A Letter to my Seminary and Institute Students
by Louis Herrey
My dear young friends,
This week I had the chance to meet with several of you. As always, it is a joy to be around you. I deeply appreciate not only your attendance, but also your participation. You might not think your comments matter that much, but believe me, your words are a strength to me and to your classmates. I feel like I want to become a better person because of you.
I see the goodness in your faces; you have an honest desire to come closer to Jesus and grow in truth and light. All I want to say to that is: continue. Continue to walk in the light of your Savior, trusting Him with every step you take, showing gratitude each day for the grace that He gives you.
My heart is full, and there are many things I want to tell you. For starters, even if you might be facing more complex challenges in your live than I did in my youth, I still understand what you’re going through. I know that although you are filled with dreams and ambitions, it’s hard sometimes to know if you’re on the right path to fulfilling those. I know that although you have faith, sometimes you wonder if it’s strong enough – or even there at all. Some of you struggle with finding your identity, fighting off addictions, and suffering injustices caused by others. And on top of it all, you may ask, why is it such a struggle finding true love?
Do you ever feel like there are too many battles raging around you?
I don’t want to pretend to having all the answers to all of your questions, but my advice to you, odd as it may seem, is to ask more questions. Why? Simply because that is a vital part of your progress of acquiring spiritual knowledge. The more questions you ask, the more answers you get. But there’s a caveat: This only works if you ask with ”a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ” (Moroni 10:5). That doesn’t mean you need to be perfect. Just come as you are before the Lord. He will listen. Remember what young Joseph learned from James 1:5.
”If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.”
Here we often miss the word ”upbraideth”. Personally, I think this was a keyword for Joseph, what finally led him to the grove (and you know what happened after that). It means that the Lord won’t rebuke or scold you for asking. In other words, no sincere question is ”stupid” before the Lord. If it’s important to you, it’s important to Him. You are safe with Him.
As an extension of that, I also want you to feel safe in your Seminary or Institute class. I am one of 48,000 S&I teachers globally (Yikes! That’s a lot!), and although all of us might not have mastered it perfectly, we want to be better listeners. We want to create a classroom that is a place of refuge, a place where you safely can ask any questions you like. I can’t guarantee easy solutions, but I’m sure that with a good mixture of faith, hope, and charity – and let me add patience to that list – with the Lord’s help, we’re going to figure it out.
These were some thoughts I had yesterday after I ended my evening Institute class and got on the train bound for home. As I pondered what other specific advice I could give you, I was prompted to go to this week’s scripture block in Come, Follow Me: D&C 98-101. As you can read, these were dark times for the young Church. The members in Missouri, who believed they were literally building up Zion, were facing severe persecution. The old Missouri settlers aren’t taking kindly to the large influx of Latter Day Saints. This is partly understandable. They felt the Mormons were taking over on all fronts: socially, culturally, and of course, religiously. And truthfully, these early Saints didn’t always act the part of true Christians, being boastful at times, and being casual in their covenants with the Lord.
Nevertheless, it would seem that the violence, burning, stealing of property, and tarring and feathering was not a proportionate ”punishment” for the Saint’s unrighteousness. They were suffering greatly.
The natural inclination of any person in such a position is to seek justice, even if that means revenge. But in these revelations the Lord resoundingly forbids it. Instead the members are to ”proclaim peace”, ”forgive… seventy times seven” (as in always), and ”bear [persecution] patiently” (D&C 98:16, 40, 23). The Lord would do the battling for them, and they should just ”be still and know that [He] is God” (D&C 98:37; 101:16)
I believe in all those principles, but it still seemed hard, almost as if God was asking too much. And if that wasn’t enough, some other verses state in a nut shell: These trials are good for you, and by the way, I need to chasten you for your unrighteousness. (D&C 98:3; 101:2).
Man, that is tough!
As I stepped off the train I was still trying to put this all together. How could I help you, my students, make sense of it all? But my thoughts were abruptly interrupted by loud voices. Something was wrong. I hurried to the end of the platform where I found two men in a heated argument. One of them, the smaller, greatly insulted and threatened the other. This larger man wouldn’t stand for it and attacked his opponent.
Instinctively I stepped in between, doing my best to duck for incoming punches from both directions. I tried to calm them both down, and thought I had succeeded for a second, until the smaller man began anew to release an artillery of curse words and offenses (none of which I can repeat here), followed by new beatings from the larger fellow.
In fact, the first offender was being battered quite badly, and I realized this would not turn out well. So, without really wanting to, I still knew I had to get more physical. I jumped the larger man and pulled him to the side. His disapproval was evident, and he came after me. I dodged a punch and shoved him to the ground, landing heavily on top of him, and grabbing on for dear life.
”Let me go! Let me go!” he screamed.
”Not a chance!” I answered, breathing heavily. I ain’t letting loose this 250 pound powder keg!
He squirmed and tried to free himself from my tight grip, but without success. (There was only one good thing about his intoxication: It made him weaker.) ”Release me! The other guy started it!” He wasn’t going to let this go.
”Look…” I said, breathing calmer now, ”I’m just here to help you. I believe you. And I understand you. But you know this is not right.” Then I found myself saying the words: ”Be still.” Those weren’t my words.
The man relaxed for a few seconds: ”I’m good, you can let me go now.”
”Okay, buddy… I give you my word to let you go if you give me your word that you will walk away. Just walk away.”
”I will”, he said resolutely.
”All right.” I was feeling hopeful. ”We are two men who stand by our words then.”
I let him go, and helped him off the ground. I couldn’t be absolutely sure he wouldn’t punch me again, but to my astonishment he just grabbed my hand, shook it gently, and said: ”You know what? I like you!”
Surprised but happy I replied: ”And I like you too. You’re doing the right thing, my friend.” I gave him a thumbs up. ”You’re doing the right thing.”
It all ended as quickly as it started. The men went their separate ways and the station was calm again. What just happened here?
As I started walking home from the station, I suddenly saw this week’s scripture block in a totally new way. I couldn’t help glancing up at the star-lit sky and smiling. God, couldn’t you have told me what you meant in a less crazy kind of fashion? Sometimes we’ve got to learn the hard way, I suppose.
So, what was it I saw? I saw you and I as the larger man, the one feeling mistreated and abused, who thought he has a license to retaliate. The one holding us down is the Lord. But He doesn’t do it to punish us; love is His only motivation. He does it to save us. To save us from ourselves. Because, as illustrated at the train station, when we’re left to our own judgement, following the instincts of the natural man, things usually don’t turn out that well. In contrast, being forgiving (D&C 98:40-43), and ”waiting patiently on the Lord” (D&C 98:2) – doing things His way on His time schedule – brings forth the blessings of heaven.
When Jesus Christ talks to you personally and says ”be still and know that I am God” (D&C 101:16), what is He actually saying? I think Moses summarized it well at the parting of the Red Sea: ”The Lord shall fight for you, and ye shall hold your peace” (Ex 14:14).
This, my dear young friends, is what I’m trying to tell you: In all of life’s battles and challenges you need to let the Lord do the fighting for you.
To be clear, however, this is not a call for you to be passive. On the contrary, we all need to remain in the covenant (D&C 98:14). But what I am referring to is more a state of the heart. Go back to verse 16 again and you will understand. The Lord, who wants to fight for you, says: ”Let your hearts be comforted.” You can feel at peace knowing that He is always there for you. Verse 16 continues: ”for all flesh is in mine hands.” That means you can trust Him with your life. He is the captain who will always cover your back. You just have to let Him do His work.
How many times have I told you in class how much the Lord loves you? I can’t count that high. And ”notwithstanding [your] sins” – whatever mistakes in life you do – The Lord’s ”bowels are filled with compassion” toward you (D&C 101:9). Are you starting to catch on? That’s why He keeps fighting for you.
He is also a God who understands you, for ”your prayers have entered into the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth” (D&C 98:2). Why do you think Jesus Christ in section 98, when the Saints are suffering from so much violence, would title himself Lord of Sabaoth? Wouldn’t something like Prince of Peace be more appropriate, knowing that in Hebrew, Sabaoth means ”armies”? On the contrary, Lord of Sabaoth, or Lord of Hosts, is highly appropriate because we are not talking about any kind of hosts. Jesus Christ is trying to tell you that He is the God of the armies of heaven.
This is good news, to say the least, for you and I. Not only will the Lord be on ”on your right hand and on your left” and His Spirit ”in your heart”, but also ”[His] angels round about you, to bear you up” (D&C 84:88).
This means you are never alone in your fight. I pray you will never forget that.
Connected to this, I have a final thought. Do you remember the man I held on to? Sometimes in life – and the early Missouri Saints certainly felt this – you will feel like God is holding you down. You might even feel chastened by Him. But remember the positive impact it had on my wrestling buddy. Likewise the Lord promises that ”all things wherewith you have been afflicted shall work together for your good” (D&C 98:3). And then, when you are ready and the Lord lets you go ( = releases you from His chastisement) you most likely will turn to Him and say: ”You know what? I like you!” You will like the way God has changed you and helped you gain a better perspective in life.
Do you also remember the promises the man and I exchanged? The word we gave each other meant something. I had to keep my word, and I was expecting (although not sure) that he would keep his. On that note, think of the covenants you have made with the Lord. I can’t stress this enough, but they mean something. The Lord is bound by his word to keep his promises (D&C 82:10), and he expects us to do the same. Section 98, verse 14 states:
”Therefore, be not afraid of your enemies, for I have decreed in my heart, saith the Lord, that I will prove you in all things, whether you will abide in my covenant, even unto death…” (Italics added).
Trials can be expressed in a myriad of ways: persecution, disease, unemployment, domestic problems, faith crisis, etc. But they all have one thing in common: These ”enemies” are all part of a test. They are supposed to be there. Why? Otherwise the Lord cannot sanctify you (D&C 101:5).
My friends, I know it’s easier said than done, but I would encourage you to try to look at your trials differently from now on. Please look at them as opportunities for growth rather than problems that weigh you down. Remember who is fighting at your side. Jesus is your friend and pleads with you to ”endure in faith” (D&C 101:35).
And speaking of having a healthy perspective, as this week’s reading block begins, I would like to end:
”Verily I say unto you, my friends, fear not, let your hearts be comforted; yea, rejoice evermore, and in everything give thanks.” (D&C 98:1)
Yours in Christ,
Brother Louis Herrey
More Come, Follow Me resources here.
In his young adult years Louis Herrey worked in the music industry, winning the Eurovision Song Contest in 1984. After his service in the Utah Ogden Mission, he received a bachelor’s in teaching (Social Sciences). Brother Herrey’s first teaching assignment was at the Gothenburg International School, after which he was employed by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints as a Seminaries & Institutes Coordinator. He has held this position now for 21 years. Last year he also started teaching BYU Pathway Institute courses. Brother Herrey currently serves as a counselor in the Stockholm Sweden Mission and as a Primary teacher. He lives in Kungsbacka, Sweden. He is 54 years old and married to Angelica. Together they have 3 children.