Elder Paul V. Johnson
General Authority Seventy
This is a wonderful day and I congratulate you on your accomplishment. It has taken effort, determination, and sacrifice to get to this point, and I applaud your efforts. I extend a special thanks to you family members who have been so supportive and encouraging of those who are being honored here today. Parents, spouses, and siblings have sacrificed and worked to make this day a reality.
I also add my thanks to the faculty, staff, and administration of Brigham Young University–Idaho for making this day possible for you. I am personally grateful for them and for their love and concern for you. I am also mindful of and very grateful to faithful tithe payers from all over the world and generous donors who make this university and your education here possible.
In our study of the Doctrine and Covenants this year we encounter four people called on a special mission to preach the gospel to the American Indians. The call came to Oliver Cowdery and Peter Whitmer Jr. in September of 1830 and to Parley P. Pratt and Ziba Peterson in October of the same year. The Church was organized just six months before, so the missionaries were new in the gospel, but they were willing to undertake this arduous call. The travel required for the mission was more than one thousand miles one way, and some of it was in the dead of winter. The missionaries’ destination was the territory west of Independence, Missouri, where the US government at the time was relocating American Indians. Parley Pratt described part of their journey during that winter: “For three hundred miles through vast prairies and through trackless wilds of snow—no beaten road; houses few and far between; and the bleak northwest wind always blowing in our faces with a keenness which would almost take the skin off the face. . . . After much fatigue and some suffering, we all arrived in Independence, in the county of Jackson.”  That description of the weather might sound very familiar to you who have experienced Rexburg winters.
They had the chance to teach some members of American Indian tribes both on their way to and after they arrived at the Indian Territory. There was some interest in their teachings and in the Book of Mormon, but despite all their preaching, they did not baptize any of the American Indians they encountered. I am sure they had hoped for a different outcome.
What they may not have been able to foresee was the impact their mission had on the Church, even though much of that impact was not directly tied to their preaching to the American Indians. On their way to the Indian Territory, the missionaries stopped in the Kirtland, Ohio, area. Through their preaching and baptizing there, the Church grew rapidly so that in a very short time there were more members around Kirtland than there were in New York. Kirtland became an important gathering place and the location for the first temple. These missionaries’ travel to Jackson County, Missouri, also prefaced Joseph Smith’s trip there less than a year later when the Lord revealed  the location of the New Jerusalem. 
You now go forward after receiving your education here to exciting and challenging times. While you may have an idea of what will happen in your life, my guess is that there will be twists and turns that will surprise you. Some unexpected events may seem to take you on a different course than your charted plan. The early missionaries’ experiences in Kirtland may not have seemed central to their mission when they set out, but the Lord used their mission to the Indian Territories to accomplish His will in Kirtland. Be careful not to be too discouraged when circumstances cause changes in your plans. If you let the Lord guide you, He can accomplish a great work through you.
I would guess that Elder and Sister Stevenson have seen their lives turn in directions they could not foresee, and yet it has resulted in blessings for millions of people around the world.
While the Apostle Paul was a prisoner, he wrote, “That the things which happened unto me have fallen out rather unto the furtherance of the gospel.” 
I know that the twists and turns that happen in your journey through life—even the very challenging ones—will be a blessing to you and others as you follow the Savior and keep your covenants. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
 Parley P. Pratt, The Autobiography of Parley Parker Pratt; One of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints [. . .], ed. Parley P. Pratt Jr. (Chicago: Law, King, and Law, 1888) , 54–55.
 See Doctrine and Covenants 57:1–3.
 Richard Dilworth Rust, “A Mission to the Lamanites,” in Revelations in Context, ed. Matthew McBride and James Goldberg (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2016), https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/manual/revelations-in-context/a-mission-to-the-lamanites.
 Philippians 1:12.
Your Journey and The Lord’s Work
Audio of Elder Paul V. Johnson's winter 2021 commencement address