By President Gordon B. Hinckley
This is a marvelous time in the history of the world. How exciting it is to be on the stage of life when one millennium rolls into another. That has happened only twice since the birth of the Son of God.
In the first millennium the world lapsed into an age of darkness, fulfilling Isaiah’s prophecy: “Darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the people” (Isa. 60:2). Men did not live long at that time. Disease and pestilence raged over many parts of the earth. The great plague took the lives of one-third of the people of Europe. With all of the disease, with wars and conflict, with accidents and hunger and cold, I sometimes wonder how enough people survived to provide you and me with ancestors. Then the Renaissance dawned. It flowered, and I believe it is still flowering with magnificence.
As we close this great and remarkable century, I stand in awe of the blessings we have. I have lived through 90 years of this century. When I think of the wonders that have come to pass in my lifetime–more than during all the rest of human history–I stand in reverence and gratitude. I think of the automobile and the airplane, of computers, fax machines, e-mail, and the Internet. I think of the giant steps made in medicine and sanitation. When I was born, the life expectancy of a man in the United States was 50 years. Today it is more than 75.
And with all of this there has been the restoration of the pure gospel of Jesus Christ. You and I are a part of the miracle and wonder of this great cause and kingdom that is sweeping over the earth blessing the lives of people wherever it reaches. How profoundly thankful I feel.
No generation that ever walked the earth is as fortunate as are you. We are the beneficiaries of the visions and the dreams, the labors and the sacrifices of all who have gone before us.
They are gone, and we are here.
Recently, at the dedication of the Columbus Temple in Ohio, I had an interesting experience. My wife and daughter were with me. A granddaughter and her husband and children drove up from St. Louis.
As I sat in the celestial room, I thought of my great-grandfather, the first in my family to join the Church. I had recently visited his place of burial in Canada just north of the New York boundary line. He accepted the gospel when the first missionaries came there from Kirtland. He died at the young age of 38. Tradition has it that he was the victim of a smallpox epidemic. I do not know of anything of significance that he did in the Church other than he kept the faith.
Then there was my grandfather, who was baptized in Nauvoo and subsequently crossed the plains. His young wife and his brother-in-law died on the same day. He made rough coffins and buried them and picked up his infant child and carried her to the Salt Lake Valley. At the request of Brigham Young he built Cove Fort, was the first president of the stake in Fillmore, and did a thousand other things to move this work forward.
Then came my father. He came here to the BY Academy and was taught by President Karl G. Maeser. He went east to school, and then he taught here in the business department until the Brethren asked him to move to Salt Lake City. He became president of the largest stake in the Church, with more than 15,000 members.
These three good men represent the three generations of my forebears who have been faithful in the Church. Reflecting on the lives of these three men while I was seated in the temple, I looked down at my daughter, at her daughter, who is my grandchild, and at her children, my great-grandchildren. I suddenly realized that I stood right in the middle of these seven generations–three before me and three after me.
In that sacred and hallowed house there passed through my mind a sense of the tremendous obligation that was mine to pass on all that I had received as an inheritance from my forebears to the generations who have now come after me.
I thought of an experience I had long, long ago. In the summer we lived on a farm. We had a little old tractor. There was a dead tree I wished to pull. I fastened one end of a chain to the tractor and the other end to the tree. As the tractor began to move, the tree shook a little, and then the chain broke.
I looked at that broken link and wondered how it could have given way. I went to the hardware store and bought a repair link. I put it together again, but it was an awkward and ugly connection. The chain was never, never the same.
As I sat in the celestial room of the temple pondering these things, I said to myself, “Never permit yourself to become a weak link in the chain of your generations.” It is so important that we pass on without a blemish our inheritance of body and brain and, if you please, faith and virtue to the generations after us.
You young men and you young women, most of you will marry and have children. Your children will have children, as will the children who come after them. Life is a great chain of generations that we in the Church believe must be linked together.
I fear there will be some broken links. Do not let yourself become such, I pray.
Stay close to the Church. Stay close all of your lives. It really does not matter where you serve, what office you fill. There is no small or unimportant duty in this Church and in the kingdom of God.
What is an acceptable offering unto the Lord in terms of our callings? What matters is the spirit in which we serve and the manner in which we apply our talents and our resources. It is the attitude with which we pay our tithes and offerings.
When one of our newer temples was being built, I received a letter from a boy who said, “I am eight years old. I am sending $100 to help build the temple. I do not like to do this. It was very hard to earn. But I want to give this for the construction of the Lord’s house.”
I later received a phone call from a well-to-do man who said, “I desire to give a million dollars to the construction of that temple.” Whose gift was the more acceptable? Both of them were, the boy’s $100 as well as the man’s million. The Lord made it clear that the widow’s mite is received with great appreciation because of the spirit in which it is given. But I am satisfied that He also would have thanked the man who was well-to-do for his generosity in giving with that same spirit.
The other evening I looked at a video titled Morning Will Come. It is the story of Misao Toma, a woman I first met on Okinawa almost 30 years ago. She was married not long before the Second World War. During the war she, her husband, and their two little children suffered unspeakable misery. They lived in a cave, hiding from soldiers–both American and Japanese–as that area of the world was devastated with gunfire, cannon fire, and bombs, with tens of thousands of casualties. Her husband suffered a collapse. He cried out that he wanted to be killed. She felt utterly helpless and broken.
A vision came to her in the night when her family was hungry to the point of death. There came into her being a sense of the reality of God. It gave her strength to carry on. This little woman literally saved her family. She fed them leaves and little creatures from the river. She found a hive of wild honey that revived her husband. After the night of awful darkness the morning came. Somehow they survived.
Two sister missionaries later called on her. Their message touched her heart. She and her husband and their children were eventually baptized. He became the first native branch president on Okinawa. That is when I met them. They were beginning to prosper, had a nice home that had come of their industry, and were faithful and active in the Church. Then the husband suffered a stroke and died. That was in 1962. Because of the unconscionable actions of another man, she was left with terrible debts for the business and for her husband’s medical care.
For long years she worked from 5 o’clock in the morning until 11 o’clock each night. To get food for her children she asked the grocer to give her the tops, the green leaves, from the bunches of carrots and radishes. Sometimes she would come home and say to her children, “We will sing hymns tonight.” That meant to the children that there was no food to eat that night or the next morning.
Her children grew. They received scholarships to the Hawaii campus and later came here to BYU. They served missions. They became successful in business. They wrote to their mother and told her to sell the house and pay the debts, and they bought for her a beautiful home in Tokyo.
So far as I know she held no office in the Church except that of a worker in the Tokyo Temple. She may have taught a class or two, but she did not preside over any organization.
Was her offering acceptable to the Lord? She gave her children, having nurtured them in faith with prayer and love. She did whatever she was asked to do.
She died here in Provo three years ago. But today, as I think of her family, I think of her great offering and of its acceptability before the Lord.
God bless you, my dear friends. Be faithful. Be true. Be loyal to the great cause of which you are a part. Never become a weak link in the chain of your family’s generations. Do whatever you are asked to do, and do it with a glad heart. Do not worry about office or position in the Church. Simply do whatever your calling requires, and do it with joy and gladness.
May the Lord bless you as you strive to serve Him in righteousness and with faith. I leave my love and my blessing with you in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
Gordon B. Hinckley is the President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This article is adapted from a devotional address given Nov. 30, 1999, at BYU.