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Living With Our Face Towards Zion

Elder John and Sister Marie Murdoch Ensign College Senior Missionaries
January 24, 2023 11:15 AM

""If we are to live with our face towards Zion, then we, like our pioneer fore-bearers, must also have faith in our own footsteps.""
Living with Our Face Towards Zion

Elder Murdoch

My second great-grandmother, Mary Murdoch, was from Scotland. As a young wife and mother, she lost her husband, James, in a coal mining accident. She successfully struggled, in spite of her poverty, through the years to raise her six father-less children. She was baptized a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on December 21, 1851 by her son John--who had been a member for only a short while. John immigrated to Utah in 1852 and in 1856, he sent the money that his mother needed for her own passage, as she had a burning desire in her heart to join the Saints in Zion, which at that time was understood to be what is now, the State of Utah. At the age of 74, she joined the Martin Handcart Company, which left Iowa on July 28, 1856. She was small in stature—about 4 feet 8 inches and weighed approximately 90 pounds. Today, her many descendants affectionately know her as “Wee Granny.”

Wee Granny 1.png

This picture [i] , hangs in our home and the homes of many of Wee Granny’s descendants. It represents the passing of “Wee Granny” which occurred near Chimney Rock, Nebraska on October 2, 1856. The physical strain of walking approximately 13 miles each day for 65 days proved to be more than her frail body could endure. At her passing, she said to those who were attending her, “Tell John that I died with my face towards Zion.” Wee Granny was able to die with her face towards Zion, because she lived with her face towards Zion!

Sister Murdoch

 The Scriptures give us these descriptions of “Zion:”

“Therefore, verily thus saith the Lord, let Zion rejoice, for this Zion—the Pure in Heart…” [ii]

“And the Lord called his people Zion, because they were of one heart and one mind, and dwelt in righteousness; and there was no poor among them.” [iii]

So, where is Zion today? President Nelson answers this question, “Now the gathering takes place in each nation. The Lord has decreed the establishment of Zion in each realm where He has given His Saints their birth and nationality. The place of gathering for Brazilian Saints is in Brazil; the place of gathering for Nigerian Saints is in Nigeria; the place of gathering for Korean Saints is in Korea. Zion is ‘the pure in heart.” President Nelson summarizes the concept of Zion, “It is wherever righteous Saints are.” [iv]

This simply means that Ensign College has a place in Zion as we individually and collectively strive to live righteously.

Elder Murdoch

Thank you to our Ensign College Institute Choir who so beautifully sang, “Faith in Every Footstep.” If we are to live with our face towards Zion, then we, like our pioneer forbearers, must also have faith in our own footsteps.

President M. Russell Ballard provides the following counsel as we move forward in our lives,

“Do not relegate the experiences in your lives to coincidences.”

“Look for the Lord’s hand in your lives…”

“Thank Him for it. Record it. Share your stories.” [v]

We are following President Ballard’s counsel by sharing some of our stories that represent the footsteps that we personally have and are taking in our journey towards Zion and to becoming Capable and Trusted Disciples of Jesus Christ. [vi]

Step 1. Testimony and Personal Study

Step 2. Christ-like Service

Step 3. Temple Worthiness

Step 4. Being a Full Tithe Payer

Step 5. Preparing for Temple Marriage which includes:

a. Socializing

b. Dating

c. Courting

d. Engagement

e. Marriage

Step 6. Education and Employment

Step 7. Trials and Hardships--Enduring to the End

Sister Murdoch

Step 1: Testimony and Personal Study

My youngest memory of feeling the Holy Ghost was when I would kneel and say my prayers with my father and mother. I knew from this warmth that Heavenly Father loved me, and Jesus was truly our Savior! My whole life, I have had the goal of learning and studying about Jesus Christ to learn what He would have me do. To grow and sustain my testimony, I know that I must read from the Scriptures and also the words of modern prophets and apostles every day, so I can have my own testimony of Jesus Christ and I am constantly learning to listen and to ‘hear Him’ so that I can become a servant more like Jesus Christ.

Elder Murdoch

My mother unexpectedly passed away on March 22, 1953, when I was just three years old. I was the youngest of six living children. We were heart broken, but not forgotten. General Conference that spring started just 12 days after her passing. At that time, General Conference started on Friday. I vividly remember being alone as my older siblings were in school. I was wrapped in a blanket by a heater vent to stay warm as pictured by our Grandson, R.J, as it was very chilly inside the old rock house.


Our radio was tuned to General Conference. I listened to the male voices as they presented their messages. While I do not recall what was said, I do distinctly remember the most wonderful warmth that enveloped me—a warmth much greater than that of the blanket and heat vent. As time has passed, I have come to understand that this wonderful warmth and light came from the Holy Ghost as He communicated our Savior’s love for a poor, motherless little boy.

Since that time as a young boy, I have often felt the Savior’s deep and abiding love and direction, which has strengthened and added faith to each of my footsteps. Like Sister Murdoch, I am grateful for daily gospel study, in which I can immerse myself in the words of both ancient and modern Prophets and Apostles. It is through my gospel study that I often find answers to my daily questions and concerns.

Sister Murdoch

Step 2: Christ-like Service

Our service must become an intrinsic part of who we are and who we want to be. Where I grew up, everyone on the road except four families were related. When I was nine years old, I was asked to babysit for a large family during their Grandfather’s funeral. There were many children staying at the Grandparents’ house. They had been together long enough that the whole kitchen sink and counters were filled with dirty dishes and pans. There was a set of 6-month-old twins besides several older, restless children. This was just helping a neighbor out, no different than being at home with my younger siblings--helping the children find activities that they could do, warm baby bottles in a pan of water on the stove, feed babies, wash the dirty dishes and pans and get the work of the day finished. The adults came home from the funeral to a clean kitchen, fed children and babies, and I was handed a 10-dollar bill. I walked home and was so proud to tell my mother about it. I was promptly told to immediately walk back and return the money—we never take money from a family in need and especially when helping with a funeral! I am so grateful for the opportunities my parents gave me! I learned service from my parents’ knees: bake something and share some of it with the neighbors in joy, sickness, or death. I learned to clean up, to serve, to do something, and to fill whatever the family needs were--just do what Jesus would do if He were here!

Elder Murdoch

In my youth, the most important service related decision that I made was to serve my junior mission. I was of missionary age during the Viet Nam War and missionary service was limited to just two missionaries from each ward each year. My Bishop called me in and informed that I had just this one opportunity to serve a mission. At that time, I was on the Ricks College Basketball team. However, I had made the decision to serve a mission many years before as I wanted to follow the footsteps of my two older brothers who had served missions.

Consequently, it was easy to both tell my coach that I was leaving the team in the middle of the season and to tell my Bishop, yes—I want to serve a mission. My missionary service has been my most important Footstep of Faith.

Step 3: Temple Worthiness

Following my mission, I was at a crossroads and uncertain about what my next footstep should be. I had no savings and my parents were not in a position to help me finance a college education. I felt a need to go to the Temple. Following the Endowment session, I found a quiet place to ponder and to pray. As I left the Temple that evening, I still did not know about my future education or employment, but I did come away firmly committed to always being worthy of holding a Temple Recommend.

President Gordon B. Hinckley explained, “This small document, simple in its appearance, certifies that the bearer has met certain precise and demanding qualifications and is eligible to enter the House of the Lord and there participate in the most sacred ordinances administered anywhere on earth--what a unique and remarkable thing is a Temple Recommend.” [vii]

It has been almost 52 years since that special moment in the Temple and I can bear witness that the words of President Hinckley are true. In the intervening years, I have conducted countless Temple Recommend interviews, and in the case of every worthy member, all were very grateful for the blessings that had come into their lives from the privilege of being worthy to hold a current Temple recommend.

Sister Murdoch

When I was a child and my mother would be ironing the Temple Clothing. She would always spread out a clean bed sheet on the floor so that none of the special temple clothing would ever touch the floor. She was always careful and very respectful of this sacred clothing and would tell me how wonderful it felt to be worthy enough to enter into Heavenly Father’s house and make sacred covenants for all eternity. I looked forward to the day when I would be preparing my own clothing to wear in the Lord’s Temple. To this day, I always spread a clean bed sheet out on the floor around the ironing board so that none of the fabric of this sacred, meaningful clothing ever touches the bare floor. Keeping myself worthy to enter the Lord’s Temple is a constant goal. I wanted to do everything in my power to always be worthy of attending the Holy Temple.

Step 4: Paying Tithing

One of the responsibilities of being Temple Worthy is to be a full tithe payer. I was taught the importance of paying a full tithing. Each time, I earned money, I knew my first task after coming home was to separate my Tithing.

I kept a small jar in my bedroom and I would immediately place my tithing into the jar. It was just like breathing air or drinking water—it was always how my money was handled.

The Old Testament Prophet Malachi testified of the importance of paying a full tithing, “Will a man rob God? Yet ye have robbed me. But ye say, Where-in have we robbed thee? In tithes and offerings. Ye are cursed with a curse: for ye have robbed me, even this whole nation. Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the Lord of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it.” [viii]

Elder Murdoch

Step 5: Preparing for Temple Marriage

We have separated Preparing for Marriage into five sub-steps.

1. Socializing: even when one does not have a girl or boy friend, it is appropriate to socialize by visiting with each other on the elevator, before and after class, at Church, and in other safe settings.

2. Dating is formal socializing, which is a planned activity on a specific day and time. Dating’s purpose is to become better acquainted and to share values and goals.

3. Courting occurs when dating becomes a regularly scheduled event and includes both formal and informal interactions. The courting process generally will either deepen the relationship or help both participants to recognize that the relationship will not be extending into an engagement.

4. Engagement occurs when both parties are desirous to prepare for marriage. The decision to become engaged should be confirmed by the Spirit. President Gordon B. Hinckley offers this advice, “All of this can come to pass if you make this most important decision, one guided by prayer as well as instinct, of choosing a dear companion who will be yours through thick and thin forever, throughout all eternity.”

5. Marriage: President Hinckley also shared this advice about marriage, “A good marriage requires time. It requires effort. You have to work at it. You have to cultivate it. You have to forgive and forget. You have to be absolutely loyal one to another. Most of you will marry and have children. They will become the source of your greatest pride and happiness.” [ix] This is certainly true in our lives. We would like to share our story with you.

Sister Murdoch

I was attending a concert at Ricks College. When it was over, and the crowd was leaving, a young man from my Social Dance Class walked by. I look at him and then at the girl who was with him—she was wearing a coat--just like mine! I thought. “Hey, Right Coat—Wrong Girl!”

Elder Murdoch

While at this concert, I had an impression that this should be the last time that I ask this particular girl on a date. Consequently, when I took her home, I simply said, “You are a good friend, but I feel that it would be best for us if we didn’t date any more.

The next Monday morning, I went to our 8 AM Social Dance Class early. I watched class members come and as Sister Murdoch walked into the room, I had a strong impression, “She is the one that you should be dating. We danced together that day and I casually asked her where she lived.

Sister Murdoch

In the good old days, my college apartment didn’t have a land line telephone and there were no cell phones yet. I lived in a basement apartment with 5 other girls. There was a window that showed us when someone was walking to our door. My roommates told me that a young man had come and asked for me on two different occasions. Then, one day when I was home, we saw the same male legs walking up to our door. We became so excited because these were the same legs of the young man that had previously come to visit me!

Elder Murdoch

I am grateful that Sister Murdoch was willing to go on a date with me. Over the next few months, we dated regularly. Our dates mostly consisted of a combination of college and ward activities. At this time, I was working for a Janitorial Business. The owner was relocating and offered to sell his business to me.

Sister Murdoch

I knew that his purchasing this Cleaning Business was an important decision for him—so I fasted and prayed that he would have Heavenly Father’s guidance when he talked to the man about buying it.

Elder Murdoch

This pattern of seeking the Lord’s guidance through fasting and prayer has served us well throughout our marriage. I bought the business, which provided the financial foundation that was needed for my family and educational pursuits throughout the next 14 years.

At Christmas, I drove Sister Murdoch to her home and met her family. This was the first time in four months that she was able to go home. I was a bit concerned that some of her former boyfriends might show up, so I asked her if she would take my high school ring and go steady with me.

Sister Murdoch

This was a good half-step in the courting process and I said…YES!

Elder Murdoch

We wrote to each other over the Christmas Break and resumed dating when she returned to Ricks College in January. With the financial security of my Janitorial Business, I contemplated how I might propose marriage. My birthday was on January 14th, we enjoyed an evening together. As I was saying goodbye, I simply said, “Would you ever be willing to jump off a cliff?

Sister Murdoch

I said, “I would be willing to if I knew there was a worthy young man there to catch me!”

Elder Murdoch

Well, as you can see—she jumped and I caught her and we now have 50 years of marriage to validate that we both made the right decision.

Elder Gerrit W. Gong provides this very important advice regarding socializing, dating, courting, and engagement--he said, “May I share something I’ve observed about what makes happy couples happy? They Choose ‘The Right in Defining The Relationship’. They let the spiritual lead the physical. In ways small and large, whether just starting to date, courting, or during their engagement, happy couples set distinct, appropriate bounds before marriage that blesses all aspects of their lives—now and later. Living right now makes possible living happily later.” [x]

We add our solemn witness, that what Elder Gong said is true.

Sister Murdoch

Step 6: Education

I attended Ricks college for one year. This was the beginning of the rest of my life and made all of the difference in my life and the lives of all of my children and grandchildren!

· We knew that we could only afford one of us go to school—so it was my husband. We wanted NO Debt. For 14 years, we operated the janitorial business and cleaned 4-6 businesses 6 days a week.

· When our own children were old enough to go to college, we bought a Taxi and Delivery Business that we operated out of an office in our home for 8 years, so our 6 children could have a way of earning money and not go into debt for their college education.

· When they had all graduated from college, I at age 55, went back to BYU Idaho—I completed six semesters in two years. The days were very long, but it was so worth it!

Because I graduated with a teaching degree, we were able to accomplish the following:

· I taught Kindergarten and then First Grade.

· We then went to Shanghai, China and taught English at Tongji University for 3 years.

· We served as adjunct teachers for BYU Idaho in the Elementary Education department.

· We accepted a mission call to Tonga, where we served as BYU Hawaii Adjunct Professors for 20 months. During this time, we assisted 14 Tongan members who taught in Church sponsored secondary schools to earn their required Teaching Certificates.

Elder Murdoch

In 1883, three years before Ensign College was created, President John Taylor proclaimed, “We are here, as a people, … that we may put ourselves in possession of every truth, of every virtue, of every principle of intelligence known among men, together with those that God has revealed for our special guidance, and apply them to our everyday life, and thus educate ourselves and our children in everything that tends to exalt man. [xi]

When I was 14 years old, my older brother graduated from Dental School as a Doctor of Dental Science. At his graduation, he looked me as said, “So what kind of a Doctor are you going to become. He set the education bar very high. At that time, I felt it was too high to reach. This same brother taught me and his children that if we live righteously, the Lord will guide us to the next footstep that we should take. This proved to be true, for with time and encouragement from many mentors including Sister Murdoch’s consistent and unfailing support, I was able to successfully earn an Associate’s Degree, Bachelor’s Degree, Master’s Degree, and Education Doctorate in Curriculum and Instruction. It took a total of 15 years of attending classes either full or part-time to complete my formal education.

In a Zion Society, the people have all things in common. I believe this includes educational opportunities, which you now have access to here in Ensign College. We affirm you for being here and “putting (yourselves) in possession of every truth, of every virtue, of every principle of intelligence known among men, together with those that God has revealed for our special guidance, and apply them to (your) everyday life” as you strive to become Capable and Trusted and Disciples of Jesus Christ.

Step 7: Trials and Hardships—Enduring to the End

President M. Russell Ballard provides a wonderful understanding of the hope in Jesus Christ that helps us to endure our trials and hardships, he said, “Brothers and sisters, I testify that as we follow Jesus Christ with footsteps of faith, there is hope. There is hope in the Lord Jesus Christ. There is hope for all in this life. There is hope to overcome our mistakes, our sorrows, our struggles, and our trials and our troubles. There is hope in repentance and being forgiven and in forgiving others. I testify that there is hope and peace in Christ. He can carry us today through difficult times. He did it for the early pioneers, and He will do it now for each one of us.” [xii]

Sister Murdoch

I have a personal example in my pioneer heritage of enduring difficult times. My third-great-grandfather was Lindsay Andersen Brady. He was baptized on November 15, 1835 by Wilford Woodruff in Damon Creek, Kentucky. His family disowned him. He suffered persecution. One time he was chased by a mob into a cornfield. He hid in a large shock of corn. The mobsters searched the field and even parted the stalks where he was hiding but did not see him. In the end…due to the mobs, they were forced to leave Nauvoo. The trek across Iowa was difficult. The ox teams were thin and weak, and the roads were snowy and muddy. They eventually arrived in Salt Lake. He helped build Fort Union which is 16 miles South of Ensign College. This is the area in which I was born and raised.

In 1856, Lindsay responded to the call from Brigham Young and helped furnish oxen and wagons to help save the handcart companies who were stranded in the snow at Martin’s Cove. The people who had cared for Wee Granny were members of this same handcart company.
Wee Granny 2.png
The young boy hiding behind his mother, in the Wee Granny picture, was among those who were saved. He is Elder Murdoch’s third cousin. He grew-up to become the first Stake President in South Eastern Idaho, where we live.

In referring to our Pioneer forbearers, Sister Michelle D. Craig summarizes my feelings, “Brothers and sisters, to be such men and women is the call of our day—disciples who dig deep to find the strength to keep pulling when called to walk through the wilderness, disciples with convictions that have been revealed to us by God, followers of Jesus who are joyful and wholehearted in our own personal journey of discipleship.” [xiii]

Growing up, my mother would read to us from the scriptures and tell stories of the early Pioneers. I would listen and feel a warmth each night as we were ending our day. With this warmth, I would kneel and say my prayers. I knew from this warmth that Heavenly Father loved me, and that Jesus Christ is truly our Savior! I do have my own testimony of Jesus Christ and I am constantly learning and still listening to ‘Hear Him’ so that each of my footsteps will help me to become a servant more like Him in my personal journey of discipleship. I say this in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

Elder Murdoch

President Ballard continues, “It is important to follow the prophet and keep our feet firmly planted on the covenant path of faithfulness, as it was for the early pioneers. Let us follow Jesus Christ with faith in every footstep. We need to serve the Lord and serve one another. We need to strengthen ourselves spiritually by keeping and honoring our covenants.” [xiv]

I, like Wee Granny, am striving to have Faith in Every Footstep so that every day, I too, can live with my face towards Zion. Everything in my life points me to a loving Father-in-Heaven and to Jesus Christ who is my Savior and Redeemer—I love them and am grateful to be a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This is my humble testimony and I share it with you, in the Name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

[i] This picture was painted by Clark Kelly Price
[ii] D&C 97:21
[iii] Moses 7:18
[iv] President Russell M. Nelson “The Future of the Church: Preparing the World for the Savior’s Second Coming” Ensign or Liahona, Apr. 2020, pages 9–10
[v] President M. Russell Ballard DCU Center Worchester, Massachusetts October 20, 2019
[vi] Ensign College Mission Statement
[vii] Gordon B. Hinckley, Keeping the Temple Holy,” Ensign, May 1990
[viii] Malachi 3:8-10
[ix] Gordon B. Hinckley Ensign, February 1999
[x] Elder Gerrit W. Gong: BYU Speeches—March 20, 2007
[xi] President John Taylor: Deseret News: Semi-Weekly, 12 June 1883 as recorded in Chapter 10 The Value of Education, The Teachings of Presidents of the Church
[xii] President M. Russell Ballard: October 2022 General Conference
[xiii] Sister Michelle D. Craig, October 2022 General Conference
[xiv] President M. Russell Ballard: October 2022 General Conference

About the Speaker

Elder John and Sister Marie Murdoch's Picture.png

Elder John and Sister Marie Murdoch

 Elder John Murdoch grew up in Southeastern Idaho. He was number 6 of 8 living children. He served as a Junior Missionary in the England North Mission. He earned an Associates Degree from Ricks College, Bachelor’s and Master’s Degrees in Education from Idaho State University, and a Doctorate in Curriculum and Instruction from BYU-Provo. He has taught every level from Elementary School to Graduate School where he served as an Adjunct Professor for Idaho State University, BYU Provo, and BYU-Idaho. He served for 30 years as a Public-School Administrator including Superintendent of Schools in Idaho Falls, Idaho. His Church Service includes Primary and Gospel Doctrine Teacher, Young Men’s President, High Councilor, Bishop’s Counselor and Bishop, Branch President, Stake President’s Counselor and Stake President.

Sister Marie Murdoch grew up Union, Salt Lake, Utah. She was number 6 of 10 living children. After supporting her husband and children through college, Sister Murdoch returned to BYU-Idaho at the age of 55, where she earned a Bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education. She taught kindergarten and first grade. She also worked as an Adjunct Professor for the BYU-Idaho Teacher Education Department. Her Church service includes Primary and Gospel Doctrine Teacher, Primary President, Young Women’s President, and Relief Society President. She has also served in Stake Young Women’s Presidencies.

Together Elder Sister Murdoch have served in the Primary Nursery, in the BYU China Teachers’ Program where they taught English at Tongji University in Shanghai, China. They have served as Addiction Recovery Missionaries and Ordinance Workers in the Rexburg, Idaho Temple. They also served as Senior Missionaries in Tonga where they taught ten BYU-Hawaii Teacher Education Courses to teachers who work in Church sponsored Middle Schools and High Schools. They currently serve as Senior Missionary Coordinators at Ensign College.

Elder and Sister Murdoch met at Ricks College and were married in the Salt Lake City Temple in 1972. They are the parents of six children, 28 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
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