From Utah to Cambodia, and many places in between, grateful members of the Church have written to the First Presidency to share their testimonies and experiences after accepting their invitation to read the Book of Mormon.
Wards, stakes, branches, seminaries and families flooded the Church offices with letters and cards large and small. They were sent by all ages from preschoolers to seniors born around a century ago. Many were signed by all in the group who accepted the invitation to read or re-read the Book of Mormon by the end of 2005.
Though they haven't been able to respond individually to the correspondence received, the First Presidency has expressed gratitude for the members' efforts in accepting the invitation to read the book, which is known also as "Another Testament of Jesus Christ."
Following is a representative sample of what the First Presidency received.
Brian and Teri Sheppard of Taylorsville, Utah, wrote of their grandson Jordan living in Indiana. The letter reported:
"He was 6 years old when he took the prophet's challenge to heart. He started reading it every night. He turned 7 in November and we sent him his own set of scriptures.
"Once he stood up in testimony meeting and told the ward how grateful he was for the prophet's challenge to read the Book of Mormon. Then he talked about how brave Nephi had to be, to be able to get those plates from Laban, etc. That's when we realized he was comprehending what he was reading. Ward members asked his parents (Greg and Lynnette Sheppard) if he was reading a child's version of the book. They told them, 'No, he's reading the real thing.'
"The story gets better. Jordan's family decided to surprise us at Christmas and came here for a family wedding. Their family of six was hiding in our bedroom when we got home from Church Christmas morning. Then we heard the following story:
"On the plane trip here, Jordan finished reading the Book of Mormon. We had given him a game that he opened and took with him on the plane trip called, 'Book of Mormon Who?' The seats were just two across and Jordan sat by a man named Kirk (a non-member). He started telling him about the Book of Mormon and asked him if he wanted to play his game? Kirk said he'd only read the Bible, but was willing to try. Jordan was patient with him and they had a great conversation."
One ward suffered through a severe trial after accepting the invitation to read the Book of Mormon. The letter, signed by members who met the challenge, said:
"We of the Waveland Mississippi Ward, where we have experienced the direct eye passage and destruction of Hurricane Katrina, have completed reading the Book of Mormon. As we recover from this storm, we are experiencing great blessings that the Book of Mormon brings to us."
Barbara B. Robertson of Provo, Utah, sent a letter with the signatures of 18 of her family members who read the Book of Mormon by her 79th birthday on Dec. 31. She asked them to share the part of the book they liked best during her "Book of Mormon Birthday Bash."
Her letter concluded: "We had a great day together as a family. Everyone, whether they had finished reading the book or not, shared a favorite story with us. It was a memorable day."
In a letter, Carol Burr wrote about her friend, Ethan Barborka. He was suffering from cancer when she went to visit him in December. She wrote, in part:
"When I got there and saw the state of that fine young man it was amazing. His emaciated body had a special presence. He hugged me from a prone position and we talked even through his morphine. Along the side of his body his hand was gripping the Book of Mormon. I smiled and he said that he is in the Book of Alma and he is praying that he can live long enough to finish reading the Book of Mormon."
In a follow-up communication, she said Brother Barborka completed the book before he died in mid-January.
A letter from Lori Smith Wagner, seminary supervisor for the Peoria Arizona North Stake, wrote this to President Hinckley:
"In the beginning of August, I met with the seminary council as they planned a December celebration for Joseph Smith's birthday. It was their wish that the students come to the birthday party with a gift for the Prophet, but they could not decide what that should be. When you issued the challenge to read the Book of Mormon before the end of the year, the council felt that accepting that challenge would be a great way to show their love for both our first prophet as well as you, our current one. After some thought, however, it was decided that in addition to reading the Book of Mormon, everyone would also be encouraged to give one away."
A birthday party was held in the stake center cultural hall early in the morning of Dec. 20, Sister Wagner wrote. Along with singing, games and a cake, those students who read the Book of Mormon, as well as giving one away, each added a piece to a puzzle picturing the Prophet Joseph Smith.
Ogdensburg (New York) Branch President Jake Finlinson wrote:
"My family and I wanted to write you and let you know that your invitation on the Book of Mormon has been a success in our home. The challenge came at a busy time in our family. We had our fourth child and I was called as the new branch president, all this in a week's time.
"Notwithstanding these challenges, we were determined to accomplish the assignment. I have not only seen the promises fulfilled in our family, but in the homes of those branch members who accepted and fulfilled the invitation."
President Finlinson's young son Matthew added a note to President Hinckley: "We finished the Book of Mormon by the end of the year. What did you get for Christmas? Thanks for giving us the Book of Mormon challenge."
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