Photography by Scot Facer Proctor.
President Dieter F. Uchtdorf was honored with the Distinguished Public Service Award by the BYU Management Society of Washington DC at a gala on April 16th at the Marriott Parkman Hotel. This 27th annual event brought together 850 Latter-day Saints from all parts of the BYU community in the national capital area and was the organization’s 27th event, and one of its largest to date. President Uchtdorf was recognized for his example of leadership and service to the BYU community and through sustained service to the global community.
In addressing the crowd, President Uchtdorf was well aware of the many in the audience who were not familiar with the Church and packed his speech with a description of the fruits and foundation of the Church, giving, in fact, what may be studied as a model missionary message as he sketched with warmth and personal stories what the Church stands for and what it does across the globe.
Ever one to love aviation parallels, President Uchtdorf began by describing the Wright brothers first powered flight. He said, “Over a century ago on a windy, mid-December day, on the outer banks of North Carolina, two brothers with a vision and a dream accomplished a feat that changed the world. Wilbur and Orville Wright had been coming to Kill Devil Hills, near Kittyhawk since 1900 to test their flying machines because of the favorable circumstances—and you need sometimes favorable circumstances.
“On December 17, 1903, Orville made the first successful powered airplane flight. The flight lasted 12 seconds and covered 120 feet. I flew the 747 for many, many years as a captain and the length is about 240 feet, double the length of his first flight. Five other persons were there to witness the occasion.
“Initially news of the event attracted little public excitement or attention. It was only much later that the world recognized the significance of this marvelous event. Fast forward 100 years and the skies are filled with airplanes that carry millions of passengers and tons of cargo over millions of miles every year. They connect people of all nations, languages and cultures throughout the world, all this made possible because of the foundational principles of powered flight put into practical application by two visionary men.
“Now let me come to another significant historic event. In April of 1830, a man with a profound and divine vision assembled five associates in upstate New York to organize the restored Church of Jesus Christ. As with manned flight, the Church beginning was modest and simple and only a few people took notice.
“Joseph Smith himself came from a humble and obscure background. He was the son of a poor farmer. As a child, he worked in the fields and had little opportunity for a formal education. But it was from these humble beginnings that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints took root. Because these events occurred in the United States, people often think of us as an American church, but they are mistaken. This is a universal Church. The principles and doctrines this Church teaches can and will benefit and uplift the people of every nation, clime and culture. The Church was established in the United States for a reason. A large part, because it was here that the most favorable circumstances regarding basic principles of freedom existed—and I add—still exist.”
President Uchtdorf explained that since that founding, the Church has marched forward in remarkable ways, growing from six members in 1830 to 250,000 in 1896, to one million in 1947 to over 14,000,000 today. In 1997, for the first time there more members living outside of the United States, than inside.
He noted that, “Church members live in 184 countries. They speak approximately 170 different languages. Church materials have been translated in to 166 languages. To provide for its every growing membership needs, the Church completes a new Church building every other weekday.
“But it is important to recognize that the growth of the Church is not just about numbers of members, languages, buildings and other things which are countable. Our mission is to bring souls to Christ. We teach, support and encourage all men, women, children to draw near to God and live charitable and honorable lives.
“We teach that as our love for goodness grows, as our love for our Heavenly Father increases, so too will our hearts reach out in compassion and service to our fellow men,” he said and explained both the importance of families to the gospel and explained, “While love for family is certainly not unique to Latter-day Saints, our conviction that families can live together for ever may be unique in the world. One of the distinctive doctrines of this Church is that through the ordinances associated with our temples, families can be together forever.”
“I still remember the year 1955 when the first LDS temple, outside the US and Canada was built in Swizterland. Feelings of overwhelming joy accompanied me while walking into this holy temple with my parents and three siblings. On that day we were united as a family for eternity, a promise and authority given to his apostles in the meridian of times became a reality for us. What was sealed on earth, became sealed in heaven.”
While in 1975, there were only 16 operating LDS temples in the world, with all but four of them in the United States, today 36 years later, 134 temples are in operation, 60 of them in international areas, with 26 more in planning or under construction.
President Uchtdorf noted, “The establishment of temples closer to the people has made a deep impact on the membership and on the leadership of the Church. In the early days of the Church many men emigrated to the United States to be closer to the blessings of the house of the Lord. Now 85% of our members worldwide live within 200 miles of a temple.”
President Uchtdorf noted that this is a volunteer Church, that we have no paid ministry. “Our bishops, leaders of local congregations of about 400 members, may be plumbers, doctors, truck drivers, teachers or accountants…When we assemble on Sundays, or at other times, we do not hear a sermon from a paid professional . Our ward members themselves teach from the pulpit and in the classrooms.”
He said, “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints emphasizes the importance of continued secular and religious education. The growing trend in much of the developed world suggests that the more education people have, the less likely they are to attend Church services regularly. For the Latter-day Saints, however, the opposite is true. The more education people have, the more likely they are to attend Church services regularly.
He noted that the Church higher education system serves over 40,000 students on its four campuses and, “For the second year in a row, Brigham Young University is the most popular university in American based on the proportion of students accepted to the school to opt to attend that school. BYU edged out Harvard University in this year’s ranks.
The BYU Marriott School of Management is consistently among the top ranked programs in the world.
And of course, for the 13th straight year, Princeton’s Survey of 120,000 college students named BYU as the most stone-cold, sober university in the nation. Students at BYU are chucking more milk and less than beer than any of their peers on any other campus. This is OK with us,” he smiled.
In addition to the nearly 750,000 high school and college-age students in seminaries and Institutes of Religion, President Uchtdorf noted that “One of the most inspiring and inspired developments of recent years is the development of the Perpetual Education Fund.” He explained that its purpose was to help young adult members gain education and training to qualify for good jobs in their home countries. After they have completed their training, they repay the loan over an 8-year period. The fund is currently helping 46,000 students another 16,000 have graduated from the program.
President Uchtdorf noted that the Church’s humanitarian program, which began in 1985,”has blessed the lives of more than 27 million people in 178 countries throughout the world regardless of nationality, race, religion or politics. We follow the counsel of Joseph Smith who taught in 1840, ‘A man filled with the love of God is not content with blessing his family alone, but reaches out to the whole world, anxious to bless the whole human race.’
“Whenever disaster strikes in whatever form, natural or man made, the Church is one of the first to arrive with needed food and medical emergency supplies. The Church is determined to stay until the job is done. In Haiti, for instance, only 5% of the rubble has been removed. Many charitable and high visibility groups have left. We’re still there. Recently we have just approved a huge batch of practical help for Haiti. All of us are deeply saddened by the destruction and suffering in Japan, and we pray for the Lord’s blessings on this country and for its people.
“The Church’s response to this disaster in Japan was immediate, the Church providing in cash, regular relief supplies, and thousands of hours of volunteer labor in behalf of the Japanese people. Our emergency response team is presently on location and will continue to be there coordinating our relief efforts, which we just two days ago increased in our monetary appropriation. The violence in Libya has triggered a huge exodus of people into neighboring countries. Sometimes we look on ly at the war action, but there’s a huge exodus of people into the neighboring countries. The Church is providing emergency relief for these refugees in Egypt and in Tunisia through our partners Islamic Relief, International Relief Development and the International Medical Corps.
“The Church does not wait for a disaster to strike before it mobilizes. Pallets of clothing, food, medicine, cleaning kits, shovels and tarps are always being prepared for the next earthquake, famine or fire. Over the last 25 years, the Church has responded to almost 2,000 emergencies worldwide. We also have learned that we are more effective in helping when we focus on long-term humanitarian efforts. Our careful review over the years, we have chosen as our core projects: eye vision care, providing wheelchairs, training medical professionals the lives of newborns, providing clean water and immunization. These are the core focus we have. As the Church goes about relieving suffering and helping those in need, in intends to do in a way that leaves the people in a better position to help themselves so that they are less dependent on others.
“One example is a water project in central Kenya. 55,000 people in 60 villages benefited from the project. The great need of this area was for clean, sanitary water. Countless people had become sick and many had died as a result of polluted or infected water. The Church agreed, with the village leaders, if they would provide the labor, the Church would provide the expertise and materials to provide clean water. Village volunteers dug wells, using very basic tools, sometimes hammer and chisels. This was not an easy task, as one well could take three to six months, six days a week, 10 hours a day to dig. After the digging was completed, a water pump was installed, a crucial part of the Church participation was to help the local people manage the operation, maintenance and repair of the wells. This partnership created a self-sustaining project that will not only bless the lives of the villagers today, but it will benefits them for decades to come. Donations principally came from Church members, but also from people who are not of our faith, are used to make relief project possible.
“Most people don’t realize and some can’t believe it that 100% of donations given to the Church Humanitarian fund are used for relief efforts. The Church absorbs its own overhead costs.”
These good works, President Uchtdorf explained are “an application of the gospel’s core doctrines.
“The more our hearts are inclined to God, the more we desire to relieve suffering and help others become self-reliant. A wise man once said, “Conquer the angry man by love, conquer the ill-natured man by goodness, conquer the miser with generosity; conquer the liar with truth.” These are values that are urgently needed at a time of world-wide serious challenges and uncertainty… These values have always been deeply rooted in the gospel of Jesus Christ.
“In my life time, I have experienced and worked in times of grim challenge and uncertainty. I was a refugee twice and I have witnessed how opposing political systems impacted the lives of people in very divergent ways. I learned by experience how important high moral and ethical values are. Of course, they should always be of special concern and significance for us as LDS members, and as LDS and public leaders.
“As we open newspapers, we can easily recognize that we are living in a cynical time. Trust in public institutions , corporations and organized religion is declining We read accounts and hear media reports that describe the decline of moral decency and the erosion of basic ethical conduct. In this time of uncertainty, distrust, fear, rumors of war, political road rage, is there still hope for integration, openness across different cultures, societies and political interests. Is there still hope for virtue, moderation and divine moral principles? My answer is clearly and loudly, yes, and more than ever…
“One reason for today’s decline in moral values is that the world has invented a new, constantly changing, undependable standard of moral conduct, often referred to as situational ethics. Some consider good and evil adjustable according to their own situation and their own interests. Some wrongly believe that there’s no divine law. They play with words and they dissemble truth. They live in a world where ends justify means and agendas and ideologies must be advanced regardless of collateral damage.
This is in direct contrast to the God-given standards which are proclaimed in the Ten Commandments and in other revealed sources that represent the commandments of God. Divine laws are instituted by God to govern his creations and to prescribe behavior for his offspring, us, his children. We are brothers and sisters, children of our Heavenly Father.
Across all the different nations, members of the Church are guided and united by the ethical principles of the 13th Article of Faith which we declare to the world, ‘We believe in being honest, true, chaste, benevolent, and in doing good to all men. If there is anything virtuous, lovely, of good report, or praiseworthy we seek after these things.’
“This basic declaration is part of our theology and a statement of the principles and ethics of our behavior. If such values are adopted by all men, there would be less rationalization over some elements of personal conduct. Courtesy would overcome cursing. Dignity would replace disgust. Hate would diminish. Love for one another would increase across geographic and Ideological boundaries. All of us are accountable to him who gave us life.”
President Ucthdorf concluded, “ Too often the teachings of God are kept in an abstract, religious box and are cautiously separated from personal conduct. Rather, they should be applied daily to create a better world for our children and grandchildren… Our religion and our faith has to be reflected in our leadership, and our leadership must be grounded on personal righteousness Then the powers of heaven, which we all need, will give us strength, and lead us in both good and in challenging times. Adherence to eternal principles, the unwavering commitment to the truth revealed by God has been one of the reasons The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has grown from six members in 1830 to more than 14 million today.”
“During his lifetime, Joseph Smith founded cities, built temples, and even ran for president of the United States, but his most meaningful contribution was as a prophet, seer and revelator. He was not reforming or creating a new Church. We believe that he restored the primitive, the original Church as it was when Jesus walked the earth. The most important impact the Church has to day and should have forever is in the daily lives of the people. It is by bringing them closer to Christ, and helping them reach their potential as children of God.”