Striving to Become

Striving to Become

S&I Annual Training Broadcast 2020

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Elder Ulisses Soares: My dear brothers and sisters, wherever you may be, it is a real honor for my wife and me to be with you today. I bring greetings and love from the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles to all of you. President Nelson personally sends his best wishes to you. He always asks us to share his best feelings and love with those we meet with. He truly appreciates your service in behalf of God’s children.

My dear associates, before we go on, I would like to express my personal and deep gratitude for your remarkable service in the seminaries and institutes. You are privileged to teach and help the rising generation walk in the footsteps of the Savior toward eternity. You teach some of God’s most noble spirits, who have been reserved to come to earth at this phase of history. Our dear prophet, President Nelson, refers to these noble spirits as God’s finest team, His finest players, the heroes, those who get to participate in this final, great gathering event—the gathering of Israel.1 This great team can accomplish the impossible and help to shape the destiny of the entire human family.2

My dear wife, Rosana, joins me in this special meeting today. She has been the light of my life for the last 39 years. Because of her goodness and wonderful example, she is the catalyst in our family to help each one of us to become more Christlike. Rosana and I are the recipients of blessings that came into our lives from applying the teachings received during our youth from very devoted seminary and institute teachers. Their faithful service had a tremendous impact on our lives as we were taking our first steps in the gospel of Jesus Christ. These dedicated teachers helped us to shape our lives according to the truths of the gospel of Jesus Christ and guided us as we tried to walk in the path to return to our Heavenly Father. I would like to invite my sweetheart to share her feelings on how seminary and institute blessed her as a new convert in the Church and in her efforts to develop Christlike attributes. Would you share your comments now, dear?

Sister Rosana Soares: Thank you, my love, for inviting me to share my testimony.

The first time I heard about the Church, I was about nine years old. And for eight years I asked my father permission to be baptized, and he always said no. He said that I was too young to make such an important decision and I needed to prove to him this was what I really wanted.

Even though I wasn’t a member of the Church, I completed four years of daily seminary. Seminary class was taught at the chapel at 6:00 in the morning every day. My father only allowed me to go on the condition that the teacher would pick me up. Fortunately, I had a wonderful teacher who came every day at 5:30 a.m. to give me a ride. My father woke me up every day at 5:00 in the morning, and I got dressed and waited for the teacher. I was always very sleepy and would say to myself, “Please don’t come. Please don’t come,” but he always came. Happily, he always came.

I feel so blessed and grateful for my diligent seminary teacher, who could have easily given up on me. But he didn’t.

Thirty years later, I had the opportunity to teach seminary to my daughter for a period of time at home. She couldn’t attend seminary at the chapel that year because of her school schedule. She was a girl with a lot of energy and wasn’t excited to sit still for 45 minutes, especially with me as her teacher. So I decided to prepare unique classes and treat my daughter as if she were the best seminary student, even though she was the only student. At the end of that year she was happy, she felt the love of our Heavenly Father for her, and I felt it too.

Brothers and sisters, like my daughter, I know the word of God can make all the difference in our mind, in our attitude, and in the way we see ourselves and others.

I’d like to conclude with a beautiful quote from President Henry B. Eyring:

“You wonderful teachers already put great effort and sacrifice into your preparation to teach the word, into your teaching, and into caring for students. … You can now add your faith that more of our students will make the choices that lead to true conversion.”3

I so testify in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

Elder Soares: Thank you, my darling, for your sweet words. She is wonderful, isn’t she?

I hope you do not underestimate your capacity to influence and persuade our youth to pursue righteousness in their lives. As our dear President Packer used to say, they are growing up in enemy territory. Through your devoted service in teaching them, they can grow in faith and obedience and become spiritually resilient. They will learn how to cope with and overcome temptation.

My dear brothers and sisters, the seminary and institute programs are two of the most significant contributors to the stability and strength of the Church. I can assure you that the Lord is fulfilling “[His] work and [His] glory—to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man”4—through your precious service to Him and His children. Therefore, your and my main goal must always be the salvation and exaltation of our Heavenly Father’s children.

In this marvelous handbook for teachers and leaders in Seminaries and Institutes of Religion, Gospel Teaching and Learning, we find this impressive statement: “Our purpose is to help youth and young adults understand and rely on the teachings and Atonement of Jesus Christ, qualify for the blessings of the temple, and prepare themselves, their families, and others for eternal life with their Father in Heaven.”5

This charge goes in concert with what is stated in General Handbook: Serving in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints: “Seminaries and Institutes of Religion (S&I) assists parents and Church leaders in helping youth and young adults increase in their faith in Jesus Christ and His restored gospel.”6

One of the greatest challenges for those of us who are engaged in this wonderful work of saving souls is the quest to become, meaning to grow or to turn into the type of disciple the Lord expects us to be. Then the Lord will enable us to impact the lives of those we teach as they walk on the path for eternal life. This concept of becoming is totally related to one of the three elements on how to achieve His purpose, as described in the Gospel Teaching and Learning handbook: “We live the gospel of Jesus Christ and strive for the companionship of the Spirit. Our conduct and relationships are exemplary in the home, in the classroom, and in the community. We continually seek to improve our performance, knowledge, attitude, and character.”7

The Apostle Paul advised us about the importance of attaining the same stature of Christ. In his epistle to the Ephesians, he said:

“And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers;

“For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ:

“Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.”8

Our crucial question may be how we can achieve the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ through our service, as we strive to help others to do the same. The gospel of Jesus Christ provides us assistance in that regard. Let us consider together some principles in an attempt to address this question.

The first and fundamental principle is always to follow the Master, Jesus Christ. Earnestly reflecting Jesus Christ in our attitudes, words, and actions increases our capacity to influence and persuade others to prepare and qualify for eternal life with their Father in Heaven. In doing so, we can help our youth learn to love the Lord, for what they love will determine what they will seek. What they will seek will determine what they will think and do. What they will think and do will determine who they will become.

You and I represent The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the world. Everything we do and say reflects the image of the Church, its truths, and, ultimately, the Savior. As we seek to better understand and harmonize our lives with the gospel, the more effort we should be inclined to make to become like Jesus Christ. President Dallin H. Oaks once taught:

“The gospel of Jesus Christ is the plan by which we can become what children of God are supposed to become. This spotless and perfected state will result from a steady succession of covenants, ordinances, and actions, an accumulation of right choices, and from continuing repentance.”9

I was recently talking with some of my seminary and institute classmates from Brazil, where I grew up. I was impressed by what they said about the Christlike influence their teachers had on them in a time of crucial decisions in their lives. Let us listen to what some of them said.

Sister Barreto: OK, going back to my youth. I think—well, I don’t think; I am sure—all the decisions and everything that I hoped for, I dreamed of, had a solid foundation when I studied the gospel. And especially I remember very, very clearly seminary. I was very young—seminary was beginning here in Brazil—and I still remember my very good, devoted teachers, and I started loving the Savior. And I think the testimony I earned when I was a seminary student has developed and grown, has been growing a lot, and I am who I am now because of those times, because of those teachings, because of those teachers and the decisions I made.

Sister Silva: For me, I think it was my teacher who was very important at the time, because I was a recent convert then, and she helped me so much to understand those principles and how to apply them in my life and to seek the qualities that Jesus Christ has—like patience, increasing in knowledge, obedience to the living prophets. All this helped me at the time to develop the ability to hear the Holy Ghost, the whisperings of the Spirit. So this was key for me because I was a recent convert. It was the teacher. She had a great knowledge, and she also helped many students to develop that knowledge. She answered our questions and so forth. This helped me to gain a testimony and to stay strong in the gospel.

Elder Gonçalves: Well, as soon as I was baptized, as I entered the chapel for the first time, I was immediately involved by the youth and by the seminary teacher. She invited me to come to the classes. The course had already begun, so I had to hurry and fill out some packets to be able to receive the certificate for that year. I didn’t learn anything filling out those packets, but I learned to involve myself, and that involvement was essential. That involvement was important so that I could feel a desire to learn more about the scriptures, which I had never thought about before and which I did not yet understand. After that initial excitement, the joy of participating began to be a part of my life. It became normal, and I felt the desire to know more about the scriptures and to practice those things that seemed so true and blessed so much the lives of those youth that you could see in their actions. Looking back, I can remember this: the actions of those youth made me see something that was true.

Elder Soares: The Apostle Paul’s epistle to Timothy reminds us of important counsel we might heed in order to really influence others for good: “Be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity.”10

The second principle I would like to mention is teaching the truth with courage and clarity. You and I are called to teach the gospel of Jesus Christ. We are not to teach our own ideas or philosophies, even mingled with the scriptures. The gospel is “the power of God unto salvation,”11 and it is only through Jesus Christ and His gospel that we are saved. With the guidance and assistance of the Holy Ghost, we are to teach the principles of the gospel as found in the standard works of the Church and in the words of modern prophets and apostles as they are taught today. We are to be instruments of truth and teach it with such clarity that they will not be confused with the philosophies of the world. It is beautiful to read how Alma describes the power of God’s word in the hearts of people and how it naturally strengthens faith. Let’s read together Alma 32:42:

“And because of your diligence and your faith and your patience with the word in nourishing it, that it may take root in you, behold, by and by ye shall pluck the fruit thereof, which is most precious, which is sweet above all that is sweet, and which is white above all that is white, yea, and pure above all that is pure; and ye shall feast upon this fruit even until ye are filled, that ye hunger not, neither shall ye thirst.”

Brothers and sisters, this great scripture illustrates the power of the truth that can be received into the hearts of our youth and persuade them to do good in their lives. Please remember that effective teaching is the very essence of leadership in the Church. Eternal life will come only as men and women are taught with such effectiveness that they change and discipline their lives. They cannot be coerced into righteousness or into heaven. They must be led, and that means effective teaching.12

During last April general conference, President Russell M. Nelson taught about “The Restoration of the Fulness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ: A Bicentennial Proclamation to the World.” At the end of his message, he gave an assignment to the whole Church to study it and ponder the truths and think of the impact those truths have on our lives. I believe that our commission goes beyond that assignment. You and I are part of the group of people assigned to take the inspired truths of this proclamation into the hearts of our youth and young adults. In one sense, seminary and institute teachers are an extension of the 15 prophets, seers, and revelators in their role of proclaiming these truths to the youth in preparation for their journey into a very confusing world. You and I have the critical responsibility to make the blessings of this proclamation a reality in their lives. We all know that we are living in challenging times. The world is forgetting the importance and the role of Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ in their lives and is losing the vision of their divine nature. More and more worldly philosophies are taking the place of the holy absolute truths of the gospel of Jesus Christ in the hearts of people. You and I have the great opportunity to be instruments in the Lord’s hands to bless our youth and bring truths that were declared clearly and powerfully in this proclamation into their hearts.

Let me share with you some of the other comments my good friends made about how truth, taught with clarity and courage, really rooted them in the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Elder Silva: For me, the first thing that comes to mind is the example of the teachers, because this is the source to which we look, and we want to be like them. I had always thought, “Is it possible that one day I will have a family like that? Is it possible that one day I will really do those things?” Some impact of the doctrine, of what is taught primarily by example, as they say—we need to adopt the doctrine and adapt it according to our situations and circumstances. I tried to do this in the best way possible, according to my capability and ability, so that truly I could be better each day and be able to make the best choices—like I did here with my best choice, choosing my wife, which was one of the things that helped me too.

Sister Barreto: I always looked up to my teachers as examples. I still can remember one especially. She was very young, not married yet. She was a returned sister missionary, and when I looked at her when she taught us, I thought, “I want to be like her. I want to be more like her,” because she was like the Savior. She loved us so much, and every time she taught us, I felt her love and her devotion for what she was doing. One thing that I think was important in my life—I wasn’t a convert, but I had my time of conversion. I was born in the Church, so when we talk about our stories, my story is a little bit different because I don’t remember ever having doubts or not believing in the Church and the gospel. Everything was very natural for me. But I think—I’m sure there comes a time when you have to know for yourself, and that’s exactly—that was my seminary and institute, especially seminary time. When I go back and think about it, that was a crucial time when I had to decide why I was in the Church—if the Church was really true for me, if I had a testimony of the gospel and a testimony of Jesus Christ. So I can only be me now because of those days.

Sister Gonçalves: First, when we have our teachers and leaders, it’s not that they are perfect, but we envision ourselves being like them, having a family like theirs, and following their example, having the same understanding, obtaining that knowledge. There were several leaders who made an impact on me and were an example so that I said, “I want to be like them when I grow up.” This made me always try to make wise choices in my life. And I moved along, step by step. As Elder Bednar said about conversion, it doesn’t happen immediately; it’s step by step, a change of heart, a change of thought, a change of behavior, and always focused on the will of God. So the will of God first, and then these teachers helped me to understand the scriptures, to learn to love the scriptures. So this became a part of my life. I sought to make wise choices according to the will of God.

Elder Soares: Another principle I would like to mention today is our mandate to teach our students by the Spirit. You and I, we are on the Lord’s errand. We are His agents, and we are authorized and commissioned to represent Him and to act on His behalf. As His agents, we are entitled to His help. Certainly it is expected that we diligently prepare for each lesson, mastering various teaching techniques and learning how to help our students exercise their agency in righteousness. However, it is evident that to have the Lord’s help through the Holy Ghost in the lessons we teach, it is necessary to live a life that qualifies for that help.

In speaking to the teachers of the Church, the First Presidency stated: “The most important part of your service will be your own daily spiritual preparation, including prayer, scripture study, and obedience to the commandments. We encourage you to dedicate yourself to living the gospel with greater purpose than ever before.”13 Then we ask for the Lord’s help, and He will bless us with His Spirit to know what to do. Please always remember that teaching by the Spirit helps us teach class members in such a way that they can better understand the principles of the gospel and then be motivated to apply them in their lives: “Wherefore, he that preacheth and he that receiveth, understand one another, and both are edified and rejoice together.”14 This may be redundant, but I can assure you that our students can only receive eternal truth through the Spirit when it is taught by that Spirit.

I like the way Nephi explained this beautiful concept: “And now I, Nephi, cannot write all the things which were taught among my people; neither am I mighty in writing, like unto speaking; for when a man speaketh by the power of the Holy Ghost the power of the Holy Ghost carrieth it unto the hearts of the children of men.”15 What an important role the Spirit has in our teachings, to carry the truth unto the hearts of the children of men!

My dear brothers and sisters, we can be very eloquent and capable of speaking well in public, but without the Spirit our abilities will not make any difference. President Russell M. Nelson recently taught that “it has never been more imperative to know how the Spirit speaks to [us] than right now.” He added that “in the Godhead, the Holy Ghost is the messenger. He will bring thoughts to [our] mind[s] which the Father and Son want [us] to receive. He is the Comforter. He will bring a feeling of peace to [our] heart[s]. He testifies of truth and will confirm what is true as [we] hear and read the word of the Lord.”16

The fourth principle I would like to mention is teaching from the heart. There are teachers who can craft elegant, polished sentences and who are impressive and pleasant to listen to. But teachers with compelling ideas, who speak heart to heart, are the ones who can really inspire us to act upon the things we learn. Some of these teachers may not be as refined in public speaking, but when students listen to them, they open their eyes for a better understanding. These teachers can plant a desire in their hearts and minds that will influence and persuade the students in their search for goodness and pursuit of exaltation. The teachers who have most impacted my life were the ones who taught me from their hearts. They were not the most proficient in techniques of teaching, but they were able to speak heart to heart. Their influence had less to do with mechanically following prescribed lesson plans or educational theories and more to do with genuine care, sincerity, passion, and conviction. As stated by American author and educator Parker Palmer, “Good teachers possess a capacity for connectedness. … The connections made by good teachers are held not in their methods but in their hearts—meaning heart in its ancient sense, as the place where intellect and emotion and spirit and will converge in the human self.”17

Our Lord Jesus Christ was the perfect example of that principle. He left physical footprints in the sand of the seashore but left the spiritual mark of His teachings on the hearts and in the lives of all whom He taught. He instructed His disciples of that day and to us speaks the same words: “Follow thou me.”18

Let us hear the final comments of my classmates and friends. I guess I have not yet introduced them to you. These three couples are Glaucia and Reinaldo Barreto, Lucelia and Mauro Gonçalves, and Celia Maria and Ramilfo Silva. I have known most of these wonderful people since our childhood. I have watched them during their lives and have learned from their righteous examples. They have been faithful, enduring, and devoted members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who have raised their families in the gospel and wholeheartedly served in the responsibilities to which the Lord has called them.

Elder Barreto: I had very good examples in my life from the seminary and institute professors, teachers, and also from the seminary and institute coordinators and directors. We have had a very good friendship with them since that time. I cannot be grateful enough for them and their examples in my life. They were very good friends also. I always felt confident that I could talk to them about anything. They instructed me, they taught me, they taught the gospel, but their example was wonderful. They influenced me very much.

Sister Gonçalves: I am so grateful to have the gospel and to be able to have raised my family in it and to see today the fruit of all that work from when we were young. I remember one time I was in front of the temple when it was dedicated, and I had the privilege of singing there with President Kimball. Sister Lobo was our chorister. There were few people who were able to go inside the celestial room, and being able to feel inside the temple that everything that I was learning there, everything I had learned in my youth, was worth it made me truly want to continue on to eternity. Everything in life has a purpose, and my purpose is being able to return to the presence of Heavenly Father together with my family and my friends.

Elder Silva: My thoughts, first of all, are of gratitude for those valiant teachers, those people who voluntarily dedicated and truly continue to dedicate time to prepare themselves to teach. I cannot measure the good influence teachers can have and do have on their students. Sometimes we only discover this many years later. But they truly choose to do what is right and stay on the path. And I am truly grateful for this. I have a testimony that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God. I have had some experiences that I cannot deny that Joseph Smith is a prophet of God. The Book of Mormon is the word of God. Today we have a prophet who guides us and who receives revelation, and I know that Jesus Christ is active in directing the Church. These are my thoughts, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

Elder Soares: Thank you, my dear friends. May the Lord bless you all as you continue being good examples of what you learned when you were young and continue to define the gospel of Jesus Christ in the hearts of others.

The final and very important principle I want to share is testifying of what we know to be true. My dear fellow companions in the gospel, the power of your strong testimonies will change the lives of your students forever. That is exactly what happened with each one of us, or our ancestors, upon hearing missionaries sharing their testimonies. A strong testimony through the power of the Holy Ghost is the sustaining power of a successful life and gives peace, comfort, and assurance. It generates the conviction that as the teachings of the Savior are consistently obeyed, life will be beautiful, the future will be secure, and there will be the capacity to overcome the challenges that cross our paths. Your strong testimonies will sustain the faith of your students and will help them develop their own testimonies of the gospel. Their testimonies will be one of the pillars that will help them to recognize the power of Christ’s divine atoning sacrifice in their own lives. As they act upon their testimonies in righteousness, I can assure you that their testimonies can become their shield against the adversary’s attempts to weaken their faith and instill disbelief in their minds throughout their lives. This foundation will give them the courage to boldly declare the truths of the gospel to the world.

The Primary song says: “I know my Father lives and loves me too. / The Spirit whispers this to me and tells me it is true, / And tells me it is true.”19

In this spirit, I would like to conclude my remarks today by sharing my own testimony with you, a testimony that was built line upon line and that continues to grow as I continuously search with a sincere heart to more fully understand the word of God. The seed of that testimony was first planted in my heart by wonderful missionaries who taught my family in my childhood. It was then nurtured by my faithful parents, who taught me through their example and devotion to the Lord. Eventually the seed of that testimony blossomed as I listened to the teachings of my marvelous seminary teachers and felt impressed to act upon them in my life at a young age.

I know Jesus is the Christ. I know He lives. I know He suffered for my sins and was resurrected and gave me a chance to change my behavior. I know He forgot Himself for me; He turned away from His own desires and did exactly what the Father asked Him to do. Even in that very moment of great suffering, He denied Himself and did what the Father would have Him do.

I know our Heavenly Father lives and listens to our prayers. I testify to you that He understands pain. I know this is the true Church of Jesus Christ on earth. The Lord truly commenced the Restoration of His gospel and His priesthood through the Prophet Joseph Smith. I love my Savior and my Heavenly Father, and I love to serve Them. I have been trying to show my love to my dear Lord throughout my life through my service to God’s children. My dear brothers and sisters, how grateful I am for my seminary and institute teachers who tirelessly influenced me through their devoted and loving service to the Lord. Everything started at that time, and I am so grateful for that.

I love you, brothers and sisters. I loved the opportunity to be with you today. Thank you again for all that you do for the Lord and His people on earth. I say these things in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.