By Laraine L. Thompson
June 6, 1944 is a date with which we older, at least, Americans are very familiar. It marks the anniversary of D Day. It was the day when thousands upon thousands of American and allied troops stormed ashore on the beaches of Normandy, France. It truly marked the beginning of the end for Hitler’s stranglehold over Europe, his monstrous reign of power. The death toll that morning was overwhelming as soldier after soldier fell before ever advancing the beach. Their goal of course was to establish a beach head—a fortified position of power from which they could plan further attack, a position of relative safety from the opposing forces.
My father was a second generation member of the church. Of his three brothers, he remained the only active member of the church. As such, he keenly felt the responsibility to teach the Gospel to his children, to help insure that they would continue in building a beach head of activity and dedication to the Gospel that would give them that position of power and safety from which they could not be moved. He would often refer us to an incident in the life of Count Leo Tolstoy, the famed Russian author of War and Peace:
From the February, 1939 Improvement Era:
In 1892, on a visit to America, Tolstoy asked his American host, Andrew W. White, “I wish you would tell me about your American religion.” “We have no state church in America,” replied Dr. White. “I know that, but what about your American religion?” Dr. White explained to Tolstoy that in America each person is free to belong to the particular church in which he is interested.
Tolstoy impatiently replied: “I know all of this, but I want to know about the American religion…. The Church to which I refer originated in America and is commonly known as the Mormon Church. What can you tell me of the teaching of the Mormons?” Doctor White said, “I know very little concerning them.”
Then Count Tolstoy rebuked the ambassador. “Dr. White, I am greatly surprised and disappointed that a man of your great learning and position should be so ignorant on this important subject. Their principles teach the people not only of heaven and its attendant glories, but how to live so that their social and economic relations with each other are placed on a sound basis. If the people follow the teachings of this church, nothing can stop their progress—it will be limitless.”
Tolstoy continued, “There have been great movements started in the past but they have died or been modified before they reached maturity. If Mormonism is able to endure, unmodified, until it reaches the third and fourth generation, it is destined to become the greatest power the world has ever known.”
My father knew that I and my siblings represented the third generation of Mormons in our family. And like the soldiers on D Day, he was adamant that we should establish a beach head that would protect not only ourselves but those of our family’s fourth and fifth generations. He truly believed Tolstoy when he prophesied if we could do this, we would become part of ‘…the greatest power the world has ever known.”
As I teach my family, as I am actively involved in living the Gospel of Jesus Christ, Tolstoy’s words, spoken repeatedly through my father’s mouth, continue to inform me. So far, the beach head seems to be holding. I think my father would be pleased….