Wednesday, November 5, 2014

"Set Goals and Make Plans"

Like many recently returned missionaries, the first few weeks at home were, well, challenging. But looking back over the past two-plus years, it has been a wonderful and exciting period of time. Soon after I returned home, I knew I needed to find something productive to keep me occupied and excited. That something turned out to be Christopher Columbus, and I set a goal to write a book about Columbus that would place him squarely in the position that Nephi described: "a man among the Gentiles" who was "wrought upon the Holy Ghost."

Early in that project, I set a goal to not only write a book about Columbus, but to focus for the next few years on writing a book every year. The Columbus book is now published and available for sale. Last week, just a little over two years from returning home, Kathleen and I submitted the manuscript for a new book to Deseret Book.

Our new book is a short guide for recently returned missionaries. The idea for this new book came to us in the months after Kathleen and I returned home from serving in the Spain Barcelona Mission.  We had served together for three years, me as mission president and Kathleen as my companion. It was a glorious experience – unquestionably the most remarkable and rewarding three years of our life to date.

When our mission was over and we were released, we were glad to again be with family, delighted to personally meet grandchildren that had been born in our absence (four of them), and excited about the next stage of our life. But we were also reminded of something that my brother, a former mission president, had said to us before we left: “The fourth year is the hardest.”

Between the time that we received our call and the time we entered the Seminar for New Mission Presidents at the MTC, we received forty pounds of instructional material. Three years later we received a single-page letter extending a release and expressing thanks for our service.  This pattern is true for all missionaries: there is a vast amount of literature and instructional material to help elders and sisters prepare for missionary service, but very little available to guide recently returned missionaries through the transition to post-mission life.

As we met with and renewed our relationship with many of our former missionaries who had returned home before us or who returned home in that “fourth year” of our mission, we began to realize that coming home from a full-time mission can be difficult and challenging for many missionaries. We had many conversations with recently returned missionaries, and began to see some trends.

This new book grew out of those conversations. Kathleen and I began a series of interviews with returned missionaries, conducted a survey of several missionaries, and corresponded with others. The book was made possible by their input. You may recognize something you said that found its way into the book! We are extremely grateful for your input, your candor, and your wisdom. We expect the book to be available late next summer.

It is immensely satisfying to set goals, make plans, and then carryout those plans. It's been a good two years!

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Reunion in Madrid

Just a somewhat belated post regarding the Fall 2014 Reunion in Madrid. Kathleen and I were able to go through a session in the Madrid Temple with several former El Faro missionaries. After the session, we met for a small reunion in the adjoining stake center. Words cannot express how much fun we had with these wonderful missionaries (and their novas)!

Kleuska Mancera traveled in from Malaga; Daniel Da Silva came in from Badajoz. Jose Miquel Morales and Jorge Bajana had their novias join us; we had to settle for a photograph of Gabriel Manotas's nova!

Every one of these returned missionaries have either worked or are working at the CCM. They are doing great things with their lives. We are very proud of each of them!

Sunday, June 15, 2014

"Two Frames of Mind" - Some Thoughts About Thinking

Three conversations during the past couple of weeks caused me to think about something I read as a college student that had lasting impact on my life.

The first conversation was a brief discussion with my sister about a study she had recently read on the attitudes and behaviors of "millennials" - roughly defined as persons born after 1980 who are now in their twenties and thirties. The study noted that this generation tends to have greater confidence in the Government to solve social problems, but less confidence in organized religion. Significantly, millennials tend to look to peers rather than religious leaders for answers to social and moral questions, and they are very tolerant of and often endorse social behaviors that are not aligned with traditional religious views but are widely popular. In short, Facebook and Twitter are more influential than prophets, and tolerance of what was once considered unacceptable behavior has a higher value than moral absolutes.

The second conversation was with some friends about the recent public announcement by two disaffected members of the Church that they had been notified of potential disciplinary action by their respective bishops or stake presidents. Our friends commented that their son-in-law seemed much more sympathetic to the complaints and accusations of the two disaffected members than to the positions of their priesthood leaders. They then commented, almost by way of explanation, that their son-in-law had always been very "intellectual." The implication was that intelligent people were less likely to support priesthood authority.

The third conversation was really a series of discussions while preparing a Sunday School lesson. Kathleen and I teach the 16-18 year olds. The topic this month is "Priesthood and Priesthood Keys," and we were reviewing a sample teaching outline on the topic, "Why is it important to follow the counsel of priesthood leaders?" The lesson outline included a reference to Ephesians 4:11-14, a scripture that neatly summarized why God provides His children with priesthood leaders:
11 And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers;
12 For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ:
13 Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ:

That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; 
Priesthood leaders exist to help us become perfected, to become Christ-like. And they help us avoid being tossed about by the cunning and often superficially appealing doctrines of men, which in the end only deceive us.

All this reminded me of something I read as a young college student which shaped my life then and has influenced me for decades. I entered college in the fall of 1965 - an era of great turbulence and turmoil, an era of student protest, free speech, occupation of college offices, burning of university buildings, and marches on Washington. Even on the BYU campus there was energetic discussion and argument. There were divisions between "conservative" and "liberal" Mormons, between "iron rod-ers" and "Liahonas." It was in that environment that I came across a short essay written by Dr. Chauncey Riddle, a professor of philosophy at the university. Professor Riddle was one of the great BYU professors of the day. His classes were notoriously challenging, and he pushed students to think so deeply and intensely that they often complained that their heads hurt by the end of class!

But this short essay - less than two pages in length - seemed to strike at the heart of many of the debates on campuses across the country. Reading it changed my life. And my recent conversations reminded me that it is still very relevant. Maybe it will change your life, too.

For more by Chauncey Riddle, see 

Monday, June 9, 2014

Tender Mercy

Last Thursday while Kathleen and I were working in the baptistry of the Salt Lake Temple, a family from Idaho came in. They were bringing with them an exchange student from Barcelona who had been living with them for the past several months and who, as a result, was recently baptized. Needless to say, we had a wonderful time visiting with this brand-new convert from Barcelona by the name of Celia! She told us she was heading back home in a few days, and was a little nervous about how to connect with her local ward and members at home. We had a wonderful visit, and were so excited to meet a recent convert from Catalunya!

Then yesterday our daughter (who lives in Greenwich, CT), forwarded to us a message she had just received from one of her East Coast friends:
Just wanted to pass along a little miracle from the plane yesterday. I sat by a sweet girl from Barcelona who joined the Church as an exchange student in Rigby, Idaho. I told her about your parents and it turns out she had just met them last week in the Salt Lake Temple doing baptisms. She said she was so worried about going home and knowing no members, but meeting your parents and then me was a tender mercy and she knew God was aware of her. She's going to write her story of going from atheist to believer for The Small Seed [our friend's blog].
Please tell your sweet parents the impact they made on her. Her name is Celia.
 It was a small thing, but a wonderful example of God's love for His children!

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

The Power of Questions

"Members of the Church are entitled to personal revelation as they listen to and study the inspired words spoken at general conference." - President Dieter F. Uchtdorf

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Real Stuff

I have been a banker for most of my adult life. Bankers do a lot of interesting but intangible stuff. True, we help others make things – things you can touch, see and use – but our output consists almost completely of intangibles. The closest we come to creating tangible products is making some really cool plastic credit cards: mine has a photograph of the zone leaders and assistants on Las Ramblas. Pretty cool, no? (Did I really say cool twice?)

So I am always impressed when someone creates something tangible. This blog salutes a couple of El Faro missionaries who have actually made something.

I received in the mail today a small package from Park City. It contained this CD:

Sway, if you don’t already know, is Cody McKinnon and his collaborator, Nathan Innes. It is their first studio-recorded CD, with thirteen great tracks featuring the incredible vocals of Cody arranged by Nathan and accompanied by Nathan on the piano, and a host of great musicians on bass, guitar, violin, drums and several other instruments (including banjo). They cover songs by the Gershwin brothers, Rogers and Hart, Johnny Mercer/Harold Arlen, Billy Joel, and even Leonard Cohen. Cody has two original songs on the CD as well. You’ll want to listen to “You Are My Lighthouse.” describes the album with these words:

"Here to Stay" is Sway's much-anticipated, full-fledged studio album. During the summer of 2013, Sway ran a kickstarter campaign, successfully raising the funds necessary to produce the album themselves. Thanks to their supporters, Sway was able to hire top jazz talent to collaborate with on the album. In addition to the vocals of Cody McKinnon and the piano of Nathan Innis, "Here to Stay" features renowned jazz soloists such as David Halliday and Jay Lawrence.

This album epitomizes Sway's basic style: contemporary yet classy. "Here to Stay" returns to the great music of the past and offers a new, more honest approach to modern music. The album includes jazz standards, modern covers, and originals. Comprised of these three main groups, "Here to Stay" is bound to offer something meaningful to everyone.

If you like Michael Buble, you’ll love Sway. You can purchase the MP3 version in the iTunes Store (search “Sway Lighthouse”) or Google Play and (search “Sway Here To Stay”). If you want something more tangible, you’ll have to email Cody and Nathan at Enjoy!

I also recently received in the mail a small package that contained some small pieces of cloth like this one:

This is a simple but ingenious product: cloths designed to look good as an accessory in your suit coat pocket, but made from high quality microfiber that you can use to clean the screen of your phone or tablet. What I love about them is that they really work – they look good and they are better for cleaning displays than anything I have used, including the cloth that came with my very expensive iPad. I carry one with me everywhere and use one to dress up my wardrobe when wearing a sport coat or suit.

This product is another Kickstarter venture, launched by Jason Fullmer, who, while not an El Faro missionary, had the good taste and good judgment to marry Becca Henderson, one of the great hermanas of the mission.

You can get yours, in the design of your choice, at

Have you done something tangible, or do you know an El Faro missionary who has done something tangible? Share it with the rest of us by writing to

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Five Questions to Ask Before You Click “Post”

I love social media. When Facebook made its initial public stock offering in 2012, it was valued at an incredible $100 billion! And here’s why: it enables us to keep in touch not just with close friends, but with large numbers of acquaintances, some of whom we may not have seen for years. And that’s a great thing.
When I was called as a mission president, new mission presidents were encouraged to set up a Facebook group for their missionaries as a means of staying in touch after missionaries had returned home. I did set up a group, and I love what it does – it enables me to continue to have some regular contact with hundreds of returned missionaries. I see what they are doing, we can exchange messages, we can keep in touch in a way that was simply impossible  just a few years ago. I love reading their posts, seeing their photos, knowing where they are and what they are doing. It just isn’t possible to maintain that level of contract with hundreds of people scattered around the globe without social media.
But here’s the rub: the virtual person I see on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pintrest, and other sites may not resemble very closely the real person I have “friended.” I know I would learn more about my returned missionaries in 30-seconds of face-to-face dialogue by asking a single question, such as “When was the last time you went to the temple?” But because of the impracticality of having even brief private conversations with frequency, we rely on social media. And what we see on social media is a virtual person, and over time that virtual person becomes the person we know. This raises some interesting issues. A young college student I know, and for whom I have a great deal of respect, recently told me, “Sometimes there are people that I never see except on social media. When they put something up that may be questionable, I can’t help but think differently about them.” That’s the harsh reality of social media.
What does your virtual persona look like to others? For returned missionaries this is not a trivial question – many of the people you knew and taught as a missionary still look to you as a role model. They want to be like you. They want to be the kind of Latter-day Saint you are.
Part of the appeal of social media is that it is instantaneous – that’s why it’s called Instagram. But sometimes your immediate reaction is not your best self. Sometimes the post you are forwarding or linking to contains language, photos, and other content that is inappropriate for a disciple of Christ. Taking just a few minutes to think about how your post might be seen by others can make a big difference in how effectively and accurately you are portrayed in the vast world of the Internet.
So here are five questions to ask before you click “post.”
1.     Is your language refined and dignified? "Refined, dignified language will clearly identify you as a servant of the Lord" (Missionary Handbook, p. 8). You may not still wear a missionary name tag, but you do covenant every week to “take His name upon you” (D&C 20:77). Words are powerful, and the words you use in social media form a powerful image of who you are in the minds of those who read your posts. “How you communicate should reflect who you are as a son or daughter of God” (For the Strength of Youth, p. 20). 
2.     Is this post virtuous? “We believe in being…virtuous” (Articles of Faith 1:13). Think twice about what photos you post. While you may want to take pictures of your beach vacation, do you want all the world to see you partially clothed?  Be careful about sharing links or “liking” posts that may contain language or images that are less than virtuous.
3.     Is it kind? “We believe in being…benevolent” (Articles of Faith 1:13). “Avoid speaking in anger” (For the Strength of Youth, p. 20). Unkind or angry posts are almost always the result of an immediate emotional reaction. Delaying ten-seconds before clicking the “Post” button is usually sufficient to avoid an unkind, angry, or demeaning post. Our communications should build and inspire, never degrade, defame or belittle. Discipleship is about loving everyone. A mother’s daily instructions to her children leaving for school every morning is useful for all of us: “Be kind to all people.”
4.     Is it true? "We believe in being honest" (Articles of Faith 1:13). Before you say something or forward a link, ask yourself if it is credible. Just because it’s on the Internet doesn’t mean it’s true. Spreading hoaxes, false information, or untrue statements makes you a party, if even unwittingly, to a form a gossip.
5.     Would you be comfortable with your employer or future employer seeing this post? Because they probably will – many companies now review the social media sites of prospective hires. But more importantly, would you be comfortable with your mother seeing this post? With the prophet seeing this post? Does this post give license to your recent converts or others who so admire you, to be less than they should be? This post becomes part of your virtual persona – and that persona should be as great as you are!

So keep those posts and tweets coming! I “friended” you because I want to hear from you, I want to laugh with you, I want to see who you are with, I want to hear about what you are doing and what you are thinking. I want to see who you are and who you are becoming. And I want to tell you I “like” you!

Comments about the use of social media? Add them in the comments section below!

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