There are many aspects of my testimony of the divinity of the restored gospel. On this occasion, I could write about my first such witness, or any number of such experiences over the years, but I think it might be best to write about one of the most recent events that has been part of the mortar and brick, if you will, of my testimony. I am thinking of the time I was asked to give a devotional address to the 30,000-member student body of BYU (and, by broadcast and podcast, the actual numbers are much greater than the current student body).
Such an assignment was overwhelming for me. I have spoken to large groups, and I’ve been on TV and radio, but this was one of the more important addresses that would ever come my way as a BYU professor.
Because the task was so large and so important to me, the Spirit warned me in advance. For about a year before that fateful phone call, often as I attended or listened to the weekly devotional, I had feelings, even whisperings in my mind, that I should prepare to present a devotional address. I ignored those feelings at first, thinking that it was not really a message from the Spirit, but as time went by and those promptings became more clear, I would think of what I might talk about. I thought of several possibilities and had narrowed it to one or two ideas, but still, after thinking about what I might say, I would quit thinking about it, thinking that maybe I was wrong. But I knew I was right. The call would come.
So, on that day in my campus office when Vice President Fred Skousen called, I was not surprised. Overwhelmed, yes, but not surprised. As I sat in my chair as if the air had been let out of a balloon, I was unable to stand or do anything but think about what I might say. And I felt a flood of light or intelligence sweep over me and, in a matter of ten or fifteen minutes, I knew the exact outline of what I would talk about. I feel that the Spirit gave me what to say in outline, and in part, in detail.
I wrote down the outline and some of the details and in the next few days I filled all the flesh on the bones and had a talk I was completely satisfied to present. I felt that I was called upon to say something that I, uniquely, could talk about. The title became “Adoption: A Gift of Love, A Gift of Life.”
The talk had three parts. First, I talked of my academic work on Korean social history. I had written my PhD dissertation at Harvard and later published my work in a book at Cornell on the historic Korean family and how it had changed in the late seventeenth century as a result of growing Confucian influence. Part of that change had to do with an increase in adoption from within the bloodline. If a man didn’t have an heir, he would obtain a nephew or a distant relative to be his heir to carry on the ancestor ceremonies after he was dead.
Second, I talked about my own situation wherein my wife and I have adopted two daughters from Korea. Each came as a miracle, with differing yet distinct events that showed that their adoption was being guided from above. Those experiences are also important pieces of the brick and mortar in the structure of my testimony.
Third, I spoke of the concept in our doctrine that each of us is adopted as we are baptized and become part of the family of Christ and heirs to the covenants and promises given to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. I spoke of how we believe that Christ is our older brother, and yet, that he plays the role of father for those who are part of the covenant. And we become the children of Christ though we are already children of our Heavenly Father—the identity of the Father and the Son being distinct and not overlapping in Mormon doctrine.
The doctrine is clear. When Joseph Smith came out of the sacred grove after seeing an answer to his prayer about which church to join, he brought with him a clear understanding that the Father and Son are distinct beings, both being God. This point of doctrine is a stumbling stone for many in the Christian world—they teach that the Father and the Son are one. That matter is clear for Mormons, except for a few references, notably in the Book of Mormon as well as in the Bible, where Jesus is referred to as our Father. Indeed, he is our Father when we choose to become part of his fold. But he is not the father of our spirits—this role is literally fulfilled by our Father in Heaven—a reference to Elohim, not to Jesus. But it is by baptism that we are in a very real way adopted into the family of Christ. Thus, it is clear that Jesus is both our elder brother and our father. The same thing happens with our earthly families—our biological father is also our brother, since we are born first in spirit and our Heavenly Father is the father of our spirits.
Presenting my devotional was a marvelous experience. My feelings of being overwhelmed completely left me and I read the teleprompters—for the first time to have that experience—without missing a beat. To me, it was a historic event. And I have forever been grateful for it because I think there was a message in there for many, many people—for some at the time, and for others who would read, or see, or listen to it later. When I got back to my office, I already had email messages from around the world. Some messages were from old friends, others—I strangely had the words of “Like a Rhinestone Cowboy” go through my mind: “… I got cards and letters from people I don’t even know….” One note was from a man in New Mexico who wrote that he was working at home and listening to the devotional on the internet and tears were streaming down his face as he heard things that helped him with an issue relating to an adoption that was on his mind at that point. I’ve since had other notes from people around the world thanking me for what I said. And the only thing I could say was that what I said was “given to me to say.” I was inspired by the Spirit to say things that will help people make some decisions and in the end will bless their lives with the knowledge that God loves them and cares about them in their time of trial.
Thanks be to God. For a brief moment, I was an instrument in his hands. I’ve felt his inspiration before that time, and after that time as well, but never more dramatically and never in a way that touched so many people. I’m forever grateful.
As a footnote, when I was asked to speak, I was told I could choose whatever topic I wanted, professional, academic, religious, or whatever. No one checked my draft for accuracy or orthodoxy or any reason. And I’ve heard that the same thing happens at General Conference time. Each apostle, each general authority, each speaker chooses his or her own topic and prepares his or her own talk. Yet, when we hear the talks at Conference time, there are no duplicates, yet many common themes and messages come through. That, too, like my experience, is a testimony that the messages are being inspired by one source—speaking through the mouth and experience and testimony of the individual speaker for the benefit of Heavenly Father’s children.
Mark Peterson received his B.A. in Asian Studies and Anthropology from Brigham Young University in 1971. He received his M.A. in 1973 and his Ph.D. in 1987, both from Harvard University, in the field of East Asian Languages and Civilization. Prior to coming to BYU in 1984 he was the director of the Fulbright program in Korea from 1978 to 1983. He also served as the President of the Korea Pusan Mission from 1987 to 1990. He has been the coordinator of the Asian Studies Program at BYU and was the director of the undergraduate programs in the David M. Kennedy Center for International Studies. He is currently the head of the Korean section of the Department of Asian and Near Eastern Languages.
Dr. Peterson is a member of the Association for Asian Studies, where he is the chair of the Korean Studies Committee; he is also the book review editor for the Journal of Asian Studies for books on Korea. In addition, he is a member of the Royal Asiatic Society, the International Association for Korean Language Education, the International Korean Literature Association, and the American Association of Korean Teachers.
Among his publications are Coverage of Korea in American Text Books, Research Commissioned by the Korean Cultural Center of New York, 1994; Korean Adoption and Inheritance: Case Studies in the Creation of a Classic Confucian Society, in the Cornell East Asia Series (awarded the Yeonnam Prize for best book on Korea in 1996); Korean Women: View from the Inner Room, ed. by Laurel Kendall and Mark Peterson (New Haven: East Rock Press, 1984); “American Officials and the Kwangju Uprising,” in The Kwangju Uprising, ed. by Donald Clark (Boulder: Westview Press, 1987); “The King Sejong Shillok,” in King Sejong, Light of the Fifteenth Century, ed. by Young-gi Kim-Renaud (ICLK/George Washington University Press, 1992).
Posted April 2010