Brothers and Sisters, Aloha!
Elder Welch and I are thrilled to be serving here as missionaries team teaching in the Book of Mormon classes. Although we miss our four children and our 17 grandchildren, our students have already touched our hearts with their testimonies and faith practices. It is a joy for us to deepen our understanding of the scriptures together as we teach them.
We have been delighted to be reminded how much we love to teach since it has been several years since I retired from the BYU French department, and for Elder Welch, reading or teaching about the Book of Mormon is a lifetime passion.
Many people know of John W. Welch because he discovered chiasmus in the Book of Mormon as a missionary in Germany more than 50 years ago. Chiasmus is the literary technique of saying things in one order and then repeating them in the opposite order, almost uniquely used by biblical writers. The discovery that chiasmus also appears in the
Book of Mormon resulted for him in years of scholarship relating to the Bible and the Book of Mormon that has recently culminated in the creation of a website called bookofmormoncentral.org which currently reaches over 1 million people per week. Over the years, he has written many articles, books, some academic and others for more popular audiences.
He has served in a variety of interesting assignments, including Editor of BYU Studies and the Encyclopedia of Mormonism, in addition to being on the faculty of the BYU Law School for 40 years. His preparation included studies at Oxford and Duke University.
We met at BYU in Provo in the library, of course. Where else would you find a guy like this?
Elder Welch and I have combined our interests in art, literature, history, and travel and have visited many wonderful places in the world. We have found that teamwork enhances both of us and permits greater achievement than going it alone. Our family motto is “we’re better together, forever.”
When I was the director of a Study Abroad semester to France, I was grateful for his invaluable help with many aspects of my program, and it was in France, helping me, that he became intrigued with the allegorical interpretation of the parable of the Good Samaritan, present in the stained-glass windows of the Chartres cathedral. That led to lengthy studies, return trips to France, which was just fine with me, and eventually articles in the Ensign, BYU Studies, and finally in a book that we wrote together on seeing how the parables of Jesus reveal the Plan of Salvation.
Whenever we travel, the teachings of the Book of Mormon are never far from our mind, so we were intrigued to learn that the beautiful Christus statue in Denmark was originally commissioned in 1820. How very interesting to know that even as Christ was preparing Joseph Smith for the Book of Mormon translation, he was also inspiring an artist to create a new, even revolutionary image of him, so that instead of the painful depiction of his death on the cross at Calvary which is seen above the altar in most Western churches, the worshippers in Copenhagen, Denmark could contemplate the radiant and glorious Risen Redeemer, exactly as seen by those faithful believers at the temple in Bountiful, with outstretched and inviting arms, and with visible marks of his atoning sacrifice to remind us that he has paid the penalty for us. As we take his name upon us, we can become clean and welcome in his and the Father’s presence.
At the base of the original statue, we saw how the artist had conveyed power and movement, as the foot of the Savior is stepping purposefully toward the viewer, accompanied by the inviting words, “Come unto me,” which we could understand with the help of the scripture notation. But then, when we read and understood the terms above the Christus, who stands encircled by what seems to be a column of golden light, we knew this artistic inspiration was no chance coincidence of timing. God is truly in the details of his work. The Danish words from Mark 9:7 say, “This is my beloved Son. Hear ye him.”
This stunning portrayal of the true and living Christ was finished in 1829, just as His words in the Book of Mormon were being readied for publication. Is it any wonder that Danes responded in droves to the message of the missionaries and that the Book of Mormon was first translated into Danish?
And now all members everywhere have been blessed by our Church’s reproduction of this beautiful statue which can been seen in visitors centers everywhere and has recently been adopted as the official logo of the Church. As we stand beneath it, we are able imagine that we too can be a part of that amazing event at the temple in Bountiful and contemplate our coming encounter on the other side of the veil with Jesus Christ himself.
The Book of Mormon promises that those who read its pages will find peace and healing. I’d like to end by sharing the story of someone who found exactly that. This message came to me as the result of my first missionary experience, just 4 weeks ago in the MTC, when I posted a missionary message on Facebook as directed by my trainer. Within hours I received a surprising reply from a student in a high school French class more than 35 years ago.
He said, “I was just thinking of you, and here you popped up on Facebook. I want you to know I’ve been sober for 30 years and have been married in the temple.” Of course, I messaged him back, and (with his permission) here is his story.
After years of alcohol and drug abuse, he hit bottom. His parents put him in rehab, and he was able to stay sober, but mentally and emotionally he struggled even more.
He was deeply paranoid and diagnosed with schizophrenia. He was sure he had acquired AIDS from a tattoo needle and that the police were coming for him for some unknown crime, so he insisted on sleeping in his neighbor’s yard.
In desperation to grab hold of any truth, he read many religious books, including the Koran. He then decided to become a Buddhist. He found that nothing brought him peace. Then one day, his girlfriend said, “Why don’t you try the Book of Mormon?” I will share his words for what happened next:
“I was resistant. But then what did I have to lose. So, I got a book and started reading. I just got small tastes of something real, something I couldn’t explain. Something I hadn’t felt before. Don’t get me wrong. My life was still in shambles, but something kept urging me, and I had to follow. It wasn’t a particular verse or story. But I started to come alive. I am convinced that my dedication showed God I was serious by literally never letting the book leave my side.
My life got better, although I was not officially “happy,” so to speak, until even years later. The Book of Mormon gave me my life back. I have not worried about AIDS or the police in many years.
Something about the book made me feel safe.
Today, I still try to read what I have found every day – it opens a literal portal to the spirit world and makes the impossible happen. I still have a lot of struggles and am still learning how to live by faith. If I was with your students in Hawaii, I could tell them that this book is about safety.
Safety in the spiritual sense as well as the physical. Tell your students modern life is about spiritual war, and this book is literal shield. Life can be terrifying, but we have help. Thanks for listening. I’m honored you would want to share my story.”
Brothers and sisters, In the Book of Mormon, we have the messages of truth sent to us from God, which are essential to our mortal and our eternal salvation. When you go home today, will you take the time to pick up a physical copy of the Book of Mormon, this sign to you, personally, from God, and ask Alma’s question, the same one that my student asked—Is this not real? And as you do so, envision the moment you & I, all of us, will have as you face Moroni when you will look him in the eye And the Lord will say to you, Did I not declare my words unto you?
I testify to you that this book is real, it contains the words of God to us, and it can powerfully bless us in ways we can’t even imagine, and I leave this with you.