“Giving Ourselves to the Service of the Lord,” Ensign, Mar. 1987, 2
Even though it has now been over two years since the dedication of the Guatemala City Temple, I vividly recall the great and moving experience it was to participate in those sacred services.
In ten dedicatory sessions, thousands of wonderful people joined in presenting this sacred house to God our Eternal Father and His Beloved Son Jesus Christ. Those familiar with the people estimated that more than 75 percent of those who were there were descendants of Father Lehi.
What an inspiration it was to look into their faces—handsome men and beautiful women with lovely children. Yet behind their stoic expressions, I felt I could see, almost in vision, generations of their forebears—the glorious days of their strength and goodness when they knew and worshipped the Christ, and then the tragic, miserable years, reaching through many generations, when, having rejected Him, their blood ran from the wounds of conflict, and they lived in pain, filth, poverty, and oppression.
Hundreds of those who came to the dedicatory services lived in the mountains and jungles of Guatemala and other areas of Central America. They came because their lives have been touched by faithful missionaries who have walked from humble home to humble home and told these people of their forebears and read to them from their own forgotten testament of Christ. They have been touched by the power of the Holy Spirit. The scales of darkness have slowly but surely fallen from their eyes. Now, among their numbers are strong men who serve as stake and mission presidents, as bishops of wards, and as patriarchs to their people. There are likewise among them strong and beautiful women who preside over Relief Societies, Young Women organizations, and Primaries and who teach with conviction in the organizations of the Church. In each of these people there beats a heart vibrant with love for the Lord and a testimony that is moving in its expression. It is a latter-day miracle, a wonderful thing to behold. How did it happen? How did it all come to be?
One need look no further than to the many missionaries who have labored in that part of the world, who in obedience to the Lord accepted a call from His prophet to serve a mission. It was said by Peter long ago that Jesus went about doing good. As His ambassadors, missionaries in our generation have gone and continue to go throughout the world doing good in the true spirit of the Master. Let me describe one of them. He is typical of so many others who desire with all their hearts to serve the Lord.
He came from California and grew up in an ordinary sort of way, not a member of the Church. He became acquainted with a girl who was a member of the Church. He was so impressed with her that, on learning that she was a member of the Church, he wished to know more. He was embraced by LDS students at Berkeley who taught him the gospel while he was going forward with his arduous scholastic program. He was baptized. Then, working nights and summers, he saved money enough to sustain him, if he spent it with care, for a period of eighteen months as a missionary. He was called to Guatemala. He was a handsome young man with a brilliant mind and a wonderful education in a highly technical field. I met him in the Guatemala City Temple. He grasped my hand warmly. I asked, “Are you happy?”
“Oh yes, so very happy,” he responded. I asked where he was laboring. He said, “Out among the Lamanites, the native people of Guatemala. It is a very small place where there is much hardship, poverty, and ignorance. The mud is deep, but the people are wonderful, and I love them.”
As I have thought of that tall and handsome young man, gifted and educated, working among the Indians of Guatemala in a jungle village, the words of Samuel the Lamanite have come to mind:
“Yea, I say unto you, that in the latter times the promises of the Lord have been extended to our brethren, the Lamanites; and notwithstanding the many afflictions which they shall have, and notwithstanding they shall be driven to and fro upon the face of the earth, and be hunted, and shall be smitten and scattered abroad, having no place for refuge, the Lord shall be merciful unto them.
“And this is according to the prophecy, that they shall again be brought to the true knowledge, which is the knowledge of their Redeemer, and their great and true shepherd, and be numbered among his sheep.” (Hel. 15:12–13.)
This young missionary, with his associates, was bringing to those among whom he walked “the true knowledge, which is the knowledge of their Redeemer, and their great and true shepherd,” that they might be numbered among His sheep.
This particular young man received no letters from his parents, no money, no encouragement. He had sufficient funds of his own saving to carry him through eighteen months. Because his mission was ending when we were lengthening missions from eighteen months to twenty-four, he had the option of remaining an additional six months. He asked his mission president with emotion, “Is there some way I can get help to stay another six months to work among these people I have come to love so much?” The needed someone was found, and the missionary was able to serve a full twenty-four months.
There are others like him, thousands today working in many lands, who, in the spirit of the Lord, are going about doing great good.
Let me tell of another person I met in Guatemala. He is John O’Donnal, the president of the Guatemala City Temple. He stood before a congregation and with a voice choked with emotion told his story.
As a young man he was graduated from the University of Arizona with a degree in agricultural science. He was employed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and was sent to Guatemala to work on a project to develop the growth of natural rubber trees to meet a critical need when war was engulfing the world.
As I remember his words, he said: “I was twenty-four years of age and unmarried when I came to Guatemala forty-three years ago. I had been reared with a love for the Savior and His teachings. In the course of my work here, I walked day after day through these mountains and jungles among the native peoples of this land. I came to know them and to love them, and as I saw the poverty and darkness in which they lived, I wept for them. They were the purest people I had ever known, but they were without the light of the gospel. I cried to the Lord concerning them. I knew that their one sure hope lay in obtaining a knowledge of and a love for Jesus Christ, and in receiving the record of their forebears, which testifies of Him.
“In time I fell in love with a beautiful girl in whose veins flowed English and Spanish blood and also the blood of Lehi, Laman, and Samuel. We were married and spent our honeymoon in the mountains among the native people. I told her that some day these people must hear the gospel and that they would rise in strength and beauty.
“In 1946 and again in 1947 I traveled to Salt Lake City and pleaded with the President of the Church to send missionaries. Finally, in December 1947, the mission president and his counselors brought four elders to our house. The next day we drove onto a mountain where together we had the sacrament, and the mission president dedicated the land for the preaching of the restored gospel.
“My wife was the first native of Central America baptized into The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Today she stands at my side as the matron of this beautiful temple.”
He continued: “In 1956 I was in a serious accident and was taken to the hospital for major surgery. My life hung in the balance, and in those circumstances I had a remarkable experience. The Lord showed me that a temple would be built in this land.
“Also, I was informed by a power beyond the power of man that my life would be spared but that my life would not be my own.”
His life has not been his own. As a scientist and administrator, he established and operated a large rubber plantation and operated for a short period a tire factory for one of the great rubber companies in the United States. But he did still yet a far more significant thing. In the spirit of the Master, he went about doing good. He worked sharing the gospel among the native peoples of Guatemala. For more than forty years he has lived with them, has spoken their language, has sorrowed with them in their sorrows, has taught them the everlasting gospel, and has been a quiet, unassuming, but magnificent pioneer in the development of the work of the Lord in that land.
When he walked the jungle trails alone, he was the only member of the Church in all that land. Today there are more than forty-four thousand of them. He nurtured the first little branch. Today there are twelve stakes of Zion in Guatemala and many more in the surrounding nations of Central America. Once, a few members met in his home. Now beautiful chapels of the Church dot the land. On a hill above Guatemala City is a magnificent temple with the figure of Moroni atop its tallest steeple.
It was this Moroni who wrote among his final words this charge to us:
“Awake, and arise from the dust, O Jerusalem; yea, and put on thy beautiful garments, O daughter of Zion; and strengthen thy stakes and enlarge thy borders forever, that thou mayest no more be confounded, that the covenants of the Eternal Father which he hath made unto thee, O house of Israel, may be fulfilled.
“Yea, come unto Christ, and be perfected in him, and deny yourselves of all ungodliness.” (Moro. 10:31–32.)
John O’Donnal was told when the veil between life and death was thin that his life would be spared but that his life would not be his own. How true that must be for each of us. None of us may rightly say that his life is his own. Our lives are a gift from God, and when we leave this life may not be according to our wish. Truthfully, our days are numbered not by ourselves, but according to the will of God.
Of all people, we must surely realize that there can be no true worship of Him who is the Christ without giving of ourselves. Why are missionaries happy? Because they lose themselves in the service of others.
Why are those who labor in the temples happy? Because their labor of love is in very deed harmonious with the great vicarious work of the Savior of mankind. They neither ask for nor expect thanks for what they do. For the most part, they know nothing more than the name of him or her in whose behalf they labor.
Sadly, many of us use our lives as if they were our own. It is true that ours is the choice to waste our lives if we wish. But that becomes a betrayal of a great and sacred trust. The Master has made it abundantly clear that “whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel’s, the same shall save it.” (Mark 8:35.)
The miraculous three years of the Lord’s public ministry brought forth many such great principles of truth. Each was given both by precept and example and they collectively represent teachings that have enriched mankind through all the years that have followed. Of all people, we in these latter-days have certain testimony that when men and women have recognized Him and followed His teachings they have known peace and prosperity. When they have denied Him and forsaken His counsel, they have suffered conflict, sorrow, pain, and darkness.
Let us now in our time, each one, reach out more generously to love those around us in the spirit of the Christ. It is not enough even to give alms to those in need. For as important as that is, it is as Sir Launfal, worn and old, learned from Him who shared his crust, “the gift without the giver is bare; Who gives of himself with his alms feeds three—Himself, his hungering neighbor, and me.” (James Russell Lowell, “The Vision of Sir Launfal,” pt. 2, st. 8.)
May the real meaning of the gospel distill into our hearts that we may realize that our lives, given us by God our Father, are to be used in the service of others.
If we will give such service, our days will be filled with joy and gladness. More important, they will be consecrated to our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, and to the blessing of all whose lives we touch.
Some Points of Emphasis. You may wish to make these points in your home teaching discussion:
Our lives are to be used in the service of others.
There is no true worship of the Lord without giving ourselves in service.
To the person who loses himself in the work of the Lord comes joy, happiness, and inner peace.
Relate your personal feelings about the significance of the Lord’s teachings of service to others.
Are there some scriptures or quotations in this article that the family might read aloud and discuss?
Would this discussion be better after a pre-visit chat with the head of the house? Is there a message from the bishop or quorum leader?