Brothers and sisters, I am so grateful to be with you today. I am so grateful to be with you in such a unique circumstance, with all of you including my niece and your classmate, Caitie, safe at home. The fact that you are still moving forward with your studies and that we are still having this devotional, exemplifies that the Lord has prepared us for this time.
As the pandemic progresses from something we read about in headlines, to now something that is touching us personally, I am reminded of a bit of church history. When Oliver Cowdery described his unique opportunity to assist Joseph Smith to translate the Book of Mormon, he wrote, “These were days never to be forgotten.” Brothers and sisters, these are our days never to be forgotten.
Oliver went on to say, “To sit under the sound of a voice dictated by the inspiration of heaven, awakened the utmost gratitude.” As we follow the counsel of President Russell M. Nelson before, during and after this pandemic, we too can say “to sit under the sound of a voice dictated by the inspiration of heaven, awakens the utmost gratitude.” I am so grateful for our prophet. I am grateful for his timely invitation to seek after the Savior and to find ways in which we can best “Hear Him.”
Trials and triumphs in life like our current COVID-19 pandemic, can be of great value to us if we learn from them and let them cause us to change. Elder David A. Bednar has taught, “The overarching purpose of Heavenly Father's great plan of happiness is to provide His spirit children with opportunities to learn.” Last Thursday in his message from home, President Kusch taught all of us that because we are immersed in this unique situation, “the Lord is going to teach us things that we could not have otherwise learned.”
We have had the opportunity to learn so much recently with meeting houses and temples closing, tens of thousands of students and missionaries returning home, a worldwide fast and now preparing this week for an historic general conference. As we learn, we change. And sometimes we learn so much, we transform. I suspect that this pandemic is giving us as individuals, families and as a Church the opportunity to transform what we do and who we are.
As LDS Business College is preparing to become Ensign College, lessons have been learned that will transform the way this great institution and the Church will educate students from here on out. It will be fascinating how this turn of events will lead to transformations in all aspects of the work of salvation and exaltation.
I work for FamilySearch International and for the Family History Department of the Church. I am fascinated how we have been prepared for times such as these. We will see significant transformation and acceleration in family history work as we create inspiring experiences that bring joy to all people as they discover, gather and connect their families – past, present and future.
As we are gathered virtually together, I pray that the Holy Ghost will help turn our hearts and minds to learn from the experiences of our ancestors. I pray that those lessons will help us navigate through the trials of the present. And I hope we will discover how we can make sure that our lessons learned and recorded today can bless the lives of our loved ones in the future.
Family history is not just a study of the past. It is the story of the thread of our individual life being woven together through the lives of our loved ones across generations.
Let me show you what I mean:
As you can see, family history is not a spectator sport. It is something we do by mining the past, capturing the present and preserving both for the future. And you, digital natives with brilliant minds and sensitive hearts, have been prepared to lead out in your family with this effort.
Connecting to the Past
The Lord has used young people to bring about significant change for his children throughout history. Let’s just look at one example in Nephi. Nephi and his brothers successfully did that which the Lord had commanded and returned to the tent of their father with the brass plates which contained the history of the Jews, the scriptures and the genealogy of their forefathers.
The account goes on to say that Lehi searched the record and discovered his genealogy. He knew he was a descendant of Joseph and then immediately jumped to the story of how Joseph, “who was sold into Egypt, and who was preserved by the hand of the Lord” (1 Nephi 5:14).
The story goes on to say that when Lehi, “saw all these things, he was filled with the Spirit and began to prophecy concerning his seed” (1 Nephi 5:17). Searching records, discovering your genealogy, learning the stories of your ancestors, being filled with the Spirit and then looking forward to blessing your family are the inspiring experiences that await you at familysearch.org.
I saw this same process of inviting the Spirit by connecting to the past in my own home with my own family just a few days ago on Friday night.
Our youngest son Mark, like you, has returned from college to continue his studies at home. Like you, he has brought the Spirit and life and vitality to our home. I know he would rather be at school with his friends, but we are seizing the moment and are thrilled to have him safe and sound with us.
My mother, known as Grandma Marian, is 88-years old and lives in an apartment building in downtown Salt Lake City. She did quite well on her own the first few weeks of social-distancing, but thankfully, just a few days ago we convinced her to come and spend the rest of the pandemic with us.
So now we have our college student in the basement and Grandma Marian in the guest room. Last Friday night, I watched Mark invite the Spirit into our home when he finished his chemistry homework, came upstairs and asked to meet with Grandma in the family room. When Grandma joined him, Mark had his iPhone balanced on his knee. He clicked a record button and asked Grandma a question about how the world was responding to the pandemic today compared to what she had experienced during the Great Depression and a world war. That simple, inspired question prompted a beautiful conversation where the Spirit filled the room and filled our hearts and where my son’s life story was greatly added upon by the reconstructed stories of his grandmother.
All Grandma was asked to do was tell stories. Something that was very normal and natural for her. She shared a story about when she was born people very rarely, if ever, talked about a woman being pregnant. Instead, the expectant mother was described as being “in the family way.” She said that when she was born and her brothers heard that it was a girl, my uncle who was 8 ½ years old at the time said, “What’s a girl?” He had no idea that his mother was even pregnant!
Relating to the social-distancing of today, Grandma Marian told us how, as a little girl, she was quarantined in her house for six weeks due to scarlet fever. She described a pink sign that was on her front door indicating that the house was under quarantine. That sign was near the two stars in her window that indicated that her two brothers were serving in the war.
She also explained that my father, as a little boy, was quarantined and missed a half a year of school due to rheumatic fever. Being quarantined was not unusual in those days because they didn’t have the vaccines and the treatments we have today. She said that while she has never seen anything like a global pandemic, she and the world have been through trials like this before and that they can unite us, if we let them.
I saw my little family unite that night. As I listened to these and many other stories, the Spirit connected us to the past, to the present and to each other. And my son, the young adult like you, was the one that made it possible with an inspired question. We felt the Spirit of Elijah, or as President Nelson has taught, “a manifestation of the Holy Ghost bearing witness of the divine nature of the family.” We also felt the Holy Ghost testify truth to us as we could apply the lessons learned from Grandma to our situation today.
Connecting to the Present
As Nephi invited the Spirit by connecting his father and family to the past through the brass plates, he was then commanded to keep his own record and capture the moments and learnings of the present. You and I are commanded to do the same.
Nephi had large plates to keep all of the overall history of his people, and he had small plates that were preserved for the things of most worth. You and your generation in particular, have been prepared for days such as these. I know your days will never be forgotten because when you look at the number of photos you all take and the number of things you capture digitally and post on social media, I submit that you are undoubtedly the most journaling generation in the history of the world.
The question is not if you will record the present. The question is what you will record and is it of great worth to you and to those who will follow you. May I propose that you look at your social media posts, your thousands of photos and other things you record as your large plates. May I also suggest that you take from those large plates the most precious things of most worth and preserve them on your small plates. FamilySearch can be your small plates and your family’s small plates. FamilySearch is not a Facebook of the dead. It is a personal and family archive for the living. Keep your cat videos and photos of last night’s nachos on Instagram, but preserve the most important stories, photos and other memories that will bless your lives now and lives of your posterity on FamilySearch. Your person page on FamilySearch is your private, confidential, small plates that only you can see; a place to store your birth certificate, report cards, blue ribbons, high school diploma, mission call, Christmas cards, recipes, wedding announcement and yes, your certificates and degrees earned at LDS Business College. It is a place to record and preserve your history, in real time, as it unfolds day by day. With the “Record My Story Activity,” you can even write or audio record and edit your own journal.
Connecting to the Future
Now, that brings me to how the lessons you are learning now can bless the lives of your loved ones in the future. Your stories and lessons learned today are incredibly valuable as long as you preserve them. You know how social media platforms come and go. What is hot today is obsolete tomorrow. But FamilySearch is where the small plate memories and lessons of worth can live forever. If you haven’t already, please download and use the FamilySearch Family Tree app to discover and continue to build your own family’s history. Couple that with the FamilySearch Memories app which is designed to capture photos, stories and recordings on-demand the moment they occur.
Brothers and sisters, you are the Nephi of your family and you can be the means to helping your family discover, gather and connect to each other. That same Spirit of Elijah that you feel when you learn the stories of your ancestors, will also guide you to do much more than that. It will help you find more of your ancestors as you seek to unite your family for eternity through the temple ordinances you can perform on their behalf. Especially during this time when all of the temples are temporarily closed, you can be the catalyst for your family members to still enjoy the blessings of the temple through increased family history efforts.
Back to Nephi. With the family records in hand, Nephi declared, “Wherefore, it was wisdom in the Lord that we should carry them with us, as we journeyed in the wilderness towards the land of promise.”
Brothers and sisters, you are the first generation in the history of the world that can carry the scriptures, the words of the prophets and the genealogy of your fathers on your phones and in your pockets or at all times and in all places. I am thrilled that my children and the grandchildren that will follow them will have their scriptures and their genealogy in their pockets ready to be wielded to protect them and give them power.
When Nephi and his brothers returned to their family with their scriptures and their genealogy in the brass plates, their mother Sariah rejoiced and exclaimed, “I also know of a surety that the Lord hath protected my sons, and delivered them out of the hands of Laban, and given them power whereby they could accomplish the thing which the Lord hath commanded them” (1 Nephi 5:8).
I know that these same blessings that Sariah saw of protection and power await you as you become the Nephi of your family. I know this because they have been promised by living prophets and apostles today. Please click on the video link accompanying this devotional recording or simply Google, “The Promised Blessings of Family History.” I invite you to watch that video, over and over again, and I pray that the Holy Ghost will inspire and instruct you to engage in this great work and make those blessings real for you and for your family.
I bear testimony that Jesus is the Christ. I know that we live in this “the dispensation of the fulness of times [when] he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him” (Ephesians 1:10). I pray that we will strive to hear Him and to help others hear Him during these days never to be forgotten. I know that you are the seed of Abraham, and through you and the priesthood, all families of the world will be blessed. We are the Lord’s gatherers. That is who we are. That is why we are here. I testify in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
Stephen T. Rockwood is the Managing Director for the Family History Department and President/CEO of FamilySearch International. Prior to joining FamilySearch, Rockwood specialized in creating unique service offerings for worldwide customers of such brands as MasterCard International, AT&T, Disney, Office Depot, and Citibank among others. He also started two companies that were later acquired by larger companies. Most recently, Steve served as director of the international division at FamilySearch.
Steve received his Bachelor of Arts degree from Brigham Young University and later his MBA from the University of Colorado in Boulder, Colorado.
He has served in a number of Church callings including full-time missionary in the Argentina Cordoba Mission, elders quorum president, bishop’s counselor, stake mission president’s counselor, bishop, stake young men president, stake president’s counselor, young men’s president, seminary teacher, and high counselor.
Steve was born in Rock Springs, Wyoming. He married Jill Ansley Forbes in August 1985. They are the parents of four children. Steve and his wife, Jill, reside in Salt Lake City.