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Our preplanned journeys often take us to lands of which we’ve never dreamed and experiences we could only hope to enjoy.
In 1998 I escorted a tourist group to Siberia. Besides several novels, I took the Book of Mormon as well. Although I’d read The Book of Mormon many times before, this time I decided to treat it as a novel – just as I would either a piece of fiction or interesting historical epic. On the plane from Salt Lake City to San Francisco, I began with “I Nephi having been born of goodly parents.” Instantly my mind wandered to my travels to Israel, the area around Jerusalem and my time in Saudi Arabia along the same coast where Lehi would have travelled.
I read for about a half hour thinking of these images.
Later that day I boarded a flight to Russia’s Far East with my destination being Habarovsk on the Amur River. As I flew across the ocean, I did something I’d never done before – read the scriptures for several hours without stopping. I also didn’t avoid Isaiah but read to understand why Nephi would consider it.
Aboard the ship I made time to keep reading, not as a goal, not as an obligation, but because I wanted to do so. It was interesting.
I read for at least an hour at a time, often 2-3 hours before duty called. I took care of the passengers and then hurried back to my room so I could keep reading. Not once did I go to sleep until at least 1 AM.
It wasn’t just fascinating history. It was a total reaffirmation of Jesus Christ – a validation and clarification of His principles.
I could picture Nephi’s struggles, excite at the discoveries of Mosiah and the greatness of Captain Moroni. I was moved by Christ’s visit to the Americas, especially his ministry with the children and blessing of each person. I could hear the change of the various author’s voices; Nephi the impetuous to Nephi the contemplative and remorseful; struggling Enos, guilt-ridden Omni, Alma with King Noah, the emotion from the writer and abridger as he told of the conversions of the sons of Mosiah and Alma the Younger and their mighty change of heart.
Finally, I came to the writings of Mormon, 400 AD. This man was obviously educated. Any man in the 19th century who created a character like Mormon would have taken great credit for him, for he stands tallest of all characters ever created in literature – the introspection of a Hamlet; the passion of an Othello; the determination of an Odysseus; the loyalty and regalness of a Charlemagne. His words are deep, his sentence patterns complicated and long as might be expected from a writer profoundly educated during a peaceful era.
At times I’d be reading along, caught up in the family religious history that is the task of The Book of Mormon, when I could feel a dramatic shift in author’s voice. As a writer, I notice such things. When I’d go back and read what I hadn’t obviously observed, I found the educated Mormon had just inserted some of his weighty thoughts. The shift was dramatic.
Then the tone shifted. Mormon had died. His son, Moroni took over his duties amongst the horrors of the total annihilation of his people. His words were short. Sentences were brief. They were written like a man in a hurry and on the run for his life, which he was. He wrote like a man educated in a war college during conflicts. It felt like this writer was taught by staff who were anxious to teach him battle strategies right now so he could assume his rightful post of commander-in-chief.
More importantly, I could feel that he liked nothing about his war command job, but instead he wrote imbued with sorrow. Yet, being an engineer type person, he pragmatically looked to our times to teach us what we ought to know to avoid his people’s anguish. I could see him observing us, saying, “See the destruction of my people. Behold the destruction of my parents, my wife and children. All I hold dear is gone. This WILL happen to you. Your culture is destined for the same destruction if you don’t straighten up. Live correct principles and live by faith.”
And I did something as I read and felt of his life that I rarely do – I wept; wept with Moroni. I could feel his loneliness and desolation and rugged determination to pass this record on to us.
Then I got on my knees to thank Him for helping Moroni preserve this record from “I Nephi, having been born of goodly parents” to Moroni’s challenge to all on the final pages that they ask the Father if the book is scripture.
Every inch of me warmed to the recognizable sensation that the Holy Spirit was shouting at me in an all-consuming voice that this record is an accurate record of the religious history of the children of Lehi, was doctrinally true, and preserved for us; it inspired my senses and powered my intellect.
The great feeling of truth and comfort of that experience has stayed with me. Perhaps President Henry B. Eyring was right when he said that to understand ultimate truth one must seek the ultimate source of truth. And that’s what happened on that ship on the Amur River.