that we breathe, that we have the amazing experiences of mortality, the privilege of growing our faith, learning to love within a family, and the joys of friendship that surround us,” Elder Andersen said.
The greatest of God’s gifts are given to almost everyone, and the fact that the gift comes to all does not diminish the magnificence of the gift.
“Independent of our challenges, difficulties, stresses, temptations and pains,” he said, “the very fact that you and I have life is a gift beyond price.”
‘Our ability to choose’
Next among the greatest of blessings is the ability to choose, decide and shape one’s desires and “determine those things we will love and those we will discard,” said Elder Andersen, explaining how choice was key to the Father’s plan presented in the premortal life and how it was opposed by Lucifer and yet fulfilled by Christ.
“We are agents unto ourselves, with the freedom to think and grow and choose — even realizing that at times we will make mistakes,” he said.
Each missionary has chosen to serve the Lord and to bear witness of Jesus Christ, he added. “As you remain true and faithful, you will see it as one of the most important choices of your life.”
Recalling an impression he received while giving a blessing to a friend going through a traumatic experience, Elder Andersen repeated, ”faith is not only a feeling; it is a decision.”
His friend “would need to choose faith” — and he did so, said Elder Andersen.
“The ability to seek within ourselves the gift of faith is an enormous spiritual blessing,” Elder Andersen said.
“When we determine to choose the right, to keep the commandments, to be unafraid of letting our will be swallowed up in the will of our Heavenly Father, we are giving to Him one of the very few things that is truly ours to give. This is the choice you are making in coming on your mission. As you submit your will to His during the coming months, you will feel His Spirit and His approval.”
‘Forever thankful for Jesus Christ’
With the charge of “let us be forever thankful for Jesus Christ,” Elder Andersen added: “For me, there are no words in any language to truly describe the majesty, the power, the glory, or the love of the Son of God.”
The latter-day Apostle reviewed, with scriptural support, the Savior’s birth in Bethlehem and His three-year mortal ministry, including the raising of Lazarus in Bethany, followed by more specific details of Christ’s final days of mortality in Jerusalem.
He walked the missionary audience through Jesus’ instituting the sacrament and washing the apostles’ feet in the upper room; His suffering for mankind’s transgressions and pains in Gethsemane; His betrayal at the foot of the Mount of Olives; the mocking, scourging and cross-bearing within the city walls; His being nailed to that cross at Golgotha; and the rising of the resurrected Savior from the tomb and His appearance to many in both the Old and New Worlds.
“Because He lives and rose from the tomb, all mankind will be resurrected,” Elder Andersen said. “Let us forever be filled with the awe, gratitude and wonder of the Savior’s sacred Atonement.”
He closed with his “sure and certain witness” as an Apostle of Jesus Christ and reminded the missionaries that they too “are called of God.”
Preceding her husband, Sister Kathy Andersen told the missionaries that as she prayed earlier in the morning, she became mindful of how often a communication of appreciation to her Heavenly Father often seems limited compared to the list of concerns and pleadings that follow in prayer.
“A ‘thank you so very much for my many blessings’ is not sufficient,” said Sister Andersen, adding that an extended expression of gratitude for blessings is fitting for every day — not just on Thanksgiving — and that such an effort by the missionaries would help lead to more real and fervent prayers.
Elder and Sister Andersen started the hour-long devotional by inviting 10 grandchildren in attendance (they have 17 total) to the rostrum for introductions, having them express what they are thankful for and talk about a Thanksgiving card they had crafted.
The grandchildren then coursed throughout the auditorium, distributing the letter-sized card printouts to the missionaries, with additional copies sent to the international missionary training centers worldwide for missionaries there, who would watch the broadcast, either live or via tape-delay.
Afterwards in Provo, Elder Andersen weaved among the floor-level aisles for nearly 30 minutes to shake the hands of as many missionaries as he could reach. And he dispatched his grandchildren once again to the higher reaches of auditorium to greet other missionaries on behalf of him and Sister Andersen.
The missionaries’ remainder of the day at the Provo MTC was given to a special Thanksgiving meal, additional devotionals, films and the MTC’s annual service project with Feeding Children Everywhere — which included assembling some 350,000 meal kits to be distributed without charge by the organization’s new Full Cart home-delivery option.