Making Your Influence Felt
Elder M. Russell Ballard
Brigham Young University–Idaho Commencement
April 11, 2008
Good morning brothers and sisters. I am grateful to be with you on this very important day in your life. To you graduates, your families, and all who are here, I bring the love and greetings of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve. I express appreciation to President Clark, the faculty, and all in the administration of BYU–Idaho for preparing you graduates to receive your diplomas today. We are proud of you and know you will make a great impact as you leave here and go on to your next important pursuit.
During this time of year, tens of thousands of your peers are sitting in a similar commencement exercises. Like you, they look back on their university experience with a sense of satisfaction and fulfillment. Just like you, they look forward, with anticipation, to the new opportunities that lie before them. You share many similarities with these peers, but you and other Latter-day Saint graduates are also unique. You will have a great advantage as you begin your chosen profession, whether that be in medicine, agriculture, business, education or any other field, because you have not relied on your mind alone to acquire knowledge. You have testimonies of the gospel and have also learned by the power of the Spirit of God.
Your experience here is not the end of your quest for knowledge. We are blessed as Latter-day Saints to view the acquisition of knowledge from an eternal perspective, knowing that "whatever principle of intelligence we attain unto in this life, it will rise with us in the resurrection" (D&C 130:18). Of all the things you have learned at this institution and during your life so far, the most important is that you know the gospel of Jesus Christ has been restored to the earth through the Prophet Joseph Smith and you know that the Church is true. Your knowledge and testimony of this will always be your foundation and your polar star throughout your life.
I am sure you all realize how torn our world is today between good and evil. The world needs your strength and knowledge. Perhaps never before has there been so much evil. Revelation 12:7 reminds us that in the pre-mortal world there was a war in heaven--a great battle of words in a war between good and evil. And today that war continues here on earth. The battle for the souls of men and women is intensifying. It is raging in the media and especially on the Internet where the adversary is using every tactic to tempt and weaken Heavenly Father's children and lead them down roads that end in heartache and unmet potential. While there is so very much good, informative information on the Internet, one of Satan's most seductive efforts is the increasingly present pornography appearing in all kinds of media. A 2004 study found that the revenues for pornography exceed the combined revenues of ABC, CBS and NBC. They even surpass the combined revenues of all professional basketball, football and baseball franchises. The result is—and this is hard to believe--that every second 28,258 people look for pornography on the Internet. Millions of our Father’s children, our brothers and sisters, are being snared by this filth and sleaze. The destructive results of pornography are incalculable.
The adversary is also using the media, and especially the Internet, to spread falsehoods. Every month there are 60 billion searches for information on the Internet. Many are seeking information about the Church; and while some are finding the truth, others find anti-Mormon sites that mislead them and defame the Church.
Today I want to encourage you, you who know the truths of the gospel, to reach out to others in the world to help change the perception and even the hearts of millions of our Heavenly Father's children by correcting misunderstandings by sharing with them the message of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ.
I think most of you know that I have a great concern and love for our full-time missionaries. The leaders of the Church constantly pray for every missionary to be spiritually strong and powerful teachers. Would those of you who have served full-time missions please raise your hand? Thank you. The 53,000 missionaries currently serving face the same challenge, I believe most of you had on your missions – that of finding people to teach. You can help them! You can help remove the barriers that stop individuals from learning about and eventually accepting the gospel. Some barriers are geographical and some doctrinal, but many are due to misconceptions or misunderstandings. The Internet enables you to bypass some of these barriers. You can use your testimonies, education, skills and associations to be a great support to the missionaries who are now serving.
Now, how many of you know a language other than English? Raise your hand. Thank you. Each of you who know another language can continue through the Internet to prepare people to receive the missionaries. As you visit with them in their own language and share with them your experiences and love of the gospel, you can find more people for the missionaries to teach. This will have the added benefit of keeping your language skills fluent.
This is another way for you to be a member missionary. With more and more people living in apartments and gated communities, we need to use every wise way to make contact with the honest in heart who are seeking the truth and to kindle an interest to know more about the Church.
Similar to John the Baptist preparing the way for the Savior’s mission, you can help prepare the people to receive the Savior’s full-time missionaries. Your gospel study through your religion classes here and your service on your missions make you uniquely qualified to assist in this effort. You can join in conversations on the Internet to share the gospel and to explain in simple and clear terms the message of the Restoration. Most of you already know that if you have access to the Internet you can start a blog in minutes and begin sharing what you know to be true. As one blogger notes: "We're basically sharing some of our personal insights as we study the Book of Mormon, and are more than open to any comments or suggestions."
You can download videos from Church and other appropriate sites, including Newsroom at LDS-dot-org, and send them to your friends—always making sure you honor all copyright restrictions.
You can write to media sites on the Internet that report on the Church, and voice your views as to the accuracy of the reports.
Recently, a columnist, writing in a major U.S. newspaper, was irresponsibly inaccurate in his description of the Church and our beliefs and practices. Dozens, perhaps even hundreds of Church members and others who understand our beliefs commented on the newspaper’s website correcting the misconceptions he was spreading and calling for accuracy.
In 1996 President Gordon B. Hinckley said, "I constantly ask myself, 'What can I do to help 50,000 missionaries who are laboring so diligently in the mission field?' If we could find a way for people to constantly bump into the gospel in the normal course of their lives, rather than waiting for the missionaries to knock on their doors, it would be one of the greatest things we could do."
My brothers and sisters, is there any easier way for people to "bump into the gospel" than on the Internet. Remember, every month there are 60 billion Internet searches!
A member of our faith, Clayton Christensen, is a prominent professor at Harvard Business School. He's an accomplished author and speaker, well-known in the business world for his study of innovation in commercial enterprises. In his biography on his personal website, Brother Christensen includes a link to a page he wrote called "Why I Belong, and Why I Believe". In it he speaks to his colleagues in the business world about what his faith and membership in the Church means to him—a good example of how we can explain our faith in terms that others will understand. Since the Church is an integral part of his life, Brother Christensen naturally raises it in conversations. He once said,
I have learned to use terms that associate me with Mormonism in my conversations—comments about my mission to Korea, my children’s missions, my assignments in the Church, my having attended Brigham Young University, and so on. These comments open the door for a conversation about the Church. Most who notice that I have opened this door choose not to walk through it. A few do, however, usually saying, “So you’re a Mormon?” I then ask if they’d like to learn more about us.
Like Brother Christensen, all of you could share examples of how the gospel has impacted your life. There are websites and blogs of people on the Internet covering every topic, profession, hobby, skill and condition. You can have great influence on people who share commonalities with you because there is already a level of shared trust between you. Those relationships can lead to gospel conversations and eventually an introduction to the full time missionaries.
All of you have gospel-related stories to tell that would be of interest to certain segments in society who will relate to you. There is no need to argue or contend with others regarding our beliefs. There is no need to become defensive or belligerent. Our position is solid; the Church is true. We simply need to have a conversation, as friends in the same room would have, always guided by the prompting of the Spirit and constantly remembering the Atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ which reminds us of how precious are the children of our Father in Heaven.
Following the passing of President Gordon B. Hinckley last January, there was an outpouring of tributes and condolences on the Internet. Thousands of Church members wrote about President Hinckley on blogs and other Internet sites. Because of the sheer volume of blog posts about President Hinckley, he was the third most mentioned individual in Internet blogs the day after his death. That is the impact of thousands of Latter-day Saints participating in the online conversation.
These blog posts about President Hinckley reached a variety of audiences I’ve spoken of. One blogger, who usually focuses on technology, diverted from his regular subject to pay tribute to President Hinckley. Readers who look to and trust this blogger for his expertise in technology no doubt gained additional knowledge and perhaps appreciation for the Church because of this short blog entry about our prophet. There were many, many other bloggers who had a similar impact. One blogger challenged others to read The Book of Mormon in 97 days, one day for every year of President Hinckley’s life, and over 35,000 responded to his challenge. Other Church members recorded their thoughts about President Hinckley in the comment sections of online newspapers that covered his passing. Those thousands of comments added something to the conversation and had an influence on the individuals who read them. Those people will be more open to a contact from missionaries in the future or at least understand the Church a little better.
Many who are investigating the Church, or who have become less active, have been strengthened by Church members they’ve communicated with on the Internet. One woman joined the Church many years ago, but left it because her mother did not approve of it. Although she was no longer active in the Church, she retained her testimony and began communicating with Church members on the Internet. They helped renew her faith and strengthen her testimony. Now she is active again and her husband is also investigating the Church.
Recently, a young missionary in Australia was wonderfully surprised when a woman came to the church to attend a baptism. When he shook her hand following the baptism, she asked to be baptized. She had been researching religions on the Internet. Mormon-dot-org popped up on her screen. She saw the picture of the Salt Lake temple; she saw the picture of the famous Christus; she felt the message was true. She read the Book of Mormon online and felt she needed to go to church and experience these wonderful principles for herself. Through the chapel locator tool she found there was a chapel just a mile from her home. In spite of opposition from her family, she was baptized and enjoys full fellowship with the saints.
Individual Church members are reaching across borders and into homes throughout the world. A Church member who posts instructive and uplifting videos about the Church on YouTube received this response to his videos:
"I live in Qatar, Persian Gulf. I am a Frenchman and am very interested in speaking with Mormons, but do not know of any here ... Is there a way to have email discussions with a missionary? Please let me know."
So how can you participate? For some of you participation might involve creating, writing, sharing your stories, faith and viewpoints in a blog, in video, or on a social networking site. Or you might simply share what others have written by email or in other venues. Others of you might just comment on blogs or news websites. I'm not necessarily suggesting that you start a blog or website just about the Church. As you reach out to the others online, gospel related topics will naturally arise as an integral part of your life. The greatest impact you have will likely not be among Latter-day Saints but rather will be with Internet users made up of people who share common interests with you. As another member wrote: "I sometimes post on religious topics, but also about many other things. I've been posting regularly for over three years."
We know you are anchored to the teachings of the Church. We know you will never drift over the line to anything on the Internet that is evil or degrading because you love the Lord and you are dedicated to His service. So, as you participate in this new media, remember first and foremost that you are a follower of the Savior Jesus Christ. Do not do or say anything that is not in harmony with the teachings of the Lord. In the Book of Proverbs, there is a wise statement that says "a soft answer turneth away wrath." Do not expect everyone to agree with what you say. In fact, I can tell you they won't. It's all right for others to have a different opinion. Just explain your beliefs and share your stories in gentle and loving terms, and you will be a peacemaker in the discussions that are taking place. Never be rude or intolerant of others, even anonymously. Be wise, thoughtful, considerate, and friendly.
Remember that while you as an individual Latter-day Saint in some ways represent the Church, be careful not to represent yourself as speaking officially for the Church.
I hope you are as excited as I am for the many opportunities that lie before you. You can make a difference in the world, and as you leverage new communication technologies, you will be better equipped to have a lasting influence in the lives of others and in correcting any misunderstandings about the Church they might have. The Church has just passed through a period of incredible scrutiny by the news media when many more people were curious about the Church. It's become a common topic of conversation. I hope you will enter these conversations, sharing your faith and personal experiences and what you have learned here at BYU–Idaho. You will leave here today and begin a lifetime of service to the Lord and His Church. May the Lord bless you with mature, powerful testimonies that you may bless many lives as you have influence on the individuals you come in contact with in helping them receive all the light and truth the gospel offers them.
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