25 September 2023

Is it important to participate in General Conference?

I was asked to give a talk on Heritage Day, and to address the question 'Why is it important to participate in General Conference?' Well, my thoughts turned to some stories from my heritage that relate to my own experience with participating in General Conference.

I appreciated some comments made by the previous speakers. 

  • Conference is easy to access on audio, video, on the web or in print.
  • Heavenly Father is available at any time - He is not busy at work, with friends, or doing anything that we need to hold back or fear interrupting Him as we approach Him in prayer.
  • The Holy Ghost is far better at bringing us information that we need than is anything on the internet such as Google or AI.
  • Write down things that inspire you in conference to jog your memory. 
  • Conference will inspire, uplift, edify.
  • We can be together as a congregation.

We sang our National Anthem as the intermediate hymn. 

Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika (God Bless Africa)
Maluphakanyisw' uphondo lwayo, (Raise high Her glory)
Yizwa imithandazo yethu, (Hear our Prayers)
Nkosi sikelela, thina lusapho lwayo (God bless us, we her children)

Morena boloka setjhaba sa heso, (God protect our nation)
O fedise dintwa le matshwenyeho, (End all wars and tribulations)
O se boloke, O se boloke setjhaba sa heso, (Protect us, protect our nation)
Setjhaba sa South Afrika - South Afrika. (Our nation South Africa - South Africa)

Uit die blou van onse hemel, (Ringing out from our blue heavens)
Uit die diepte van ons see, (From the depth of our seas)
Oor ons ewige gebergtes, (Over our everlasting mountains)
Waar die kranse antwoord gee, (Where the echoing crags resound)

Sounds the call to come together,
And united we shall stand,
Let us live and strive for freedom,
In South Africa our land.

God protect our nation - may we live together as one nation, the children of Adam and Eve, and not as many nations that contend against each other!

I was born in Africa and, except for about 8 weeks off the continent, about 8 months in neighbouring countries, I have spent my life in South Africa. I love my homeland. I so look forward to the time that everyone in our land loves our country enough that they never litter, destroy, or do anything that is part of any problem. I look forward to the time that South Africans do come together, standing united, living and striving for freedom in South Africa, our dear land.

Yesterday I led a walk where I shared details of the Battle of Blaauwberg, a Napoleonic battle right here, close to where we are today, a very significant part of our heritage in Cape Town, South Africa, Southern Africa, and even a lot of Africa as a whole. It was the precursor to colonisation in lot of a Africa. During the walk, we walked through a few patches that were very wet and muddy, and where restios that are straw-like plants are quite abundant in the Fynbos. I shared a story that I heard years ago. Someone asked if it would hurt to throw dust at a friend, or to throw water, or to throw straw? Clearly such actions might be fun, and would not hurt my friend, although it might annoy, irritate, or be uncomfortable. However, if the dust, water and straw were mixed together and then baked in a kiln to form a brick, and that brick were thrown at my friend, it could seriously hurt or injure my friend! That would not be a friendly thing to do!

With throwing bricks in mind, I reflected on an occasion when I was about 7 or 8 years old. I joined a group of men from the Krugersdorp Branch. We climbed onto a truck and drove towards a site with lots of bricks - yep, dust, water and straw baked in a kiln. I remember the jesting with the driver as he grated the gears of the truck. Well, after we arrived, those men started to throw bricks at each other! But - no-one was hurt. Each man would throw a brick to the next man who would catch the brick and throw it to the next man, and so on, forming a chain, and thus the truck became loaded with bricks. We then climbed on top of the bricks and drove back to the site where we had previously dug trenches and thrown concrete to form foundations, and those bricks were again thrown from man to man to form stacks of bricks, and then they were thrown from man to man to be handed to brick-layers who used mortar, trowels, levels, fish-lines, plumb-lines, window and door frames, and so forth, and they built the walls of the Krugersdorp chapel of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. They were working in unity as we have been reading about in our study of the New Testament where we are challenged to work together in unity to build the Church of God - the Temple of the Spirit. In those days we played a significant part in building our chapels that nowadays are built by contractors with little participation by local members. I am grateful for that memory from my heritage. Prior to building the chapel, we had met in the Krugersdorp City Hall where we would have to clean up and remove beer bottles and other litter from the previous night before we could hold our priesthood, Sunday School, or sacrament meetings.

A later experience of throwing bricks in unity.
From left to right: brothers Tim, Ron, Les, three or four others, then brother-in-law Glenn Bray.

After meeting in the Krugersdorp chapel for about 13 years, the Roodepoort ward was formed and we met in my old Primary school hall and classrooms while building the Roodepoort chapel, and then I met in that chapel until I moved to Cape Town at age 27 years in 1981.

Over the years, I have met with others to hold church meetings in homes, schools, Scout halls, malls, etc. It is interesting how homes, or other places can be repurposed to form very suitable places for worship - and how places of worship can be repurposed to be used for other purposes, including for bars or brothels. Saints can unite in humility and make their circumstances very different to the norm. We should make our homes sacred places - so that, next to the Temple, the home can be the most sacred place on Earth, and a little taste of heaven on earth. I love the saying that no other success in life can compensate for failure in the home.

Doing some landscaping in front of the Krugersdorp chapel
Progress with the construction: the chapel, kitchen, Primary room, and hall.

I remember two stories or parables from my Insitute studies. One was to do with an expert on identifying counterfeit bank notes. He said that the only way to truly recognise counterfeit bank notes is to focus on being absolutely familiar with true bank notes. When one is truly familiar with the true notes, then counterfeit notes look odd and so raise concern. I could relate to that as I have been trained to focus on the diversity of plant species in our indigenous vegetation and so I am often able to recognise an invasive species because of how it stands out in the vegetation. 

The other story was about a contest in a neighbourhood where people were invited to present their front gardens for judges to select an outstanding garden. One person spent a great deal of time pulling weeds rather than focusing on planting the plants that would produce beautiful flowers. The garden did not win the prize - it was free of weeds, and had a lot of bare ground, but it did not have much to show in terms of beautiful flowers. I could relate, as one with some gardening experiences, and as a scientist and ecologist, that if one focuses on planting those plants that will produce beautiful flowers, they take the space that limits space for the weeds. Then the garden will have beautiful flowers for the competition rather than a weed-free garden.

In General Conference we often hear stories shared by prophets, seers, revelators, and other general leaders of the Church. These stories liken the known to the unknown. I love to share some meaningful stories that demonstrate my experience that has confirmed to me that it is important to participate, sitting 'at the feet of the prophet'. You may well not remember information that I share with you, but you will almost always remember stories like bricks being thrown at friends, and working in unity!

My first personal experience with General Conference that stands out in my memory is going with my family to join some friends in the mission home in Houghton, Johannesburg. We sat around a short-wave radio and listened on Voice of America and listened to General Conference as it was happening in Salt Lake City. Over the years, we have watched conference with video tapes sent to the units, then DVDs, BYU TV, and now we can watch on our cell-phones or at home using the internet, and even on TV or radio broadcasts for some sessions. I truly do appreciate how we can sit together with family and church members living in all parts of the world and as one large congregation we can watch the prophets and apostles and other leaders speaking as they speak - with only moments of delay as the signal is broadcast over the technological infrastructure. Is this not one of many evidences of the fulfilment of prophecy and of the covenant made with Abraham that 'in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed'? (Gen 12:3) I am confident that many of these technological innovations have been developed by the seed of Abraham for the very purpose that at the second coming of our Saviour all people everywhere on the globe will be able to witness that great event in ways that Abraham and other prophets would have had difficulty describing to the people of their times and with the vocabularies and best descriptions that they could give! But we are experiencing what they tried to describe!

Remember the saying 'Sticks and stones can break my bones, but names can never harm me'? I thought of how many people felt hurt or wounded by the words of others. King Noah and his priests accused Abinadi of being a false prophet because his words were not beautiful to them, and they burned him to death. Samuel the Lamanite had stones and arrows aimed at him as he prophesied and gave the call to repentance before the coming of Jesus Christ. Many temple-worthy, tithe paying members of the Hebrew faith cried 'Crucify him' because they listened to their leaders who accused Jesus of Nazareth of being a blasphemer without listening to Jesus of Nazareth and letting the Spirit confirm to them that He was indeed their Messiah! They were, in effect, throwing bricks at Him because they perceived that His words were not up to their expectations - they felt offended, although He would not have wanted to offend, but to draw them to Him in love and mercy.

I enjoyed listening to the September 2023 Church magazines and hearing ideas to help us to prepare for General Conference, like writing notes as we listen, doodles, use apps, write down our questions before conference and ponder those questions as we listen to the talks and we will hear how the Lord has inspired them to answer our questions.

There is a lot of brick-throwing going on around us these days. I believe that it is occurring everywhere in the world and that it is not endemic to South Africa. I remember commenting to a friend Bill Quirke in about 1977 that it must have been terrible for him because he had grown up in Ireland where there was terrible violent Catholic-Protestant conflict that was in the news. He said something like 'You know, Les, I lived in Dublin and Cork and never saw any of it'. I could relate to that because I was studying at University of the Witwatersrand, right next to Hillbrow where there was a lot of conflict that was publicised on the news oversees, but I never saw any of it. The bad news - the sensational news - sells newspapers, so that is what is published. It is so much more evident in 2023 with social media where almost anyone is able to publicise anything and they share what comes their way, often without checking facts, sharing fake news, or sharing the sensational news, but not always the joyous news. I try to share the joyful news! There is so much to share!

We see and hear of many things these days that certainly match the descriptions of signs of the last days. This past week we have seen extreme wave action, even mini tsunamis, right here in the Cape and our South African coastline. There were floods in Libya where a dam wall collapsed and destroyed large parts of a city and thousands of lives were lost. Through social media and Artificial Intelligence, we have so many things brought to our attention that are clear evidence of the fulfilment of prophecies regarding physical calamities, wars and rumours of wars. Now is a great time to reflect on these things and to listen carefully what the Spirit whispers to us as we listen to General Conference to see what we need to do to be among the 'ten virgins' who would be invited to the marriage feast, and then to be among the five wise virgins who had sufficient oil in their lamps to be ushered in to the feast rather than to be shut out.

It is very important that we live by faith and not by fear. Now is a great time to increase our faith by inspecting our foundations as we reflect on our personal Articles of Faith as we assess our first to thirteenth and consider each one of them. We believe in God, the Eternal Father, and in His Son, Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost. What do I believe? Do not think about what you do not believe, but what you do believe. Go article by article until number 13 - We believe in being honest, true, chaste, benevolent, virtuous, and in doing good to all men; indeed, we may say that we follow the admonition of Paul—We believe all things, we hope all things, we have endured many things, and hope to be able to endure all things. If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy (including General Conference), we seek after these things. What do I believe in becoming?

Sometimes we will feel that the words of friends, or the words of leaders in General Conference, are bricks that are being thrown at us and we feel injured, or we dodge them, or we just avoid being there in the first place, whereas we could catch them and use them to build a Temple of the Spirit, or the Body of Christ. 

We will be given a whole set of talents or gifts during this conference. We have the choice of not bothering to watch, listen or read, or to be eager to get as much from the conference as we can. We can prioritise time out of the 48 hours to be present, or to not be present. We can be offended by the words that we hear because they are not sweet and pleasant, or we can take note of things that our conscience urges us to change. We can catch the bricks or feel hurt or be wounded by them. We can build a temple of the spirit with them or just find faults with the bricks. We can choose to watch the world cup sport matches or to rather choose to watch conference. We can multiply the talents or gifts or we can bury them. 

We need to nourish and exercise ourselves spiritually with intent and care, just as we ought to nourish and exercise ourselves physically. I recall a story from years ago of a group gathering together to fast and pray for rain. One young boy arrived with an umbrella - and he was able to use it as the rain came down as they left the meeting. May we go prepared for the results of what we are praying for, hoping for, maybe even fasting for. 

I hope that we will choose to participate in this wonderful opportunity to learn from our general church leaders. I hope that we will choose to not hide it, avoid it, or neglect to participate. Rather, I trust that we will choose to share what we learn and what the Spirit prompts us to share so that we will be fruitful, multiply and replenish the earth with our efforts and determined labour, subdue it and have dominion over it. The treasure will be there - what will we do with it? I hope that we will be familiar with the 'true bank notes' so that we can recognise the counterfeit fake news, false things, wolves in sheep's clothing, or falsehoods that are clearly abundant about us in 2023. May our gardens be beautiful with abundant flowers. May we go to conference with questions and then take an 'umbrella' - or maybe a jug to fill up with the living water - to enjoy our journey home with the answers to our questions.

I share this with my personal testimony of Jesus Christ and the leaders that He has called today, and therefore in His name.

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