I’ve been called to serve in the Pennsylvania Philadelphia mission. I love what I get to talk about today and here’s why: for those of you who don’t know - my mom is a convert to the church and is the only remaining active member of her family. She grew up in Pennsylvania, just outside my mission boundaries. Within my mission boundaries is where her family settled. And as I’ve prepared for my mission, I’ve again and again been drawn back to the temple, which ties in perfectly with my topic: family history and covenants.
God teaches us that family has always been important. Nephi and his brothers were commanded to return to Jerusalem to retrieve the brass plates from Laban, which contained a record of Lehi’s ancestors. The Lord provided a way for the plates to be retrieved. It is important to know our genealogy and where we come from. When we follow God’s commandments, a way is provided for us to do His will, and we are blessed.
Everyone who has ever lived on this earth, those of us on the earth at this time, and those who are still to come are one large family and the work that goes on in the temple links us all together. Because my mom is the only member of the church in her family, I have been able to take many family names to the temple and do their work for them. And as I’ve done so, I’ve felt a special connection with my ancestors.
Elder John A. Widstoe, stated how during the great council in the preexistence, we accepted the Lord’s plan and in doing so “We became parties to the salvation of every person under that plan. We agreed, right then and there, to be not only saviors for ourselves, but measurably, saviors for the whole human family. We went into a partnership with the Lord. The working out of the plan became then not merely the Father’s work, and the Savior’s work, but also our work.” This gospel isn’t just for one man – it is for every man. We are responsible for our own salvation, but we are also responsible to assist in the salvation of others. As Paul said concerning the fathers, that they without us cannot be made perfect – neither can we without our dead be made perfect.
President Woodruff said this concerning temple work: “These, brethren and sisters, are important works. They are works which we do for others that they cannot do for themselves. This is what Jesus Christ did when He laid down His life for our redemption, because we could not redeem ourselves.” We in a way become their saviors. Just as Christ redeemed our souls and did for us what only He could do, we must also do the work that our dead cannot do for themselves.
Brother Beckstrand stood up here last week and basically wrote my talk for me.:) He said something along the lines of “Those on the other side of the veil who have not had their work done for them are in a state of darkness. They are waiting for us to perform their work and they cannot move forward until it is finished.” Joseph Smith said, “The greatest responsibility in this world that God has laid upon us is to seek after our dead.” So the question I want to ask all of you is this: Do you want to face your family one day and tell them you couldn’t do their work because you were too busy? That you couldn’t do their work because you couldn’t find a couple hours each week to devote to them? That you couldn’t do their work because you spent countless hours watching your favorite TV show? Whatever reason we have for neglecting this duty, as members of this church, we need to make a conscious effort to go to the temple and serve our dead. As Joseph Smith said, it’s our greatest responsibility.
Elder Holland gave a talk titled “We Are All Enlisted” in which he addressed the priesthood holders of the church and those young men preparing to serve missions. In it he says, “Missionary work isn’t the only thing we need to do in this big, wide, wonderful Church. But almost everything else we need to do depends on people first hearing the gospel of Jesus Christ and coming into the faith. Surely that is why Jesus’s final charge to the Twelve was just that basic – to ‘go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.’ Then, and only then, can the rest of the blessings of the gospel fully come … But as Nephi testified, none of that can come until one has ‘enter[ed] into the … gate.’”
I’ve had the awesome calling to teach the 7 year olds in Primary in our ward for the past few months and it’s so exciting to see them become excited about baptism. One of our kids, Jacob, was baptized a couple of weeks ago. It was so amazing to be there as a class to support him on his special day. By being baptized, he has taken the first step to receiving all the blessings that God has in store for him. He has already received so many. As he grows up and continues to make good choices, he will be able to partake of all the blessings that follow after baptism and later attend the temple. There is so much more after baptism. Those of us who have been baptized and been to the temple have a responsibility to remain worthy of a temple recommend and attend the temple regularly to perform the work for our dead.
My purpose as a missionary is to ‘invite others to come unto Christ by helping them receive the restored gospel through faith in Jesus Christ and His Atonement, repentance, baptism, receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost, and enduring to the end.’ (Preach My Gospel, Ch.1) Notice how it doesn’t stop at baptism. Baptism isn’t the end of the line. Missionaries help people get to the temple as well. Likewise, those who are on the other side need our help to progress. Family history work is missionary work.
President Henry B. Eyring said the following considering our own ancestors anxiously awaiting their turn to progress in the gospel: “Their hearts are bound to you. Their hope is in your hands. You will have more than your own strength as you choose to labor to find them.” We will have power we didn’t know we had when we do the work for our own family members. We are connected, but we become even more so when we do this sacred and important work. Sister Elaine S. Dalton said something similar to Elder Henry B. Eyring. She said, “As you take your own family names to the temple, the Lord will amplify your ability to learn and to focus on the things that matter most. You will come forth from the temple armed with power, and ‘His angels will be round about you to bear you up.’ Always with prophetic priorities come prophetic promises.”
To go along with that, the visiting teaching message in this month’s Ensign focuses on temple covenants. President Monson states concerning the promises and consequences of frequenting the temple: “The saving ordinances received in the temple that permit us to someday return to our Heavenly Father in an eternal family relationship and to be endowed with blessings and power from on high are worth every sacrifice and effort.” He then goes on to say, “As we remember the covenants we make within [the temple], we will be more able to bear every trial and to overcome each temptation.” The covenants and ordinances that occur in the temple are vital. When we go to the temple and remember the covenants we make there, when we do the work for those who have passed on, we have a chance to review what we have promised God, and we are strengthened. As I’ve gone to the temple, I’ve realized that concerning my mission, I’m not afraid. I’m nervous as heck, but not afraid. I know that my feeling this way is from attending the temple. I would normally be freaking out to the extreme and have had ten mental breakdowns by this point but I know that my Heavenly Father has my back and that when I put my trust in Him, I will be strengthened and I’ll be able to accomplish what I need to do as a missionary. My knowledge and faith in that is built upon each time I go to the temple. (Scripture: D&C 84:88) “And whoso receiveth you, there I will be also, for I will go before your face. I will be on your right hand and on your left, and my Spirit shall be in your hearts, and mine angels round about you, to bear you up.”
We have a saying up on our wall in our kitchen at home that says, “We go to the temple to make covenants; we go home to keep them.” We need to constantly be living worthy of those covenants that we made when we went through the temple. By going to the temple and doing the work for our dead, we are reminded of those covenants and it becomes easier to jump hurdles and dodge anything Satan throws our way.
Elder Russel M. Nelson said, “When our hearts turn to our ancestors, something changes inside us. We feel part of something greater than ourselves. Our inborn yearnings for family connections are fulfilled when we are linked to our ancestors through sacred ordinances of the temple.” When we do the work for our dead, we are blessed in so many ways.
The prophet Joseph Smith also taught us that those we do temple work for will “fall at the feet of those who have done their work, kiss their feet, embrace their knees, and manifest the most exquisite gratitude.” While I was in the temple doing initiatories one day, a sweet little temple worker told me, “You don’t know them, but they know you.” It’s amazing to know that those who have passed on are just waiting for us to do something, to serve them, to finish what they themselves couldn’t do and that they are aware of us and what we’re doing for them.
Of course, not everyone will accept the work we do for them. We know this. President Boyd K. Packer stated, “As for those who have died, there seems to be no way we can find them all. We have no way of knowing whether they will accept the work we do for them. We are sure some will reject it. Nevertheless, we are not released from the assignment to try.” Heavenly Father’s plan allows men his agency – that was what the war in heaven was fought over. Man is free to choose and make his own decisions. Just because we know some will not receive it, of their own free will, we should not be excused from doing our duty, for we know there are those who will accept it and will be forever grateful to us. Joseph Smith said, “Those Saints who neglect it [temple work] in behalf of their deceased relatives, do it at the peril of their own salvation.” From this, we know that their salvation is necessary and essential to our own salvation.
We are all connected. We are all one family. Members of a family rely on each other. We become closer to our ancestors as we perform this sacred work on their behalf. We are serving them. What did Christ do while on the earth? He served his fellowmen. Likewise, we should take on an attitude of service and serve those most in need – those who cannot do their work for themselves. We cannot make it through this life with an attitude of selfishness. Christ is our ultimate example, and he served those in need. What better place to serve than in the temple of our God?
President David O. McKay said, “Every member a missionary.” When I first received my call, I was so focused on the fact that I had been called and couldn’t get over how cool that was, rather than the fact that I had been called to serve. My best friend who is currently serving his own mission in Argentina later reminded me that as a missionary, I will be constantly serving everyone I see. Full-time missionaries are “called to SERVE.” Members of the Church are also called to serve. Not necessarily in the way that full-time missionaries serve but we are called to serve nonetheless. I have honestly and truly loved serving my ancestors by taking their names to the temple.
Family history is not only important to our salvation but can be fun and rewarding. My mom’s brothers and sisters are helping with the work by walking through cemeteries, and going to funeral homes in order to access records. They are not members but even they want to know about ancestors and are excited when they find someone new.
My dad’s side of the family has a ton of books and information on his side but my mom knew nothing when she started family history. If you haven’t started, start with the basics; census records and talking to family members to see what they might know. My mom started talking to her Uncle Frank. Everyone in the family, literally, said that he wouldn’t talk about his family. When we were out in Pennsylvania visiting once, we went to talk to him (I would have been really little). When he looked at my older sister Ashley he took her face in his hands and looked at her for a little while. Then he started talking about his mother, who’s name was Sarah Rebecca. He told us the memories he had of her. He also talked about his grandparents and gave my mom their names. When she put them together with the census records, she found that they were actually his great grandparents – his mother had been raised by her grandparents. There were stories of his mother being adopted, and now it made sense. Her grandparents had “adopted” her. Uncle Frank talked and talked about his family that day and when asked about things later he always said he didn’t know anything. Ashley really touched his heart. We found out that his mother had hair like Ashley’s and that to him, she must have looked like his mother. - When we do family history work, the Lord provides a way for it to be done. Uncle Frank never told anyone about his family but seeing Ashley touched something in him and we were able to learn a lot about our family.
My mom has also found that our ancestors on both sides came to America in the early 1600’s. We have a story from one who crossed mountains with his little girl in his saddlebags because she was so little. Both sides fought in the Revolutionary and Civil wars. My 4th great grandpa on my mother’s side (through her dad) was a captain in the Revolutionary war and was selected to assist in the crossing of the Delaware. After the crossing, he was one of the men placed in charge of the boats with orders to destroy them if the army failed at Trenton. He was at the battle of Brandywine, spent the hard winter at Valley Forge (which is in my mission) with George Washington, and was wounded at the Battle of Monmouth.
My mom has also found that her mother’s family were vinters in Germany. They had a lot of land and grapevines and were very wealthy. We even have a family wine. Ha. They left it all to a brother and came to America through Philadelphia, speaking only German. Their house in Germany is 400 years old and is still standing and being used today. We have a family castle in Ireland that still carries the family name over the door even though it is in ruins. It’s kind of funny that I have German and Irish family history – in parts of Pennsylvania, the Irish taught the German’s to speak English – you can imagine how that went over. It’s a different dialect over there.
We have found so many things that we never would have known if my mom hadn’t started family history; started from literally knowing nothing but a couple of names. Our ward challenge this year is to take 500 names to the temple – we always have crazy challenges in this ward. If you haven’t done some family history work, start now. Keep the covenants you made to do it. It is not only God’s work, it is also our work. Doing this work brings great blessings and power, as promised in the scriptures and by prophets. As Sister Elaine S. Dalton said, ‘With prophetic priorities come prophetic promises.’
Family history work is so important. Without it, those on the other side of the veil who are waiting to receive the further blessings that come from the gospel cannot receive them. We are the only ones who can perform the work necessary for them to progress in the gospel. They can only get so far on their own. We need to be there to help them the rest of the way.
I don’t know what I’ll run into while I’m on my mission. I know I will run into some challenges and that I will be stretched in ways that will help me grow. I’m grateful that I will be serving in a place that is not only rich in our nation’s and church’s history but also so much of my own family history. I’m grateful that I’ve been able to serve my ancestors as I’ve prepared to serve in the place they settled when they arrived on this continent. I know that families can be forever. I love my family and I love this gospel with all my heart. I’ve always loved the quote that says, “A missionary is a person who leaves their family for a short while so others can be with their family for eternity.” I know that this gospel brings peace and happiness and that through our Savior, Jesus Christ and his atonement, we can be saved and live with God and our families forever. I feel truly blessed that I am a part of this great work and that I can help bring that message of peace to those who have been prepared to hear and receive it. I love my Heavenly Father and my Savior with all that I am. I say and testify of these things in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.