Relief Society Lesson 12: An Enthusiastic Desire to Share the Gospel
Guest Post by Quimby
Quimby is an emeritus blogger for http://www.feministmormonhousewives.org/
In this lesson, we learn that George Albert Smith was “a natural missionary. From his youth he has had an ardent desire to share the teachings of the gospel with his fellow men, to make known to ‘the sons and daughters of God,’ all of whom he considers to be his brothers and sisters, the truths that were revealed to the Prophet Joseph Smith.” We are told “Seldom did he miss an opportunity to explain the ‘eternal truths of the restored gospel’ to either friend or stranger. From his point of view, this was the ultimate kindness, for the message of Christ was the most significant gift he had to give.”
While I admire his zeal, I don’t share it. I don’t want to be seen to be disrespecting my friends’ own religious beliefs (or lack thereof). But what if I told you there was a way you could do missionary work, without losing friends? What if I told you this method was guaranteed to not get any doors slammed in your face? My family has been practicing it now for decades, and in that time have brought thousands of people into the gospel.
I am speaking of family history.
We tend to separate missionary work from family history; but what is family history if not the extension of missionary work back through the generations, to those people who are most dear to us?
Through family history work, our family has had some truly precious and sacred moments, both inside and outside of the temple. We have gained a deeper understanding of gospel concepts, particularly the idea of an eternal family. As an expatriate living far away from my family and country of origin, the debris of family history – the collection of plates, quilts, tea towels, vases, and pictures – help me give my children a firm sense of their own belonging and heritage.
We have been able to unite generations of our family together. We have been able to play a role in the eternal salvation and exaltation of others.
Family history research can also serve as a conduit to introducing the gospel to others. Through her time as Stake Family History Librarian, my mother discovered the importance of the genealogy library as outreach program. One story looms large in my memory. “Peggy” was a Southern Baptist. When she first entered the family history library at our local Stake Centre, she was wary, afraid it was a trap. My mother helped her, and over the years they formed a close friendship. Peggy never expressed an interest in the gospel, and my mother never pushed it. But one day she was astounded when Peggy recounted what had happened over the weekend: Peggy had gone to church, as she did every week. This particular Sunday, the minister started to go on at some length at how evil the Mormons were. Peggy – who had by this time been going to the Family History Library for the better part of a decade, and considered my mom a good friend – stood up in church and said, “What you are saying are wrong. I have Mormon friends. They welcome me into their church, into their homes, into their Family History Library, they are kind, good people, and I won’t hear you say bad things about them.” And then she stormed out – out of her own church, which she loved – because of the loyalty she felt to the LDS Church – loyalty forged through the Family History Library.
Even for those who are not LDS, the drive to do family history can be strong. A few years ago my husband started to do his, spurred on largely because of my knowledge of my own family tree. He has gone back several generations and shared what he has found with his siblings and parents. A couple of years ago, his interest in family history, coupled with his father’s desire to see where his own parents were born, saw us travel as a family back to Norfolk – my husband, his parents, me, and our two kids. We spent several weeks trawling through cemeteries – not something I would recommend as a useful exercise, as we only found one date; but it was nice, particularly for my father in law, to see where generations of his own family came from. My husband’s love of family history strengthened our family, giving my in-laws and my children precious memories of time spent together.
All of which is nice – but it’s not as important as playing an active role in the work of exaltation for your own family members. In my family, we looked forward to our 12th birthday with glee, knowing that it would be celebrated with our first temple trip. We would gather together as a family – my parents and all siblings aged 12 or older – and make the journey to the nearest temple, first in Seattle, later in Portland or Boise. Knowing that we were doing the work for our own family made it more special: These were our kindred, our people. On my first temple trip, a temple worker approached me and told me that one day the people whose work I had done would embrace me and thank me for it. More than once, we have felt the gratitude of our ancestors as we take a name through the temple.
“When that time comes, when you go down through the ages of eternity, that is a long time, you will have the love and the gratitude of every man, woman and child to whom you have been instrumental in bringing eternal happiness. Isn’t that worthwhile? We may spend our lives here and acquire a few hundreds or thousands of dollars, we may have flocks, herds, houses and lands, but we cannot take these with us to the other side. They are not necessary to eternal life, they are only necessary for us here, but if we have earned the gratitude and the love of God’s other children, that will flow to us forever.”
Family history work is an important work – We cannot testify to those who have gone on before us; but only we can perform the necessary rituals to ensure their exaltation. As we research our ancestors, find those names and dates that give us another generation of progeny, and take it to the temple, we do the Lord’s work in proclaiming the gospel. Isn’t that worthwhile?