CHICAGO — Leaders and members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints feel “a special kinship with those trying to make their way in a new country or community,” said President Dallin H. Oaks during a unique devotional in Chicago on Nov. 23.
“Many of our own ancestors or early members migrated to new countries to seek religious freedom and to escape persecution or other hardships,” he said. “Frequently they had to rely on the kindness of others in their new countries to help with their basic needs.”
That is why the senior Church leader sought the opportunity to address Spanish-speaking members from eight stakes in Chicago — offering a portion of his remarks in their native language and addressing issues specific to immigrants. He also asked Latter-day Saints to trust in the Lord as they work to live the gospel of Jesus Christ and strengthen the next generation to do the same.
“We want you to know that the leaders of the Church are very aware of the special difficulties so many of you face in being separated from family members who are in many other countries,” said President Oaks, first counselor in the First Presidency, to the nearly 1,000 Spanish-speaking Latter-day Saints in the Wilmette Illinois Stake Center.
With his wife, Sister Kristen M. Oaks, President Oaks was accompanied by Elder S. Gifford Nielsen, a General Authority Seventy and president of the Church’s North America Central Area, and Elder K. David Scott, an Area Seventy.
Elder Nielsen said President and Sister Oaks connected with the congregation “first by speaking in their native language, then by giving them great counsel about dealing with the challenges they face.”
“It was joyous and uplifting to see how the inspired messages brought hope to those attending as President and Sister Oaks bore powerful witnesses of Jesus Christ and His restored gospel,” he said.
That President Oaks “would take the time to meet with Spanish-speaking members, and that he should care about immigrants, touched my heart and was an answer to my prayers,” said Rocío Najera, who attended the devotional.
During his remarks, President Oaks said Church programs — and sometimes Church members — often assume that members have the encouragement and help of family members, he said. “But since many of you don’t have that companionship and support, our sympathy goes out to you.”
In addition, many who do not speak English have significant obstacles in employment in the United States, he said. They may also have difficulties in getting the certifications to qualify for employment or for driving privileges or for other desirable progress.
Read the First Presidency message encouraging members to create ‘welcoming communities’ for refugees
In recent years, the Church and its members have donated both humanitarian funding and commodities to support agencies that help immigrants — including refugees — meet basic needs, such as food, housing, schooling and medical and legal services, he said, noting some of those organizations are in Chicago.
“These services are driven by our belief that in the family of God, there are ‘no more strangers and foreigners,’ but that we are all ‘fellowcitizens … of the household of God’ (Ephesians 2:19).”
President Oaks said one thing he has learned through the Church is that “our first way to help ourselves and our first step to help others is to increase faith in God the Eternal Father and in His Son, Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost.
“Faith is the foundation for all that we do.”
As people increase in faith and testimony of God the Eternal Father, His Son, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost, they will receive help to do all of the other things they are taught.
“Faith means trust — trust in His will, trust in His way of doing things, and trust in His timetable.”
Through prayer, gratitude and scripture study, faith increases, he said.
“After we increase our faith, we still have many other principles to learn and commandments to keep,” said President Oaks. “We need help. We need the inspiration and guidance of the Holy Ghost. The gift of the Holy Ghost has been conferred upon us, but we must keep that gift in good repair.”
President Oaks reminded the congregation that the Lord has commanded them to attend sacrament meeting every week to partake of the sacrament (Doctrine and Covenants 59:9-12).
“The changes that make a difference to our position on the covenant path are not changes in Church policies or practices, but the changes we make in our own desires and actions.”
“When we do this, repenting of our sins and renewing our promises to serve the Lord and always remember Him and keep His commandments, we have the precious promise that we will ‘always have His Spirit to be with us’” (Doctrine and Covenants 20:77).
Questions will arise as Latter-day Saints press forward, he said. “In my persistent prayerful ponderings, I have never found a better, shorter answer to our many questions than a thorough knowledge and total faith in the love of our Heavenly Father and His plan of salvation for the blessing of all of His children. The central truth of that plan is the Atonement of His Only Begotten Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ.”
Trusting in the Lord and in His plan will give a person the strength “to resist persuasive imitations and temptations to abandon our quest for eternal life, which is the greatest of all the gifts of God” (Doctrine and Covenants 14:7).
Choosing to follow the Father’s plan is the key idea for happiness in this life and eternal life in the world to come, said President Oaks. Increased faith also helps with repentance.
Speaking of recent changes in the Church, President Oaks said he feels some caution. “The changes we have experienced in our Church meetings and policies should help us, but by themselves they won’t get us or our members to where our Heavenly Father wants us to be,” he explained. “The changes that make a difference to our position on the covenant path are not changes in Church policies or practices but the changes we make in our own desires and actions.”
The same principle applies to the new program for the development of children and youth, he said. “The program is wonderful, but it will bless us only if we use it. Youth and parents, learn it and use it.”
Another example of the need for personal change is the new challenge to minister, he said, noting the shift announced in April general conference 2018 that home teaching and visiting teaching would be replaced by ministering. “This action of the Church changed the name from home teaching to ministering, but only the action of ministering men and women will achieve a genuine change in how members are helped to increase their faith and closeness to our Savior.”
Then speaking to the young people, President Oaks talked about technology. “Advances in technology have magnified the availability of information and have made what were once only distant problems an immediate concern for all of us,” he said. “That makes it especially important for you to remember that the ancient values and the gospel plan are still in force to guide us. God is our Father. Jesus Christ is our Savior. And Their commandments and our obedience remain essential, whether we travel by wagon or spaceship, and whether we communicate by voice or texting.”
Cell phones, he told the youth, “should be your servants, not your masters.”
“Too many of you are selling your precious time into servitude by excess talking and texting. Cut it back and rejoin the world of those who talk face to face.”
President Oaks also asked the youth to characterize themselves as “a son or daughter of God.”
“That fact overrides all other labels, including race, occupation, physical characteristics, honors or even religious affiliation,” he said.
In a youth devotional last year, President Nelson challenged young people to “stand out; be different from the world,” said President Oaks.
“You are to be a light to the world,” President Nelson told the youth. “Therefore, the Lord needs you to look like, sound like, act like and dress like a true disciple of Jesus Christ.”
President Oaks said to follow that direction, Latter-day Saints should each pray for the Lord to help them find persons prepared to receive the message of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. To be most effective, prayers for this kind of inspiration should be accompanied by a commitment or “real intent.”
“Prayers should promise the Lord that if He will inspire us to speak to someone about the gospel, we will do it. Then remember that success in sharing the gospel is inviting people with love and genuine intent to help them, no matter their response.”
Finally, President Oaks reminded the youth to attend the temple.
“That is the House of the Lord. His Spirit is there. Serving there, as you can with a recommend from your bishop or branch president, will enlighten your minds to understand His gospel and strengthen you to keep His commandments.”
Elizabeth Escobedo said when President Oaks walked into the room, “all I felt was love.”
“He radiated the love of the Savior and of our Father in Heaven. When he spoke of immigration and how the leaders were aware of our needs and wanted to help, it was a confirmation that the Lord is aware of each one of us and our needs. It was an answer to our prayers.”
Felipe Martínez said he learned from President Oaks “that if I obey the commandments, attend church weekly and attend the temple, my faith will continue to grow.”