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Kenneth Alford

Kenneth Alford
Kenneth Alford 2
BYU Professor of Church History and Doctrine

Kenneth L. Alford grew up in Ogden, Utah. His post high school education includes:

  • Brigham Young University, B.A. 1979 (political science, valedictorian College of Social Sciences, highest honors, university scholar, magna cum laude) 
  • University of Southern California, M.A. 1982 (international relations) 
  • University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, M.C.S. 1988 (computer science) 
  • George Mason University, Ph.D. 2000 (computer science) 

Brother Alford is a now a Professor of Church History and Doctrine at Brigham Young University, the current BYU Ephraim Hatch Teaching and Learning Faculty Fellow, and a retired Colonel in the U.S. Army. He served in numerous assignments during almost 30 years on active duty in the Army—including the Pentagon, supporting Pershing nuclear missile units in West Germany, managing over $5 billion in government information technology contracts, teaching computer science and information systems engineering at the United States Military Academy at West Point, and as Department Chair and Professor of Strategic Leadership teaching organizational behavior and leadership at the National Defense University in Washington, DC. He has published and presented on a wide variety of topics. His current research focuses on Latter-day Saint military service in times of conflict. Ken and his sweetheart, Sherilee, have four children and eighteen grandchildren.




God Will Fulfill All His Promises

It is such a pleasure to join with you today. President and Sister Kusch, thank you for your kindness. To the students and staff and faculty of this college, what a great place this is. It’s also fun to be with my wife, that’s always a treat. Please know how grateful I am for this opportunity to meet with you today. I would like to invite you to be sensitive to, and take notice of, any impressions you may receive from the Holy Ghost as I share a few thoughts and stories with you during the next few minutes.

The scriptures are such a wonderful resource from our loving Heavenly Father to guide us through mortality as we have all these different experiences. As I study the scriptures, I am particularly impressed with doctrines and principles that are taught across the breadth of the Standard Works—what Elder Neal A. Maxwell called “doctrinal diamonds.” [1] One of those doctrinal diamonds is that God will fulfill all His promises to us. That’s a really wonderful thought, isn’t it? That important principle is clearly and consistently taught throughout the scriptures and across the dispensations.

Here are just a few of the many scriptural examples we could share: The Joseph Smith Translation of Matthew 24 teaches that “Although, the days will come, that heaven and earth shall pass away; yet my words shall not pass away, but all shall be fulfilled.” In the Old Testament, the book of Lamentations declares that God “hath fulfilled his word.” As recorded in Third Nephi in the Book of Mormon, the Savior taught the Nephites that God “lieth not, but fulfilleth all his words.” The Book of Moses in the Pearl of Great Price affirms that God’s words “must be fulfilled.” And in Section 1 of the Doctrine and Covenants, the Savior boldly declares that: “What I the Lord have spoken, I have spoken, and I excuse not myself; and though the heavens and the earth pass away, my word shall not pass away, but shall all be fulfilled …” [2]

As Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf has explained, “Because God has been faithful and kept His promises in the past, we can hope with confidence that God will keep His promises to us in the present and in the future.” [3]

So, where can you find God’s promises to you? I would suggest that:

  • You can find them in the scriptures.
  • You can find them in covenants and temple ordinances.
  • You can find them in your patriarchal blessing (which, I would add, I hope you have received and read regularly — recognizing that it is personal scripture from God directly to you).
  • And you can find them in the inspired whisperings of the Holy Ghost.

The fact that God will keep all his promises is absolutely certain. Sometimes, though, the challenge we have in mortality centers around when those promises will be fulfilled because we prefer sooner rather than later, don’t we? Luke 1:20 shares an important insight into this principle by teaching us that God’s promises “shall be fulfilled in their season.” In other words, God’s promises will be fulfilled according to His schedule —not ours. As Isaiah explained, God’s ways (which includes His timing) are not always the same as ours. [4]

  • Sometimes God fulfills his promises quickly.
  • Sometimes it may take many years.
  • And other times His promises may not be fulfilled until after this life.

For the remainder of my time with you today, I will share some true stories that illustrate these differences in God’s timing.

            The first story took place in March 2003 in the tiny desert emirate of Kuwait in the Middle East. At that time, a coalition of military forces from over thirty countries, led by the United States, was preparing to remove from power Saddam Hussein, the Iraqi dictator. My friend Richard Hatch, a United States Army Colonel and lawyer from Monticello, Utah, was serving as the senior military attorney for the 101st Airborne Division. Rich and I went through BYU Army ROTC together, sat by each other during our BYU graduation ceremony, and followed each other around the world during almost thirty years of military service.

In the spring of 2003, the Army’s 101st Airborne Division had deployed from the United States to the Middle East. Colonel Hatch and his unit were assigned to a forward base camp on the border between Kuwait and Iraq. The military unit he commanded consisted primarily of officers who were lawyers and enlisted legal clerks. It was a tense time as his soldiers waited and prepared for a coming war with Iraq. Rich shared the following experience with me which has been published by Brigham Young University’s Saints at War Project. Here is Colonel Hatch’s account:

“I felt impressed to gather all the soldiers and officers in my charge and talk to them about what they were about to undertake, since most of them were serving their initial Army tours and had never experienced combat. We gathered in a large mess tent at one of the forward camps. I had been praying for days, asking the Lord to guide me as to what I should say to the seventy-five young soldiers and officers for whom I was responsible. As the appointed day and hour came, I still didn’t have an answer. It was not until the twenty-minute Humvee ride across the open desert … to the camp where we were meeting that I got an answer. It came to me as clearly as if my remarks were being dictated: ‘Helaman’s stripling warriors.’ As I all too frequently do, I initially resisted the prompting. Although all my staff knew I was a devout Latter-day Saint, as their leader, I was very sensitive not to push my religious convictions on my subordinates. (As an aside, he was the senior legal officer in the 101st division and it was his responsibility to be in charge of the separation of church and state.)

“Notwithstanding these concerns, I knew there were truths to be had from this familiar Book of Mormon story. Why were these young, inexperienced Nephite fighters able to be successful in battle with lots of wounds but no fatalities? Three things were put into my mind, and I gave them to my troops: (1) they had a conviction of the justness of their cause …; (2) they were confident in their abilities as a result of their upbringing and training …; and (3) they obeyed all commands with exactness (see Alma 57). With regard to this third point, I felt impressed to talk specifically to my soldiers about the need to always be in the prescribed uniform: if body armor (flak vest) was to be worn, wear it no matter how hot and uncomfortable and how seemingly safe the environment. If you were to have your chemical suit and gas mask within reach, you have them within reach. As I concluded my remarks, I felt prompted to promise these young soldiers that if they obeyed every command with exactness, we, like the stripling warriors, may suffer wounds but would all return home alive.

“Three days later, that promise was tested. The initial bombing of Baghdad began, and our division began final preparations for our assault into Iraq. On the night before the 1st Brigade of the 101st Airborne Division was to begin their attack across the border, a U.S. soldier—a devout Muslim—rolled grenades into the three tents that housed our brigade’s leadership and then began shooting the officers as they exited their tents.   He killed two officers and wounded fourteen others. Among the most seriously wounded was one of my legal officers, who was with us at our meeting … Captain Andras Marton.

“I was able to see Captain Marton briefly as he was coming out of his initial surgery to stabilize him at the combat support hospital set up near our location on the Kuwait-Iraq border before he was air evacuated to Landstuhl, Germany, and then to Walter Reed for months of treatment and rehabilitation. In that brief meeting, he described to me what he remembered. He had just gone to bed but had carefully laid out his protective gear so that it was within easy reach and where he could find it quickly in the dark. He heard the grenades explode in the first two tents and immediately grabbed his flak vest and Kevlar helmet [as I had counseled my soldiers to do]. He was exiting his tent when a grenade rolled in and exploded about five feet from him. As he described his injuries to me, he said that one grenade fragment had penetrated his flak vest and collapsed a lung, causing some other internal injuries, but that the vest had stopped several other fragments that would have been fatal. While several fragments hit him in his legs and other exposed areas, the surgeon told him that had he not put on his body armor, there is no way he could have survived.” [5]

In this instance, Rich did not have to wait long to see the fulfilment of a promise he had received from the Holy Ghost and appropriately shared with others.

My second story is an example of having to wait several years for a promised blessing to be fulfilled. It occurred in Scotland during the middle of the nineteenth century, and it’s a cherished part of my family’s history. This story is about Robert and Mary Henderson, who are my paternal third great-grandparents. I must confess that I have a strong temptation to put on a Scottish accent while I tell this story, but I’ll spare us all that agony.

Robert and Mary lived in the tiny village of Penston in East Lothian — about fifteen miles east of Edinburgh and three miles from the ocean. My wife and I had the opportunity to visit Penston and the surrounding towns in 2017. Today Penston consists of about nine homes, but one of the local residents assured us it was “a wee bit” smaller when my great-grandparents lived there.

Robert made his living working in the nearby coal mines, and Mary occasionally worked in the mines as well. They were a poor family and had a difficult time making ends meet. In 1849, they were in their mid-twenties, had been married for about two and a half years, and had two young children. One day in the spring of that year, Mary asked Robert if she could attend a cottage meeting with a friend in a nearby home to hear missionaries from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints preach. They were members of the Church of Scotland, and Robert counseled her not to attend.

Mary was a loving and devoted wife, but she also wanted to listen to the missionaries. So she figured out a way to listen to the missionaries but still obey Robert’s counsel. She went to the home where the missionaries were preaching, but she stayed outside (so she did not technically attend the meeting). She listened to the meeting through the keyhole. She felt the Spirit of the Lord immediately and was in tears before the completion of the first hymn. She returned to her home that evening, explained to Robert what she had done, bore a simple testimony to him, and let him know that she desired to be baptized. Robert could see that she was in earnest, and he consented. She was baptized on April 1, 1849.

Mary then persuaded Robert to investigate her new faith, and he too became converted to the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. He was baptized seven weeks later. During his confirmation blessing, Robert was promised that he would travel to America with his wife and children to gather with the Saints in Utah. He went home deeply concerned about that blessing. He said no one could promise such a thing and expect it to come true. He was a poor miner, and it was all he could to do keep food on the table. He believed that emigrating to America, while a wonderful dream, was out of the question. Despite his concerns, he chose to remain active in the Church, and he served in several local church leadership positions.

In the years that followed, they were blessed with seven additional children – which significantly increased the cost of emigrating to America. One evening, Robert came home from work and told Mary that there was a lot of illness among the workers because of very bad air in the mine. Many of the miners were refusing to work. To remedy the problem so the mine could remain open, the mining company was calling for bids to dig a new air shaft from the surface down into the mine several hundred feet below.

You can imagine Robert’s surprise when Mary suggested that he should submit a bid. He quickly pointed out that he did not own any of the tools he would need to even begin a job like that—much less to finish it. But Mary insisted, and he reluctantly submitted a bid. Soon after, he became angry and reminded Mary that he had no experience doing that kind of work. Imagine his consternation when he was informed that the mining company had selected his bid as the winner. He was now obligated to dig the new shaft.

He had no idea how to begin, but Mary insisted that he must try. So, he borrowed a pick and a shovel, selected a suitable spot, and started digging a hole in the ground. He continued digging throughout the entire day, throwing the dirt back over his head until the hole was a little deeper than he was tall. He was quickly reaching the point where he could no longer throw the dirt out of the hole, but he still had several hundred feet to dig until he would reach the mine shaft below.

Just as he was reaching the point of frustration (and most likely exhaustion, as well), he struck a fault — a large crack in the earth that extended from where he was down into the mine below. The fault sent more air rushing into the mine than a regular air shaft could have provided. The mining company was so pleased with the results that they paid Robert the full amount asked in his bid — even though he had only worked for a brief time.

And, you guessed it… Robert and Mary now had sufficient money to emigrate to the United States with their nine children—the third oldest of whom was my great-great-grandfather, William Henderson. Their family sailed from Liverpool, England with a group of Latter-day Saints on May 30, 1863, onboard the ship Cynosure. After arriving in the United States on July 19, 1863, they made their way to Utah — exactly as Robert had been promised during his confirmation blessing fourteen years earlier. [6]

Robert and Mary Henderson’s experience happened over 150 years ago. The first story I shared, about Colonel Rich Hatch, happened almost twenty years ago.

The third story I will share is more recent and much closer to my heart. It is the story of my oldest daughter, Suzanne, her husband, Kendall, and their four children, who range in age from nine to sixteen.

Kendall was raised in an active-duty Air Force family, and our daughter, Suzanne, was raised in an active-duty Army family. They met when both of our families lived in the same ward in northern Virginia, while their fathers worked for various offices in the Pentagon. Kendall and Suzanne attended Seminary and high school together and soon started dating. Suzanne didn’t formally “wait” for Kendall while he served as a full-time missionary in Romania, but she was excited to start dating him again after he returned. To shorten this part of their story, they fell in love, got married in the Washington, DC Temple in 2001, and were joined by four wonderful children — three daughters and a son.

In the summer of 2020, during the first year of the pandemic, Kendall began experiencing significant back pain. Doctors identified a large tumor in his back that had broken several of his vertebrae. At the beginning of September, he underwent eight hours of corrective surgery, requiring an incision over two feet long, and we thought that the healing process would then begin.

The day after his surgery, though, he was informed that follow-on testing had identified he had acute lymphoblastic leukemia — only the fifth such case in an adult in documented history. Pain killers for his back were immediately stopped and chemotherapy began. He then began what I can only describe as seven months of purgatory and pain. While he received the best medical care available, including numerous chemotherapy regimens, countless drugs, full body radiation, a bone marrow transplant, and numerous other procedures and treatments, it was to no avail.  He died in the hospital at the end of March last year with our daughter by his side.

It was truly heart-breaking, but I would like to share with you something that Suzanne wrote shortly after Kendall’s death. Taking the long view of things, she said: “The kids and I have had several conversations over the past few months when Kendall was in the hospital, where we would talk about what the ‘worst possible thing would be.’ And you know what, it wasn’t that Kendall might, and did indeed, die. We recognize how infinitely worse it would be if we didn’t get to continue as a family beyond this life.  But we do. We very consciously made the decision at the beginning of this cancer experience that our family was going to choose faith, and gratitude, and keep our focus on Jesus Christ. And it was not easy. It’s far from easy now.”

Please know that I have absolute confidence that Suzanne, Kendall, and their family can still receive all of the blessings that they have been promised. Some of those blessings will just be delayed for a little while, but I have hope in Christ that those promises will be fulfilled. Speaking of the importance of hope, Elder Uchtdorf has taught us that “Hope is not knowledge, but rather the abiding trust that the Lord will fulfill His promise to us. It is confidence that if we live according to God’s laws and the words of His prophets now, we will receive desired blessings…” [7] We should always keep in mind that God has a perfect track record when it comes to keeping his promises.

In October 2020, just one month after Kendall’s battle with leukemia began, President Russell M. Nelson gave a wonderful talk in general conference titled “Let God Prevail.” In that talk, he related the advice he shared with “Jill,” the wife of one of his grandsons. Her father was dying, and she was afraid. She hoped that the prophet would promise her a miracle. Instead, he offered Jill just one word of counsel. And that word was “myopic” — which means to be nearsighted.

President Nelson said, “After Jill’s father passed on, the word myopic kept coming to her mind. She opened her heart to understand even more deeply that myopic meant ‘nearsighted.’ And her thinking began to shift. Jill then said, ‘Myopic caused me to stop, think, and heal. That word now fills me with peace. It reminds me to expand my perspective and seek the eternal. It reminds me that there is a divine plan and that my dad still lives and loves and looks out for me.’” [8] When things have seemed particularly challenging, especially in recent months, President Nelson’s counsel not to be myopic has been extremely helpful for me. When your promised blessings seem to be out of reach, I would encourage you to reflect on the prophet’s counsel not to be nearsighted. Instead, pray that you will be able to take an eternal view of things.

I have one final story for you before we close. Among the many responsibilities assigned to military officers is a charge to teach, watch over, serve, protect, lead, and assist their soldiers to overcome any challenges they may face.

 During the American Revolution (as well as in many other military conflicts), military officers wore a visible symbol of their rank around their waist. It was a large red sash with tassels at the ends. Some of those red sashes were large enough to be used as a litter which could be used to carry wounded or injured soldiers from the battlefield. If someone was wounded, another soldier found the officer in charge and received the red sash to carry the injured man to safety. After the wounded soldier was given assistance, the red sash was returned to their officer with a status report of how the injured soldier was doing.

The tradition and symbolism of the red sash has survived for centuries. A ceremonial version of the red sash is still worn today at the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York. It’s much smaller, and, truth be told, is actually maroon instead of red, but it’s still called the red sash. Each summer new cadets arrive at West Point eager to learn how to become military officers. Throughout their initial summer training period, which is called Beast, upperclass cadets are assigned to help teach them how to be successful. The new cadets are frequently directed to “Report to the cadet in the red sash” to be properly taught the skills and knowledge they will need to successfully complete their education and training.

In 1991, while serving as a professor of computer science at West Point, I had the opportunity to take a group of Latter-day Saint cadets on a weekend trip to the Washington, DC Temple. I was able to attend an endowment session with several cadets who were returned missionaries. As I was walking into the Celestial Room, I bumped into one of the cadets in our group who had abruptly stopped in the doorway to that room. I apologized and whispered, “Is everything okay?” He replied, “I get it. I get it.” I must confess that I was confused, and I whispered back to him, “What do you get?”

He raised his hand and pointed across the Celestial Room to a large painting of the Savior that was hanging high on the wall. It was Harry Anderson’s beautiful depiction of the Savior’s Second Coming. And he said, “I get it. I know why I’m in the temple. I’m here to report to The Man in the Red Sash. The Savior knows how to teach me and bring me safely home to God.” I think of that experience every time I see that painting.

Yes, our Savior, Jesus Christ, knows how to bring us safely home to our Father in Heaven. May we be wise enough to listen to and act upon the righteous counsel we receive — whether God’s promises to us are fulfilled quickly as they were for Colonel Hatch, or after many years as they were for Robert and Mary Henderson, or if they will not be fulfilled in mortality as is now the case for many of the blessings promised to Kendall and Suzanne. Regardless of how long it will take, please know that all of God’s promises to you will be fulfilled.

May we be humble and filled with hope throughout this life. We are engaged in God’s work and are blessed to be members of His Church. And I’m pleased to leave these thoughts with you with you in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.


[1] Neal A. Maxwell, “According to the Desires of [Our] Hearts,” Ensign, Nov. 1996, 21.

[2] See Lamentations 2:17, JS-Matthew 1:35, 3 Nephi 27:18, Doctrine & Covenants 1:38, and Moses 5:15.

[3] Dieter F. Uchtdorf, “The Infinite Power of Hope,” Ensign, November 2008, 23.

[4] Isaiah 55:8 – 11.

[5] See Kenneth L. Alford, Saints at War: The Gulf War, Afghanistan, and Iraq (Provo, UT: BYU Religious Studies Center, 2020), 243–244.

[6] Kenneth L. Alford, “Robert and Mary Henderson,” in Signs, Wonders, and Miracles: Extraordinary Stories from Early Latter-day Saints, Glenn Rawson and Dennis Lyman, eds. (American Fork, UT: Covenant Communications, 2015), 195–197.

[7] Uchtdorf, 22.

[8] Russell M. Nelson, “Let God Prevail,” General Conference (October 2020). .


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