How to invite the Spirit of Elijah and ‘fortify’ family, Elder and Sister Stevenson share at RootsTech

Led by Captain Moroni, the Nephites in the Book of Mormon fortified their cities against their enemies, digging up “heaps of earth” and building “works of timbers.” 

They constructed towers with “places of security,” and such preparations “astonished” their enemies (see Alma 49:5, 8; 50:1-6).

“As the Nephite cities of old, we can fortify our homes and establish a defense and a refuge,” Elder Gary E. Stevenson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles told families and individuals gathered at the Salt Palace Convention Center in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Feb. 29. 

As keynote speakers on RootsTech Family Discovery Day, Elder Stevenson and his wife, Sister Lesa Stevenson, offered ideas to help Latter-day Saints invite the Spirit of Elijah into their homes and fortify their families. 

Elder Gary E. Stevenson and Sister Lesa Stevenson participate during Family Discovery Day as part of RootsTech at the Salt Palace Convention Center in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Feb. 29.
Elder Gary E. Stevenson and Sister Lesa Stevenson participate during Family Discovery Day as part of RootsTech at the Salt Palace Convention Center in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Feb. 29. Credit: Intellectual Reserve, Inc.

President Russell M. Nelson has said, “The adversary is increasing his attacks on faith and upon us and our families at an exponential rate. To survive spiritually, we need counterstrategies and proactive plans.” 

The home-centered shift, Sister Stevenson said, quoting President Nelson, “has the potential to unleash the power of families.”

“Whatever your family looks like, it needs to be protected,” Elder Stevenson said. “What we observe time and time again is that the home is the most powerful defense and refuge for our families.”

Share family stories and personal testimonies

President Nelson defines the Spirit of Elijah as “a manifestation of the Holy Ghost bearing witness of the divine nature of the family.”

“The Spirit of Elijah is all about family — our eternal family — past, present and future,” Elder Stevenson said. 

Every summer, Sister Stevenson and her sister-in-law host “Grandma Camp” — a time for cousins to strengthen bonds, learn skills and build faith. Last year at camp, the family highlighted the story of Elder Stevenson’s great aunt, Mary Elizabeth Rollins. 

During Family Discovery Day on Feb. 29, Talia, Layla and Sophie, granddaughters of Elder and Sister Stevenson, hold a copy of the Book of Mormon from the Nauvoo era that belonged to their ancestor Mary Elizabeth Rollins.
During Family Discovery Day on Feb. 29, Talia, Layla and Sophie, granddaughters of Elder and Sister Stevenson, hold a copy of the Book of Mormon from the Nauvoo era that belonged to their ancestor Mary Elizabeth Rollins. Credit: Intellectual Reserve, Inc.

Elder and Sister Stevenson invited three of their granddaughters to the stage to share the impact of Mary Elizabeth Rollins’ story — how Isaac Morley lent her as a young girl the only copy of the Book of Mormon in the town and she stayed awake all night to read it. 

“This story reminds me that the Book of Mormon isn’t just for adults — it’s for kids too. And Mary was only a child when she read it, so I can read it too,” said Sophie, a granddaughter. 

As a surprise to his granddaughters, Elder Stevenson showed them a Book of Mormon given to Mary Elizabeth by the Prophet Joseph Smith in Nauvoo, which is now in the Church’s possession.

Elder Gary E. Stevenson is pictured with Kayle Morley, the great-great-grandson of Isaac Morley, at RootsTech. Elder Stevenson holds a copy of the Book of Mormon Isaac Morley lent to his great aunt, Mary Elizabeth Rollins.
Elder Gary E. Stevenson is pictured with Kayle Morley, the great-great-grandson of Isaac Morley, at RootsTech. Elder Stevenson holds a copy of the Book of Mormon Isaac Morley lent to his great aunt, Mary Elizabeth Rollins. Credit: Intellectual Reserve, Inc.

A few weeks ago, Elder and Sister Stevenson met Brother Kayle Morley, the great-great-grandson of Isaac Morley, at a stake conference in Moroni, Utah. “The paths that first crossed 190 years ago have now crossed again,” Sister Stevenson said. 

Elder and Sister Stevenson demonstrated how to record stories using the FamilySearch Memories app and shared the story of how they met at Utah State University. 

Family stories can strengthen children in many ways, said Elder Stevenson, citing a study from Emory University, which concluded that children who know more about their family stories have “higher levels of self-esteem, better family functioning, lower levels of anxiety, fewer behavioral problems, and better resiliency.”

Pass down family names

The Book of Mormon is a collection of family stories, Sister Stevenson said. The Book of Mormon also shows the power of family names. 

For example, Helaman named his sons Lehi and Nephi. The significance of their family names gave them strength to stay righteous during a time of wickedness (see Helaman 5:6-7).

“Passing down a family name is a distinct and unique way we can help our children feel a connection to their eternal families and examples from the past,” Sister Stevenson said. 

Another example is Elder Stevenson’s middle name of Evan, which is the name of his father, grandfather and great-grandfather. His son shares the middle name and his grandson is named Evan. 

Elder Stevenson shared the story of a couple they met in Japan, whose son Johnny asked his Buddhist grandfather the meaning of his middle name Kurado — “keeper of the treasure.” Johnny’s interest in family history, as well as his mother’s miraculous conversion, led his grandfather and family to rediscovering their family genealogy scrolls dating back to 831 AD.

From left: Elder Gary E. Stevenson, Sister Lisa Stevenson, Kyle Stevenson, Johnny Gathright, Denny Gathright, Hiroko Gathright and John Gathright. Elder Stevenson performed the sealing for the Gathright family at the Taipei Taiwan Temple in November 2015. Kyle and Johnny were serving as missionaries in the Taiwan Taipei Mission.
From left: Elder Gary E. Stevenson, Sister Lisa Stevenson, Kyle Stevenson, Johnny Gathright, Denny Gathright, Hiroko Gathright and John Gathright. Elder Stevenson performed the sealing for the Gathright family at the Taipei Taiwan Temple in November 2015. Kyle and Johnny were serving as missionaries in the Taiwan Taipei Mission. Credit: Screenshot ChurchofJesusChrist.org

“Johnny really was the ‘keeper of the treasure’ as his middle name ‘Kurado’ implies,” Elder Stevenson said. 

Connect with family and establish traditions

The family unit can provide a sense of belonging in a world that is becoming ever more disconnected, Elder Stevenson said. “Seize every opportunity to connect and get to know the members of your family and extended family during meals, reunions, funerals and more.”

Elder and Sister Stevenson met at Utah State University and were married in the Idaho Falls Temple.
Elder and Sister Stevenson met at Utah State University and were married in the Idaho Falls Temple. Credit: Screenshot ChurchofJesusChrist.org

For example, when Sister Stevenson’s Grandma Margarite died, her family gathered together and celebrated her life by filling out four generations in the “My Family” booklet. 

“These simple ways of connecting to our families help us in our efforts to create a sanctuary of faith and to help our children know who they are and where they belong,” Sister Stevenson said. 

Use technology to do good

As parents fortify their homes, children will be protected as they go out into the world each day, Elder Stevenson said. “We can then take comfort that the fortifications we build will contribute to the individual spiritual armor they bear.” 

Sister Stevenson added, “They are, after all, as President Nelson taught us, the Lord’s youth battalion.”

Technology can be a powerful tool for gospel learning and positive connections. Help, teach and invite children to use more of their screen time to read the scriptures, Elder Stevenson said.  

“In the history of the world, you are the first generation of parents and children that carry not just your scriptures, but also your personal family history — your family tree — and it can be with you at all times on this small device,” he said.

Serve together in the temple

A fortified home can be an extension of the House of the Lord, Sister Stevenson said. “Strive to nurture a desire within your children and grandchildren to attend the temple as a family and with their friends.”

President Nelson said at RootsTech in 2017: “Our collections of stories and photos should never become an end point in themselves — if we know who our ancestors are, know marvelous things about them, but we leave them stranded on the other side without their ordinances — such diversion will not be of any help to our ancestors who remain confined in their spirit prison.” 

“Understanding the eternal nature of the temple will draw you to your family; and understanding the eternal nature of the family will draw you to the temple,” Elder Stevenson said. 

Elder and Sister Stevenson are pictured with their four sons and their families.
Elder and Sister Stevenson are pictured with their four sons and their families. Credit: Screenshot ChurchofJesusChrist.org

In closing, Sister Stevenson told the audience, “I know that as you strive to do your best, you can start to ‘unleash the power of family.’ … You and your family can become a great force for good in today’s world.”

Said Elder Stevenson: “Please remember that you are never and will never be alone. And I would add that these ministering angels know who you are, they care for you, they love you, and they will become a vital part of the fortification of your home. The Spirit of Elijah helps make this possible.”

He then extended a promise “that as you participate in this divine work, that it will come back to you, that it will fortify your home, that it will become a defense and a refuge for you.”

Read more about RootsTech 2020:

Apostles who have been keynote speakers at RootsTech since 2011.
Apostles who have been keynote speakers at RootsTech since 2011. Credit: Church News graphic