Sunday, April 6, 2008

Elder D. Todd Christofferson, New Apostle: On Conversion

Scott Sommerdorf©The Salt Lake Tribune

In 1993 D.[David] Todd Christofferson was made a member of the Seventy. Fifteen years later he is the newest member of the Council of the Twelve at the age of 63. He was born 24 January 1945, in American Fork, Utah the son of Paul V. and Jeanne Swenson Christofferson. Although he was born in Utah his family moved from Lindon, Utah to New Jersey when he was fifteen, where his father was a veterinarian. There he developed his spiritual roots which helped him to become converted and serve a mission in Argentina.

Todd Christofferson Age 4©Intellectual Reserve

He said about his New Jersey experience: "It was during that time that my faith matured into a full-blown testimony. I grew up with faith among family and friends and others who influenced my life; I don’t recall a time when I didn’t have that belief that the gospel was true. But in New Jersey I became conscious of knowing that it was true and that it mattered."

He revealed in a recent interview with the Deseret News that "As the only member of the church at his high school, Elder Christofferson said the time was "the most formative part of my life. It forced me to think very deeply about what I believe."

It was in the Eastern U.S. that he developed spiritually. He related his conversion experience in his bedroom in New Jersey:

"My brother, Greg, and I participated in the Hill Cumorah Pageant in New York for two summers. One summer, when I was about sixteen years old, I was really searching for a personal testimony of the truthfulness of the gospel. I thought that this would be the perfect time to get it. One night after the performance, I decided to go to the Sacred Grove alone. It was a beautiful, clear summer night. I thought, This is it—the place, the time. What more ideal setting could I have? I prayed for a long, long time—well over an hour. Nothing happened. I finally gave up and walked back to Palmyra, wondering, What did I do wrong or what didn’t I do right? What was missing?

I’ve since thought a lot about that experience. One of the lessons I learned from it was that you shouldn’t try to dictate to God the timing or the content of revelation. It was later that summer—when I was home by myself in a little basement bedroom, reading the Book of Mormon—that a witness came very powerfully. It just overwhelmed me. I know from that experience the truth of what Joseph Smith witnessed and the truth of the Book of Mormon and the reality of the Savior. That hasn’t been my only witness, but it was a great strengthening of my testimony.

I found that you don’t have to be in a special place to receive that witness. You will receive answers to your prayers if you are earnest and keep asking and searching. I’m glad now that my answer didn’t come to me when I first asked. I might have thought that you have to go to the Holy Land for a testimony of Jesus or to the Sacred Grove for a testimony of Joseph Smith. Anywhere in the world, the Lord will speak to you." (Janet Peterson and D. Todd Christofferson, “Friend to Friend,” Friend, Mar 1995, 6).

His father set an example of sacrifice for him. In October 2006 General Conference Elder Christofferson related this incident: "Years ago, when my brothers and I were boys, our mother had radical cancer surgery. She came very close to death. Much of the tissue in her neck and shoulder had to be removed, and for a long time it was very painful for her to use her right arm.

One morning about a year after the surgery, my father took Mother to an appliance store and asked the manager to show her how to use a machine he had for ironing clothes. The machine was called an Ironrite. It was operated from a chair by pressing pedals with one's knees to lower a padded roller against a heated metal surface and turn the roller, feeding in shirts, pants, dresses, and other articles. You can see that this would make ironing (of which there was a great deal in our family of five boys) much easier, especially for a woman with limited use of her arm. Mother was shocked when Dad told the manager they would buy the machine and then paid cash for it. Despite my father's good income as a veterinarian, Mother's surgery and medications had left them in a difficult financial situation.

On the way home, my mother was upset: "How can we afford it? Where did the money come from? How will we get along now?" Finally Dad told her that he had gone without lunches for nearly a year to save enough money. "Now when you iron," he said, "you won't have to stop and go into the bedroom and cry until the pain in your arm stops." She didn't know he knew about that. I was not aware of my father's sacrifice and act of love for my mother at the time, but now that I know, I say to myself, "There is a man."

His bishop gave Todd an important responsibility as a deacon that thought him service: "Not long after I was ordained a deacon, my bishop, Leon Walker, asked me into his office to give me an assignment. He handed me a bright key, the key to the chapel, and charged me with responsibility to help look after the building. I considered myself one of the most fortunate boys in the world to have an assignment from my priesthood president. I thought this would not be a difficult task. My home was just a one-minute bicycle ride away from the building. But I soon learned what I suppose all bishops know, and that is, that everybody in the ward seems to have a key to the building. As soon as I had the building locked up on an evening, someone came along behind me and opened a door. As soon as I had opened a Primary classroom, some diligent soul was there behind me to lock it up again. I could hardly stay on top of that job.

But I began to learn then, as I have come to understand since, that any call, any service, in our Lord’s cause sanctifies us. Whether it is performed in the glare of the public eye or in a quiet corner known only to God is of no consequence. What matters is that we do serve, for by serving we keep our covenants with Deity, and in those covenants is the promise of salvation." (D. Todd Christofferson, “I Know in Whom I Have Trusted,” Ensign, May 1993, 83).

On his mission he learned to do his best as a member of the Church. After his mission he graduated from BYU and went on to Duke where he received a law degree. In 1968 he married Katherine Thelma Jacob and they have five children.

He practiced law in the Washington, D.C. area; Nashville, Tennessee; Herndon, Virginia; and Charlotte, North Carolina areas. At the time of his call to the Seventy he was an associate general counsel of NationsBank Corp. (now Bank of America) in Charlotte. N.C.

R. Scott Lloyd told of an incident Todd Christofferson had as a young bishop when he was a law clerk in Washington D.C.:

" At age 31, while working as a law clerk in Washington, D.C., he was called as a bishop. There he had occasion to experience the importance of seeking and receiving forgiveness from one who had been offended.

While heading out of the driveway for a family vacation, he was called by a member of the ward whose mother had just died. The man, a convert of a few years, seemed to expect that Bishop Christofferson would attend the funeral with the ward member. He expressed his sympathies, explained the situation and departed on the planned vacation.

On his return, he found that the man had been deeply hurt by his bishop having declined to attend the funeral. The family had ceased attending Church meetings. "My initial reaction was to justify myself that his expectation was not reasonable," Elder Christofferson reflected. "But the Spirit worked on me."

He went to the man's home, was initially met with a cold reception, but through an hour or so of conversation, asked for and received the man's forgiveness. They parted as friends. Less than six months later, the man died.

"If I hadn't acted on that impression of the Spirit, (the ill will) might have gone on until he died, and the family would have been out of the Church," he said. "This way, when he died, I could help the family, because we were close again. So I learned how crucial it is, whether you think you're right or wrong, where there's been an offense, take the initiative to resolve it. Don't worry about where the blame lies. And do it as soon as possible." (R. Scott Lloyd, "Elder D. Todd Christofferson: A sacred sense: Faithfulness, tenacity mark his watch care over Savior's lambs, Church News, [Saturday, 19 April 2006]: ).

When he was living in Tennessee Elder Christofferson was touched by a Catholic priest who taught him conversion to Christ truly brings about acts of kindness: "I recall the example of a Catholic priest I came to know as we worked together in community service activities in Nashville, Tennessee. Father Charles Strobel developed a project to bring homeless men off the street a few at a time into a training program that provided life skills and vocational opportunities for them. He devoted untold hours to helping these men make permanent changes for the better and become self-reliant. I was surprised to learn that his mother had been killed by a homeless man not many years earlier. Father Strobel’s Christlike love extended even to men among whom was found one who had violently taken his precious mother’s life."

In the 2008 April General Conference Elder Todd Christofferson told of another experience while living in Tennessee: "

I wish to bear you my witness of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and the power of His infinite, atoning sacrifice. In doing so, I will call upon an experience from my years in Tennessee. One evening there I received a call at home from a gentleman I did not know. He introduced himself as a recently retired minister of another faith and asked to meet with me privately the following Sunday. When we met, my guest stated frankly he had come out of concern for the welfare of my soul. He pulled out of his portfolio a fairly long list of scripture citations from the New Testament and said he wanted to review these verses with me and see if he could help me be saved. I was a bit surprised at his directness, but I could tell that he was sincere, and I was touched by his genuine interest in me.

We conversed for more than an hour, and he was open to hear me explain something of my faith as well as to read with me some teachings from the Book of Mormon with which he was not familiar. We found there was much we believed in common and some things we did not. We felt a bond of friendship and prayed together before he left. What remains with me is our discussion about being born again. It is spiritual rebirth through Jesus Christ that is the context of my witness of Him."

In his church life before being an Apostle, he served as President of the Seventy, a member of the Seventy, regional representative, stake president, stake president's counselor, bishop, and a stake mission president.

The LDS Church said of his past experience: "Elder Christofferson had most recently been serving as a member of the Presidency of the Seventy with supervisory responsibility for the North America Northwest and North America West Areas. He previously had supervisory responsibility for the North America Southeast Area and has served as executive director of the Family and Church History Department and as president of the Mexico South Area of the Church."

Peggy Fletcher Stake in the Salt Lake Tribune said of his church experience: "Monson personally called Christofferson on Thursday, the new apostle said. His first thought was of "a deep sense of humility and . . . a sense of gratitude for the trust that is manifest in such a calling from the Lord," he said. "Since then, I've felt something of a real anxiousness to be out and about and involved [in preaching Christ's message]. . . . I look forward to doing that the rest of my life."

...In the 15 years since he was called to the First Quorum of the Seventy, Christofferson has traveled to 44 countries on six continents. Other international experiences include a mission to Argentina he served as a young man and later service in the Area Presidency in Mexico."

Photo by Mark Johnston©Daily Herald

Leigh Dethman in the Deseret News said: "As executive director of the Family and Church History Department, Elder Christofferson was involved in the high-profile negotiations to block the names of Holocaust victims from submission for temple work. In 2001, with Elder Christofferson at the helm, the church compiled and released a new database to aid African American family history research called the Freedman Bank Records."

In 2004 Elder Christofferson taught about having the spirit in the conversion process: "For the gospel to be written in your heart, you need to know what it is and grow to understand it more fully. That means you will study it. When I say study, I mean something more than reading. It is a good thing sometimes to read a book of scripture within a set period of time to get an overall sense of its message, but for conversion you should care more about the amount of time you spend in the scriptures than about the amount you read in that time. I see you sometimes reading a few verses, stopping to ponder them, carefully reading the verses again, and as you think about what they mean, praying for understanding, asking questions in your mind, waiting for spiritual impressions, and writing down the impressions and insights that come so you can remember and learn more. Studying in this way, you may not read a lot of chapters or verses in a half hour, but you will be giving place in your heart for the word of God, and He will be speaking to you” (in Conference Report, Apr. 2004, 9–10; or Ensign, May 2004, 11).

The above talk when Thou Art Converted came be found here.

In 2002 he taught at the October General Conference about the struggle each of having in becoming spiritual: "We must begin by becoming one within ourselves. We are dual beings of flesh and spirit, and we sometimes feel out of harmony or in conflict. … As we endeavor day by day and week by week to follow the path of Christ, our spirit asserts its preeminence, the battle within subsides, and temptations cease to trouble. There is greater and greater harmony between the spiritual and the physical until our physical bodies are transformed … to ‘instruments of righteousness unto God’ (see Romans 6:13)” (“That They May Be One in Us,” Liahona and Ensign, Nov. 2002, 71–72).

In 2004 he shared an missionary experience of a relative Sister Nicole Christofferson Miller and related it to conversion: "With conversion, you will wear a protective armor, “the whole armour of God,” and the words of Christ, which come by the Holy Spirit, “will tell you all things” you should do.

In 1992 two sister missionaries in Zagreb, Croatia, were returning to their apartment one evening. Their last teaching appointment had been some distance away, and it was getting dark. Several men on the trolley made crude comments and became rather menacing. Feeling threatened, the sisters got off the trolley at the next stop just as the doors closed so no one could follow them. Having avoided that problem, they realized they were in a place unknown to either of them. As they turned to look for help, they saw a woman. The missionaries explained that they were lost and asked the woman if she could direct them. She knew where they could find another trolley to take them home and invited them to follow her. On the way they had to pass a bar with patrons sitting along the sidewalk in the gathering darkness. These men also appeared threatening. Nevertheless, the two young women had the distinct impression that the men could not see them. They walked by, apparently invisible to those who might have had a mind to harm them. When the sisters and their guide reached the stop, the trolley they needed was just arriving. They turned to thank the woman, but she was nowhere to be seen.

These missionaries were furnished a guide and other blessings to protect them physically. As you become converted, you will have comparable protections to keep you from temptation and deliver you from evil. Sometimes evil will not find you. Sometimes you will be protected when evil is made invisible to you. Even when you must confront it directly, you will do so with faith, not fear. (D. Todd Christofferson, “When Thou Art Converted,” Liahona, May 2004, 11–13).

In 2001 in a talk entitled "Justification and Sanctification" he did a masterful job teaching the concept: "To be classed among the truly penitent, random acts of obedience will not be adequate. We must properly enter into the covenants and persist in keeping them to the point that our expectation of salvation is affirmed by the Holy Spirit of Promise (see D&C 132:7, 19). It is not simply the promise of obedience in our contracts with Deity that brings grace, but the performance of our promises: “For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified” (Rom. 2:13)."

We know that Elder Christofferson will make many missionary contributions in the years ahead. I hope to report his future mission presidents' seminar addresses in the future. I hope his words will convert and bring many people in to the Church for years to come.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you to whomever added this commentary/biography on Todd Christofferson!!! So much information at one source. Thanks!