Two Books Not to Be Missed
Reviewed by Catherine K. Arveseth
Before we launch into New Testament study helps and other great reads that will assume your shelves and bed stands during 2007, let me highlight two wonderful books from 2006 I almost overlooked.
The Enoch Letters by Neal A. Maxwell
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Most lovers of true doctrine and poetic thought prize Elder Maxwell’s writings. If you have not yet discovered Elder Maxwell’s The Enoch Letters, you must! The book is a jewel – previously published in 1975 under the title Of One Heart.
It is a work of historical fiction, said to be written in the tradition of C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters. Elder Maxwell’s writing is reminiscent of C.S. Lewis’ style, with his direct attention to and contrast of Christ’s teachings with Satan’s destructive ways. Yet, the late apostle developed his own unique voice over the years and as you read, it is his voice you will recognize and hear.
In the introduction, he explains his reason for composing The Enoch Letters. “It is important to realize that thousands of people ages ago successfully applied the commandments of God and thereby had great and unparalleled happiness. Second, since God sets both incentives and warnings before mankind, it is just as important to have before us the positive consequences of righteousness as well as the negative consequences of sin” (x).
Correspondence from Zion
Elder Maxwell uses the character of Mahijah (a name he gleaned from Moses 6:40) to tell the story of the city of Enoch. These “imaginary communications” (as he calls them), tell of Enoch’s ministry, how the city of Enoch began, and how the city’s inhabitants became so righteous they were taken unto God. As the scripture says, “from thence went forth the saying, Zion is fled” (Moses 7:69).
Mahijah is a philosopher and intellectual – a man of society and a lover of gems. He is intrigued with Enoch’s preaching, but skeptical. His letters, however, relate the intricate story of his changing heart and eventual conversion. He writes to a friend of similar status and education named Omner. Omner is even more skeptical, and their friendship at times seems strained due to the choices Mahijah makes to align himself with Enoch and God’s people. But interestingly enough, we do not read any of Omner’s responses until the very last letter of correspondence.
Here is an example from one of Mahijah’s earliest letters in which you can detect the subtle cracking open of his heart. “You know from our sharings in the past that while I have not been religious, I am not one of those who believe that life is explainable without acknowledging the existence of a God, though I have resisted the efforts of factions to capture God as if he were their own private trophy. Enoch does not give me that tribal feeling” (7).
As Mahijah journeys with Enoch, listening to this new preaching and his own heart, he is converted solidly, even enthusiastically. His natural reaction is to share this joy with Omner. This was most intriguing to me – that the author uses Mahijah’s voice as a pattern for appropriate ways to share the gospel. Mahijah tries desperately to convince Omner that time is growing short for him to learn the plan of salvation. His urgency, love, and words of instruction are an exceptional model.
Here is Mahijah’s first heartfelt petition to Omner. “Let me be honest with you, Omner. I hope one day you will join me. I shall not love you less if that is not your decision, yet I cannot but wish for you those blessings that are coming to me” (20).
Later, Mahijah’s appeals to Omner become more urgent. “You asked why I could believe in anything so simple. You even chided me with the reminder that I was once a student of the philosophies and the affairs of men. But by looking back, I see that I was always looking beyond the mark, missing the obvious things that are so plain and so precious. God, in his love for each of us, is determined to save all whom he can; he does not want the way back to his presence to be complicated. Intellectual embroidery is but an unreliable frill; the hardy and homely cloth of truth is to be found in the gospel of Jesus Christ” (37). I love that last statement! It is so like Elder Maxwell! To learn of Omner’s choice you will have to read the book.
Elder Maxwell discusses themes of discipleship, smallness of soul, and the challenge to become one in both heart and mind. He describes the law of consecration as a final step in preparation to dwell with the Lord, as well as the constant pull of the adversary, which can distort one’s search for truth.
This last excerpt illuminates Satan’s tactics. “You groan, Omner over the increasing evil in your land. you write that your countrymen are not steady and consistent. The adversary need not be consistent, Omner. Indeed, evil is not only erotic; it is erratic, since it must entice so many in such a multitude of ways. Thus, persuade a man possessed of truth that he has all truth. Convince another that there is no truth whatsoever. Let another believe that all truths are of equal importance to man. Notice, Olmner, that the result is the same in all cases: the searching for truth stops.The devil, Omner, is a liar and a cheat!” (32-33).
Elder Maxwell called his Enoch Letters a little “booklet” – a simple and easy read, best understood after studying Moses chapters 6, 7, and 8. Simple and easy maybe, but profound, and worth contemplation – for the Lord’s admonition to His saints remains unchanged, “And he commanded them that there should be no contention one with another, but that they should look forward with one eye, having one faith and one baptism, having their hearts knit together in unity and in love one towards another” (Mosiah 18:21).
Anytime, Anywhere by John H. Groberg
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My father brought this book to my attention. He read it in a few days during his spare time and was deeply moved by Elder Groberg’s recollections. If you loved The Other Side of Heaven and The Fire of Faith, Elder Groberg’s newest book will not disappointment you!
If you have not read any of his earlier books, you will still find yourself at home with Elder Groberg. He has an easy way of whisking readers across oceans and lands to new places where he shares with them his most intimate experiences and feelings for God’s children.
Anytime, Anywhere is a collection of stories that read like journal excerpts from Groberg’s experiences as a General Authority during the past 30 years. Elder Groberg was called to be a General Authority in 1976. He and his wife Jean had 10 children at the time. They traveled the world with assignments in the Pacific Islands, South America, California, Idaho, Mexico, Central America, and Hong Kong, including work in more than 23 Asian countries.
To explain the book’s title, Elder Groberg recounts his meeting with President Kimball in 1976, when he was called to serve as a full-time General Authority. He writes, “As we concluded our ‘visit,’ President Kimball asked if I had any questions. The first thing that came to my mind was: ‘Does this mean we will have to leave Idaho Falls?’ Considering what he had just said, that was a silly question!
“Rather than being upset, however, President Kimball came over and, from the depths of his magnanimous heart, reached up and gave me a big bear hug. With a twinkle in his eyes, he looked straight into my heart and tenderly said: ‘I know exactly how you feel. I didn’t want to leave Arizona, either. It is good to love your hometown and your roots, but yes, this will mean moving anytime, anywhere in the whole world, for the rest of your life.'” (1-2).
And thus begins Elder Groberg’s journey. Elder Groberg’s attention to detail, God’s creations, individual people, and the quiet promptings of the Holy Ghost are marvelous, even miraculous. Yet he assures the reader, “This book is not about any particular time or place, and especially not about my particular calling. My desire is that sharing these firsthand experiences may help others understand and appreciate more fully God’s eternal and unlimited love for all of His children, in all places and at all times” (4).
These firsthand experiences are honest reflections of Elder Groberg’s heart. Resultantly, many of his stories are touching. But for the purposes of this review, I will share just one.
Miracle in Mongolia
In the early 1990’s the Church was just beginning to take root in Mongolia. In 1994, a Mongolian government official suddenly decided not to allow any more visas for Church missionaries. The Area Presidency was shocked. Elder Groberg was given the assignment to travel to Mongolia immediately and “solve the problem.” His daughter Jennie Marie had recently finished her mission in Slovenija and was visiting with her parents in Hong Kong at the time. So Jennie and Jean went with Elder Groberg to Mongolia. They met with members, exhausted every avenue they could find to sway the mind and heart of this official. But even after meeting with him, he remained unmoved.
After fasting with Mongolian members, one member reported knowing a government official who was acting as an ambassador to Europe but was in Mongolia visiting his son who had been in an accident. “It was a thin thread,” Elder Groberg writes, but they arranged to meet with him.
Although he felt somewhat sympathetic, he believed there was nothing he could do for the missionaries. Before departing, he said, almost as an afterthought, that he had a new assignment he was concerned about in Slovenjia. He was worried he didn’t have enough time to learn about the people, the capital city, and other details before arriving there.
Elder Groberg said his daughter had just returned from Slovenjia after serving an LDS mission and would be happy to answer any questions he had. They met and he was impressed with Jennie’s understanding. He had not been aware the Church had sister missionaries. He was very grateful and after thinking for a moment said, “You know, there is one person I could introduce you to who just might be able to help you with your visa challenge.”
Elder Groberg writes, “That thin thread of hope began to thicken and hold. There were many more meetings and lots of negotiations, but in the end, the visas continued to be issued and the Church continued to grow. I have thought about the many diverse circumstances that led up to that eventual positive outcome.
“Think for a moment: How had a member of the Quorum of the Twelve known, nearly two years earlier, to assign Jennie to Slovenjia? How did the member in Ulaanbaatar happen to hear about the accident of the ambassador’s son and to know of the father’s brief return? How did the visa issue come up just as Jennie arrived in Hong Kong from Slovenjia? How did our contact in the Quorum of the Twelve happen to ask me to go to Mongolia immediately and help ‘solve the problem’?
“I have learned that if we trust the Lord and move forward in faith, anytime, anywhere, to simply do whatever the Lord wants done, He orchestrates events so amazingly and with such miraculous efficiency that it all but takes our breath away” (9-10).
Remembering and Looking Forward
Most readers know of Elder Groberg’s long history with and deep love for the people of the Pacific islands, specifically Tonga, where he served as a full-time missionary and mission president. Anytime, Anywhere is full of beautiful sentimental reunions with islanders from Elder Groberg’s past. My favorite reunion was with his friend Asi, the branch president’s wife from his mission as a young Elder, who nursed Elder Groberg’s feet (eaten by rats if you remember the original story) by baking them in the sun and soothing them with oils until he could walk again. She kept kissing his feet saying, “Your feet. Are they fine? They are fine. Thanks be to God” (55).
In looking back at all his many travels and exchanges with the people of the earth, Elder Groberg concludes, “It is clear to me that home is wherever we have lived among people we have loved, speaking languages we have learned, and sharing teachings, testimonies, and experiences that have brought us closer to God and to each other. We should sink our roots wherever we are planted, neither getting so deeply rooted that we refuse to leave or being so unrooted that we are anxious to leave. We should not get too tightly tied to anything of this earth, bur rather get very tightly tied toe ach other, our family, and God!” (211). This is excellent advice.
In 2005, Elder Groberg was given Emeritus General Authority status and one month later he and Jean were called to serve as president and matron of the Idaho Falls Temple – a unique call in light of Elder Groberg’s initial question to President Kimball. This merciful returning to Elder Groberg’s childhood home is yet another evidence of the Lord’s awareness and love.
Thank you to Elder Groberg and his family for their dedicated service and willingness to share these intimate personal exchanges. Anytime, Anywhere is a series of steps into corners of the world where we are reminded that God is keenly aware of all His children and is orchestrating their salvation.