Wednesday, October 8, 2014

"What If The Goats Had NOT Died?"

My good friend Jim Ritchie is proving to be a wonderful source for incredible (and true) stories. I've had this one on my mind for a few weeks since he shared it, and I believe it will be uplifting and motivational to some who may be struggling with their own set of challenges with adversity.

Some say America has seen better days, and that the "American dream" is something that is more myth than reality. However, those who come to these shores find almost unbelievable opportunities, unimagined in their prior lives. Out of adversity comes the blessings if we have faith to move ahead.

We never know when adversity might strike us, but the mortal experience being what it is almost guarantees we will all come in for our share. Recently, Patsy's mother (in her 93rd year), fell in her bedroom and broke her hip. Near death last week, she has made a near miraculous recovery and following surgery to replace the broken pieces, she is in a rehab center today beginning physical therapy. This latest trial has come to her late in life, but she has had her share of challenges all along the way.

What, one might ask, would her life had been like without the seemingly tragic circumstances that befell her? Would she have become the woman she is today without all those difficulties? Not likely.

I'm certain you will all enjoy this latest story from "Bro. Jim" as he shares the life story of one young missionary, Joseph Oryang, and his progenitors. I'll bet every one of the 90,000 missionaries currently serving has an incredible back story to share, but this one is unique to be sure. Enjoy! Who knows, maybe there is someone in far away Uganda or Mozambique who may know this story better than me.

* * *

Joseph Oryang is the son of David Oryang who is the son of (I don’t remember  his name. so plug in a good Uganda name - let's call him John). “John” was a young man growing up in the hills of Uganda, who along with his brother rose up early each day to head for the hills to stay with and protect the family's growing goat herd.

They would spend each day from early to late tending to the goats. They were just lads, "tenish" in years and destined to spend their lives on the foothills of Uganda, except for a disaster that hit Uganda. A deadly disease coming from Europe invaded Uganda that was devastating to the goats and nearly all of the Uganda goats died from the plague.

At least it hit the Oryang family hard. as all their goats eventually died and the Oryang family no longer had any chance at temporal success. The family was destitute and desperate.

In the middle of this incredible set back, “John” decided to strike out on his own as a teenager to see what was on the other side of the mountain. With his meager belongings strapped to his back he walked the many miles to the "big city," probably Kampala, where he somehow got himself enrolled into a school and worked his way to a high school diploma. He did so well he was awarded a scholarship to a university, which paved the way for another round of luck. He was awarded an opportunity to go to Oxford University in England.

Graduating with honors, he returned to his native land and was immediately rewarded with a good paying job with the Ugandan Government. Now he was a man of influence and privilege. “John” married and began to raise a family with his new found rank as a "Man of Importance," which gave his children privileges he could never have dreamed he might have if he had remained a goatsman of Uganda.

David grew up under this "influence," which got him enrolled in the better schools, and eventually he earned a scholarship to the University of Washington, where he worked his way through and ended up with a significant degree.

I’m vague (as I’m old) and can’t remember the sequence of the next events, but along the way he runs into the gospel - which "sticks" - and then in a gas station he meets the woman of his life and the David Oryang story begins to take deep roots.

David landed a US government job, which gave this driven man an opportunity to rise in Washington DC as a VIP. His testimony and leadership skills are recognized by both the Lord and his priesthood leaders, and as of 2014, he was serving as a counselor in the stake presidency of the Woodbridge Stake in Northern Virginia.

His story might have never been written, except he came to a Launching Leaders program as a guest speaker, and shared his exciting and entertaining story. We were all dazzled with the events which brought him to America, Woodbridge, and to become a family of prominence in the gospel and the government.

As he concluded his story and appropriate application to each of our lives was made, I stood up and said the first thing that came to my mind!!! “What if the goats had not died?”

We speculated the differences in the story, had the goats never died. David's father, "John." and his uncle might have spent the rest of their "professional" life herding goats and raising their families in Uganda.

Joseph Oryang and the Ritchies
Then, enter David, and eventually Joseph. This is the family that might have been known to this day as the finest goat herdsmen in Uganda had they settled for what appeared to be their predestined fate.

But Mozambique would not have been the testing ground for their 6’6” strapping son, Joseph, nor would the gospel or education or influence in the stake presidency or government have been in the family history of the Oryang family if "John" had remained the goat herder.

Oh, what a different family story would NEVER have been told.

* * *

So, think about where you are in your life today. As you consider what people might say about you in describing your life at your funeral, what stories are you writing today that they might tell someday? Will they say that when the goats died in your life the tragedy overwhelmed you? Will they say it was just too much to overcome? Will they say you stayed on the foothills that were familiar and scratched out a meager existence because that was your "fate?" Will they say you could have taken the easy route out of this life with a broken hip and would they all forgive you for simply giving up with just cause? 

Or will they tell of triumph arising from the ashes, and will you leave them a legacy of achievement in their own lives to cherish because you left the dead goats behind and went on to an unknown but fruitful future because you went to the other side of the mountain to see what new vistas might present themselves to your view?

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

When Your Hut Is On Fire

I am indebted to Jim Ritchie for this story. Thanks, Bro. Jim!

The only survivor of a shipwreck was washed up on a small, uninhabited island. He prayed feverishly for God to rescue him. Every day he scanned the horizon for help, but none seemed forthcoming.

Exhausted, he eventually managed to build a little hut out of driftwood to protect himself from the elements, and to store his few possessions.

One day, after scavenging for food, he arrived home to find his little hut in flames, with smoke rolling up to the sky.. He felt the worst had happened, and everything was lost. 

He was stunned with disbelief, grief, and anger. He cried out, "God! How could you do this to me?"

Early the next day, he was awakened by the sound of a ship approaching the island! It had come to rescue him! 

"How did you know I was here?" asked the weary man of his rescuers. 

"We saw your smoke signal," they replied. 

The Moral of This Story: 

It's easy to get discouraged when things are going badly, but we shouldn't lose heart because God is at work in our lives, even in the midst of our pain and suffering. 

Remember that the next time your little hut seems to be burning to the ground. It just may be a smoke signal that summons the grace of God.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

The Gospel Principle That Can Save Us

Continuing his tradition of writing to his former missionaries in the California Arcadia Mission at General Conference time each year, my father has asked me in recent years to help him prepare his semi-annual message. What follows is the most recent one.

Dad is in his ninety-third year now, and is gradually deteriorating badly physically. He still has a sense of humor about his obvious shrinking frame, however, as he refers to himself as "the freak." Amazingly, at one time in their lives he and President Monson were the same height. What is still in tact, however, is his mental acuity, for which I am grateful.

President Thomas S. Monson, L. Brent Goates
Yesterday, he had a surprise visit from President Thomas S. Monson, who had heard about Dad's most recent medical challenges. Dad had a malignant melanoma removed from his back, and then developed some cellulitis in his leg.

President Monson came with "healing in his wings," like the angel of love and mercy he has always been to our family and everyone else he can serve. He listens to the Spirit and then responds.

He offered a priesthood blessing to Dad, but before he pronounced a blessing the two of them reminisced about their memories of their association with one another dating back to their time at the University of Utah. There were smiles and laughter all around to the delight of both.

He cheered, lifted and blessed my father, as he has done again and again throughout his life. Dad said to him, "Tom, you have changed the Church with your example of Christ-like service to others." And so he has. . . How grateful we are to President Monson as a family. There is such love for others in this man.

* * *

October, 2014


Many careful students of The Book of Mormon have observed and stated that each time they finish reading these amazing scriptures they are usually rewarded with a new perspective of enlightenment. My most recent experience has likewise impressed me and in some ways even surprised me.

For many decades past I simply accepted the obvious – that the Nephites were the chosen and favored tribe, and the Lamanites were their constant antagonists and evil tormentors. This division is taught in the very beginning as the separation of Lehi’s sons takes place and the elder two sons, Laman and Lemuel oppose their father and his more faithful son Nephi. Thus to Nephi and his posterity went the birthright, the government and the priesthood leadership, with the rebellious Lamanites doomed to offer constant resistance toward righteousness.

Yet, the final scorecard offers no such one-sided victory for the Nephites. Both tribesmen, indeed, all of the Lehi descendants fail to fulfill our Father’s hope for a righteous brand of Israelites to flourish in the New World. Their descendants regress to savagery and fall far short of the glory promised.

In reflection, it is easy to be beguiled and view the distinction between these two segments of brotherhood as being so totally black and white in contrast. The Nephites had their marvelous moments of righteous leadership with many famous prophets who taught us glorious gospel doctrine. We are so grateful to the several Nephis, to Mosiah and his son King Benjamin, and to the mighty warrior Ammon. Consider the inspiring works of Alma (both of them), and the shining hero, Moroni, of whom it was said, “If all men had been, and ever were, and ever would be, like unto Moroni, behold the very powers of hell would have been shaken forever; yea the devil would never have power over the hearts of the children of men.” (Alma 48:17). They and others fought valiantly to lift their brethren from stages of wickedness. They deserve our veneration as prophets.

But it must be remembered that the Nephite leaders were the ones writing this history. Their bias would naturally lure us to be sympathetic to their viewpoint.

The outcome of this family history was revealed early in the book in the vision of Nephi, who saw their end of days, and wrote:

And while the angel spake these words, I beheld and saw that the seed of my brethren did contend against my seed, according to the word of the angel; and because of the pride of my seed, and the temptations of the devil, I beheld that the seed of my brethren did overpower the people of my seed. . .
And the angel said unto me: Behold these shall dwindle in unbelief.
And it came to pass that I beheld, after they had dwindled in unbelief they became a dark, and loathsome, and a filthy people, full of idleness and all manner of abominations. (1 Nephi 12:19; 22-23).

The Prophet Jacob, Nephi’s younger brother, treats the judgment even-handedly. While he denounced the wickedness and depravity of the Lamanites, he said of his own people, “Behold, ye have done greater iniquities than the Lamanites.” (Jacob 2:35). How could we have so easily minimized that evaluation?

This same reversal of roles was recorded by Nephi, who wrote of the people of Zarahemla:

. . . ye have set your hearts upon the riches and the vain things of this world, for the which ye do murder, and plunder, and steal, and bear false witness against your neighbor, and do all manner of iniquity. . .
For behold, thus saith the Lord: I will not show unto the wicked of my strength, to one more than the other, save it be unto those who repent of their sins, and hearken unto my words. Now therefore, I would that ye should behold, my brethren, that it shall be better for the Lamanites than for you except ye shall repent.
For behold, they are more righteous than you, for they have not sinned against that great knowledge which ye have received; therefore the Lord will be merciful unto them; yea, he will lengthen out their days and increase their seed, even when thou shalt be utterly destroyed except thou shalt repent. (Helaman 7:21; 23-24).

So, who are victors in this battle of unrighteousness - the backsliding Nephites or the depraved Lamanites? Hear now the conclusion of noted scholar, Hugh W. Nibley, who says, “The answer is written all over The Book of Mormon – the righteous are whoever are repenting, and the wicked whoever is not repenting.” (BYU Studies 25:1, 10, 1985).

Repentance is one of the first principles of the gospel. It appears with the arrival of mankind in mortality and is reaffirmed and emphasized at the outset of every dispensation of time through the teachings of angels and prophets.

These same painful lessons are essential in our day of wickedness to meet the trials of the last days. There is no more important and vital principle of submission and contrition than to show forth daily sincere repentance. It alone can protect us and give us the assurance that when all else is failing around us, we can still flower in God’s grace – if we will repent.

Always, your friend,

President L. Brent Goates

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Rededication of the Ogden Utah Temple, A Testimony

This has been a great month so far. It began with a private tour of the new exhibit, "Foundations of Faith," at the Church History Library, which opened to the public recently. You can take the virtual tour here. Elder Steven E. (for Erastus) Snow, Church Historian and a member of the First Quorum of the Seventy, is also the home teacher to Julianna H. Hewlett, our beloved mother and grandmother. He is always so attentive, the model home teacher if there ever were one. He made the offer to Julie for a private tour of the exhibit, and we were the lucky invitees.

Elder Steven E. Snow
Elder Snow and his staff welcomed us the same afternoon the general presidencies of the Church's auxiliary organizations were also there for a private tour. They told us the General Authorities had visited earlier in the day. We were escorted through many of the Library's back rooms, and several Church artifacts were shown to us. It was a thrill to hold in our hands the canes Brigham Young once used, the more famous one being the one he planted in the ground on the very spot where he declared, "Here we will build a temple to our Lord."

Among other objects we were shown was an original Book of Mormon and a valuable and rare gold pocket watch Joseph Smith gave to Eliza R. Snow, a watch so ornate and delicately crafted with floral designs that no one would mistake its owner had to be a woman.

We also handled other pages of the original manuscript from which Oliver Cowdery wrote the translation of The Book of Mormon as the words flowed from Joseph. Only about 25 percent of that original manuscript survived after it was recovered from the damp cornerstone of the Nauvoo House many years later. In the handwriting of Oliver Cowdery, we read together: "I will go and do the things which the Lord has commanded for I know that the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he hath commanded them." (1 Nephi 3:7). These pages are carefully preserved in protective coverings like the page on display in the exhibit on the main floor of the Library. It is possible to know and feel the truth without seeing and touching, but I can bear my witness that the more of our senses that are involved only heightens the almost electric and tangible witness one receives.

I asked Sister Snow, who was with us, what of all the things her husband has shown her in the Library are her most treasured memories. Without hesitation, and with some obvious emotion, her reply was, "The sacred manuscript pages of the Book of Mormon." Many years ago, when President Harold B. Lee was living, he provided a similar experience to us as his family, and I have never forgotten the feelings I had then of viewing and carefully touching those pages. My answer was the same as hers.

It was a supernal thrill to gently turn the pages of an original Wilford Woodruff journal (one of many he kept during his lifetime). It was amazing to see the exquisite penmanship and the intricate artwork he meticulously crafted within the pages of his journal. Seldom a day passed during his lifetime with the Prophet Joseph when he did not record an entry detailing what the Prophet had said that day. We are indebted to him as a Church for preserving the Prophet's teachings in his journal.

Last weekend, the second event of note this month was being in the first stake conference under the direction of our new stake presidency. They are inspired men of God, and they walk the talk. Our new stake president asked us to pray for missionary opportunities, and within forty-eight hours of doing so we were blessed with the chance to entertain a dear associate from Mexico with whom I am acquainted in my work. He came to our home for dinner, spent the night, and we had breakfast together with him before returning to the city.

Our home is filled with pictures of our family, and artwork reflecting our love of the Lord Jesus Christ. It's hard to avoid asking the obvious questions associated with those evidences of our faith. And Francisco asked. We shared our testimonies, we answered many questions, and toward the end of the evening Patsy remembered we had a Spanish language copy of The Book of Mormon that has resided in our home since son Steve returned from his mission to Mexico. We gave it to him, and encouraged him to read it. He said he would.

President Harold B. Lee (l),
President Joseph Fielding Smith (c),
President Nathan Eldon Tanner (r)
Today was the rededication of the Ogden Utah Temple. Here's a wonderful aerial video of the new temple. Forty-two years ago in January, 1972, we were present in the celestial room of the original Ogden Temple when it was dedicated. At the time, the First Presidency consisted of Joseph Fielding Smith, Harold B. Lee, and Nathan Eldon Tanner. We were in close proximity in those cloistered confines, and something unusual was happening during the proceedings. There was a large chandelier in the celestial room that was slowly rotating with the air circulating from the HVAC system. The crystal droplets in the chandelier were causing shadows from the TV lights, and those shadows would cross the faces of the speakers at the podium. It was noticeable to all in attendance in the celestial room and an obvious distraction. However, when all three members of the First Presidency spoke their faces were so luminous there were no shadows whatsoever. Instead, their faces were bathed in a light that overcame the shadows, a fitting symbol to me.

Newly rededicated Ogden Utah Temple
My father captured that day  and the subsequent power of the dedication of the sister temple in Provo, Utah, a few weeks later in his biography about President Lee in these words:

"Following the closing session President Lee's eldest grandson, David Goates, telephoned his grandfather to tell him of his unusual experience. David, his wife, Patsy, and his mother, Helen, all reported having seen a brilliant light at the pulpit whenever the First Presidency members stood to speak in the celestial room of the temple. The light, however, did not envelop the other speakers.

"Three weeks later the companion temple in Provo, Utah, was dedicated. Because of more Church buildings on the campus of nearby Brigham Young University, linked by closed circuit television, an estimated thirty-five thousand or more were in attendance for each of the sessions.

Ogden Utah Temple, 1972
"As at the Ogden Temple dedication, President Lee was the concluding speaker, after which he gave the dedicatory prayer and led the Hosanna Shout. In his sermon, President Lee was impressed to speak of some personal spiritual experiences which unmistakably indicated the nearness to those on the other side of the veil. Elder Alvin R. Dyer testified later that he had seen the deceased President David O. McKay there, along with others whom he couldn't identify. Sister Norma Anderson, wife of Elder Joseph Anderson, Assistant to the Twelve and long-time faithful secretary to the First Presidency, also saw her own mother. President Lee noted in his journal that he was watching the strange look on Sister Anderson's face as she was probably witnessing this visitation.

"Two BYU students seated in one of the large campus buildings told President Lee that many of the Saints were shedding tears when the prayer and the Hosanna Shout were delivered and also during the concluding anthem sung by the choir. The Holy Spirit visited these television-linked buildings with the same power as in the temple proper." (Harold B. Lee: Prophet and Seer, L. Brent Goates, 430).

Odgen Temple Celestial Room
Today, many stake centers in Utah were invited to be part of the dedication during three sessions. However, the broadcast into our stake center was fraught with technical glitches. It was analogous to my first experience where the distractions were obvious to all. Each time a different speaker was announced the video feed would be lost and only the audio was heard, and there were audible groans of disappointment from the audience. What was reminiscent of my experience in the original Ogden Temple dedication was that when President Monson was announced, the video feed cleared up and we had a perfect experience, both audio and video, with President Monson.

It may seem a small coincidence to some, but to me it was significant. You see, when the video feed kept failing, I offered a silent prayer that all would be privileged in the remote stake center where we were located to see and hear President Monson's remarks and his dedicatory prayer. And my little prayer was answered.

President Monson, Elder Kent Richards
When we concluded the Hosanna Shout and began singing "The Spirit of God," my heart was full to overflowing for the gratitude I feel to be living in a day when living prophets are among us and temples now dot the earth among every nation, kindred and tongue. The sun never sets on the temples of our God, an emblem of increasing light and truth as we share the fullness of the gospel with all who will embrace the invitation to come out of a troubling and ever-darker world around us. With this rededication of another temple, we take one step closer to the establishment of ZION in these last days, and the fight against evil continues as the wars and rumors of wars drone on in our ears.

Imagine a place on earth where one can go to find peace in this chaotic world. Imagine where one can go to have your family sealed together by priesthood authority for time and for all eternity. Imagine a place where a name of a loved one can be placed upon an altar in the temple, and the combined faith and prayers of thousands of faithful brothers and sisters can ascend to heaven on their behalf every day. Imagine knowing that all this is possible because there is a God in heaven, there is a Savior, Jesus Christ, who has redeemed all mankind from sin and death upon conditions of repentance and a Holy Ghost who testifies of these truths. Imagine that all you have just read is true and you can partake for the mere asking.

You don't have to imagine it at all, because it is my witness that it is true. And that's very real.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Another Doomed Attempt at Middle East War Making

It will come as no surprise to regular visitors to this page that I am not a big fan of our current POTUS. It would be fair to say there is little I find of merit in his presidency, and I am waiting for it to come to a merciful end for America at home and abroad when his second term expires.

I must confess I am baffled by his "management" (if it can be called that) of foreign policy and his almost continual array of missteps in the Middle East. For example, only a month ago he was saying that the ISIS (or ISIL) threat was little more than a bunch of "JV terrorists" who posed no serious threat. He also called it a "fantasy" to think we could arm, train, and field an opposition army to confront them composed of "Islamic moderates" and that he had "no strategy" to deal with ISIS.

And then they started beheading American journalists. Evil, pure evil, was once again presented before us. We now had to take action of some kind, but what? If the intent of the terrorists is to draw us back into the region again, then so far so good. It's working.

Fast forward to this week, as Congress hastily passed yet another "Continuing Resolution" without debate to keep the government running and managed to tack into that bill funding for arming, training and leading what amounts to a bunch of mercenaries who are comprised of the very "moderates" he said a month ago were nothing more than a "fantasy." The most disturbing fact about this week's hastily crafted piece of legislation to confront the threat of ISIS is that it passed overwhelmingly in both the House and Senate.

The legislation is designed "to train, arm and fund the elusive 'moderate' Muslim rebels" fighting to overthrow the Assad regime in Syria. It's astounding, isn't it? Nobody, least of all Barack Obama, wanted to do it when Assad was gassing his own people, and now it's our US "strategy" in the region.

This latest fantasy now calls for the US to somehow discern who the "honest brokers" who stand in opposition to Assad might be, and then start supporting between 3,000 and 5,000 rebels in the Free Syrian Army. Here we go again. . . that's the centerpiece of an authorization to spend $500 million through December 11, 2014.

Stunningly, the bill passed both houses with barely a moment of debate, and it received more support from Republicans than Democrats. We must be living in the twilight zone now, when Democrats sound like they're more responsible than Republicans.

There were a few "notables" in the President's own party who opposed the plan, like Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA). She called it “lame.” Speier wasn't the only one who noted that former generals are also expressing their opposition. The generals, and even Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) point out the obvious fact that the plan does nothing to cut off funding for ISIS. Said he:

"On Thursday, I voted against the Continuing Resolution that is a product of a dysfunctional law-making process. This resolution tied the authorization for military intervention in Syria to a bill to temporarily fund the entire government. One of the most important and solemn duties we have as members of Congress is to authorize the use of military force and ask the brave men and women in our armed services to put their lives in harm’s way.

"It is a gross dereliction of that duty – and an insult to those men and women – to tack on a military authorization to a must-pass spending bill, just so members of Congress can hurry back home." (Emphasis mine).

The terrorist group earns about $3 million per day on oil income from facilities they now control. What, any reasonable person might ask, does the latest plan do about disrupting that stream of income? Would we blow up oil wells and the roads they use to get the oil tankers to shipment?

Another Democratic Congresswoman, Loretta Sanchez (D-CA), claimed “We simply don’t know if somewhere down the line it will turn our guns back against us.” Ask anyone who knows about what happened in Iraq when we left. Who now controls millions of dollars of our military equipment? We gave it to the Iraqi army, and it's now in the hands of the Islamic State being used to kill the innocents.

Nobody can accurately identify what “moderate” Muslim fighters might look like. Whose definition of that term will we accept before we turn over a half billion US dollars to arm and train them? The Iraqi army threw down their weapons and ran in the face of ISIS.

I heard a comment last week from former U.S. ambassador to Syria, Robert Ford, who said the rebels are not focused on fighting ISIS. He said, “Their priority is not the Islamic State; it is the Bashar al-Assad regime. We need to know that going in.”

Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) said he has “seen no evidence that the Syrian rebels we plan to train and arm will remain committed to American goals or interests."

Who would doubt Assad has a track record of supporting terrorism and is a brutal dictator? Certainly, he is in the same class as Saddam Hussein in Iraq and Muammar Gaddafi in Libya. So what does America do in the face of new dictators rising to power? Do we intend to take out everyone anywhere they emerge? Our track record so far suggests that when we take down a dictator, the country we "liberate" then falls under the control of even more radical Muslim terrorists. Iraq and Libya are classic examples.

There are still a few Republicans who opposed the President’s “lame” plan. Even though a vast majority (78) in the Senate) favored authorizing the funding, Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Rand Paul (R-KY) joined Mike Lee (R-UT) in vocal opposition about the funding of Syrian rebels.

Once again, the Constitution provides that the military will always be controlled by the civilian population. That is wise. However, politics tends to trump good policy making when it is not accompanied by robust debate over the decisions to send American forces abroad into foreign intrigues our Founders warned about. So, acting in response to the horrifying images of their beheadings of the journalists that ISIS broadcast for all the world to witness, Congress acted to "courageously" stand up against the obvious evil. Congress can now go home and say they "did something," even if the plan seems doomed at the outset to fail.

And so the onward march of war in the last days continues unabated, it seems. More money, more lives lost, more treasure squandered, and more havoc wreaked.

For a POTUS who started his presidency by proclaiming he was elected to "end wars, not start them," we are now launched on yet another misadventure in policing the world against brutality, evil, and tyranny. May God help us all in that elusive quest.