Chapter Forty-Six: A Period of Challenge and Growth

“Chapter Forty-Six: A Period of Challenge and Growth,” Church History in the Fulness of Times Student Manual (2003), 601–15

“Chapter Forty-Six,” Church History in the Fulness of Times, 601–15

Chapter Forty-Six

A Period of Challenge and Growth

Following the revealed pattern1 of nearly a hundred years, the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles met the day after the funeral of President Spencer W. Kimball and sustained the senior Apostle, Ezra Taft Benson, to preside over the Church.

At age eighty-six, President Benson was ordained President of the Church—forty-two years after he became an Apostle. He called Gordon B. Hinckley and Thomas S. Monson as his counselors in the First Presidency. At age fifty-eight, President Monson was the youngest man to be called to the First Presidency in over a hundred years.

President Ezra Taft Benson (1988–94)

Photo by Busath Photography

When the new First Presidency was announced, President Benson emphasized that the major purpose of the Church was to bring people to Jesus Christ. He declared: “My heart has been filled with an overwhelming love and compassion for all members of the Church and our Heavenly Father’s children everywhere. I love all our Father’s children of every color, creed, and political persuasion.”2

Preparation of a Prophet

Ezra Taft Benson was born in the farming community of Whitney, Idaho, in 1899, the first of eleven children. He bore the same name as his great-grandfather, who had served in the Quorum of the Twelve from 1846 to 1869. “T,” as he was known, began farm work at age four. At age twelve he shouldered increased responsibility when his father served a full-time mission. Later “T” attended Utah State Agricultural College in Logan, Utah, where he met his future wife, Flora Amussen. They married after both had returned from missions. He served his mission in Great Britain, and she served in the Hawaiian Islands.

Ezra Taft Benson graduated with honors from Brigham Young University and earned a master’s degree in agricultural economics from Iowa State University. After returning to Idaho, he came to be highly respected as a county agriculture agent and later as an extension economist. He served as stake president in Boise, the capital of Idaho. In 1939 he moved to Washington, D.C., to labor as the executive secretary of the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives. He was again called as a stake president.

Elder Benson was called as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles on the same day as Spencer W. Kimball. When they became General Authorities in October 1943, the Church had 837,000 members and 146 stakes. In 1946, Elder Benson went as a mission president to war-torn Europe, where he succeeded in reestablishing contact with the European Saints, providing compassion and needed welfare supplies to the stricken members, and instituting missionary work.

In 1952, Dwight D. Eisenhower, president-elect of the United States, asked Church leaders if it would be possible for Elder Benson to serve as the Secretary of Agriculture in his cabinet. President David O. McKay encouraged Elder Benson to accept the appointment. He subsequently blessed Elder Benson that he would have clear vision to see the needs of the nation and be fearless in defense of the Constitution against subversive elements threatening the nation’s freedoms. For the next eight years Elder Benson served in the U.S. presidential cabinet. In that capacity he traveled over eight hundred thousand miles to forty-four countries, making many friends for the Church with his example of devoutness and integrity. He later wrote a book titled Cross Fire in which he recounted those political years and his many opportunities and experiences.

Elder Benson served in the U.S. presidential cabinet as Secretary of Agriculture.

Elder Benson returned to full-time apostolic duties in 1961. During the mid-1960s he again presided over the European Mission, and later in the decade he presided over the missions in Asia. In 1973 he was sustained as President of the Twelve and served in that capacity for twelve years.

Elder Mark E. Petersen, a close colleague of Elder Benson in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, described Elder Benson’s leadership in this way: “He has led the quorum with great efficiency, constant inspiration, and a never-ceasing flow of love for his Brethren. Their well being has been a constant concern. Always he has kept their best interests in mind, together with ‘what is best for the Kingdom,’ as he has assigned them to their responsibilities in various parts of the world.

“Abiding harmony characterized his administration in the Twelve.”3

Come unto Christ

In 1985, as President of the Church, President Benson issued a special plea to disaffected members to come back to Christ. As part of this determined, continuing effort to bring lost sheep back to the fold, the First Presidency wrote in their Christmas message of 1985: “We are aware of some who are inactive, of others who have become critical and are prone to find fault, and of those who have been disfellowshipped or excommunicated because of serious transgressions.

“To all such we reach out in love. …

“… Come back. Come back and feast at the table of the Lord, and taste again the sweet and satisfying fruits of fellowship with the saints.”4

The Book of Mormon, Keystone of Our Religion

President Benson counseled the Latter-day Saints to read the Book of Mormon and allow it to help them come unto Christ. In nearly every address he gave as a prophet, he reemphasized the importance of the Book of Mormon. He often quoted Joseph Smith’s statement: “I told the brethren that the Book of Mormon was the most correct of any book on earth, and the keystone of our religion, and a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than by any other book.”5

President Benson explained that the Church was still under the condemnation pronounced by the Lord in 1831 for not using the Book of Mormon as we should (see D&C 84:54–57). President Benson declared: “We not only need to say more about the Book of Mormon, but we need to do more with it. …

“… The Book of Mormon has not been, nor is it yet, the center of our personal study, family teaching, preaching, and missionary work. Of this we must repent.”6

The response to President Benson’s plea was both immediate and ongoing. Saints old and young accepted the challenge to read and study the Book of Mormon. The number of copies of the Book of Mormon distributed during the year 1986 doubled from the previous year, reaching three million—over 15 percent of which included members’ photos and testimonies provided through the family-to-family Book of Mormon program.7 President Benson and his family led the way by personalizing “dozens of copies of the Book of Mormon each month.”8 In the April 1987 general conference, he called upon the Lord to bless the Saints with an “increased desire to flood the earth with the Book of Mormon.”9


The Book of Mormon Floods the World

Copies of the Book of Mormon Distributed

Two years later President Benson gave a powerful address on the sin of pride. He pointed out that “one of the major messages of the Book of Mormon” was that pride had caused the destruction of the Nephites (see Moroni 8:27; D&C 38:39). He explained, “In the scriptures there is no such thing as righteous pride—it is always considered a sin.” He warned that disobedience, selfishness, and contention are among the damning fruits of pride. President Benson taught the Saints that “the antidote for pride is humility—meekness, submissiveness (see Alma 7:23). It is the broken heart and contrite spirit.”10

Counsel to Families

Throughout his ministry in the Church, President Benson spoke and wrote frequently on family solidarity and ways individual family members could fulfill their God-given responsibilities even in the midst of wickedness. In the October 1985 general conference President Benson urged the men of the Church to magnify their calling as fathers, using the example of righteous fathers in the Book of Mormon as their guide.

As President of the Church, Ezra Taft Benson delivered pointed messages to the young men, the young women, the mothers of the Church, and again to the fathers of the Church. In the priesthood session of the April 1986 general conference, President Benson told the young men of the Church, “You are to be the royal army of the Lord in the last days.” The prophet urged them to draw close to their mothers and to obey their fathers and emulate their manly qualities. He pleaded with the young men to read and ponder the scriptures daily, especially the Book of Mormon. He counseled every young man to obtain his patriarchal blessing, attend his meetings, participate in Scouting, attend seminary, and in other righteous ways prepare for missionary service. He said: “The Lord wants every young man to serve a full-time mission. Currently, only a fifth of the eligible young men in the Church are serving full-time missions. This is not pleasing to the Lord. We can do better. We must do better.”11

Six months later, President Benson told the young women of the Church: “Give me a young woman who loves home and family, who reads and ponders the scriptures daily, who has a burning testimony of the Book of Mormon. … Give me a young woman who is virtuous and who has maintained her personal purity, who will not settle for less than a temple marriage, and I will give you a young woman who will perform miracles for the Lord now and throughout eternity.”12 On numerous other occasions, President Benson spoke to large groups of young people, conveying his love to them and urging them to treasure the Book of Mormon and live honorable and virtuous lives.

On 22 February 1987, President Benson addressed the mothers in Zion at a fireside for parents that was broadcast over the Church’s satellite network. He taught: “There is no more noble work than that of a good and God-fearing mother. …

“Young mothers and fathers, with all my heart I counsel you not to postpone having your children, being co-creators with our Father in Heaven.” He explained that the Lord’s way of rearing children was far different from the world’s way. Recognizing that circumstances required some sisters to work outside the home, the prophet nevertheless reaffirmed that women rightfully “‘have claim on their husbands for their maintenance.’ … The counsel of the Church has always been for mothers to spend their full time in the home in rearing and caring for their children.” In addition, President Benson gave mothers counsel on valuable ways they could spend time with their children.13

In the priesthood session of the October 1987 general conference, President Benson addressed the fathers of the Church: “Fathers, yours is an eternal calling from which you are never released. Callings in the Church, as important as they are, by their very nature are only for a period of time, and then an appropriate release takes place. But a father’s calling is eternal, and its importance transcends time. It is a calling for both time and eternity. …

“… May I suggest two basic responsibilities of every father in Israel.

“First, you have a sacred responsibility to provide for the material needs of your family. …

“Second, you have a sacred responsibility to provide spiritual leadership in your family.”14

Dealing with Current Issues

President Gordon B. Hinckley of the First Presidency, recognizing that families in the Church face many troubling issues, addressed the topic of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) in the priesthood session of the April 1987 general conference. He called AIDS “a plague of fearsome dimensions. …

“We, with others, hope that discoveries will make possible both prevention and healing from this dread affliction. But regardless of such discoveries, the observance of one clearly understandable and divinely given rule would do more than all else to check this epidemic. That is chastity before marriage and total fidelity after marriage. …

“… Our concern for the bitter fruit of sin is coupled with Christ-like sympathy for its victims, innocent or culpable.”15

In 1988 the First Presidency issued an additional statement on AIDS, reemphasizing President Hinckley’s remarks and adding: “Members of the Church should extend compassion to those who are ill with AIDS. We express great love and sympathy for all victims but particularly those who have received the virus through blood transfusions, babies afflicted from infected mothers, and innocent marriage partners who have been infected by a spouse. In the Lord’s eternal plan, those who endure such suffering, pain, and injustice, not of their own doing, will receive compensatory blessings through the Lord’s infinite mercy. …

“The Lord has not left mankind without clear guidance on matters that affect our happiness. That guidance is chastity before marriage, total fidelity in marriage, abstinence from all homosexual relations, avoidance of illegal drugs, and reverence and care for the body, which is the ‘temple of God.’ (1 Cor. 3:16).”16

The First Presidency also spoke out on public lotteries, another moral issue of the day. Several countries and a majority of states in the United States had either legalized lotteries or were considering doing so. The Brethren urged members of the Church to oppose these public lotteries in their respective localities. The First Presidency explained: “All too often lotteries only add to the problems of the financially disadvantaged by taking money from them and giving nothing of value in return. The poor and the elderly become victims of the inducements that are held out to purchase lottery tickets.”17

One unusual public issue that affected the Church was the Mark Hofmann bombing case in Salt Lake City in October 1985. Beginning in 1980, Hofmann had sold, donated, or traded numerous documents that he alleged were connected with historical events of the Church. Some of the documents received considerable public attention. These documents included the Anthon transcript, allegedly the document Martin Harris had shown Charles Anthon, and the Martin Harris letter to William W. Phelps (the “salamander letter”), which falsely portrayed Joseph Smith as heavily involved in folk magic and treasure seeking. Then in October 1985 homemade bombs tragically killed two innocent individuals. A third bomb a day later severely injured Hofmann.

After a year of uproar in the press concerning the documents, document dealing, and responsibility for the bombings, Hofmann was indicted. As part of a plea bargain arrangement, Hofmann confessed to having forged the documents and to having committed these murders as a diversion from his fraudulent dealings. He was sent to the Utah State Penitentiary. Elder Dallin H. Oaks explained, “These forgeries and their associated lies grew out of their author’s deliberate attempt to rewrite the early history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”

From the beginning, Church leaders had expressed caution about the documents. As Elder Oaks reminded, “President Gordon B. Hinckley repeatedly cautioned that the Church did not know whether these documents were authentic.”18 At a CES symposium, Elder Oaks stated: “The news media are particularly susceptible to conveying erroneous information about facts, including historical developments that are based on what I have called scientific uncertainties. This susceptibility obviously applies to newly discovered documents whose authenticity turns on an evaluation of handwriting, paper, ink, and so on. As readers we should be skeptical about the authenticity of such documents, especially when we are unsure where they were found or who had custody of them for 150 years. Newly found, historically important documents can be extremely valuable, so there is a powerful incentive for those who own them to advocate and support their authenticity.”19

At the conclusion of the Hofmann trial, the Church’s Public Communications Department issued a statement that read, in part:

“We extend again our heartfelt sympathies to the families and associates of all whose lives have been so deeply affected by the bombings and related events of the past months. It is our hope that the healing process may now be hastened for those who have suffered these tragedies. …

“Like other document collectors throughout the nation, the church has relied on competent authorities in document acquisition and with the others has been a victim of the fraudulent activities which have now been acknowledged in the courtroom.”20

Priesthood Changes and a New Direction for the Church

In October 1986 President Ezra Taft Benson announced that seventies quorums in the stakes would be discontinued. Stake seventies were instructed to join with their ward elders quorum, and stake presidents were instructed to “determine who among such brethren should be ordained to the office of high priest.”21 Until this time, many members had felt that only seventies needed to be concerned with missionary work. With the new policy, instructions were given to upgrade the stake missionary force and involve all members of the Church in the missionary program “to provide a renewed impetus in missionary work throughout the stakes of the Church.”22 With the dissolving of local quorums, the only seventies quorum that continued to operate was the First Quorum of the Seventy, which was composed only of General Authorities.


Number of Missionaries in the Field

Church leaders continued to promote the need for more missionaries. Priesthood leaders were charged to pray about each worthy young elder and older couple and extend calls from the Lord for them to participate in missionary service. The Brethren also encouraged the calling of highly motivated adult leaders to prepare young men to enter the mission field so that a higher percentage of young men would be eligible to serve when the time came.

Bishops were also given a greater responsibility for coordinating reactivation efforts. Elder Marvin J. Ashton of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles urged, “The Bishop must get out of the chair in his office and seek the lost sheep.”23 Bishops were charged to hold weekly priesthood executive committee meetings and ward council meetings that focused “on people more than on programs, calendaring and activities. This requires less emphasis on ‘administering’ and more emphasis on ‘ministering.’” Bishops were also encouraged to use ward priesthood meetings to train their fellow priesthood holders in their duties as shepherds of the flock.24

The program of home teaching, which had been upgraded from “ward teaching” in 1964 during the emerging correlation era of the Church, received new emphasis as the best means of reaching less-active members. High priests—who had gained maturity through many years of service in the Church—were called, where appropriate, to fellowship prospective and less-active elders and their families through home teaching. President Benson challenged home teachers, “Do not settle for mediocrity. … Be a real shepherd of your flock.” He insisted that “both the quality and quantity of home teaching are essential.”25

Genealogy Renamed Family History

In 1987 the Church changed the name of its genealogy program to “family history.” As Elder Russell M. Nelson later said: “More and more people are becoming excited about discovering their roots, and the Church is doing its best to help them. The Church adopted the term family history to encourage this activity among all its members, especially those who might be intimidated by the word genealogy.26 Family history consultants were called in each ward so Saints would have help available. A new motto arose: “Take an ancestor to the temple.”27

Significant strides in family history work resulted from the greatly expanded use of the computer. In 1984 the Church released Personal Ancestral File, a software program for use with personal computers that enabled individuals to organize and print their family history records, share information electronically, and submit data on diskettes for temple work or to the Church’s Ancestral File.

At local family history centers (formerly called branch genealogical libraries) computers helped patrons find information more quickly. Beginning in 1990, the Church supplied its over fifteen hundred centers with a set of compact discs, each containing up to five million names, the equivalent of 320,000 pages of information. This FamilySearch™ program contained the International Genealogical Index, the Ancestral File, and a catalog of Salt Lake City’s Family History Library. A few years later, another computerized program, TempleReady, enabled Church members at their local family history centers to immediately clear names for temple ordinance work.

With the help of computers, family history work greatly increased.

Anniversary Celebrations

In addition to temple work, members of the Church honored their ancestors by holding anniversary celebrations to commemorate important events in Church history. In 1987 the Church celebrated four such anniversaries. The first of these was in recognition of the pioneering efforts of the Saints who settled the city of Cardston, Alberta, Canada. In 1886, Charles Ora Card, president of the Cache Stake, had been commissioned by President John Taylor to find a place of refuge and asylum to the north. In 1886 Brother Card visited Canada and reported favorably on the prospects. He then returned to make a permanent settlement in the early spring of 1887.

Charles Ora Card (1839–1906) crossed the plains from Nauvoo to Utah when he was sixteen years old. He helped settle Logan, Utah, where he later superintended the construction of the tabernacle and temple in Logan. He then went on to Canada, where his influence was greatly felt.

As a tribute to the contribution of these Latter-day Saint settlers in Western Canada, the University of Alberta sponsored a three-day conference titled “The Mormon Presence in Canada.” The conference met from 6–9 May 1987, and both members and nonmembers participated. On 1 August, President Ezra Taft Benson was honored as grand marshal of the Cardston centennial parade. The following day the prophet spoke to seven thousand people on the grounds of the beautiful Cardston Alberta Temple.

A commemoration of the anniversary of the opening of missionary work in the British Isles received wide media attention both in the United States and in Great Britain. President Gordon B. Hinckley, speaking at Brigham Young University, described how in mid-July 1837, Elder Heber C. Kimball arrived at the docks in Liverpool, England, and enthusiastically jumped the final six feet to shore. Three days later, Elder Kimball was in nearby Preston, where a wonderful harvest of souls commenced, a harvest that has had an astonishing effect on the history of the Church—nearly 100,000 converts immigrated from Britain over the years to gather with the Church in America. But not all British Saints came to the United States, and by 1987 the British Isles had 140,000 members in four hundred wards and branches.

The Church sponsored a series of events to honor the work of the early British missionaries and members. It hosted an anniversary banquet, held several area conferences, and dedicated eight historical markers at important Church historical sites throughout Britain. The combination of meetings, historical conventions, and extensive coverage in the Church and public media increased awareness of the struggles and successes of these early British missionaries and members.

From 24 July through 1 August 1987, the annual Hill Cumorah Pageant was held at the Hill Cumorah near Palmyra, New York. This marked fifty years since Eastern States Mission president Don B. Colton organized a committee to produce a pageant. The annual productions had attracted hundreds of thousands of visitors since that time. The 1937 pageant was called “America’s Witness for Christ” and had a cast of about seventy. Fifty years later the pageant included a cast of six hundred and a crew of fifty. In 1998, an estimated fifty thousand people, members and nonmembers, attended the pageant.28

The Hill Cumorah Pageant is the longest running pageant in the Church, beginning in 1937.

In 1987 Latter-day Saints in the United States joined with fellow citizens to celebrate the bicentennial of their nation’s Constitution. Reminding Saints that the Doctrine and Covenants affirms the inspired origin of the principles in the Constitution (see D&C 98:6; 101:80; 109:54), Church leaders encouraged active participation in this national commemoration. Wards and stakes across the United States staged dramas, musicals, skits, bicentennial balls, old fashioned picnics, and other activities to celebrate the values found in the Constitution. The Church also produced and distributed a booklet titled 101 Ways to Celebrate the Bicentennial.

The First Presidency called Elder L. Tom Perry, of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, and Elders Robert L. Backman and Hugh W. Pinnock, both members of the Presidency of the First Quorum of the Seventy, as a committee to organize the Church’s participation in the bicentennial event.29 President Benson took several opportunities to speak and write about his love for the Constitution and to urge careful study of it.

The Tabernacle Choir celebrated the bicentennial of the United States Constitution.

In further support of the bicentennial celebrations, Church choruses participated in several major public events. In July 1987 the 350-voice Mormon Youth Chorus and Symphony represented the state of Utah in a series of five well-attended concerts in the eastern United States. They presented their concert again on 17 September to a capacity audience in the Salt Lake Tabernacle. Also on 17 September, the Tabernacle Choir sang at the nationally televised “We the People, 200 Constitution Gala” broadcast from Convention Hall in Philadelphia. That same morning, the choir sang the national anthem in front of Independence Hall as the Constitution Parade began.

Administrative Organization Expanded

In 1987 the Church created four new geographical areas, bringing the total number of areas to seventeen. Eight areas were located within the United States or Canada and nine were in other countries.30 This change enabled Area Presidencies to assume much of the responsibility formerly carried by the International Mission, which accordingly was discontinued that year.31

The Church’s growing membership and expanding number of areas placed additional demands on the General Authorities. At the April 1989 general conference the First Presidency announced the creation of the Second Quorum of the Seventy “to provide for the expansion and regulation of the Church.” In 1984 certain members of the Seventy had been called to serve for a limited period of three to five years. In 1989 the First Presidency announced: “The initial membership of the Second Quorum of the Seventy will be those General Authorities currently serving under a five-year call. Additional brethren will be added to the Second Quorum of the Seventy from time to time and will serve as Seventies and as General Authorities also under a five-year call.”32 Consistent with the Lord’s instructions in an 1835 revelation (D&C 107:95), the Seven Presidents of the First Quorum of the Seventy presided over the new quorum. A total of forty-two Brethren, including the Seven Presidents, were sustained as members of the First Quorum of the Seventy, while thirty-six were sustained as members of the Second Quorum. This action reflected the ability of the Church’s revealed organization to expand to accommodate continuing growth.

Doors Opened in Eastern Europe

Over the years Elder Ezra Taft Benson had often spoken of the threat posed by “godless communism,” so it was fitting that Communist domination of Eastern Europe ended during his administration as President. These dramatic events at the end of the 1980s had been anticipated by Church leaders for many years.33

In 1975 Elder Thomas S. Monson had offered a dedicatory prayer in the German Democratic Republic (East Germany). Standing on an outcropping of rock overlooking the Elbe River, he had petitioned “divine help” for the four thousand faithful Saints living in that land, that they might enjoy, among other things, temple blessings. “Dear Father, let this be the beginning of a new day for the members of Thy Church in this land,” he prayed. Just then he heard a rooster crowing and a church bell ringing from the valley below and noticed a ray of sun coming through the clouded sky. Everything suggested a new day truly was dawning.34

In 1985, just ten years after Elder Monson’s dedicatory prayer, the Freiberg Germany Temple was dedicated in the German Democratic Republic. This first temple behind the Iron Curtain was built following patient yet persistent negotiations by East German Church leaders with Communist government authorities.

The Freiberg Germany Temple, the first temple built behind the Iron Curtain in a Communist country

In 1987 Premier Mikhail Gorbachev of the USSR called for reforms and increased glasnost (openness). The political climate was becoming more favorable for the recognition and expansion of the Church in central and Eastern Europe.

As a member of the First Presidency, President Thomas S. Monson participated in a key meeting on 28 October 1988 that led to the opening of missionary work in East Germany and also opened the way for East German Saints to be called on missions. When President Monson and his party met with Erich Honecker, head of the Communist East German government, President Monson described the setting: “That special morning the sunlight bathed the city of Berlin. It had been raining all night, but now beauty prevailed.” Seated around a large table with his visitors, Chairman Honecker began: “We know members of your Church believe in work; you’ve proven that. We know you believe in the family; you’ve demonstrated that. We know you are good citizens in whatever country you claim as home; we have observed that. The floor is yours. Make your desires known.”

President Monson explained how over eighty-nine thousand people had attended the open house for the Freiberg Germany Temple, but the Church had not had any missionaries there to answer their questions. He said, “The young men and young women whom we would like to have come to your country as missionary representatives would love your nation and your people. More particularly, they would leave an influence with your people which would be ennobling. Then we would like to see young men and young women from your nation who are members of our Church serve as missionary representatives in many nations, such as in America, in Canada, and in a host of others. They will return better prepared to assume positions of responsibility in your land.”

Chairman Honecker smiled and responded: “We know you. We trust you. We have had experience with you. Your missionary request is approved.”35

In November of 1989 individuals were permitted to travel freely between East and West Berlin for the first time in several decades. Soon the infamous Berlin Wall was dismantled. Within a year the Communist regimes in East Germany and other Eastern European countries toppled. These changes opened doors for the gospel to spread, and in the summer of 1990, missions opened in the formerly Communist countries of Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Hungary.36

The Berlin Wall separated East and West Berlin.

In 1990 Yuri Dubinin, the Soviet ambassador to the United States, visited Utah. He met with Church leaders, visited Brigham Young University and the Missionary Training Center, and even spoke at a stake conference. He expressed appreciation for the aid the Church had sent following their recent earthquake. He expressed hope that people could come together to solve the new problems facing the world. “We are convinced that the key lies in recognizing the priority of universal human values,” he stated. “It is impossible to build a new world only by means of governments. A direct participation of peoples is necessary.”37

By that time, missionary work had already begun in the USSR, although on a very limited basis. A number of Soviet citizens had joined the Church while living abroad, especially in Finland. Eventually the Finland Helsinki Mission was allowed to send representatives to visit and teach these members in their homes. Branches were formed in Tallinn, Estonia, as well as in Vyborg and Leningrad (later St. Petersburg) in Russia. In the summer of 1990 the new Finland Helsinki East Mission was formed to supervise the work in Russia, headed by Gary L. Browning, a BYU professor of Russian. At first, missionaries were only permitted to enter the country on tourist visas for a few weeks at a time. During a visit to the Vyborg branch, President Browning was thrilled to hear six beautiful little girls singing “I Am a Child of God” in Russian. He wrote: “The singing was angelic, as were their radiant, broadly smiling faces. As I watched and listened in awe, my heart filled with ‘hosannas’ for the blessing of this long-awaited day.”38 In September, the Leningrad branch became the first Church unit to be officially registered in the Soviet Union.39

A historical step forward for the Church in Eastern Europe was made in June 1991. During a three-week tour of Europe, the famed Tabernacle Choir gave concerts in Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Poland, and the Soviet Union. It was also broadcast on radio and television throughout these countries. Following the Choir’s performance at Moscow’s Bolshoi Theater, an announcement was made that the Church was now officially recognized in the Russian Soviet Socialist Republic.40 The following year, the first three missions were organized within the former Soviet Union at St. Petersburg (formerly Leningrad), Russia; Moscow, Russia; and Kiev, Ukraine.

President Ezra Taft Benson

The administration of President Ezra Taft Benson was marked by a renewed emphasis for the Saints to strive to use the Book of Mormon more effectively in understanding and fulfilling their roles on the earth. It was a time of challenge and growth as well as a time of reflection on the events that transpired in this dispensation that so greatly affected the lives of the Latter-day Saints.