President Russell M. Nelson’s devotional message Sunday to Latter-day Saints living near the center of the United States — in Oklahoma and Kansas — offered a geographically appropriate challenge:
“Let us focus on one of the greatest gifts our Heavenly Father has given us to center our lives on Him and His Beloved Son,” he said. “I am referring to the Book of Mormon. It is a gift to us from God. It is the keystone of our religion because it contains the very heart, the center of His doctrine.”
The Church President was joined at the broadcast — originating from the Conference Center in Salt Lake City — by his wife, Sister Wendy W. Nelson, along with Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and his wife, Sister Harriet R. Uchtdorf.
President Nelson noted that he and Sister Nelson study the Book of Mormon every day. “I repeat a promise I have made before, that if you will read from the Book of Mormon every day, you will make better decisions every day.”
President Nelson began his remarks Sunday by announcing a Church donation of $2 million made hours earlier to the First Americans Museum in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
Read more: Church’s $2 million donation to Oklahoma’s First Americans Museum will help reconnect Native American families
“The gift from the Church will strengthen Native American and other families by creating within the museum a FamilySearch center,” he said. “This center will make it possible for visitors to the museum to receive help in preserving personal histories, searching for ancestors and building their own family trees.”
The First Americans Museum, he added, is a reminder to everyone of their own ancestors “and of our deep gratitude for those who have come here from many different countries and traditions.”
Even while honoring the past, there is much to look forward to, promised President Nelson.
“We can face our future with faith — faith in God and faith in our personal opportunities to heed the word of the Lord.
“He invites all to come unto Him and partake of His goodness. He wants us to experience joy through our mortal journey. He denies no one — black and white, bond and free, male and female. All are alike unto God.”
President Nelson noted the “sheer goodness and stalwart faithfulness” that define Latter-day Saints living in the heartland of the United States. That geography provides a powerful metaphor about how the Lord wants His people to live.
“He wants us to keep in the center of the covenant path,” he said. “He wants us to understand the core, or center, of His doctrine. He wants us to purify our hearts — our very centers — so that we can withstand attacks of the adversary.
“God pleads with us to live in the center of our temple covenants, where we find ultimate spiritual safety.”
Reading the Book of Mormon, he testified, will bring joy and an increased understanding of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The byproducts of such gospel understanding are peace, direction and joy.
The purpose of the Book of Mormon is twofold: First, to convince people that Jesus is the Christ. And second, to help God’s children to know of the covenant He made anciently with the house of Israel, whose scattered tribes are being gathered in these latter days.
“The Book of Mormon reveals what great things the Lord has done for His covenant people. It gives hope to all that they are not cast off forever but can now be gathered safely to Him, to His fold and to His gospel.”
The Book of Mormon, he added, is another testament of Jesus Christ. It is tangible evidence that the promised gathering of Israel has begun.
“The Book of Mormon contains the Lord’s definition of the gospel. The gospel embraces the Atonement of Jesus Christ. It also embraces the Lord’s role as our Exemplar. Thus, by our studying and living according to teachings of the Book of Mormon, we have the information needed to become more like the Lord.”
President Nelson said that the Book of Mormon is not a textbook. “Any formal history textbook would give equivalent attention to all its component generations. The Book of Mormon does not do that.”
Instead, it further clarifies many Bible teachings — while revealing new concepts and refuting many falsehoods, including the notion that revelation ended with the Bible and that one can be saved by grace alone.
The Book of Mormon also defines the sacramental prayers, reveals “plain and precious things” lost from the Bible, affirms the antiquity of temples and clarifies the certainty of the gathering of Israel.
“Perhaps most importantly, it teaches the doctrine of the Atonement of Jesus Christ far more clearly and expansively than does any other book,” he said. “In doing so, it describes the Savior’s ministry among the people of this hemisphere after His Resurrection in some of the most compelling verses in all of scripture.”
The Book of Mormon also reveals new information and concepts, including the interrelationships among the Creation, the Fall and the Atonement of Christ; the envisioned discovery and colonization of America; the need for opposition as part of moral agency; and an understanding of eternal existence: the premortal, mortal and postmortal periods of life.
President Nelson also testified of the miracle of the translation of the Book of Mormon. “What the Prophet Joseph accomplished is something translators cannot duplicate even today with modern technology.”
The Book of Mormon, he concluded, is “the finest tool of conversion” available.
“Your daily study of the Book of Mormon will transform your life,” he said. “It will help you heal your hearts, your relationships and your homes.
“My dear brothers and sisters who live in the center of this great country, truths contained in the Book of Mormon will center your lives on Jesus Christ and His gospel.”
‘Heartland’s’ rich history
Elder Uchtdorf is no stranger to Oklahoma and Kansas. He became acquainted with the U.S. central states decades ago while in air force pilot flight training. He came to appreciate the natural beauty of Oklahoma and Kansas — and the friendliness of their people.
“As an aviator, I understand that the pressurized flight suit was invented here, and most of the world’s general aviation planes come from your area,” he said. “And when it comes to barbecue ribs, you are supposed to be the world champions.”
The region’s rich history includes the American pioneer experience and the hardships of Native Americans who suffered exposure, disease and starvation while walking the Trail of Tears.
Elder Uchtdorf said he was delighted Sunday to celebrate the partnership between the Church and the First Americans Museum that honors some 39 North American Indian tribes. “And I am especially pleased that the Church is supporting this endeavor in ways that includes a FamilySearch room that allows people of all races to research and learn more about their ancestral roots.”
As a boy growing up in Germany, Elder Uchtdorf enjoyed reading adventure stories set in the old American West that were written by German author Karl May. They were hugely popular around the world. In May’s stories, the American Indians were often portrayed as noble and wise individuals who typically triumphed in the end.
Those books transported young Dieter Uchtdorf to a distant time and place. But their messages were universal and timeless.
“I suppose there is a point for sharing this childhood experience with you,” he said. “I think it is that we, as world citizens, have more in common than we might suppose.
“That is not only true for us as members of the Church but also as human beings – as children of our Heavenly Father. If all of us would focus more on the divine fact that we are all brothers and sisters and would acknowledge the many positive things that we have in common — including life experiences and dreams we share — it should not be too hard to get along as individuals, communities and nations, regardless of where we live and what our backgrounds or life’s circumstances may be.”
Conversely, he added, it is not hard to find things that divide people. History reveals the human tendency for one group of people to believe they are the “good guys” and others the “bad guys.”
“The antidote to this thinking that causes such great divides between people,” said Elder Uchtdorf, “is simply to try to get to know and understand people on a personal level.”
Church members, in general, are exemplary when it comes to striving to understand others.
“We commend you for every act of kindness you extend as individuals, wards and stakes. These things matter. They soften hearts and help understand each other.”
Trust that God will fight a person’s battles and will take care of them, and will go before their face. Invite others to seek the love of God and hear the gospel’s message.
“This is one of the things the gospel of Jesus Christ does for those who embrace it: It teaches us to magnify the love in our heart until we see all men and women as God’s children — as our brothers and sisters,” he said.
“It unites and unifies every man, woman and child. It teaches that we are not enemies, but of one divine and eternal family, sons and daughters of a loving Heavenly Father.”
A personal interview with the Savior
Life’s uncertainties are many, said Sister Nelson. The weather, one’s health, one’s work and even the actions of others are all uncertain.
“There is, however, one thing you and I can count on: One day, each one of us will have a personal interview with the Savior. That meeting is going to happen. We cannot run away. And, we cannot hide. There is nothing anyone can do to avoid or to cancel that meeting.”
Latter-day Saints can also be certain of President Nelson’s love for each of them. He wants that inevitable, individual interview with the Savior to be wonderful for all.
The Church President’s teachings and invitations — including those shared at general conference — can help everyone prepare for their own divine interviews.
“President Nelson is functioning as your interview coach when he pleads with you to: Remove the worldly debris from your life. Repent daily. Remodel your home into a sanctuary of faith. Minister in a higher, holier way. Make time for the Lord every day.”
Since becoming President of the Church, President Nelson has delivered 31 general conference messages.
“I invite you to study, and then study again, each one of these 31 messages,” said Sister Nelson. “As you prayerfully seek to know what you can start doing, or stop doing — right now — and then do it, you will be preparing for your interview with the Savior.”
Sister Nelson testified that the Holy Ghost has guided her own life as she prayerfully listened to and pondered the inspired messages of general conference.
“As we eagerly, diligently and prayerfully study the words of the Lord in the scriptures and as delivered by prophets, seers and revelators, the Holy Ghost may highlight some words to ensure they lodge deeply into our hearts and minds. Or He may show us how to immediately apply some words to our lives. And sometimes He may bring to us words that were never spoken.”
Sister Uchtdorf said she could see in her mind’s eye the many young women and young men participating in Sunday’s devotional. “I can see your beautiful smiles and feel your excitement for being part of this great work.”
She spoke of being a teenage Church convert in Germany. She was the only Latter-day Saint at her school. She wondered if she should tell her classmates about her Church membership, or simply avoid the topic.
She decided to stand up for her beliefs. Her friends had no idea what a Latter-day Saint was, offering her a natural opportunity to share her reasons for accepting the gospel.
“It was not always easy, and sometimes I had testing experiences,” said Sister Uchtdorf. “But in the end, my self-worth increased, and even the heartfelt bonds with my good friends increased. They often told me that they admired my courage to stand up for my faith.
“This in return made it even easier for me to share more details about what the Church stands for, and to live my faith.”
Sister Uchtdorf encouraged her young listeners in Oklahoma and Kansas to stand up for their beliefs. Don’t be afraid of peer pressure or negative comments. “Be yourself, and I promise you, angels will be on your side. Some of these angels may even be your Catholic, Protestant, Jewish or Muslim friends.”
Make the standards of “For the Strength of Youth” a trusted guide. Be courageous.
“Make sacrament meeting an important part of your life,” she added. “Keep in your mind and heart what the sacrament means to you. In the sacrament prayer you are asked to always remember Jesus Christ and keep His commandments.
“In return God promises that you will always have His Spirit to be with you. What a wonderful promise and blessing.”
Everyone will know good times and hard times. Support each other during all times, good and bad.
“Be kind to each other. Forgive and love each other. This Christ-like behavior will strengthen you and the Church. It will build your faith; I have a testimony of that.”
Elder Paul B. Pieper, a General Authority Seventy and president of the North America Southwest Area, conducted Sunday’s devotional. He was joined by his wife, Sister Melissa Pieper.
A pair of videos were broadcast prior to the Nelsons’ and Uchtdorfs’ messages. The videos shared the uplifting story of the Church’s rich history in Oklahoma and Kansas that stretches back well over a century. They also noted the service-driven devotion of present-day Latter-day Saints residing in the two neighboring states.
Approximately 49,000 Church members live in Oklahoma. More than 38,000 members call Kansas home.
A multicultural choir and orchestra from stakes in Oklahoma performed “Consider the Lilies.” The musical number was prerecorded in the First Americans Museum.
Prayers were offered by Kansas member Lynn Hulet and Oklahoma member Bonnie Turner.
Note: This story was updated on Oct. 21.