Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Joseph William Johnson

June 27, 2006 Observation:
Joseph William Johnson

This weekend we had a very special experience.  Joseph William "Billy" Johnson from Ghana, who was visiting in Tustin with his good friends, Ben and Emilia Andoh-Keson, also from Ghana, visited our home twice and also spoke at a special fireside in our chapel.  Brother Johnson is a patriarch in Ghana and was instrumental in bringing the missionaries and the gospel to Africa.  Let me share a few things about Brother Johnson that will help you appreciate who he is.  I will be quoting from Maureen and Scot Procter who went to Ghana to interview Brother Johnson for Meridian Magazine a few years ago.

"Without priesthood power and direction, without the authorization of the Church, with no hope of receiving the priesthood himself, with no hope for temple blessings, he still felt compelled—even fired from his bone marrow-- to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Persecutions didn’t stop him. Disdain only sent him to his knees.  The slow grinding of the years when he had ten congregations each bearing the handwritten signs “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” didn’t wear him down.  Official letters from Church headquarters telling him that it wasn’t yet time to send missionaries didn’t daunt him. He knew from personal revelation that his “brothers from the West” would come for him, and though he sometimes cried and often prayed all night for courage, when they did come, he had 1,000 people who were ready for baptism..."

"In the early 60’s, the Lord’s Spirit certainly began brooding on Africa.  Not only did Brother Johnson form his congregations in Ghana, but also in Nigeria unauthorized congregations of Latter-day Saints began sprouting.  Here it was that somebody saw an advertisement in The Reader’s Digest, there a friend from Europe sent a tract.  Somebody else received a copy of the Book of Mormon.  Seemingly unrelated events were coming together to bring a groundswell of interest in what must have seemed like a distant Church.  What wasn’t distant was the Spirit which moved upon many people almost simultaneously with a divine orchestration that would someday bring a temple..."

"... When we came upon Brother Johnson’s neighborhood, nothing seemed remarkable.  His home was in a typical African village, but that is where “typical” ended.  He was as astounding as you’d expect the founder of a movement against great odds would be, and we felt the impress of his grand spirit as we interviewed him.   Had we met someone like this before—ever before? Could Parley P. Pratt been more on fire than this African patriarch who had begged for the Church?  We were not surprised when we learned that some of the early missionaries called him the “St. Paul of Ghana.”  "... Brother Johnson is a visionary man, a man with significant dreams.  God speaks to most of us in quieter tones, yet perhaps on the frontier of the Church, Joseph Johnson needed dreams to sustain and teach him."

Space will not permit a detailed account of how Church literature, the Book of Mormon, and the other standard works came into his hands.  Upon receiving them however, the following took place: "He started his studies by reading a tract on Joseph Smith and the first vision, and said he, “I was convinced.  I believed.  I felt the spirit when I read the story of Joseph Smith, especially how the father and the son revealed themselves to him.  That moved me a great deal"... He took his studies of the Book of Mormon with equal conviction, poring over the pages.  Then, he said, “One early morning of March 1964 while I was about to get up to prepare for my daily chores, the Spirit of the Lord fell upon me.  I heard a voice from heaven speaking to me saying, ‘Johnson, if you will take up my word as I will command you to your people, I will bless you and bless your land.’  Trembling in fear, I replied in tears, saying ‘Lord by thy own help, I will do whatsoever thou would command me.’

"From that day on,” said Brother Johnson, “the Spirit of the Lord constrained me to propagate the restored gospel to my people.  I started door to door and performed open missionary work preaching the new message we read from the Book of Mormon.”
For the next 14 years Brother Johnson preached the gospel, organized branches of the Church (unauthorized branches, though not discouraged), and president David O. McKay encouraged him to be patient and that one day missionaries would come to Ghana.  He had many spiritual experiences that increased his faith and made it possible for him to go forward with the work during this difficult time.  Following is one of them. "One night, before the Church had come, he had been weeping for a different reason.  He was discouraged and pained, wondering, “Will our brothers from the West ever come for us?”  Then in a dream his brother, who had died four years before President Johnson had found the Church came to him and said, “Do not weep. I have found your Church in this place, and I want to be baptized, but I cannot without your help.”  To prove to President Johnson that he spoke the truth he sang for him “Come, Come Ye Saints.”

Well, the missionaries came, the Church was officially organized in Ghana and Nigeria, and literally thousands of wonderful Africans have become members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. "On the day of the Ghana temple dedication, Brother Johnson said, “We will always remember what the missionaries have done for us.  My heart is burning with love and appreciation.  When I started preaching with the Book of Mormon, everyone said, they won’t come.  Leave the Church.  I said, ‘I know they will come because the Lord has told me.’”  "... Patriarch Johnson said, “Temple work is the sweetest part of the Church to which my heart and soul have always clung.  I want to meet my mother and father in the resurrection prepared to enter the kingdom of God. “There is a chorus of God’s love inside every member of the Church today.  We can’t express our gratitude for the blessings we have received.”

Last Saturday afternoon, Brother Johnson, his sister Bea, and Sister Andoh-Kesson came to our home to visit.  Emilia had shown him our video, "It's Good to Be Alive", the night before, and he was anxious to meet a fellow patriarch from the United States, although a paralyzed one.  He was not nearly as eager to meet me as I was him.  The moment he "sprang" into our living room and ran over to me, I could feel his Spirit of love before he said a word.  He couldn't hug me because of the wheelchair, but had he been able to, it would have been a powerful embrace.  Jo Anne and I felt the Spirit very strongly as we visited with this incredible human being -- a blend of Paul, Wilford Woodruff, Parley P. Pratt, and Brigham Young -- rolled into one.  At one point in the conversation he gave me a spontaneous little blessing.  We knew we were in the presence of a man of God, and a man of incredible faith. We attended the fireside on Sunday which was wonderful, and then heard that he wanted to come by our home once again on Monday afternoon.  We felt extremely grateful and humbled that he would want to do so.  When he entered our home on Monday we again felt his great spirit and soon discovered that the purpose of his visit was to give me a special blessing.  He anointed my head with oil, sealed it by the power of the holy Melchizedek priesthood, and gave me a powerful blessing of peace, comfort, well-being, and some things I can't mention.  Tears were flowing as I felt the love of Heavenly Father communicated to me through the faith and goodness of this great man.  He is a man from another continent, another race, another culture, and almost from another world it seems.  A man of God!
My pitiful words cannot adequately describe my experience with patriarch Johnson.  Jo Anne thankfully, shared the experience with me, and knows what I am trying to say.  As Ammon said, "I cannot say the smallest part which I feel."


Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Being Content With The Things Which The Lord Has Alloted Unto Us

Wednesday, June 14, 2006 Observation:

"O that I were an angel, and could have the wish of mine heart, that I might go forth and speak with the trump of God, with a voice to shake the earth, and cry repentance unto every people... 3 But behold, I am a man, and do sin in my wish; for I ought to be content with the things which the Lord hath allotted unto me... 9 and this is my joy."  [Alma 29: 1, 3, 9] [emphasis added]

I have thought a great deal about these words of Alma over the years.  I have always believed that Alma's desire to cry repentance unto every people was a righteous desire, even though he said that he did sin in his wish.  If this desire was a sin it was only because Alma had discovered the more significant truth that he should be content with the things the Lord had allotted unto him.  And the thing allotted unto him was to be an instrument in the hands of the Lord, to be used as the Lord would use him, in "bringing some soul" to repentance.  I think Alma learned that he couldn't do everything, or be everything, nor was he supposed to, but that he should be content with what was allotted unto him, and in being content and working hard in his allotted sphere of influence, he would ultimately experience great joy.

The lesson of being content with that which we are allotted began for me in the mission field in the little Mayan Indian village of Tecpan, Guatemala.  Only six months a missionary, the mission president called me to be the senior companion and branch president in that little village.  We had 13 members when I began and we had 13 members when I ended the assignment six months later.  At least I didn't drive anybody away.  It was the most obscure and difficult assignment in the mission field, and nothing I did could be equated with what the world would call success, but as I worked hard I experienced joy, grew spiritually, began to master the Spanish-language, and ultimately was prepared to be "allotted" a more visible and perhaps significant opportunity to serve. 

Perhaps all of us at times are tempted not to be content with the things the Lord has allotted unto us, feeling underused, and wanting to be given high-profile assignments in the Church, or serve a mission in an exotic place, or as a teacher, to teach thousands of students whom we feel we can influence in a positive way.  I know I have been tempted in this way many times during my lifetime.  The Lord in his wisdom however, as is the case with most of us, beginning in the mission field, has orchestrated my life in such a way that I have been blessed to labor in relative obscurity most of the time. 

Having a great deal of money and other worldly possessions has never been a motivating factor in my life.  I think my greatest challenge, having been a teacher and priesthood leader for so many years, has been not to be guilty of the practice of priestcrafts. "He commandeth that there shall be no priestcrafts; for, behold, priestcrafts are that men preach and set themselves up for a light unto the world, that they may get gain and praise of the world; but they seek not the welfare of Zion."  [2 Nephi 26: 29] [emphasis added]

As a young teacher I was at times tempted to equate my success with the number of students in my classes, which equaled a form of "praise".  The Lord saw to it that this would never be a great problem for me.  I started my career as a teacher for CES in the seminary at Bonneville high school in South Ogden, Utah.  I had 150 sophomores in six periods my first year of teaching and was just able to stay alive and one jump ahead of my students.  I wasn't philosophizing about "priestcrafts" or anything else -- just surviving.  My third year at Bonneville high school I was asked to teach three morning classes at South Washington Jr. high school in a not so good part of Ogden.  During the course of that year, four or five of my students ended up at the Utah State industrial school -- the reform school for the State of Utah at that time -- and because there was a teaching vacancy at the reform school seminary my leaders saw fit to send me there to join my delinquent students.  I would never teach 150 students each day again for a long time.

We would never have more than 12 students in a class at the reform school because of discipline concerns.  These were disturbed kids and most of our most effective work as seminary teachers was really one-on-one counseling.  Most lessons that I taught would be greeted by some kid saying "Brother Rushton, are we going to have another one of your "blankety-blank" lessons today?"  This helped my humility and kept me from thinking too highly of myself as a teacher.  I was also able to avoid falling into the trap of practicing "priestcrafts" because "praise" from my few students was nonexistent.

After three years at the reform school I was liberated and sent to Southern California as an Institute Director/Instructor.  My assignment was at the Institute of Religion at California State University at Los Angeles in East Los Angeles.  The Church had built an enormous Institute building there, complete with a small basketball floor, but with no students.  I would work my heart out preparing a great lesson -- so I thought -- and would walk into a classroom with 30 desks and one or two students at most.  I would feel as though someone had kicked me in the stomach, and it would take all of my power to muster up enough enthusiasm to teach that student or students as they should be taught -- with all my heart and spirit. However, as time went by, I began to get the Lord's message regarding the importance of just "one" soul and again developed some attributes and character traits that would qualify me for perhaps a wider audience one day if my motive for teaching could remain pure -- "seeking the welfare of Zion".

In retrospect, perhaps the best Institute class I ever taught was for two young returned missionaries at Cerritos Institute of Religion.  Because of their busy schedules they couldn't take one of our regularly scheduled classes.  They promised me that if I would teach them the course, "Presidents of the Church", at 7 a.m. each Tuesday and Thursday morning they would never miss a class and would read and be prepared to discuss with me the life of each president of the Church.  They were true to their word!  As a result of that class we became lifelong friends and all our lives were impacted by the lives of the prophets of this dispensation.  I don't think I would have had a similar impact had there been 100 students in the class.  Am I wrong?

My greatest heroes are temple ordinance workers.  They work in almost total obscurity.  Most members of their wards and stakes don't even know what they do.  One general authority labeled them as being "low-maintenance and high-yield!"

How fortunate is the man or woman who is content with that which is "allotted" unto them.  If we truly seek the welfare of Zion, it matters little where we labor or how popular and well-known we may be.  Becoming paralyzed and living on life support I was "allotted" a mission I never could have anticipated.  Though it was a struggle initially, I eventually became content with this thing the Lord has "allotted" unto me, and it has become my joy. My greatest goal now is to constantly strive to be "low-maintenance and high-yield" and to bloom where the Lord has seen fit to plant me. I am afraid however, that Jo Anne has not bought into the "low-maintenance" thing.


Sunday, June 11, 2006

Building Self-esteem and Self-confidence in Youth

Sunday, June 11, 2006 Observation

Several weeks ago Jo Anne and I went to see our nine-year old grandson, Jake Rushton, play in a Little League baseball game.  The coach of the team is his dad, Rich.  The team is made up of eight and nine-year-old boys.  We sat there watching Rich's team getting hammered by the opposing group of kids.  Through it all Rich was very supportive of his boys and we never heard him holler or say a negative thing to his little team.  Finally the last inning arrived much to the relief of all the parents and grandparents. Jake and Rich's team was the home team so they were at bat in the last half of the last inning.  The score was six-zero in favor of the opposition when Rich's little boys started coming to the plate in the last inning.  Miraculously, one of the kids got a hit, another walked, another got a hit; there were some more walks, and finally with two out, we all realized the score was unbelievably four to six with the bases loaded.  The last boy to walk to the plate was a skinny nine-year-old named Lincoln, who had great difficulty walking and chewing gum at the same time.  Our expectations of him getting a hit were exceedingly low to say the least.  He feebly swung at the first pitch and didn't come close to hitting it.  Rich went to home plate to encourage him and remind him of some fundamentals of hitting a baseball.  The next pitch was a high fastball and Lincoln, I believe, closing his eyes, swung as hard as he could and banged the ball into deep right-center field.  He ended up on third base, three runs had scored, and our team had miraculously gone from despair to joy with one swing of Lincoln's bat.  It was, in baseball talk, what is called a walk off triple.

Lincoln's dad was not there to share in his son's great achievement.  He is hardly around at all in fact.  Lincoln's mother embraced her son and said some very kind things to Rich, who has contributed so much to Lincoln's new found self-esteem.  Lincoln left the field that evening with a spring in his step and a look of joy on his face.  He had learned, as had his teammates, to never give up and to just keep trying until the game is actually over. This was Little League at its best.  Complete support, positive reinforcement, and the building of the self-esteem of these eight and nine-year-olds seemed to be far more important to the coaches and parents than the ultimate outcome of the game.  Rich gathered his team together and was able to say one positive thing that each boy had done during the course of the game.  It was a wonderful moment for the kids and their parents.

Just last week we went to see Jake and Rich's team in a playoff game.  They got murdered 15 to 0.  Again, we heard no negative comments from Rich or his assistant coaches, and although it was tough to end the season on that note, all the kids and parents seemed to be very happy, and I think Rich was extremely relieved to have the season come to an end regardless of the final score.  The agony of defeat was swallowed up in the much-anticipated pizza and swim party that was to follow.

I have seen the ugly side of Little League during my lifetime as well.  My son Mike had his arm ruined for an entire season by a "Nazi" Little League coach whose only desire was to win at all costs.  I remember when Rich was a young teenager and umpiring a Little League game, when one of the managers took exception with a crucial call he made and began chasing him around the field.  Rich was able to stay just one jump ahead of him as he ran for his life.
Finally the "adult" manager came to his senses and gave up the chase.  How bad of an example is that?

Whether it is Little League baseball, Scouting, soccer, piano lessons, dance lessons, or just the academics of school itself, parents, teachers, and coaches can do so much to contribute to the self-esteem of young children.  I doubt there are few children as they grow up who do not have some problems in this area.  Men like Rich, who give so much of their time to these young children, are undoubtedly doing more good than they could ever imagine.  I doubt there are very few things any of us could do that would be more important than building the self-esteem and confidence of a young child.  Tragically, is there any greater sin than destroying the self-esteem and sense of worth of a child?

The Savior loved little children:  "At the same time came the disciples unto Jesus, saying, Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven? And Jesus called a little child unto him, and set him in the midst of them, And said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoso shall receive one such little child in my name receiveth me. But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea."  [Matthew 18: 1-6]
Those who work with little children have been given a sacred trust.  Schoolteachers, in particular, have the opportunity to love, to teach, and to inspire young boys and girls and young men and young women.  President David O. McKay said, “Teaching is the noblest profession in the world. Upon the proper education of youth depend the permanency and purity of home, the safety and perpetuity of the nation. The parent gives the child an opportunity to live; the teacher enables the child to live well.” (David O. McKay, Gospel Ideals, Salt Lake City: Improvement Era, 1953, p. 436)

I believe we should be doing much more than we are as a nation to encourage our best people to become teachers.  When a professional baseball player is paid almost $20 million for one season, and a new teacher is barely hired for $30,000 or less a year to shape and mold young children, you might conclude that our value system as a people is just a little bit out of balance.

I have great respect and admiration for teachers who work for far less than they probably could make in another field, and also people like my son, Rich, who volunteer so much of their time to work with young children and to try to build their self-esteem and self-confidence.  I'm still sorry however, Rich, that you guys got beat 15 to 0 in that playoff game.