LDSBC devotional: The impact of history’s unnamed heroes

College students — who typically grapple with uncertainty about the future — are now facing an additional array of unknowns, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Nevertheless, Deseret News Head Digital Officer Burke Olsen told LDS Business College students he draws encouragement from a statement by President Gordon B. Hinckley. 

“The major work of the world is not done by geniuses,” the late president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints declared. “It is done by ordinary people, with balance in their lives, who have learned to work in an extraordinary manner.”

For those wondering what kind of difference they can make in the world, this statement offers hope amid uncertainty.

Unnamed heroes in scripture

In a devotional broadcast on Tuesday, May 26, Olsen spoke to LDSBC students about “unnamed heroes” in the scriptures who made a difference notwithstanding their anonymity.

Lehi and Sariah had multiple daughters in addition to six sons named in the Book of Mormon, Olsen said. “These women’s names, birth order and stories are not known to us, but their sacrifices were undoubtedly real. They faced uncertain times, family feuds and violence.”

When God commanded Nephi to separate from his brothers Laman and Lemuel, these sisters followed him, according to the one verse that mentions them. 

The New Testament contains the story of a Canaanite woman who begged Jesus to heal her daughter. Though the Savior rebuffed her because she was not of the house of Israel, she persisted in her pleading until He said, “O woman, great is thy faith: be it unto thee even as thou wilt” (Matthew 15:28).

“Her perseverance inspires me to increase the sincerity and humility with which I pray for specific blessings,” Olsen told his remote audience.

The Book of Mormon tells the story of four great missionaries — Ammon, Aaron, Omner and Himni — who changed their rebellious ways after an angelic visitation and spent 14 years laboring among the Lamanites. While many Lamanites converted to the gospel of Jesus Christ, efforts among the Amulonites and Amalekites — two Nephite peoples — were less fruitful, Olsen said. Zero Amulonites and only one Amalekite converted to the gospel.

A depiction of the Canaanite woman who begged Jesus to heal her daughter is displayed during an LDS Business College devotional broadcast on Tuesday, May 26, 2020.
A depiction of the Canaanite woman who begged Jesus to heal her daughter is displayed during an LDS Business College devotional broadcast on Tuesday, May 26, 2020. Credit: Screenshot, ChurchofJesusChrist.org

“Only one from an entire people — there’s got to be a great, untold mission story there,” Olsen remarked. “We surmise that this woman or man walked a lonely path and chose God over family, friends and traditions.

“Though unnamed, Nephi’s sisters, the Canaanite woman and the Amalekite convert can inspire us to live with more faith in times of hardship and trial, even when we walk alone.”

The Book of Mormon also tells of a group of people who worked with King Benjamin to “establish peace in the land” (Words of Mormon 1:17-18).

“With the help of these,” Mormon wrote, King Benjamin brought about great change.

“He did not and could not have done it alone,” Olsen said.

“Though their names are lost to us, they helped establish and fortify a people who, many years later, following King Benjamin’s remarkable speech, would declare with one voice, ‘We are willing to enter into a covenant with our God to do his will, and to be obedient to his commandments in all things’” (Mosiah 5:5).

Modern unnamed heroes

Today, many anonymous heroes serve without recognition, Olsen continued. When he served as a bishop, ward members often prayed for him. 

Burke Olsen, head digital officer at the Deseret News, speaks during an LDS Business College devotional broadcast that was streamed on Tuesday, May 26, 2020.
Burke Olsen, head digital officer at the Deseret News, speaks during an LDS Business College devotional broadcast that was streamed on Tuesday, May 26, 2020. Credit: Screenshot, ChurchofJesusChrist.org

“Sometimes, while sitting in sacrament meetings, looking out into our congregation, I had this thought: There can be no bishop without a ward, no shepherd without a flock,” he said. “If I were the only one serving and ministering in our ward, very little, if anything, would have been accomplished.”

He recently conducted a temple recommend interview via video conference for a woman anxious to maintain a recommend despite the closure of temples due to the pandemic. She normally worships in the temple weekly and plans to return the first day it opens.

“What a marvelous example from someone who is dedicated to the Lord and whose name is certain to be recorded in the Book of Life, even if it never marks the pages of world history,” Olsen said.

His wife, Nicole, shared a quote with their family a few weeks ago from former Church president Howard W. Hunter.

“Don’t be overly concerned with status. … [O]ur focus should be on righteousness, not recognition; on service, not status,” President Hunter said. 

“The faithful visiting teacher [or ministering sister, we might say today], who quietly goes about her work month after month, is just as important to the work of the Lord as those who occupy what some see as more prominent positions in the Church. Visibility does not equate to value.”

Olsen added, “I do not have the words to express the depth of my gratitude to Nicole for her vital though less-than-glamorous service in our home. While some of my callings have been more visible, her time with our children has been more consistent and is ultimately more important for our family. And she does all that and much more on top of faithfully fulfilling her own Church callings.”

A body of Saints

There is a vital place where Church members are collectively mentioned, he noted. The new, official Church symbol emphasizes the name of Jesus Christ. Next to His name are the words “Latter-day Saints.”

“The name of the Church has a singular focus with plural participants,” Olsen said.

The official symbol of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is displayed during an LDS Business College devotional on Tuesday, May 26, 2020.
The official symbol of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is displayed during an LDS Business College devotional on Tuesday, May 26, 2020. Credit: Screenshot, ChurchofJesusChrist.org

“We do not understand Saints to be venerated disciples to whom we pray for intercession. Rather, the Latter-day Saints are like the Saints of former days — unnamed people who follow the Lord, strive for holiness and choose ‘to repent and work righteousness rather than to perish’” (Alma 13:10).

Rather than focusing on temporary titles, callings or assignments, Church members should cultivate their identity as disciples of Jesus Christ.

“In direct contrast to the way the world measures worth and influence — in numbers of followers, likes and shares — the true measurement of our contribution in the Kingdom of God might be summarized by our quiet efforts to serve the Lord and minister to those around us,” Olsen taught.

“The vast majority of our Father’s children will not have our names recorded in the annals of world history. We may not be mentioned in the personal journals of the presidents of the Church, and our stories are unlikely to be told in future volumes of ‘Saints.’ But we can make a difference.

“It is my prayer that each of us will take heart from the humble heroes of the past and present and that we will be to President Nelson what the unnamed holy men were to King Benjamin: Helpers whose influence will affect history, even if our names are never mentioned therein.”