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Author’s note: This article is a review of a new book In the Spirit of Jershon that is so relevant and so thought-provoking that I hope to offer articles in the future based on its content.
How do we build Zion in the 21st Century when we live in a divided nation and a terror-stricken world? We are all concerned about the cultural shift we are experiencing that so clearly magnifies lack of civility and humanity. I doubt we are just imagining that people in general are getting more anxious, intolerant, and defiant.
Can we make progress in becoming a Zion-level people while surrounded by so many who live in multiple levels of shifting values, apostasy, and wickedness? We are dealing with divisions within the Church as well as in the world as bad behavior, violence, and persecution spread.
Yet, in spite of current and prophesied evil future events, we can be of good cheer! The Lord knows why and how we can become a generation of holiness as we prepare to become a united people to live in the city of Zion for His Second Coming. Isaiah, Nephi, Moroni, and the Prophet Joseph Smith saw our time. They wrote of ways we can become a Zion people just as in Enoch’s time and the days after the Savior appeared on this continent to teach and transform the Nephites. Our current prophets and apostles can do the same for us now as we live through the last days where we are ever more clearly divided between Wheat and Tares (see D&C 86).They continually offer words and examples as a guide to teach those with ears to hear and eyes to see.
It is possible to learn what we need to do and what price we must pay to become a Zion people. The Book of Mormon is a handbook of how to come unto Christ and be received by Him with a promise of exaltation. Over the decades, other books, articles, and podcasts have appeared to help us learn how people can become more sanctified to make the shift to live in unity with charity and become a Zion people.
I recently discovered a new book that makes a unique contribution in this regard. It offers many practical approaches that encourage a change of mindset and actions in daily lives—all of which would encourage more Zion-like behavior. Positive actions and views I had never thought of before as preparation for Zion became clear to me as I read this timely book, In the Spirit of Jershon: Blessing Others’ Lives in Cultural and Spiritual Unity.
Co-edited by Mari Vawn Tinney and Scott E. Ferrin, the 20 chapters were written by 12 authors who share their extensive experiences and insights to help us see ourselves and others in the world through various lenses. Each of the authors comes with varying backgrounds and opinions Their personal stories and words are added to the words of General Authorities: many of whose official statements on these subjects are included in this book.
We live in a time of revolutionary Church growth. Saints in Utah and in the USA must not try to bring again Zion for a Millennial world alone. We are a part of a large international Church family and a multicultural nation. We are all in this quest together to become one in Christ with different roles to play, but we must be united in helping each other along the way. As a guidebook, this book offers specific ways to engage in the lives of others who struggle, especially newcomers who desire nothing more than to be fellow citizens with the Saints working to build Zion.
The Timing of the Release of In the Spirit of Jershon Correlates with Church Directives
The authors met for the first time in 2008 as a small ad hoc group of believing Latter-day-Saints who were actively involved in fulfilling their church callings. They brought extensive experience from their work as public school teachers, university professors, and community leaders. They met monthly to discuss how to deal with the urgent need to improve the educational success of the low income Hispanics (often discussing the problems of undocumented immigrants) and of other international students with a similar urgent need for help. With thoughtful explorations of important issues and questions, they wrote for a wider LDS audience of readers who are neighbors, parents, educators, ward and stake leaders, future missionaries, community leaders, legislators, policy makers, and people of good will everywhere. Eventually, many chapters the authors completed came to be focused on spiritual, practical, and applied best practices and principles to close social gaps, cultural gaps, and language gaps that exist in our many current educational, neighborhood, and global Church situations.
Main editor and writer Sister Tinney is a long-time friend and we have conversed at length about this book for years, and I heard of her frustration that it was taking so long to bring the work to fruition. Yet timing is everything. She told me that by 2017 when the book was published, the focus of this group had expanded to include the importance of addressing more than just educational needs.
Two landmark directives had come from the Church by then, softening hearts of Church members to act with more unity and charity by supporting refugees and others who suffer. In 2015 the First Presidency sent out a letter to be read in stake, ward, and branch councils. Then on March 26, 2016 Sister Tinney told me she was in the Conference Center to hear Sister Linda K. Burton’s stirring address,“I Was a Stranger.” After she heard the invitation to “serve the refugees living in your neighborhoods and communities” and to “reach out in unity to help those in need as we are able and inspired to do so,” Sister Tinney sat in tears, filled with joy. She was given a sure witness that this was the Lord’s newest way to bless millions of lives. Immediately, she also knew that the messages of In the Spirit of Jershon could now be more widely received as a why and how response to the Church’s “I Was a Stranger” refugee effort.
What Is the Spirit of Jershon?
You might ask, “What is the Spirit of Jershon?” The authors define it as the spirit of compassion, kindness, unity, and Christian service in action. Also as the Spirit of Zion and the Spirit of Aloha. Living by this spirit we can apply principles of Christ’s gospel found in Alma 23 and 27 experienced by Alma and the people of Ammon when these war refugees asked for safety in Nephite lands. A majority of Nephites voted with loving hearts to allow them to live in the land of Jershon. Later on, 2,000 Ammonite stripling warriors, sons of these refugees, fought to protect the Nephite’s religious liberty, and they won. This same spirit continues in the lives of todays’ kind-hearted, covenant-keeping people.
The authors themselves, their families, students, and coworkers have experienced this Spirit of Jershon and share their own stories in the book. For example, I was touched by a personal account in Chapter 10 by Sister Barbara Morgan Gardner. She told of the sacrifice a Hispanic stranger at a rest stop made for her when she was stranded in thick snow early one morning on her way to teach seminary. Her car would not start and it was obvious that the battery was dead. The stranger wanted to help, but neither one of them had a cell phone or jumper cables and no one else was there. While he worked on the car, Sister Gardner visited the rest room and was astonished to find her car’s motor running when she returned! She asked what he had done to get it started. She writes, “He simply responded that it was no big deal and that I had better hurry to teach my class. I thanked him graciously and quickly reversed the car to leave. Looking through the rearview mirror, I noticed that he didn’t pull out of the rest area to follow me as I had expected, but instead his car sat idle. It wasn’t until I was almost to the seminary building when I realized what had happened: he had taken the battery out of his car and replaced my broken battery with his.”
Even since that cold morning Sister Gardner has thought of this kind stranger. She never got his name and had no way of finding him to thank him more appropriately. She knows he did “more for me that day than simply get me to my class on time. He taught me, or perhaps reinforced for me, a lesson in life that I have heard many times . . . Who is my neighbor?”
A Book That Offers So Much Light
As I read through the 20 chapters, I found that In the Spirit of Jershon is divided into four sections and 11 appendices that offer a collection of firsthand accounts, devotionals with inspiring stories, essays, prophecies, history, research results, principles, policies, and how-to tips. The chapters include background messages that help us understand beneficial ways to respond to complexities of 21st century people, issues, and situations. These are the sections:
Section 1: Unity and Diversity in Society and in the House of Israel
Section 2: Cultural Views, Preferences, and Practices with God’s Children
Section 3: Laws, Rights, and Compliance
Section 4: Successful Unity with Diversity, Academic Preparation, and Language Learning
The 12 authors who wrote the chapters and appendices of In the Spirit of Jershon are Veronica Flores Rodriquez de Almeida, Jim Birrell, Janet K. Christensen, Kendel Christensen, Scott Ellis Ferrin, Barbara Morgan Gardner, C. Ray Graham, Lynn Henrichsen, Barbara J. Lovejoy, Paul T. Mero, George I. Monsivais, and Mari Vawn Tinney.
The authors bring many years of teaching college and public school students, international students, immigrants, and refugees to this work— in addition to their missions, marriages, travels, service in church callings, and workplace challenges. They all have discovered by experience and research many effective, practical, and wise ways to find common ground, show love, and learn how diversity and unity can thrive with sensitivity within various groups of people. These groups at minimum include wards, stakes, neighborhoods, cities, families, friends, and some workplaces.
In answering the question, “What is the role of education, culture, and language in cities with refugees, Hispanics, and others of different backgrounds?” Sister Tinney noted that the authors’ explorations for personal transformation are viewed through the lenses of education, culture, language, civility, and preparing a Zion people. The approaches taken in this book are in response to many common misunderstandings and misconceptions that exist culturally, educationally, and in actual practice trying to live our religion. Readers can learn how to interact with others in the Savior’s way as Latter-day Israelites with real-world applications of best practices based on eternal principles.
The authors’ stated goal for this book is to improve education and life outcomes for this shining generation of youth in our times so that together as people of all ages, we may prepare individually and as a people for the Millennial reign of our Savior. They believe implicitly that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the most powerful force for change and good in the universe and in the human heart. As a result of the influence of this book’s ideas, it is hoped that others will take more steps forward and bless the lives of all God’s children, including Hispanics, refugees, and many others who may come as strangers among us. They support Helaman’s view that “The gate of heaven is open unto all, even to those who will believe on the name of Jesus Christ, who is the Son of God” (Helaman 3:28).
Sister Tinney concluded our email interview with the following quote from In the Spirit of Jershon, “The time of the Gentiles is nearly over, and the time of Israel is opening up now for more gatherings of Israel as we prepare for Zion. Part of the solution for living in our times and becoming more refined through our interactions with others and how we live our lives is based on eternal principles we put into practice as Latter-day Israelites.”
About this beautiful book cover: Sister Tinney had known for years the basics of how the Lord wanted the cover to be with a photo of the North American continent, specifically the northern part of the USA showing where Adam-Ondi-Ahman is located, and parts of Canada and Mexico. He wanted us to see people standing on this land of Zion in full support of each other. When asked, “Are those people (on the cover) all from the same family?” She answers,
No, I selected the people from a Spanish-speaking ward, and they are from various countries. Josh, the boy in the center is from Eagle Mountain, Utah. In my mind, Josh is “Everyman.” He is adopted, and has these lines in his blood: Chinese, Polynesian, Hispanic, American Indian, and Caucasion. Walking alone on the back cover, he represents “Ministering to the One,” which is part of what we do as we act in the Spirit of Jershon.