Every six months, LDS leaders address the 14.8 million Mormons at a two-day meeting known as General Conference.
Their speeches — streamed, beamed and broadcast from the Conference Center in downtown Salt Lake City — are viewed as authoritative, posted on the Utah-based faith’s website, printed in its official magazine and studied carefully by many members.
Some remarks make history for the church as a whole; others make memories for individual believers.
We asked several Latter-day Saints to tell us about a favorite conference sermon and why it impressed them.
Warner Woodworth, retired Brigham Young University professor of organizational behavior and an advocate for workers worldwide
• President Gordon B. Hinckley’s talk at the priesthood session March 31, 2001, announcing the creation of the Perpetual Education Fund to help returned Mormon missionaries in the Third World.
"In an effort to remedy this situation, we propose a plan — a plan which we believe is inspired by the Lord," Hinckley said. "The church is establishing a fund largely from the contributions of faithful Latter-day Saints who have and will contribute for this purpose. We are deeply grateful to them. Based on similar principles to those underlying the Perpetual Emigration Fund, we shall call it the Perpetual Education Fund."
This struck me with deep joy because I had been promoting this idea, indeed, calling it the "Perpetual Education Fund" for about a decade earlier. Beginning in the late 1980s and early ’90s I gave several dozen conference presentations and firesides about the plight of our returned missionaries in the Third World.
At first people didn’t believe they suffered. The assumption was that a mission was just the beginning of a whole new life of success and happiness. It may be true for elders and sisters from industrialized nations, but not those of poor countries. They often returned home to a shanty, one meal a day, no jobs and unable to marry in a temple.
When my ideas fell on deaf ears within the church offices, my students helped me collect the data which showed many returned missionaries were partially illiterate. In Peru, 82 percent were inactive approximately a year after their return. In Brazil, similar challenges faced returned missionaries, and, in Africa, it was worse.
Little by little, my hopes for a radical new idea, that the church should begin giving loans for training so the pursuit of a job would be more achievable, began to take root with the help of some former mission presidents who started small loans in Mexico and Brazil. Operating outside the formal church, experiments could occur and the process refined. The results were spectacular, and the data helped persuade LDS welfare managers and some of the brethren to circulate the idea throughout headquarters.
When the decision was finally made and announced, I came home from that conference, told my wife, Kaye, and we both fell to our knees to thank the Lord. Ever since, as I continue to travel the globe with the nongovernmental organizations I have launched to combat poverty, when seeking to strengthen LDS members, they share their joy at the miracle of the PEF in their families.
• Jeffrey R. Holland’s talk in April 1996 titled "A Handful of Meal and a Little Oil" about the Prophet Elijah’s hunger in which he asks a suffering and impoverished widow to feed him, although she has practically nothing herself.
Holland, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, discusses King Benjamin’s words in the Book of Mormon and adds his own thoughts about our work to build Zion:
"We may not yet be the Zion of which our prophets foretold and toward which the poets and priests of Israel have pointed us, but we long for it and we keep working toward it," Holland said. "I do not know whether a full implementation of such a society can be realized until Christ comes, but I know that when he did come to the Nephites, his majestic teachings and ennobling spirit led to the happiest of all times, a time in which ‘there were no contentions and disputations among them, and every man did deal justly one with another. And they had all things common among them; therefore there were not rich and poor, bond and free, but they were all made free, and partakers of the heavenly gift.’ That blessed circumstance was, I suppose, achieved on only one other occasion of which we know — the city of Enoch, where ‘they were of one heart and one mind, and dwelt in righteousness; and there was no poor among them.’ "
These words struck me so powerfully I used them in the introduction to my book, "Working Toward Zion: Principles of the United Order for the Modern World," with James Lucas. It has been read by thousands of Mormons and others as they join with me in building a new and better world. We’re not just talking about a Zion of economic and social justice, but about implementing these principles — practicing what we preach. Together, we have labored to build economic self-reliance in more than 40 countries since 1996, giving microloans to some 8 million poor families and empowering them to a better life here and now, as well as a more promising future.
Rebecca van Uitert, LDS immigration attorney in Chicago
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