Write Your Story with Jesus Christ as the Author
Elder Sandorf has been serving at Ensign College for 15 months. He is assigned to the Career and Internship Services Department and also teaches Business at the college.
He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Marketing from Brigham Young University and, at 57 years old, received a Master’s Degree in Management and Leadership from Western Governors University.
Elder Sandorf spent nine years with Ford Motor Company, living in both Memphis, Tennessee and Atlanta, Georgia. In 1994, he returned to Utah and helped start-up TimeShareWare, a software provider for the Vacation Ownership Industry. He retired from TimeShareWare last year.
Elder Sandorf served as a missionary in the Canada Montreal Mission. He’s served in many capacities at the ward and stake level including most recently in the Bountiful Utah East Stake Presidency. He and his wife, Virva, currently serve together as Stake Self-Reliance Facilitators and as Stake Liaisons to the Davis County Interfaith Council.
They have been married for 38 years and have two bright and beautiful daughters, Rylie and Hannah, and four grandchildren.
Write Your Story with Jesus Christ
as the Author
May 24, 2022
I absolutely love being a part of this campus community and to interact with so many devoted disciples of Jesus Christ. The students I teach, the faculty and staff I work with, and the senior missionaries I serve with have deeply blessed my life.
I am grateful to have Virva here with me. I draw strength and stability from her. Growing up my family moved every few years thanks to my father’s employment. I was born in upstate New York, then lived in Seattle, Phoenix, Boston, Los Angeles, and Phoenix again, where I graduated from high school. Virva has cured me of the desire to move every few years; we have lived in Bountiful for almost 28 years.
No doubt you know or have interacted with one or more of the incredible senior missionaries serving at Ensign College. These are consecrated servants. Their only desire is to help each of us on our journey to become capable and trusted disciples.
One of my assignments as a service missionary is reaching out to Ensign College alumni and inviting them to tell us their story. The reception to our requests has been heartwarming. Without exception, the alumni we have interviewed loved their time at Ensign College. And they are still our brothers and sisters in the Lord!
Here are pictures of just a few of the alumni who have told us their story. Their headlines include: a former Kenyan presidential candidate, a cybersecurity consultant, an immigration advocate, a business executive, a teacher, a victim’s advocate, a fantasy writer, and a healthcare administrator. Our alumni are making a meaningful impact in many fields across the globe. The achievements of these alumni should give you students hope that your studies will one day be rewarded.
All of us have a story to tell. You have had to overcome many of life’s trials just to be where you are today. For you former full-time missionaries, you will recall that your mission president provided guidance on what was considered appropriate music to listen to as a missionary. Some of you from my missionary era will remember the musical written by Carol Lynn Pearson and Lex de Azevedo called “My Turn on Earth”. Just about every P-Day my companion and I would listen to the entire soundtrack. One of the songs is titled My Story. The lyrics go like this:
I'm the one that writes my own story.
I decide the person I'll be.
What goes in the plot, and what will not, is pretty much up to me.
And just in case I need to erase, it was figured out before.
A thing called repentance can wipe out a sentence, a page or a chapter or more.
A wonderful story of sadness and glory. It's written by Jesus and me
One of the great stories from The Book of Mormon is the family of Lehi’s quest to find the promised land. It took his family about 11 years to finally reach their destination. On their way, they secured the brass plates, wandered in the wilderness, built a ship, crossed the deep waters, and endured a few family fights. In the story, Nephi emerges as the protagonist.
Is your story really that much different than Nephi’s? Who hasn’t spent some time wandering in the wilderness of uncertainty not knowing what lies ahead? And most of you students have traveled a great distance, some even crossing over very deep waters, to get here. And you’ve brought your most valued possessions which includes undoubtedly some kind of Android or Apple device.
The faithless would call Nephi’s 11-year journey to the promised land a waste of time. They would say Nephi did nothing to improve his lot in life. After all, when he arrived in the new world, he still had to till the soil, plant seeds, kill animals for food, harvest metals to make tools, and there was still fighting in his family. The faithless would say Nephi should have stayed in the wilderness of the old world instead of coming to the wilderness of the new world.
For Nephi, however, the experience was transformative. He knew he was laying the foundation for a great work - Christ’s visit to the Americas and the restoration of the Gospel. His story teaches us that we can find joy in any circumstance when we are focused on Jesus Christ. Nephi exclaimed “Nevertheless, I know in whom I have trusted.” (2 Ne 4:19). How fortunate we are to know Nephi’s story of trust in Jesus Christ in every conceivable circumstance!
President Camille N. Johnson, Primary General President, taught “…few of us would probably write into our stories the trials that refine us. But don’t we love the glorious culmination of a story we read when the protagonist overcomes the struggle? Trials are the elements of the plot that make our favorite stories compelling, timeless, faith promoting, and worthy of telling. The beautiful struggles written into our stories are what draw us closer to the Savior and refine us, making us more like Him.”
Ensign College students come from almost all 50 United States and from more than 50 countries. Students, faculty, staff, and missionaries have been brought here by personal revelation. At some point, the Spirit told you that Ensign College is on your path to a promised land. So, when you are feeling discouraged or weary, remember how you felt when you were spiritually directed to study, work, or serve at Ensign College. Heavenly Father has called you here.
Each Ensign College student has a miraculous story. You are winning the battle by placing your trust in Jesus Christ. Your stories inspire all of us in our journeys. Here are the stories of just a few of our Ensign College students:
Jamal lost his father when he was two years old and his mother died when he was 13. He was left to be raised by his older siblings. While traveling through his own wilderness of uncertainty he remembered the promise he had made to his mother to serve a mission. Jamal served valiantly as a missionary. Upon completion of his mission, he decided to leave his home country of Nigeria to study Business Management at Ensign College. He is currently working in an internship for the Church.
Micaela, from Mexico, joined the Church when she was 12, following the example of an older sister. She remained valiant in her faith and hoped that one day her parents would receive the gospel. When she became old enough she made the decision to serve a mission. Her parents slowly became more and more receptive to the gospel to the point where they joined the Church. When Micaela received her temple endowment before her mission, her parents were there to join her and to receive their own endowments! Micaela studies Human Resources at Ensign College and is currently working in an internship.
Leo has already earned a law degree in Brazil. When he was younger he had a friend that was a member of the Church that was assigned to serve his mission in Salt Lake City. Years later, Leo and his friend made a trip to Salt Lake. Leo fell in love with the city. He felt something different here. He and his wife, Ana, ultimately decided to move here so Leo could enroll at Ensign College and study Business Analytics. Leo and Ana were baptized members of The Church of Jesus Christ this past October and both received their Patriarchal Blessings in March.
Even though many of you are young and some of you might be new to the gospel, you have the ability to shape the stories of those around you in magnificent ways. Sometimes the view of our own story changes when we seek to bless the lives of others that could use our help.
In the mid-1990’s there was a Young Single Adult ward at the University of Utah that was prayerfully searching for a meaningful ward activity beyond the normal linger longer or ward social. The young single adult members of the ward council began to consider who they might be able to bless and lift up through their service.
At that time the Church was being blessed with many faithful converts in several African countries. However, the only temple in Africa was located in Johannesburg, South Africa, far, far away from where many of these converts were joining the Church. The cost to travel to Johannesburg was prohibitive for these Saints. When the ward council learned there was a Temple Patrons Assistance Fund dedicated to helping worthy members travel to the temple, they immediately thought of these African Saints.
The activity they were inspired to organize was a service auction. Members of the ward would offer a service, and other members of the ward would buy that service. However, instead of paying the funds to the service provider, the bidder would donate the bid amount to the Temple Patrons Assistance Fund.
The night of the service auction, oil changes, car washes, haircuts, dish cleaning, laundry, vacuuming, and other services were all being auctioned well above market value. Even a bowl of Chili’s queso dip was purchased for $50. In total, the YSA ward collected more than $3,000 in donations to the Temple Patrons Assistance Fund.
When the young single adult members of the ward council personally delivered the donation to the Church, those at the Church Administration Building that received the donation on behalf of the African Saints openly wept. They were awe-inspired that a group of young single adults could bless so many in a land so far away they did not know. These YSA’s forever impacted the stories of the African Saints who were able to make sacred temple covenants because of their donations.
The story I want to tell you from my life starts in the middle. When I was 29 and serving on a stake high council in Memphis, TN, our stake president received an invitation from Memphis’ only Jewish synagogue, Temple Israel, to be a speaker in their “Different Paths to God” series. Each month Temple Israel invited a representative of a different faith tradition to educate their members on that particular faith.
Our stake president was a wonderful man and also a master delegator. Guess who was delegated the invitation to speak at Temple Israel? I was told the format would be a 45-minute presentation with a Q&A session afterwards. This was a challenging assignment given the name of the series was “Different Paths to God”. How would I testify that Jesus Christ is the only true path to God to that particular audience? I was also just a little unsettled about the Q&A portion and the types of questions that might be raised.
Fortunately, there were still a couple of months until it was my turn. So, I asked my wife if she could attend the next month’s faith presentation to get an idea of the kinds of questions there might be. She lovingly agreed.
The evening for the next month’s presentation arrived. When Virva returned home from attending the presentation, she reported that the very first Q&A question was “If God was a loving God, why would He allow Auschwitz?” Auschwitz was the largest death camp operated by the Nazi’s during WW II. She told me the other questions were much more general but this first question was fumbled badly by that evening’s religious presenter.
Well, the day finally arrived for my opportunity to speak at Temple Israel. Virva and I walked into what was like an oversized church cultural hall with 12 members from our Stake who were there to perform a couple of musical numbers during specific portions of my presentation. About 200 members of the Temple Israel community were in the audience.
I felt the Lord’s power there that evening. I testified of the roles of each member of the Godhead, modern-day prophets and apostles, priesthood keys, eternal families, temple covenants, the stick of Judah and the stick of Joseph as spoken of in Ezekiel, meaning the Bible and the Book of Mormon and much more. I asked if anyone wanted a copy of the Stick of Joseph. We distributed a full case of Books of Mormon.
After I concluded the presentation it was time for Q&A. A hand in the audience shot up “If God was a loving God, why would He allow Auschwitz?” I was prepared. I explained, in short, that the first great truth is that God loves His children but He does allow us to be tried and tested for our own spiritual progression. Others raised historical or operational questions about the Church. It was an evening of joint faith in God and love. It was truly a moment of fellowship never to be forgotten.
Now fast forward 23 years. I knew I had some Jewish ancestry on my father’s side of our family but I did not know much more than that. My grandfather had converted from Judaism to Christianity as a young adult so my father was raised in a Christian faith. So, in December 2013, as I was speaking to my father about a family history trip he and my sister had taken to Latvia many years earlier, he casually mentioned the name of one of the towns they had visited. I Googled the town name and found the town’s home page. I learned the town was primarily a Jewish settlement prior to WWII. Then I saw a link to a list of Holocaust victims from when the Nazi’s marched through this settlement during the summer of 1941.
I decided to look at the list of Holocaust victims. I found the name of Joel Edelstein. Edelstein was a family name. I opened Family Search and found Joel Edelstein. Sure enough, my great uncle Joel never emigrated to the United States like his younger brother did, my great uncle and namesake, Jerome Elden. I also found the names of Joel’s wife and four young children included on the Holocaust victim’s list.
Suddenly, the question “If God was a loving God, why would He allow Auschwitz?” was very different to me. What I thought was someone else’s story now became my story. In the succeeding years, as I have observed the pervasive pain still felt by my Jewish associates because of the Holocaust, I have seen how Heavenly Father had been prompting me for years to discover the depth of my Jewish ancestry.
Yes, I had that experience speaking at Temple Israel. But, there was much more. Some of my closest friends growing up in Boston, Los Angeles and Phoenix were Jewish. While I was serving my mission in Montreal, I spent seven months in an area heavily populated with Jewish households. Virva nannied for an amazing Jewish family in Boston the summer before we were married. Virva and I hosted a Jewish convert and his wife for 10 days in our Memphis home while he was on a book signing and media tour. All of these small things were seemingly laying the foundation of a great big thing!
So, as a 52-year-old, I finally came to understand that Heavenly Father had been preparing a way for me to accomplish the thing he had commanded me by learning to love my Jewish brothers and sisters just like our missionaries learn to love the people in the lands where they serve.
My dear brothers and sisters, we have all had experiences in our past that, when viewed through the lens of time, we realize those experiences have served to shape us into the persons we have become, perhaps even the best version of ourselves. Your story is still being written. Continue to place your trust in God and He will direct you for good. To seek to know the mind and will of God, and then to live it, is the most courageous choice you will ever make.
President Nelson explained, “The more you learn about the Savior, the easier it will be to trust in His mercy, His infinite love, and His strengthening, healing, and redeeming power. The Savior is never closer to you than when you are facing or climbing a mountain with faith.” President Nelson’s counsel to us is to know the Savior’s story. And the best way to learn about the Savior is to do the things He did.
Since discovering my close Jewish connections, we have gained access to Latvian Rabbinical records by miraculous means, and have been busily gathering Israel on the other side of the veil. My family, my siblings, and their families have performed vicarious temple work for progenitors with names like Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Israel, Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, and many more. We’ve been consciously careful to honor the Church’s agreement with Jewish leaders to only perform temple ordinances for closely related Holocaust victims.
The prophet Jacob in the Book of Mormon, prophesied that any that “reject the stone upon which they might build” can repent and choose to build upon Jesus Christ, “the great, and the last, and the only sure foundation”. And then Jacob poses this hopeful question, “how is it possible that these, after having rejected the sure foundation, can ever build upon it? (Jacob 4:15-17). The answer to Jacob’s question is explained in Jacob Chapter 5, which likens the allegory of the olive tree to the Gathering of Israel, which gathering is the greatest cause on the earth today.
What’s common to the stories I shared with you today - the Ensign College alumni, Nephi, the Ensign College students, the YSA ward council, and my personal story of discovery of my Jewish ancestry? Jesus Christ was the author of every story as each person exercised their faith and trust in Him. As a result of their faith and trust, they and others were blessed.
My dear friends, are you willing to let Jesus Christ be the author of your story and the finisher of your faith? Building your foundation on Him will ensure that whatever work you do will be great. I testify that Jesus Christ’s atonement is infinite and eternal. His Grace is sufficient for all and I testify of these things in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.