Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Converting Power of The Book of Mormon

As is his custom, my father continues to write his "Heart Lines" message to his former missionaries in the California Arcadia Mission at General Conference time. Dad is now in his 95th year and continues to function well even with his physical limitations. I am happy to publish his latest missive on this page, believing it might be helpful and insightful to a wider audience:

April, 2016

At this season, Dear Friends –

- When all Mormondom is unitedly and simultaneously studying The Book of Mormon, I have some persistent observations. One pearl is that when properly approached, this amazing book has enormous powers of conversion. Without any embellishments or consultant commentary, the book’s powerful truths shine forth and are plainly evident.

Parley P. Pratt
This has always been true. In the earliest days of the restored Church, a young itinerant preacher, Parley P. Pratt, left his home for good to embark on a self-appointed mission to share the light he had received from his own personal search of the Biblical scriptures. It was the beginning of a marvelous ministerial career for him.

Amid his journeyings he paid full passage for his wife and him to travel by boat to Albany, New York. Midway, at Rochester, however, Parley had a spiritual nudge which changed his direction and his life. He wrote:

I informed my wife that, notwithstanding our passage being paid through the whole distance, yet I must leave the boat. . . Why, I did not know; but so it was plainly manifest by the Spirit to me. I said to her: “we part for a season; go and visit our friends in our native place; I will come soon, but how soon I know not; for I have a work to do in this region of country, and what it is, or how long it will take to perform it, I know not, but I will come when it is performed.” (Autobiography of Parley P. Pratt, pp. 18 – 20).

Parley went ashore and walked from village to village successfully imparting his convictions as he understood them from the scriptures. One day in his travels, a Baptist deacon introduced to him a strange and unusual book, The Book of Mormon, which made claims that were stunning and appealing to Parley. He wrote:
I opened it with eagerness, and read its title page. I then read the testimony of several witnesses in relation to the manner of its being found and translated. After this I commenced its contents by course. I read all day; eating was a burden, I had no desire for food; sleep was a burden when the night came, for I preferred reading to sleep.

As I read, the spirit of the Lord was upon me, and I knew and comprehended that the book was true, as plainly and manifestly as a man comprehends and knows that he exists. My joy was now full, as it were, and I rejoiced sufficiently to more than pay me for all the sorrows, sacrifices and toils of my life. I soon determined to see the young man who had been the instrument of its discovery and translation. (Ibid.)

We were assimilated into this fabric-truth during our missionary days in California, 40 years ago. The identical story-theme we found true was represented by the conversion stories we were telling in those days. I repeat it now to demonstrate that the power is still in that awesome book, which when approached with humble sincerity and desire to love and live its truths still has its capacity to convert.

On a Thursday night, far across the world from here and many years ago, another conversion story materialized, as related by Elder J. Thomas Fyans, First Council of the Seventy, at a stake conference of the LaPuente Stake on May 28, 1978.

A chance encounter on a bus between a Mormon elder and a Methodist minister unfolded. The young elder spoke of a strange book, The Book of Mormon, and the minister, a graduate of Northwestern University, went home with the book determined to prove it false. The words, “prove it false, prove it false” were riveted in his mind, challenged to do so by his seat companion on the bus.

At home that night, he said to his wife, Betty, “I’m on a special project. I want complete solitude and no food. I’ll be fasting.” He pleaded with the Lord on Friday, and he listened to the town hall clock peel off hours of the day until it struck 6 p.m. Then he returned to the elder’s apartment and boldly stated: “I want to talk about baptism, and don’t get out your flannel board. I want to be baptized now!”

Amazed, the elders phoned their mission president and said, “He’s back! What shall we do with him?” President J. Thomas Fyans, president of the Uruguay Montevideo Mission, answered, “Baptize him privately, then bring him to the mission home to see me.” Ninety minutes later the font was full and the elder baptized him.

On Saturday night, the minister phoned his wife, Betty, and announced, “I’m a member of the Mormon Church!” She laughed, unbelievingly. “It’s true,” said her husband. “I was baptized last night.” She asked so many questions and cried and cried. It was 3 a.m. before she settled down to seriously listen. It was agreed that he shouldn’t tell anyone until he reported to his superiors. So when he arose the next morning, Rev. Whitlock read in John 3:5 about Nicodemus’s visit with Jesus. He quoted that passage to his church leaders, saying, “Please study this passage, and next week I will come back and I’ll tell you the truth of this verse.”

The troubled couple then came to the mission home. Betty said, “I just can’t face our friends from our church.” They went as husband and wife into the President’s study to talk out their problems. Lunch intervened, and President Fyans opened the door and said, “I’ll not mention anything about the Mormon Church if that will make you feel better. But first, Brother Whitlock, would you like to hear the missionaries teach the gospel in the organized fashion we regularly do?” His wife, Betty, quickly answered, “You bet I would,” with her jaw defiantly set.

So the Whitlocks had one lesson taught to them every day. The plan of salvation brought happy resonance to Brother Whitlock all week. When the elders quoted 1 Corinthians 15:29, Brother Whitlock exclaimed, “Betty, I’ve wondered all my life about baptism for the dead, and they know the explanation!”

At the traditional Saturday night farewell for departing missionaries, this inspired elder tried to testify for the last time in the mission field, but he was overcome by his tears. In the presence of his converts, Brother and Sister Whitlock, he was without words. He couldn’t speak because of his joy. This was the elder, who on the bus had challenged Rev. Whitlock to prove The Book of Mormon false.

And so we say – The Book of Mormon is true! It will stand up to any scrutiny, even from those who are learned and think themselves wise, who want to disprove it.

Powerful witness also comes from Christ, himself, that the book is true (D&C 19:26), and that those who receive, read and believe the book shall receive eternal life (D&C 20:14).

Faithfully, your friend,

President L. Brent Goates


  1. Love that great book and this amazing latter-day work! I have been teaching Isaiah in Seminary (which I will remind you is a class of 14-year-olds at 6 am....sometimes during weeks where we put the clocks forward by an hour...yikes!) but it has been such a joy for me to feel the power of his prophecies that in these latter-days this marvelous work would come forth.

    One of my student's sisters returned from a mission to Japan (shoutout Jess!) on Friday. I asked her to come to class today and share her testimony of what it was like to be a part of the work prophesied by Isaiah. As she finished sharing some experiences, I asked her to tell the story of the first vision in Japanese and share her testimony, which she did in Japanese and then English. And as always, the Spirit flooded the room as she testified of the First Vision in words none of us could understand with our mortal minds, but that nevertheless resonated with our spirits. It is a true story!

    I shared The Book of Mormon with a friend of mine last week. I hadn't given her one in the past because her husband already had one he was given by a friend many years ago, but when Harold sent us copies for Christmas to share with others, I knew I wanted to mark one and share it with this friend when the time was right. I am praying that she and her family can gain a witness of that book so that they can enjoy all the blessings of participating in God's work.

    This work is joyful, but it is also hard. I admit that I am often weary as I serve in my home and in God's church, but I'm beginning to think that's the be weary and stretched enough that we know full-well that we must completely depend on Christ, rather than rely on our own limited strength. There is nothing in this world I would rather do with my life and my time -- it's the reason God gave me both of those things. I feel His strength as I stumble imperfectly through the things He asks me to do, and my love for Him and His great sacrifice for me is strong and vibrant. (And for me, the witness and depth of that strength has come to me because I have also never felt so weak).

    The Book of Mormon is the word of God, and this church -- this beautiful, sometimes frustrating, imperfect, awe-inspiring church is HIS church and kingdom on the earth. I am humbled and amazed that our Lord and Savior invites us to be a part of this work.

  2. Thanks for sharing, Mel. I resonated with your last thought that the Lord allows us, "invites us," to be a part of this work. The other night in a sealing session at the SL Temple I was struck again with the reality of how individualized this work of salvation really is. We spent two hours there working on about 100 names, and in each case with each individual there was a prodigious amount of proxy time expended on each name. Rather than throwing all those names into a bucket and doing "batch" sealings, which would be so much easier, care and time and energy is given to each individual. There are no shortcuts for offering the blessings on either side of the veil. For all the work is often tedious, time-consuming, soul stretching and yet so fulfilling and edifying. And we all get to participate one precious soul at a time.