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Devotionals

Matthew Grow

Matthew Grow
Matthew Grow
Matthew J. Grow is Managing Director of the Church History Department of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In that capacity, he leads a team of history professionals who collect documents and artifacts, preserve them, and promote understanding of the Church’s past through a publishing program, a research library, a museum, and many historic sites. Grow also serves as a general editor of the Joseph Smith Papers and Saints: The Story of the Church of Jesus Christ in the Latter Days. He has published widely on Latter-day Saint history and American religious history. Grow received his PhD in American history from the University of Notre Dame. He and his wife Alyssa live with their four children in Sandy, Utah.

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I am grateful for the opportunity to speak at Ensign College. In thinking about this new name, I want to take you to January 1846. A month earlier, the Nauvoo Temple had been finished sufficiently so that ordinance work could begin. Men and women began to receive their endowments and be sealed together. Brigham Young, the President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, had two great tasks: he was working around the clock on these. First, endowing and sealing the Saints and second, making preparations for the trek West.

Joseph Smith had been killed 18 months earlier. Since that time, it had been apparent to Brigham that the Saints would have to abandon their homes in Nauvoo. But the Lord had revealed to him that the Saints should not leave Nauvoo until they had received their temple ordinances. Now, with that ordinance work occurring in the temple, Brigham felt a confirmation of where he should lead the Saints.

Over the past few years, Church leaders had explored options—from Texas to California. They had sent explorers, negotiated with government leaders, studied the latest maps. God had not simply told them where to go. He expected them to study it out as best they could in their own minds and seek inspiration. Finally, in the Nauvoo Temple, Brigham said, “The Saying of the Prophets would never be verified unless the House of the Lord should be reared in the Tops of the mountains & the Proud Banner of liberty wave over the valleys that are within the Mountains. I know where the spot is and I know how to make the flag.”

Brigham envisioned that an actual flag would fulfill, at least in part, Isaiah’s prophecy about raising an “ensign to the nations.” After arriving in the Salt Lake Valley, he recognized a hill he had seen in a vision. Though still weak from illness, he made it to the top of the hill and called it Ensign Peak, the place where they would raise the flag. They didn’t have a flag, so it seems that Heber C. Kimball tied a yellow handkerchief to a pole and waved a makeshift flag.

Brigham must have known that the ensign to the nations would not just be a flag. It was much more than that, in 1847 and today. It is the Gospel of Jesus Christ, spread throughout the world by faithful women and men who both raise the ensign of the Gospel and are themselves, in their lives, an ensign to others. It is fitting that this college has been renamed Ensign College. Brigham knew where the spot was and he, and the prophets who have come since, knew and know how to make Saints.

One of the things that has impressed me about Ensign College is its global focus. Many of you come from countries around the world and many of you have served missions outside of your own homelands.

When I joined the Church History Department a decade ago, my specialty was in the history of the United States in the 1800s. In terms of Church history, I had studied mostly what happened in the United States in the early decades of the Church.

In the past decade own vision has been elevated, as I have studied Church history around the globe. To tell this story, we sometimes need to see things that we don't always see. Many times in the past, we have told the story of the global Church as something that you might see in this photograph of missionary families in Samoa in the early days of the Church there. We honor the tremendous sacrifices that these families made to share the Gospel. But if we zoom into the photograph, we see something more. In the background, almost hidden from view, we see Church members whose stories are not often told. Just as we honor the missionaries, we should honor the sacrifices and faith of these early members. We need to tell their stories as well.

Telling these stories, though, is often challenging. In the Church History Department, we have an enormous quantity of journals, letters, and other documents. For a place like Samoa, most of our early records were created by the American missionaries. It is comparatively easy to tell their stories, to know their perspectives, to feel their devotion. It is much harder work to piece together the stories of these early converts, who either did not create records themselves or whose records are now lost to history. It is harder work, but well worth it.

Earlier this year, the Church published the second volume in our Saints series. If you haven’t read Volumes 1 and 2 of this series, I encourage you to do so. They are available in 14 languages, both in print and on the Gospel Library app. You can read them or listen to an audiobook version. I hope that your faith will be strengthened as you do so. We end each volume with a temple dedication. Volume 1 ends with the dedication of the Nauvoo Temple. Volume 2 ends in 1893 with the dedication of the Salt Lake Temple. Volume 3 takes us to the mid-1950’s when the Swiss temple was dedicated. And the fourth volume will come to the present and features on its cover temples in Sao Paulo, Brazil; Accra, Ghana; and Hong Kong. Together, we hope that these volumes will meld into a great panorama of the Church’s past.

In this panorama, we are spotlighting stories from around the globe. You can find even more in our “Global Histories,” which you can find on the Gospel Library app in the Church History section. We currently have short histories of the Church in dozens of countries and are working on more. I love the stories of faith from Saints around the globe.

I believe that these stories of the past can function in a similar way to the brass plates for the people of Nephi. Alma told his son Heleman, “They have enlarged the memory of this people, yea, and convinced many of the error of their ways, and brought them to the knowledge of their God unto the salvation of their souls.” The Saints histories have a similar aim and motivation – to enlarge the memory of the Latter-day Saints, to build faith, and to strengthen us as we read stories of the past about how God has helped his people on that path to salvation.

You will find many global stories in Saints, Volumes 1 and 2. As we move forward with Saints, Volumes 3 and 4, the story will be even more global. In the rest of my talk today, I want to give you a peek into a story that we are planning for Volume 3, which will be published in late 2021 or early 2022.

That story will take us to South America. The Church began in South America with immigrants from Germany, first in Argentina and then in Brazil. We will tell some of that story in Saints. But we also wanted to tell the early days of the Church in Brazil through the eyes of someone who spoke Portuguese. During World War II, German-language public meetings were banned in the country and missionary work turned from a focus on German-speaking individuals to Portuguese-speaking individuals.

In Saints, we tell the story of the Church through individuals. How could we find the right person to tell the story of the Church in those early days in Brazil? We have a team of talented and faithful historians, and we asked one of them, Dallin Morrow, to find us the right person. Dallin is a former lawyer and a member of this team with lots of experience searching through records to find details of individuals.

But this task proved very difficult. Dallin went first to Brazilian mission histories. He found names but no stories. He then turned to the journals of American missionaries during World War II, people like James E. Faust, who later served in the First Presidency. Once again, he found names but no compelling stories. Some of the people mentioned in the journals looked promising, but without records produced in their own voice, we lacked the detail to tell a complete story.

After spending a great amount of time unsuccessfully searching these records, Dallin was discouraged. He went to the leader of that team, Jed Woodworth, and told him that he didn’t think the archives had the records that we needed. Jed told him throughout the Saints project we’d always found the right stories, and that they needed to keep searching, but also to begin praying that the right person would be found.

Finally, Dallin found a collection of short biographies of early members in Brazil. There was a reason he had not found it earlier. The Church History Library had just acquired it. Dallin speaks Bulgarian and Russian, but these records were in Portuguese. So, he turned to the best source available, Google Translate, and began putting these short biographies into the internet. Even though the translations contained many errors, they were good enough to begin looking for stories.

Dallin eventually became intrigued with a man named Claudio dos Santos. Claudio was born in a suburb of Sao Paulo, in 1915, converted to the Church in 1944, and became the first Portuguese-speaking branch president in Brazil. Dallin discovered that the mission president in Brazil, William Seegmiller, had even mentioned Claudio dos Santos in a general conference talk. So, we had the beginnings of a character, but we needed much more.

Jed began helping Dallin in the search. One day in 2017, while looking at the website billiongraves.com, Jed found a picture of the tombstone of Claudio’s wife Maria, who had died in 1984. Much to our surprise, Maria was buried in Salt Lake City! On the tombstone, Claudio’s birthdate was listed, but there was no death date. Jed assumed that Claudio must have died but that no one had put the death date on the tombstone.

Jed soon discovered that Claudio and Maria had a grandson living not far from that cemetery. He drove to the grandson’s house, knocked on the door, and the grandson’s wife answered. Jed explained that he was a historian working for the Church and was looking for information on Claudio dos Santos. Did she know the name?

“Oh, yes!” she exclaimed. “He turns 102 next month, and I’m sure he’d love to speak with you!”

Claudio lived in a nearby retirement community. He was active on Facebook, mentally alert, and answered Jed’s questions. Claudio died this past summer, age 103. Jed writes, “I stand in awe of the Lord for introducing us to him and for allowing his story to be told in Saints. It was very difficult for us to find Claudio, but we never lost hope and eventually the Lord led us to him. Truly our team was been saved by the grace of Christ, after doing all we can do.” With Jed, I know that the Lord wants the stories of faithful Saints around the globe to be told so that Saints everywhere can be strengthened.

In Volume 3, we will now be able to tell Claudio’s story. We will share how missionaries first came to his home at the invitation of the aunt of his wife Maria. Maria had told the missionaries that they could visit but only if they did not discuss religion. They came anyway and spent many hours with Claudio and Maria and then invited Claudio to attend an English class that they were teaching.

Maria recognized that learning English could help Claudio in his career and she encouraged him to go. But she also told Claudio sternly, “They’re going to talk about their religion.” “Don’t pay attention.”

After Claudio attended the class, the missionaries invited him to a Church musical program. Claudio loved to sing and he loved the program. When he arrived home later than Maria expected, she was not happy. But Claudio loved the class and the Church activities and made going to both of them part of his weekly routine. Claudio’s enthusiasm soon won over Maria and she went with him. Over the course of several months, they grew more and more interested in the gospel.

In November 1943, the English lessons came to an abrupt end as the elders were required to return to the United States because of the war. Mission president William Seegmiller worried that there would be no one to lead the Saints. It had only been five years since the missionaries began teaching in Portuguese. The Sao Paulo Branch was small, with many widows, and only about 20 active members. The mission would need to place local members in leadership positions that the missionaries had occupied up until then.

One day in early 1944, mission president William Seegmiller and his wife Anna visited Claudio and Maria. Anna suggested to them that the missionaries who had taught them would be very happy to hear that they were baptized. Claudio and Maria looked at each other and agreed that they would be baptized, six days before the last American missionaries left Brazil.

Not long after, William invited Claudio to come to the mission home. William sat Claudio down and asked him a question: Would he like to be an elder? Claudio didn’t feel prepared, but he thought of the missionaries who he admired so much and he knew he wanted to be like them and follow the example that they had set. And he said yes he would.

At sacrament meeting that Sunday, William Seegmiller arose to address the small congregation. William Seegmiller had one problem: he didn’t speak Portuguese. He relied on translators. He invited Claudio because of his experience in the English class, to translate for him as he spoke.

“Will you sustain Brother Claudio,” he asked the congregation, “to be ordained as an elder?”

Claudio translated, and everyone raised their hand. William nodded and then scanned the small gathering of the faithful.

“Now, will you sustain him as your branch president?”

This was the first hint Claudio had received of his new calling. He translated the words, not fully sure of what they meant. Again, the Saints sustained him unanimously.

In Volume 3, we will talk about Claudio’s leadership of this branch during World War II, and how the Spirit helped him take on that difficult assignment. I am inspired by Claudio’s faith, by Maria’s faith, and by the way our historians found his story. Claudio and Maria later immigrated to the United States and he became the first Brazilian member of the Tabernacle Choir. When he turned 100-years-old, he was asked by the Governor of Utah the secret to his longevity. He replied, “Everything in moderation, except one thing: love. Love, and do so in excess.”

As I have learned more about the history of the global Church, I have been deeply inspired. I have been inspired by the faith and devotion of women and men throughout the world who have embraced the gospel of Jesus Christ and built the Kingdom of God under difficult circumstances. And I have learned a central message: God’s people have always been diverse. Women and men, single and married, of all races and ethnicities, coming from many nations, people with PhDs and people with very little education, solid and weak in the faith, new converts and eighth-generation Latter-day Saints, people who confront disease and mental illness and family problems. All are needed.

Nephi taught that God invited all to come until Him and partake of His goodness. That all are alike until God. There is a place for all among God’s people. There is a place for each of us among God’s people. And a work for each of us to do. Each of us forms a part of that grand panorama of Church history and has a part to play in raising the ensign to the nations. I share my witness that God cares about and guides His people and that this is the Church of Jesus Christ. I say these things in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

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