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Elder Richard E. Cook

The Future Is Ahead, and We Must Prepare for It

Good morning.  This is a very intimate setting. Generally when I have spoken to students, they’ve been a bit farther away.  But I find this very, very appealing. Now, typically when I start to talk, I don’t announce the title of my talk. But I want to do it here, because I want to change it. I just heard something that I was really impressed with. The title that I had chosen until three minutes ago was “Prepare Yourself to Be a Leader.” But I loved the quote from President Monson: “The future is ahead; we must prepare for it.” Isn’t that wonderful?  The future is ahead, and we must prepare for it. And I hope that what I have to say here, at least some of the things I have to say, will help you prepare for the future.

I’m highly honored to be here. I have great respect for this College. I’ve known at least one of your past presidents well, —Ken Beesley, I love the man. He was in Mongolia, in fact he was a missionary in Mongolia before Sister Cook and I got there, and he was really a pioneer.

You’re in the process—the objective of this College is to help prepare young people for society. And as you know, as you have been told, I’m the managing director of the Perpetual Education Fund. And in many respects, we’re in the same business. We’re in the business of financing students that are preparing themselves to enter society. I am so delighted to be a member of this Church. I wouldn’t say—I would normally say that I am proud to be a member of this Church, and I am, but I’m not sure that proud is such a good term to use these days. But I am.

As members of the Church, I don’t think we understand how blessed we are. And I think it’s because we don’t think about it that often. And I think in some respects, we live far below our privileges.  That’s a statement from Brigham Young. The first time I heard that, it was Elder Packer telling the general authorities about living below our privileges. And I think a lot of us do live below our privileges. And what does that mean? It means simply that our Father in Heaven is prepared to bless us beyond what we can possibly imagine if we would just keep the commitments that we have made thus far in our lives.

To illustrate how we are blessed as members of the Church, I’d like to tell you two or three stories. The first one involves a man by the name of Benjamin Wu, who is a Taiwanese. I met him in a stake conference in Taipei. I was sent there when I was in the area presidency in Hong Kong, to preside over a stake conference. And after the stake conference, we typically got together with the new members of the stake and we had them bear their testimony, and describe how they became a new member of that stake, a new member of the Church. And Benjamin Wu was in that group. There were about 40 or 50 men and women, meeting, as I recall, in the Relief Society room of the Taipei Central Stake.

Benjamin Wu got up and told us how he had become a new member. He said that when he was a young boy, 13, 14 years of age, he had about six or seven good friends, and they met the missionaries. And the missionaries would play basketball with them. They would play soccer, and one thing and another. And these young boys got to love the missionaries. And the missionaries asked them if they would like to take the lessons, to learn more about the Church. They all took the lessons, all five or six of them. And about three of them joined the Church, but Benjamin Wu decided not to. He wasn’t converted at that point in time.

He said, “Let me tell you about what has happened to me.” He’s about 45 years of age, so this is something like 30 years later, after he first met the missionaries. He said, “I’ve kept in close touch with my friends that joined the Church.” He said, “You know, they’re not rich, but in terms of jobs, they’ve all got pretty good jobs. They’ve been able to provide for their families very well.” He said, “I haven’t. I’ve bounced from one job to another.”

He said, “As far as health is concerned, I’m close enough to them that I pretty much know what their health situation is, and they’ve enjoyed pretty good health.” He said, “I haven’t.” He said, “I’ve had one sickness after another.”

Then he said, “Marriage. They’ve got good families. They’re close to their family. That really appeals to me. I have not had a happy married life.” He said, “I’m divorced, and it’s really pained me.”

He said, “About two months ago, the missionaries knocked on my door. And when I went to the door and I realized it was the Mormon missionaries and they wanted to know if I wanted to hear about the Church.” He said, “Why in the world wouldn’t I? I’ve got a perfect example of before and after, and I want the blessings of being a member of this Church.”

Okay, that’s the first story. Now let me tell you the second. It involves a man by the name of Pon, and he was the church controller when Sister Cook and I were in Mongolia; he’s still the church controller of the Asian Area. And he came up to help us as we organized the new mission; he came up to help us get it organized. We invited him to dinner. After dinner we were sitting around the table talking, and I said, “Brother Pon, tell me how you came to join the Church.”

He said, “Okay, I will.” He said, “I worked in a grocery store and I was a checker. And from time to time, two sisters—two Americans—came in to buy their groceries. And after about a month of bagging their groceries for them, I said to them, ‘What are you doing here?’” And he spoke in Cantonese to them. And they answered him back in perfect Cantonese.

They said, “We’re missionaries for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and we’re here to tell people about our church. Would you like to hear about our church?”

He was very impressed with their Cantonese, and he said, “Yes, I would.” And so they taught him, and they converted him. And he wanted to be baptized. The problem was that he was not yet eighteen years of age, and he had to have his parents’ permission to be baptized. So he went to his dad and said, “I’d like to become a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”

He dad said, “Is that the Mormon Church?”

Brother Pon said, “Yes.”

His dad said, “Absolutely not. That’s a sect. I don’t want you to have anything to do with that church.”

Well, he was crestfallen, and like smart young men from time to time, he decided to talk to his mother. So, he went to his mother, and he described that he had taken the lessons, and she kind of knew about it. He said, “I want to be a member, but Dad won’t let me.”

She said, “Well, let me talk to your Dad.”

So she did, and his father relented. He said, “You can join on these conditions. I don’t want you to ever talk about the church to your brothers and sisters or to me or your mother.”

And Brother Pon said, “Okay. That’s fine.” So he was baptized and became a member and started to go to MIA. He met another LDS girl and then went to college, they were married. And when he was in Mongolia, his oldest child—I think they had four—was a boy and was about to be given the Aaronic Priesthood. He said an interesting thing happened.

“My dad observed our family. They observed our love and respect for one another. They observed how we treated one another. They observed our desire to improve ourselves, to be good neighbors, to be good citizens. Earlier this year, my dad came to me and said, ‘Pon, would you do something for me?’”

And Pon said, “Well, of course, Dad. Anything.”

He said, “I’ve observed how you live, and how your church has affected your life. Would you please talk to your brothers and sisters about the Church? It would be wonderful if you could convert them.”

Well, now my last story. And Ganhu (addressing a student in the audience), do you know the Tamir that went to high school in Idaho and then went on to BYU, joined the Church? His mother was a wonderful friend. She was the secretary to the minister of education in Mongolia. And let me tell you, we needed her. She opened a lot of doors for us. She was not a member of the Church, but she was a good friend.

Tamir came, as a result of her friendship with the Church; it was arranged for him to go to high school in Boise, Idaho. He graduated from high school, then he went to BYU—Idaho, I think, for a couple of years. He finished up at BYU, and this last spring, he got his MBA from BYU Provo. He went on to a job in Chicago. He’s married, has two children. Now he has three. But he sent Sister Cook and me a note, thanking us for hosting us at dinner. And he said something that really touched me because I feel exactly the same way. And this is what he said:

“When I look back at my life, all the good, all the wholesome things that have happened to me are associated with my membership in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”

Well, this is a wonderful Church. We are incredibly blessed, and we ought to get on our knees every single day and thank the Lord for our membership in this Church. And we should vow that we will not live below our privileges—that we will live in such a way that the Lord will pour out the blessings that He’s ready to bless us with, if we just keep those commandments.

Now as in these stories about how wonderful the Church is as sort of a foundation, let me talk a little bit about the growth of the Church and the needs for the future. There was an article in U.S. News and World Report in the year 2000, in November of 2000. This article talked about the growth of the Church and how it was, if I remember correctly, it was the fastest-growing religion in America. And they estimated by the year 2080—that’s what, about 70-some-odd years from now—that there would be 265 million members of the Church around the world. I don’t know if those numbers are correct. I don’t know if we’re going to have that many. It blows my mind when I think we might, because I think of the leadership that’s going to be required by the Church—since we rely essentially on lay leadership—the leadership that’s going to be required to administer a church that large.

These leaders need to have commitment. They need to be educated. They need a good job, and to have adequate food on the table, that gives them discretionary time. Now when Sister Cook—and Ganhu will know exactly what we’re talking about here—when we first went to Mongolia, there were 78 members of the Church. Now there are about 8,000, so it’s really grown. But the thing that we noticed is, we would baptize these members and we would say, “Okay. Church is going to be held at 10 o’clock this coming Sunday.” And they would look at us and nod their head, but in many cases they wouldn’t show up.

Why wouldn’t they show up? Well, we got into it, and we found out that they were working six days and week, probably ten hours a day, and they needed Sunday to do the wash, to do their shopping, to do the housework and all the things that we in America and most other non-Third World countries do during the week. To really be a functioning, good member of this Church, you’ve got to have discretionary time. You can’t be spending all your waking hours putting food on the table.

Well, I really believe that that’s one of the reasons that President Hinckley, in 2001, announced the Perpetual Education Fund. In many respects, it’s a leadership program. And what it’s trying to do is to help the young people of the Church to get jobs so that they can be leaders, so they can function, so they can serve the Lord and have enough time to do so. We’ve got 33,000 young men and women in 40 countries in the progress.

Now, why am I telling you all of this? It’s because you need to become qualified to become leaders in the kingdom. Some people say that leaders are born. I don’t believe that for a moment. I think leaders are developed. Think about your own life. I think about mine. I came from a family where my father was an Adult Aaronic; my mother was a very faithful member of the Church. She was a college graduate; my dad hadn’t completed high school. I wasn’t born to leadership, but I look at my life and what I was taught as a Primary student, what I was taught with the Aaronic Priesthood and the Melchizedek Priesthood, and I think I’ve been given some pretty good leadership skills. And it’s not only as measured by the Church, but it’s as measured by the company that I worked for all of my life.

Now, I want to talk about four things that I think are important for you to know and to think about as you think about preparing yourself for leadership in the Church. Now, am I an expert? Heavens, no. I’m not an expert. I’ve had 35 years of experience with a big company. I’ve raised four children, all of whom have advanced degrees and are active in the Church. I’ve observed the struggles of these children in raising their children. I’ve been a mission president. I’ve been a general authority, and now I’m the managing director of PEF. And because of these experiences, I think I am just at least a teeny bit qualified to stand here and tell you what I think are some of the important things that you ought to be thinking about as you think about preparing yourself for leadership in the kingdom.

Let me mention the first one. Chart your life’s course now. You know, when back in the old days of sailing vessels, when a sea captain was going to launch himself on a major voyage, they used charts or maps. They charted their course very, very carefully. And why did they want to do it? Because they didn’t want to get lost. And they had to take sightings and one thing and another to keep them on course. But they knew where they wanted to go, and when they were off course, they adjusted. Well, now you know what charting your life’s course is. You need to decide what you want to do.

You’re feeling pretty good about yourself, and you should. You’re in school. You’re getting an education, and that’s wonderful. You’re preparing yourself. Maybe some of you have already charted your life’s course. But my belief is that, in ten to fifteen years, if you don’t chart your life’s course, many of you will have varying degrees of unhappiness with what you have accomplished. You need to avoid these disappointments. You need to define now what you want to achieve in life and what actions are necessary to get you there.

I’m an optimist. I’m a firm believer that you can control your destiny. Fulfillment of your dreams is not so much a matter of intelligence or good fortune as it is a combination of establishing sound goals, focusing, taking action and being willing to sacrifice. If I were the president of this College, I would require that every single student read chapter 17 of The Miracle of Forgiveness. The title of that chapter is “Charting a Safe Course.” You know, we can’t foresee—you can sit down and you can decide what you want to do, but you can’t foresee everything that’s going to happen to you. And that’s not what I’m talking about. But you can, you can—well, let me read what President Kimball has said: “We can’t foresee every circumstance in life, but we can see most of the important decisions that we need to make—decisions that if made correctly now will ensure happiness and success. These decisions are straightforward and uncomplicated.”

President Kimball talked about driving down some stakes, and the stakes he’s talking about are kind of stakes for your tent, not organizations within the Church. And he talks about “these are the things I will do, and these are the things that I will not do.” And they have to do with dating, temple marriage, the family, time for gospel living, time for honoring church covenants, and honoring marriage covenants. Now, you need to decide what’s important in your life. You need to decide the underpinning of this chart that you’re making for yourself.

Get all the help you can. When you think about it, if you need to be tested to see what you’re good at, get testing. If you want to talk to someone in a field where you think you might want to go, talk to them. By all means, pray about it. If you’re married, you want to consult your spouse. You’ve got a bishop; talk to your bishop. You’ve got a lot of wonderful professors here; talk to them. Get buy-in. Consult others. But by all means, chart your life’s course. And you will be in very, very—what shall I say—unique company when you do it, because there are very few people in this life that write down on a sheet of paper what they want to accomplish and set goals, if you will.

I think the most difficult part of this whole process is getting ourselves in gear to take the action to achieve what we’ve got on paper. Anthony Robbins has written an interesting book entitled Unlimited Power. And he says in that book, “Often we get caught up in the mental trap of seeing enormously successful people and thinking they are where they are because they have some special gift. Yet a closer look shows that the greatest gift that extraordinarily successful people have over the average person is their ability to get themselves to take action. It’s a gift that any of us can develop within ourselves.”

Well, chart your life’s course. Put that on your paper with the pen that the President said you should have here, and a piece of paper in front of you, and I’ll come back to it. I hope I’ve made my point.

Now the second point: Get all the education you can. It doesn’t take a genius to understand that the better educated you are, the better prepared you are for life, and the more likely it will be that you will achieve the goals that you have set for yourself in this point of charting of your course. President Hinckley has taught us about a lot of things, but there are very few subjects over the years, since he has been a member of the First Presidency, that he has taught with as much vigor and as much emphasis as it has been his passion that we educate ourselves.

He says, “It is incumbent upon every member of this Church, as a mandate from the Lord, to get all the education you can.” He’s taught this to men; he’s taught this to women. He’s taught it to small groups, to large groups. But he’s hit it over and over again. Let me just quote some of the things he has said: “Now is the great day of preparation for each of you. If it means sacrifice, then sacrifice. That sacrifice will become the best investment you have ever made, for you will reap the returns from it all the days of your lives. Do the very best you can. Maybe you’re not an “A” student. Maybe you’re not a “B” student. Maybe you’re not a genius. Most of us are not. In fact, a majority of us are not. I have concluded that the work of the world is done by ordinary people who learn to work in an extraordinary way.”

Well, I could give you some other quotes, but you get the point. And this is a prophet of the Lord, and these prophets are raised up to give us advice and counsel. And we are wise if we follow their advice and counsel.

Now consider—and I know I’m probably speaking to the converted—but let me just point out some things that you may not know. The typical college graduate can expect to earn 62% more than the typical worker who has only a high school diploma. If you have a master’s degree, you can expect to earn twice as much. If you have a professional degree, you can expect to earn three times as much. The typical college student that graduated from high school at 18, by the time he’s 33, he’s paid for all the money he’s borrowed to go to school, and he’s paid for the wages he would have earned had he not gone to school. So in 15 years, this investment will have paid for itself.

For both men and women, a higher level of education corresponds to higher income. If you’ve got a better education, it correlates with better health. The more education, the less likely you are to smoke, the more likely you are to engage in leisure time exercise, the better you will prepare your children for their schooling, the more likely you are to participate in volunteer community activities, and the more likely you are to vote.

Now, the prophet has said that education benefits the Church, and indeed it does. We have a church research department, and they have surveyed that issue and found that, the more education you have, the more likely a person is to have a testimony, give significant service to the Lord and the Church, and hold responsible callings. Now some of you are saying, “Elder Cook, you’re preaching to the choir.” Well, let me say this. This may be so. You’re enrolled here. I don’t know what the statistics are—in fact, I meant to ask the President—but in most of the four-year institutions in Utah, only 60% of the young people that start, complete. Finish what you’ve started. Finish what you’ve started.

Now if it means sacrifice, sacrifice. That’s the easiest thing you’ll do. I used to say this in Asia, and the interpreter would look at me—it’s a lead-pipe cinch. I mean, it’s the best investment you will ever, ever make. “A lead-pipe cinch” does not translate well. In fact, when you’re being translated, don’t use these idioms. They get the translators in a peck of trouble.

Okay, now the third point: Leverage your life with the gospel. Now, how many of you have been raised on a farm, raise your hand. Would you show me—I’ve only got two slides, but I brought it because I want everyone to understand what a lever is. Where are we? It’s coming. Let me tell you what a lever is. Have you ever seen a great big huge rock that weighs about 500 pounds, and you try to move it and you can’t? That’s this guy right here. Okay, now show the next slide. Technology is wonderful when it works. But, if you’re on a farm, if you get a long pole and you put it under that rock, you can see what you can do. You can move the rock. Now can you understand what a lever is? It’s simply this, you can do more with your life if you rely on the gospel of Jesus Christ and the blessings of our Father in Heaven, than you can ever do on your own. The gospel can be a lever. And the scriptures are absolutely full of promises to that end.

Now, I’m running out of time, or I’m out of time. I’ll give you one of them; I’ll just give you one, but there are many, many. This comes from D&C 82:10: “I, the Lord, am bound when ye do what I say; but when ye do not what I say, ye have no promise.”

Now, how many of you have Patriarchal Blessings? The majority. Okay, I want you to go home tonight, and I want you to look at your Patriarchal Blessing. You’ve got leveraging concepts in that Patriarchal Blessing, I promise you. I’ve taken three from my own Patriarchal Blessing, and they will illustrate what I am talking about.

The first one: “I promise you that insofar as you magnify the priesthood which you bear, God will manifold bless you for the efforts you put forth in doing it.”

The next one: “Accept responsibilities whenever they come from the priesthood. From service comes choice blessings.”

“Your greatest help in the accomplishment of these things is God our Heavenly Father. Put full faith and confidence in Him and He will help you, and with His aid, you cannot fail.”

Okay, you get the concept of what leverage is? Leverage your life with the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Okay, the last point: Live a seamless life. What in the world is a seamless life? Does anyone have any idea? If you do, raise your hand. What is a seamless life? Well, I’m going to show you. This fabric has two sides. One side is seamed. See this seam over here? It’s white and then it’s red. The other side has no seam whatsoever. Can anyone guess where I’m headed? I see some people shaking their head. This is the way you ought to live. Live the gospel of Jesus Christ seven days a week, 24 hours a day. This is a person that goes to church on Sunday and guess what—they don’t live a seamless life. They’re different. They don’t practice what they believe. They’re ashamed to call themselves a member of the Church. They tell dirty stories. They listen to dirty stories. They’re not completely honest in their dealings with their fellowmen. And on and on and on.

Get the point? This is the key to leveraging your life. I worked for Ford for a long time, and one of the questions that I was invariably asked was this, and Keith Poelman worked for the same company, and I think he will verify this. “Brother Cook, does living your religion hurt your career?” Absolutely, positively not. I never found—Keith, did you ever find a day in your life when you worked for Ford Motor Company, that living your religion seven days a week, 24 hours a day hurt your career? It won’t. They’ll respect you. This world is looking for people that have integrity, and integrity and reliability are closely associated.

In fact, I had an old stake president, Jack Pfeifer, and Keith probably knows him. He used to say this, and I don’t know whether he was quoting Confucius correctly or not. “If you’re not utterly reliable, you’re utterly useless.” I’m not always utterly reliable, but I believe in the concept.

So what are you going to do? You’re going to chart your life’s course. You’re going to get all the education you can. You’re going to leverage your life with the gospel of Jesus Christ. And you’re going to empower yourself by living a seamless life.

I love the gospel. This is God’s Church. We are led by prophets, and I am so thankful that I am a member of this Church, and I hope I never forget the blessings that I have received and that my family has received by being a member. And I so testify this to you, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.


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