Maurine wrote the text and Scot provided the photos for this article from RootsTech
At RootsTech’s Family Discovery Day, which is sponsored for the LDS participants of this largest family history conference in the world, President Russell M. Nelson and his wife, Wendy, made some remarkable promises about what combining family history and temple work will do in our lives.
Sister Nelson said, “It is my testimony that however fabulous your life is right now or however discouraging and heartbreaking it might be, your involvement in family history and temple work will make it better.
“What do you need in your life right now? More love, more joy, more self-mastery, more peace, more meaningful moments, more of a feeling that you’re making a difference, more fun?
“Could you use more answers to your soul’s searching questions, more heart to heart connections with others, more understanding of what you are reading in the scriptures, more ability to love and to forgive? How about more ability to pray with power? More inspiration and creative ideas for your work and other projects, more time for what really matters?
“My dear brothers and sisters I entreat you to make a sacrifice of time for the Lord by increasing the time you spend doing temple and family history work and then watch what happens. It is my testimony that when we show the Lord that we are serious about helping our ancestors, the heavens will open and we will receive all we need.”
While we have often spoken of the blessings the living bring to the dead in doing family history and temple work, what we are now hearing much more is how profoundly this work also blesses the living with divine power and gifts.
Creating a family culture that includes the sharing of the stories of our ancestors helps to bring to every family member a secure sense of identity and belonging to something greater than themselves.
The Nelsons said the family can be a place for safety and a refuge from the storm, a haven for fun and happiness. In their family, they consciously work to create opportunities for unity and shared heritage.
Every month they publish their own “Nelson News” with family members contributing stories about their own lives. They also have monthly gatherings to celebrate birthdays and anniversaries. They consciously work to turn the hearts of the children to their fathers by sharing stories.
Sometimes they print these stories and distribute them to the entire family. This story, for example, was so significant that they printed it and made sure every family member had a copy.
Sharing a Grandfather’s Vision
Elder Nelson explained that his grandfather, Andrew Clarence Nelson, died when his father was only 17 years old, so that AC, as they knew him, was the only one of his own four grandparents that he didn’t know.
Yet, AC, had experienced something similar. He was only 27 when his father died. Then about three months later, on April 6, 1891, this father, now deceased, came to visit AC, who recorded the details in his journal for his family and his friends.
These were his words about that sacred experience. “I was in bed when father entered the room. He came and sat on the side of the bed. He said, ‘Well, my son, as I had a few spare minutes, I received permission to come and see you for a few minutes. I am feeling well, my son, and have had very much to do since I died.’
“’What have you been doing since you died, father?’
“’I have been traveling together with apostle Erastus Snow ever since I died, that is since three days after I died. I received my commission to preach the gospel. You cannot imagine, my son, how many spirits there are in the spirit world that have not yet received the gospel. But many are receiving it and a great work is being accomplished. Many are anxiously looking forward to their friends who are still living to administer for them in the temples. I’ve been very busy preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ.
“’Father, can you see us at all times and you know what we’re doing?’
“’No, my son. I have something else to do. I can’t go when and where I please. There is just as much and much more order here in the Spirit world than in the other world. I have been assigned work to do and it must be performed.
“’We intend to go to the temple and get sealed to you as soon as we can.’
“’That my son, is partly what I came to see you about. We will yet make a family and live throughout eternity.’
“’Father, is it natural to die?’
“’It is just as natural to die as it is to be born, for we pass out of the door.’” [Here he pointed to the door.]
“’When I told the folks that I could not last long, it turned dark, and I could not see anything for a few minutes, then the first thing I could see was the number of spirits in the spirit world. The paper, you gave me, my son, is dated wrong., but it makes no particular difference. Correct records are kept here.
“’Father, is the gospel as taught by this Church true?
“’My son, you see that picture [pointing to a picture of the First Presidency of the Church hanging on the wall]?
“’Yes, I see it.”
“’Well, just as sure as you see that picture, just as sure is the gospel true. The gospel of Jesus Christ has within it the power of saving every man and woman that will obey it and in no other way can they ever obtain salvation in the kingdom of God. My son, always cling to the gospel. Be humble. Be prayerful. Be submissive to the priesthood. Be true. Be faithful to the covenants you have made with God. Never do anything that would displease God. Oh, what a blessing is the gospel. My son, be a good boy.’”
Think how that counsel from this transcendent vision has rung through the generations of the Nelson family and continues to bless the rising generation. Elder Nelson said that vision has spanned seven generations. He showed a photo of his great granddaughter Whitney and said that her great, great, great, great grandfather’s words will be something she always knows.
Creating a Children’s Book
Sister Nelson used another imaginative idea to connect her nieces and nephews to their ancestors. She wrote the conversion story of her Aunt Sarah Rosenberg into a children’s book, called The Power of Sarah’s Prayer, and then asked her nieces and nephews in Canada to illustrate it.
The source was an audio interview that Sister Nelson had recorded with her grandmother. The story was that Sarah’s husband, Ephraim, brought home two hungry missionaries one night in their little Iowa town. Sarah was not too pleased about that because she had heard terrible things about Mormonism.
The missionaries had some tracts and asked Sarah to read them. She was always up for a challenge and so presented one to them. “Young men, if I read your tracts and I can convince you that you are wrong, will you join my church?” They answered, “Certainly, Mrs. Rosenberg,” and then one elder replied, “Now, if we can convert you that you’re wrong and we’re right, will you join my church?”
She laughed right in their face,–but, of course, she read and became convinced of the truth of Mormonism and wanted to join the church, but she had a problem, Ephraim would not hear of it.
He told her he thought it was true, but he’d gladly go with the Baptists to hell than with the Mormons to heaven.
Sarah said, “You’ve made your choice, now I’ll make mine. I’m going to join the Mormon Church.” Then Ephraim learned that the missionaries wouldn’t baptize her without his consent and he wouldn’t give it.
He had Sarah over a barrel. She prayed and she prayed and she prayed. Ephraim continued to refuse to give his consent for Sarah to be baptized and she become more desperate to become a member of the Lord’s true church.
One night hot night in June, Sarah prayed a different pray, “Please remove every obstacle so that I can join the Mormon church.”
That night, she was rudely awakened by her two teenage sons, telling her to come downstairs, that Grandpa was dying. He was moaning and groaning with pain, and though normally she was a light sleeper, this night she had heard nothing.
She jumped out of bed and could hear the agony of her husband. When she opened the door, everything she had prayed for her came to her mind. “Please remove every obstacle so I can join the Mormon Church. As soon as she remembered her prayers, she said, “Oh, no, not like that.”
At that very moment, every pain in his body left. He asked, “Sarah, were you praying for me to die so that you could join the Church?”
“No, she said, ‘I just prayed for every obstacle to be removed so I could join the Mormon Church.’
“Sarah, you can join the Mormon church. Just don’t pray like that anymore!”
Sister Nelson asked her nieces and nephews what they thought about the story and one of them answered, “I feel like I can stand up to people, even people I love, just like Sarah did, if they are stopping me from doing what was right.”
Elder Nelson said that we should tell family history stories in a way that are accessible and memorable. In Mosiah 1:5, King Benjamin tells us about the importance of keeping and preserving sacred things so that we can have them always before our eyes.”
Having photos, stories and memorabilia close at hand play such an important role. “However, if we leave it at that level,” Elder Nelson said, “have we really done enough?” As Church members we know that our ancestors cannot be made perfect without us and we cannot be made perfect without them. “That means we are to be linked together by the sacred, sealing, linking ordinances of the temple. We are to be strong links in the chain from our ancestors to our posterity. If our collections of photos and stories should ever become an end point in themselves, if we know who our ancestors are and know marvelous things about them, but we leave them stranded on the other side without their ordinances, such diversion will not be any help to our ancestors who remain confined in their spirit prison.”
“We need to make time to find our ancestors’ ordinance qualifying information,” said Sister Nelson.
“That means we need to make time usually spent on other activities. We need to be spending more time in the temple and doing family history research, which includes indexing,” said Elder Nelson.
Eternal Perspective on Missionary Work
Sister Nelson taught the profound effect family history has on missionary work and reminds missionaries, “They are never alone when they are finding and teaching those who are receptive to the restored truths of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
“President George Q. Cannon…taught that in these Latter-days, those who are joining the Church are joining quite precisely because their ancestors have been praying for one of their posterity to join the Church, so that they, the ancestors, can receive their essential ordinances by proxy,” said Sister Nelson.
“That’s when I invite the missionaries to consider that one of their most effective prayers may be, ‘Please lead us to those whose ancestors have already received the gospel on the other side of the veil and are desperate to receive their ordinances.”
She also invites the missionaries to picture in their mind’s eye at least one hundred more people in the room. They are, of course, the ancestors of the investigators and the ancestors of the missionaries.
The Nelsons explained that all the classes we attend, and the work we do in the gospel leads us to the temple, and the ultimate end is for families to be happy—endowed, sealed and finally exalted and living in the presence of God.
“There is so much power available for a couple and for their children through that sealing ordinance when we keep our covenants,” said Sister Nelson.
Elder Nelson said, “We choose every day where we want to live eternally by how we think, feel, speak and act…The precision with which we keep our covenants shows Him just how much we want to return to live with Him. Each day brings us closer to or farther from our glorious possibility of eternal life.”
We can add power and joy to our lives through family history and temple work. Often, it is when we are too busy and overwhelmed that we need the blessings that can come from temple work the most.
Elder Nelson said, “You and I can be inspired all day long about temple and family history experiences others have had, but until you and I do something to actually experience the joy for ourselves, our attendance at RootsTech 2017 will have been something like a nice, warm bath, feels so good at the time and then its over. I would like to extend a challenge to each one of us so that the wonderful feeling can continue and even increase. I invite you prayerfully to consider what kinds of sacrifice, preferably a sacrifice of time you can make to do more family history and temple work this year. Brothers and sisters, together we are engaged in the work of Almighty God. He lives. Jesus is the Christ. This is His church. We are His covenant children. He can count on us.”