A quiet, yet powerful, feeling has crept into the hearts of many members who have followed the direction of President Ezra Taft Benson during the past four years. A feeling, they said, that has changed their lives inalterably.
These members are "supping daily from the truths of the Book of Mormon."For some, the change is a refining of gospel understanding nurtured by many years of Church activity. For others, it has been a clicking on of light, a sudden illumination that brought a turnabout in their lives. This impact has occurred in conversions, re-activations, strengthening individuals and families, missionary work, and leadership.
President Benson's emphasis on the Book of Mormon has made an impact on distribution and reading of the Book of Mormon that is possibly unequaled by any Church leader since the Prophet Joseph Smith.
Since he has become prophet, President Benson has delivered 39 addresses on the Book of Mormon, including 14 at general conferences. He has encouraged placement of the book by missionaries, and its distribution has increased to about 3.5 million in 1988, a 19 percent increase over the previous year.
President Benson also has discussed several Book of Mormon themes, including "Come unto Christ," which unifies the focus of the mission of the Church; and "Come back," which invites less-active members to return to activity. He has also borne "pure testimony," and warned members against the sin of pride.
One who was converted to the Church through the Book of Mormon is Joseph O. Reed III, a cadet and member of the West Point, (N.Y.) Branch.
"I was given a Book of Mormon by my girlfriend," he said. "I thought she was pretty neat, and I wanted to find out what made her church click - it entailed so much of her life."
As he read the pages of the book, it seemed to make sense and fit neatly on the foundation of Bible teachings he received as a youth. He gained a testimony, and, after his baptism, followed President Benson's instruction to "liken the scriptures unto us."
"Being in the military, I really grew close to Captain Moroni and the Title of Liberty," he said. "I came to school here to learn how to defend my country so my children can live in liberty.
His reading the book brought another benefit: He and the young woman who gave it to him plan to be married in January.
Vicki Rowland and her husband, Doug, joined the Church in 1975 and are now members of the Steamboat Springs (Colo.) Ward.
She explained that several times in the past she had started to read the Book of Mormon but never finished it. Last year, however, Jim Boren, then bishop, strongly urged ward members to follow the prophet's directions to read, study and live the teachings of the Book of Mormon. As she complied, her testimony was strengthened.
"I love to read about the relationship of the fathers to the sons, and the words of wisdom they pass along that are so much like today. I think the Book of Mormon gives us insights into our relationships. There are so many profound statements on relationships."
She describes herself and her husband as "a couple of late bloomers in the Church" who are now excited with the prospect of being sealed in the temple in August. Much of their progress toward that sacred event has come in the past year. "I've prayed a lot," she said.
Steven Holdaway, a policeman-turned insurance agent in the Danville (Ill.) Ward, was converted last year by reading the Book of Mormon. Now, he says, he and his wife and their two children read daily from the Book of Mormon and other scriptures. Despite the fact that his wife and children attend Protestant services while he attends Latter-day Saint services, reading the book brings harmony to the household, he said.
"I heard President Benson's talk in April. I was very impressed by it," he noted. "I felt the Spirit, and I felt he was very in touch with what is going on."
Bishop Lionel F. Grindstaff of the Roswell (Ga.) 1st Ward said that in the ward, those who are reading the Book of Mormon "are reading it not just because they know they should, but because they feel the difference; they feel the blessings and they know the prophet was right."
Missionary Training Center Pres. Ed J. Pinegar said missionaries there study the Book of Mormon constantly, and it strengthens and prepares them for their service. "We are trying to root them in Christ, because Christ is the `why' of all our actions," he explained. "Our watchword here is humility. Humility is the beginning virtue of all spiritual growth, the antithesis of pride.
He said President Benson's emphasis on the book, on missionary work, and on pulling down the pride of the world "will linger forever."
Pres. Gary A. Purse of the Athens (Ohio) Branch, who is pursuing a doctorate in rhetorical criticism, has been profoundly influenced by his study of the Book of Mormon.
Last year, as a relatively new convert, he was called as branch president. "With school and my young family, I felt overwhelmed by the challenge," said Pres. Purse. He remembered the prophet's encouragement to use the words and patterns of teaching, the messages and methods found in the Book of Mormon, and to "teach in the Lord's way."
He spent six weeks of intense study in the book, and sorted patterns that "were amazing . . . and consistent."
"When you teach in the Lord's pattern . . . something happens to you, and with me. I used to want to feel successful, or popular or appreciated. But the Book of Mormon is the great pride purger. The Book of Mormon prophets simply wanted to teach diligently that others may come unto Christ. Joy comes from being diligent and faithful, not from popularity."
He said these concepts, taught in the branch, have made meetings more edifying.
"The Book of Mormon has an incredible unity and wholeness about it," he said. "The prophets are continually preaching and verifying the words of the previous prophets. That's what President Benson has been doing. He practices what he preaches."
"I have really appreciated President Benson," he said. "Because of his emphasis on the Book of Mormon, my life has changed."
President Benson, according to those whose lives are different because of his teachings, is indeed a Book of Mormon prophet.