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Each month, the Church News publishes a message to complement the Relief Society visiting teaching message found in the Ensign magazine. The article on this page is based on the January 2011 message, "The History and Heritage of Relief Society."
For the sisters in the Church, drawing from experiences in the past helps individuals understand their heritage and look to the future with faith.
In the January 2011 visiting teaching message, Sister Julie B. Beck, Relief Society general president, says, "An understanding of our history inspires us to be the women of God we need to be. By following the examples of noble Latter-day Saint women, we can learn from the past how to face the future."
Whether a story of faith comes from the Old Testament, an early pioneer or a modern-day woman, the examples of faith strengthen and fortify testimonies of women today affecting generations years after a woman has lived.
"This knowledge and our purposes — to increase faith and personal righteousness, strengthen families and homes, and help those in need draw a connection between our past and our present," Sister Beck shared in the message.
It was the help of a longtime visiting teacher, Muriel Menssen, that gave Kathy Sorensen's family a gift that will bless generations for years to come — a personal history.
"What she put together, to me, is priceless," said Kathy's son, Gregg Sorensen. "It isn't only a priceless treasure for me, but for my children as well. I have three young children, and to be able to read the book will be a great benefit for them."
Sister Menssen gave the book as a present to the Sorensen family, only a few months after Sister Sorensen passed away.
"I had been her visiting teacher for about 15 years," Sister Menssen said of Sister Sorensen. "We were friends before this time, but I didn't know her well and she didn't know me well."
After years of visits Sister Sorensen became ill, making it difficult to work or even leave her home. During her time of illness, the women started to visit more frequently, meeting once a week for a few hours. During those visits they would sit and talk together, sharing stories and experiences of Sister Sorensen's earlier life and family. Sister Menssen said it was talking about these things that always made Sister Sorensen happy, no matter how ill she was.
After one of the visits, Sister Menssen decided to take a notebook and pencil in order to write notes as Sister Sorensen spoke. As they talked, Sister Sorensen would share about her growing up years — childhood memories of summers spent in Arkansas and memories of her mother. Then Sister Menssen would go home and piece the stories together. Eventually, she had enough content to divide her friend's life into sections — childhood, school years, her love story, illnesses and family. Next, Sister Menssen drew pictures to accompany the stories.
"Things that she has written down are stories that I have heard my mom tell when I was growing up," Brother Sorensen said of the book. "Some of them ... I have never heard before. Growing up you don't catch all of the little details."
For Sister Menssen, it was a way to connect with a woman through visiting teaching, but for the Sorensen family, it was a legacy put into writing, linking a mother and grandmother with generations she will never meet in a mortal existence.
"[They] started out as visiting teachers and became true friends," Brother Sorensen said. "It wasn't a duty to her, it was an act of love. She wanted to do it, and now we have a treasure for our family to look at for years to come. We all [received] a copy and what she has done is truly remarkable."
Not only is understanding one's individual history and the history of the Relief Society an important thing to do, it is essential.
"As we value our history, we can better share our spiritual heritage," Sister Beck said in the message. "Understanding our history helps make us an effective part of the future of Relief Society."