For the past week I have been taking the “Hinckley Challenge” to read The Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ in 97 days. So far, I’m ahead of schedule! I have read The Book of Mormon many times in my life. My mother would tell her children scripture stories from the time we were born. At night before bedtime she would gather us together and read from the Bible or The Book of Mormon. She would share her feelings about the scriptures as she sat on my bed tucking me in for the night. She would listen to my troubles and worries and often say “This reminds me of the story of Nephi..”, or “Do you remember the story of David and Goliath?..”, or “How did Jesus treat people who made fun of him?..”, or “Esther had to be very brave just like that”…and then we would talk about those stories and what we can learn from them.
I remember my mother holding me on her lap as we sat in her large rocking chair and listening to her tell me stories about her life, and her faith. These were special times, and I treasure them. Mother planted the seeds of the Gospel deep into my heart. For many years my mother was raising three small children on her own. She went through a divorce when I was age 5, my sister age 2 and my brother a baby. She was blessed to remarry a good man when I was 10 years old. However, during those five years of struggle, Mom held our little family together with a strength beyond her own.
Mom made sure that every Monday night was Family Night where we would study scriptures, play games, tell stories, or go on bike rides & walks, (and of course, always have treats!). She taught us the commandments of God, and she took us to church every Sunday. We knelt in prayer every day together in the morning and in the night. She also took the time to kneel at our bedsides and teach us how to pray, and would often listen to our prayers or pray with us individually. I am forever in debt to her selfless service and tireless teaching during those difficult days. I know now just how tired she must have been every day attending college, worrying over finances, trying to find small work projects, and facing hours of homework each night after her three children were finally asleep. Yet Mom always placed her role as mother, teacher and spiritual guide to her children as her first priority. We lived in meager student housing during those years on the University campus. Mother had to take food stamps and church assistance. We learned that this was a blessing from the Lord which could help us temporarily in order to become self-sufficient. As poor as we must have been then, I always felt rich. We had a cozy apartment to live in, food to eat, and clean clothing to wear. Most important, I knew my mother loved me, and we had a church family who also loved and supported me. I was always treated as someone important and valued. Our home was joyful, and blessed.
We had two large and beautifully illustrated volumes of scripture in our home that I treasured. They were two of my favorite books. I would put one in my lap and turn the pages slowly and carefully. One book was an illustrated Bible and the other an illustrated Book of Mormon. Sadly, I’m quite sure those particular volumes are out of print by now. They were absolutely beautiful. The drawings were masterful and captured the imagination. I never tired of hearing my mother read the stories, and as I grew older, I was able to practice my reading skills with the book. I recall most of the pictures even now. I loved the page of Noah standing on a large pile of wood with outstretched arms warning the people that a flood was coming and that they needed to repent of their sins. The large skeleton of his ship being constructed could be seen in the background sitting in the middle of a dry desert. The crowd of people below him were laughing and mocking and pointing at him indicating that he was a crazy man. On the next page, the animals were being herded onto the boat two by two, while dark storm clouds were gathering in the background.
Next came the illustration of Noah’s boat surrounded by flood waters, lightning was slashing the dark sky, and people could be seen huddled on rocks facing their imminent doom as the waters were rising, with nowhere to go. Many bodies were already in the water desperately trying to swim towards the boat…but it was too late. The doors were closed. The people had procrastinated their repentance and they had mocked the prophets warning. The day of reckoning had arrived as they were told. As I studied that picture, I would imagine the cold water rising around them, sucking them slowly down. I would then imagine Noah and his family and the animals warm and safe and dry inside the boat which God had blessed them with. I decided that Noah’s group must have been very sad to hear the crying of the people outside. But the boat was shut up tight against the storm, and it could not be opened. I realized very young that in order to be safe, it was critical to listen to God’s prophets, and take their warnings seriously!
In the Illustrated Book of Mormon there were detailed pen and ink drawings of each character. Lehi, Sariah, Nephi and the rest of their family were depicted journeying from Jerusalem. There was the prophet Abinadi, who sacrificed his life because he would not deny Christ. The righteous King Benjamin who taught his people to serve each other was shown working alongside them in the fields. There was the prophet Alma who baptized hundreds, and rescued them from a wicked king, and The Sons of Mosiah who embarked on a courageous mission to their enemies. There was wise King Lamoni, and the faithful servant woman Abish…along with hundreds of others!
One of my favorite drawings was of the prophet Mormon, who tirelessly compiled all of the records kept over the centuries, and carefully engraved an abridgement upon thin sheets of metal bound together, often called the ‘golden plates’. Before Mormon’s death, he entrusted everything to his son.
The name of Mormon’s son was Moroni (always illustrated very muscular). He finished engraving the last pages of the book with his own words of faith and prophecy. After watching all of his people die in a great war, he wandered alone, hiding from the enemy. He saw in vision, our generation. He knew that we would be the ones to read the book which his father had abridged, and he was carrying and protecting. He wrote a promise to all who would read the book someday, that if they studied it prayerfully, they would know its truth. In approx. 421 A.D. Moroni buried the plates deep in the ground of a hillside called Cumorah.
On Sept 21, 1823 Moroni would return as an angel to visit a boy named Joseph Smith, who was the one God had chosen to translate the ancient plates into English. (Read Joseph’s personal account) Moroni gave the plates to Joseph in 1827. The book was published in 1830. To honor Moroni’s father, who had devoted his entire life to the abridgement of this extensive ancient scripture, it was titled The Book of Mormon.
Within my family’s illustrated copy of this book, there were a few color paintings included, which were very beautiful by artists such as Arnold Freiberg, and Minerva Teichert. The crowning page of the book was the illustration of Jesus coming to visit the people of the Americas. He is shown decending from the sky within a bright light, and the people looking up in wonder. They had survived 3 days of complete darkness and terrible storms and earthquakes, which was the sign that Christ had been crucified in Jerusalem. Now, as a Resurrected being, he was visiting his people on the American continent as promised for centuries. I would gaze at this picture over and over again. I imagined the fear that the mothers and fathers and children had endured during the earthquakes, and three days of darkness – which was described as so thick no-one could even see their hand in front of their face. Now, the hope and joy they felt at this moment. Jesus was there in person! He decended to earth, and he showed them the marks of the wounds in his hands and feet and side. He then called each person to come forward and touch these marks, and to be embraced individually in his arms. They bathed his feet with their tears, and he blessed them and comforted them. He healed their sick and injured, he taught them his gospel, and he organized his church.
On another page was a picture of all the little children being surrounded by bright angels, with Jesus in the middle cradling them in his arms and at his side. I imagined what it must have been like to be there, surrounded by those angels and to have Jesus holding me. My heart filled with joy. I knew that someday, I would also be embraced by Jesus. These precious books held the promise that our Lord, Savior and Redeemer will come to earth again.
The first time I read the Book of Mormon on my very own from cover to cover was when I was 7 years old. My Primary teacher at church gave me my very own copy, and she had signed her testimony inside the cover. She asked me to try to read it before my baptism day, which would be once I turned 8 years old. I remember the excitement I felt holding my very own copy in my hands. I eagerly started reading it. I enjoyed reporting to her each week what page I was on, and what story I was reading about. She would smile and give words of encouragement, or offer her thoughts. At that young age, I certainly did not understand all of what I was reading - however I did understand the importance of the book. I felt great love for the prophets who had written it anciently just for me to be able to read hundreds of years later. I had great love for the prophet Joseph Smith for sacrificing so much to translate it, and eventually enduring persecution and murder. I loved the stories. I felt the truth of the book. As I have grown and matured and re-read this book’s pages many times the importance, love and gratitude has grown, strengthened and deepened.
I had the opportunity to read The Holy Bible continuously through my life, and I read it from cover to cover during my High School years. Then, I did an intensive study-abroad program to the Holy Land during my freshman year in college. I had read this book of scripture many times throughout my life, however this time was an intensely powerful experience. There is nothing like reading about an event while sitting exactly where it happened! I literally walked where Jesus walked, and I felt his presence with me.
Places like the Sea of Galilee, Bethlehem, Golgotha, the Mount of Olives, Jericho, Nazareth, Mount Sinai, the Red Sea, Egypt, the River Jordan…are not just words on a page any longer. They are all vivid in my mind and hold deep personal memories for me. I have joy in the gift and power of the Bible.
Once more I am embarking on a scripture journey. I am beginning with an intensive reading of The Book of Mormon, and then I will continue on with my scriptural studies which include the Bible. I have placed a small copy of The Book of Mormon in my purse. Since I take the bus to and from work now – I have nearly 2 hours each day at my disposal to devote to reading the book. One more reason to be thankful for the bus! (and indirectly, I suppose, thankful for high gasoline prices)! I am “feasting upon the word” each day, and loving this experience!
The Book of Mormon, like The Bible, contains a record of God’s dealings with a part of the House of Israel. The book begins with the family of a prophet named Lehi who leaves Jerusalem in approx. 600 B.C. and eventually journeys by ship to the New World – or what we now call the American Continents. A great civilization grows. Prophets among this society teach that a Messiah will be born in Bethlehem and that He would be the Savior of the world. They warn of destruction if the people do not repent and keep God’s commandments just as the biblical prophets were doing in the eastern continent at the same time, which we read in the Bible. In the Book of Mormon there is adventure and wars and miracles which span from aprox. 600 B.C. to 400 A.D. As I have mentioned, the wonderful event of Jesus Christ visiting the people in the Americas begins in 3 Nephi 9 . This ancient record was preserved and translated for us by the power of God. It is a treasure
Some of you have not had the opportunity to read this book of scripture in your lifetime yet. I hope that you will do so very soon. It was written for our generation. Many people sacrificed their lives so that you can read it! The Book of Mormon has been translated into several different languages. Chances are, your native language is available. Here is a link where you can request a free copy. You can read a short Introduction and Summary of the book in English HERE. Some of you have read this book before, but perhaps it has been a while. I encourage you to open the pages up again, or read on-line. Start today!
The Book of Mormon and The Bible have been the most important books in my life. Together, they stand as witnesses of Jesus Christ, and as powerful guides. Within their pages are stories of hope and courage. We can read the words of prophets on two continents foretelling the birth of the promised Messiah, Jesus Christ. Then, we read the fulfillment of those prophecies. Within these sacred pages we read of Christ’s birth, his life, his miracles and his words, his suffering for our sins, his death and his resurrection from the grave. We read of Christ’s great love for all the children of the earth – and his visit and ministry to both the Eastern and the Western Hemispheres. Just as in Noah’s day, we are experiencing a dangerous flood which threatens to destroy us. This time, however, it is not a physical flood of water which covers the earth, but a flood of evil and temptation and confusion. The scriptures tell us that these are the last days of the earth before the Savior returns again. Will we be prepared? These books help us build our personal “ark” of protection around us, and find a haven from the turmoil. The words of God’s prophets are waiting for us to read and to hear, and to heed.