In Search of a Meaningful Life
My journey of discovery searching for a life of meaning and purpose has blended two dimensions of life: one religious and one secular. My religion has taught me the importance of faith, hope, and charity; the eternal possibilities of family and friends; and a set of precious values and principles to guide my life. The secular dimension of my life reflects a career in university teaching, management consulting, and village development programming. For me the search for a meaningful life involved four types of experiences:
First, I experienced a sense of gratitude as I had the opportunity to travel throughout this world and gradually to comprehend how blessed I really was. In visiting over one hundred countries, I quickly noticed that a significant percentage of the world’s population did not have access to clean water or electricity, to adequate food or housing, and would never go to school as children or visit a hospital when they were sick. In my world of comfort and prosperity, I could not shake those images of poverty and suffering. When a deep sense of gratitude and a determination to do something for these poor was burned into my soul, I vowed I would consecrate my life to poverty alleviation.
Second, over time I have developed a sense of peace as I have come to terms with who I am, my strengthens and weaknesses, and the reality that we all have special skills and talents that are given that we might find joy and happiness in all aspects of our lives (mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual). This sense of peace comes only gradually as we realize we cannot change all things, but we can change some things, that life gives us challenges, not to tear us down, but to build us up.
Third, a meaningful life requires some sense of mission and purpose. Life becomes richer and more fulfilling to the extent we find some way to make a difference. Those of us with the resources to pursue meaningful goals have a responsibility to help make this world a better place to live, especially among the truly poor and disadvantaged. Finally when we see something that needs fixing, we must ask: “If not me, then who, and if not now, then when?”
Fourth, I have learned over the past many years that a life can be passive or active. People may be observers, acknowledging that there are problems but unwilling to act. Others become participants, seeing a problem and actually doing something about it. To share one’s gifts, talents, and resources with others can be one of the most profoundly fulfilling experiences we can have in this life.
Four key sets of events eventually shaped the quality of life I have enjoyed: through my family and my Church; then through my career and my approach towards other peoples, cultures, and religions; and ultimately via my comprehension of the purpose and meaning of life, as one seeks to improve the quality of life of those less fortunate.
My Early Years
While I was born in San Francisco, California, my parents moved to Salt Lake City, Utah, when I was five years old. My father was not an active member of the LDS Church. It was my angel mother who guided me in those early years. In retrospect, my life is a miracle, as I could have followed my father or my mother. My father was a heavy smoker, had little interest in religion, and had quit school in the ninth grade. He was a harsh disciplinarian, quick to criticize and find fault. My earliest memories reflected both a fear of my father and a sense that I was of little value, incompetent at best. If I had followed my father, my life would have been very different. For some miraculous reason, I chose to follow my mother, who taught me to trust in my Father in Heaven, to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ, to love and appreciate reading and scholarship, and to know I could accomplish anything with the help of the Lord.
My first serious spiritual experience happened after celebrating my East High School graduation in 1952. After dropping off our dates at their homes, my best friend, Roy Rasmussen, suggested we drive up Parley’s Canyon and watch the sun come up. We talked about the future, our dreams of career and marriage, and whether we should go on missions for the LDS Church. We both assumed we would go on missions, but we acknowledged some trepidation, some hesitancy. We decided to pray—first my friend, then I. It was a clear June morning and, as my friend began to pray, thoughts flooded through my mind: Should I finish college first? Could I learn a foreign language? Do I really have a testimony? Would my girlfriend wait for me? Then my turn came and it was my first private prayer with a close friend. I don’t remember what I said, but I had a distinct impression, a strange sensation, that we were not alone, that a Higher Power was listening. Into my mind came the unexpected thought: “You will go on a mission, but you are not yet ready!”
It was two years later, during the summer of 1954, that I worked as a service station attendant for Standard Oil on the north rim of the Grand Canyon. It was during this summer that I read four books: the New Testament, the Book of Mormon, the Articles of Faith by James E. Talmage, and A Marvelous Work and a Wonder by LeGrand Richards. I read the first three books mostly in the evenings in our bunkhouse. My mind marveled at the power of the New Testament, reading the words of the Savior and savoring His wisdom and His commitment to His Father. Although I had read the Book of Mormon before, mostly at the prodding of my mother, this time the connection between the Bible and the Book of Mormon became clear. Especially in Third Nephi (Chapter 15), which describes Jesus Christ appearing to people in the Western Hemisphere, declaring to them they were “the other sheep” (John 16:10) that must hear his voice. It settled in my mind that the Book of Mormon was definitely a “Second Testimony” that Jesus was the Christ/the Messiah, predicted in the Old Testament.
Yet, it was LeGrand Richards, in his book A Marvelous Work and a Wonder, where my testimony of Joseph Smith was seared into my soul. I left the bunkhouse and walked to the edge of the Grand Canyon, pausing to regard the splendor of that wonder of nature. Opening the book, I began to read. On page three, Elder Richards quotes a Catholic scholar who said: “You Mormons are all ignoramuses. You don’t even know the strength of your own position. It is so strong that there is only one other tenable in the whole Christian world, and that is the position of the Catholic Church. The issue is between Catholicism and Mormonism. . . . If we are right, you are wrong; if you are right, we are wrong; and that’s all there is to it. . . . For if we are wrong, Protestants are wrong with us, since they were part of us and went out from us, while if we are right, they are apostates whom we cut off long ago. If we have the apostolic succession from St. Peter, as we claim, there is no need of Joseph Smith and Mormonism; but if we have not that succession, then such a man as Joseph Smith was necessary. . . . It is either the perpetuation of the gospel from ancient time, or the restoration of the gospel in latter days” (Richards 1950, 3-4). Every chapter of that book rang true to me and I knew I was ready to be a missionary.
My Period of Preparation for Life
Between 1955 and 1958, I served as a missionary in Suomi (Finland), experiencing both the challenge of learning one of the world’s most difficult languages and the joy and excitement of watching Finnish people accept the restored Gospel of Jesus Christ. I saw families change in ways that were amazing, overcoming poverty, family dysfunction, and despair. From a form of hopelessness, husbands and wives and their children began to see the truth, and now their lives had new meaning and a clearer purpose. I remember visiting the US Embassy after I had been in Finland less than a year. As I was speaking to several Finns working in the Embassy, an American came up to me, expressing astonishment at my fluency in the Finnish language. He had been in Finland for four years, had tried his whole time to learn the language, but had given up in frustration. While he was amazed, I knew in my heart that I had not learned this language by myself, for I saw it as a “spiritual gift” from God.
Returning to the University of Utah in 1958-59 I finished my BA and MA degrees in Political Science and a minor in Economics, with a commission in Army Intelligence. One amazing coincidence happened while completing my training at Fort Holabird in counter-intelligence. I was asked to take a language aptitude test and, when I opened the test sheet, to my surprise they had created a language test based upon Finnish grammar. I passed the test easily and was sent to the Army Language School in Monterey, California, to study Iraqi Arabic for fifty-four weeks and French for sixteen weeks. Many years later, I came to realize this was no coincidence, as my whole career in Middle East studies and my research in local government reform in Muslim countries would probably never have happened if I had not gone to Finland as a Mormon missionary.
From the Army Language School, my wife, Merlene Jeppsen, and I and our six-week old son were sent to Paris, France. Now with some fluency in French and Arabic, I had the profound opportunity to work with French Intelligence during the three years when Algeria was seeking its independence. Early in my work in counter-intelligence, my commanding officer assigned me to be the chief liaison officer with French Intelligence Services. He strongly intimated that I should become good friends with my counterpart, that I should take him to dinner on a regular basis, eating and drinking as only the French can do. I was clearly uncertain how I could accomplish this assignment, since good Mormons do not drink alcohol of any kind. On our first meeting, the French officer asked what type of wine I would prefer. I indicated that I would prefer fruit juice. He looked at me startled: “You don’t drink wine?” “No,” I said. “It is against my religion.” To my surprise, he said: “You must be a Mormon.” And then another miracle. “How strange this is!” he continued: “When I was assigned to Vietnam ten years ago, I met an American advisor, a senior officer, who was a Mormon. He taught me the Gospel and I have been a practicing Mormon for over a decade.” We became fast friends and my work in France, because of this Frenchman, was both productive and enjoyable.
In 1964, with my wife and now our two sons, I moved to Austin, Texas, entering a PhD program in Government and Middle East Studies at the University of Texas. Finishing my course work and passing my comprehensives with high honors, I received a Fulbright Scholarship to study local government reform in Egypt. Because I would be working out in the rural areas most of the time, we decided that my wife and children would live in Provo, Utah, with her parents. With the motivation of our separation, I completed my research and wrote my dissertation in ten months. Being the only Mormon in Egypt at that time, I took the opportunity to visit various Coptic churches, meeting a group of Egyptian professionals who met every Sunday evening to discuss various religious topics. One evening I was asked to explain my religion. I bore a strong testimony of Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon and I spent nearly three hours responding to questions. I was pleasantly surprised at the number of doctrines, teachings, and beliefs that Mormons shared with the Coptic Christian faith. They believe that the evangelist Mark selected the first bishop of Alexandria, following a form of Christianity quite unique and certainly different from most Christian faiths in Europe and the United States. For me this was not a time for proselyting but a time to learn from others. In the spirit of broadening my perspective, I also took courses in Islamic theology at al-Azhar University, especially structured for foreign students. I was the only American. It was indeed a most enlightening experience. It was at this time that I began to appreciate the fact that very good people exist in all religions, not just members of my faith, that God loves all his children and seeks to bless them when they are trying to live good lives. Every religion I have studied reflects a set of universal core values: kindness, tolerance, service, justice, peace, and love. While I do believe the Gospel of Jesus Christ, in its fullness, was restored through the Prophet Joseph Smith, all religions have some portion of God’s truths. I have a strong belief that every soul who has ever lived on this earth will have an opportunity (either in this life, in the spirit world when we die, or during Christ’s millennial reign) to hear and accept the “fullness of His Gospel,” before the Great Day of Judgment.
After My Faith, My Family is the Most Important Aspect of My Life
With my wife, Merlene Jeppsen, I raised four children: James Bruce Jr., Robert Daniel, Deborah, and Stephen Jeppsen. While I had many interests and activities, I always considered my greatest work was as a father and husband. I sought to treat my children in a way that would build their own self-esteem, which I believe is the key to a happy and successful life. I had three rules for my children: They must always tell the truth and be people of integrity, must be worthy members of the Church and serve whenever called, and must never show disrespect to their mother. I challenged my children to believe there were two kinds of people: those who blamed others for their failures and those who took responsibility for their own successes. One of the highlights of my life was when my family and I made a trip around the world, visiting Europe, the Middle East, and South and Southeast Asia. While my oldest two sons were serving in the mission field, my wife Merlene passed away of cancer. This was the greatest tragedy of my life, yet after a year of mourning and loneliness, I found and married a beautiful woman named Rosalind Ward Brockbank, a widow of several years. We brought my family of four children and her family of seven children into a loving and harmonious family. While it is never easy to bring two families together, I have come to love all of these eleven children and their spouses with great tenderness and affection, and to consider them, as well as our fifty plus grandchildren, as my own. Until my final breath, I will always see this experience of a blended family to be one of the greatest blessings of my life. The greatest lesson learned from this experience has been, first, to see beyond appearances, to seek to understand the other person’s heart, and, second, to understand that to love unconditionally is the key to a happy marriage.
My Formal Career
During my career as a professor of Political Science and Middle East Studies at the University of Utah (1967-1998), I taught courses in public administration and management, political statistics, Middle East studies, comparative politics, and rural development. My major professional work, however, was in the field of development management, where for the past forty years I have been a management consultant with the US Agency for International Development (USAID), the World Bank, UNDP, UNICEF, and other international development agencies. I specialized in training local government officials in Egypt, the Sudan, Tunisia, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, the Philippines, Malaysia, and Indonesia. One special assignment was an opportunity to work in Iraq for a year (May 2003 to June 2004) as the South Central Regional Director in Iraq for the Local Governance Development Program, supervising some forty expats and over a hundred Iraqi staff. Our job was to establish local government systems in fifty seven cities, organizing local elections, training and working with governors, governorate councils, city mayors, and city councils in the principles of good governance and democratic procedures. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, I trained Peace Corps volunteers for ten years, encouraged my own students to become involved in overseas development work, organized training programs for village development workers, and eventually helped found, with my friend Tim Evans, the Center for Humanitarian Outreach and Inter-Cultural Exchange (CHOICE Humanitarian). This private voluntary organization has sent humanitarian expeditions and student interns into various disadvantaged rural areas in twelve countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America, building hundreds of schools, health clinics, and water systems, and establishing micro credit, adult literacy, and village health worker programs. CHOICE Humanitarian’s basic philosophy reflected my life-long experiences in village development programs around the world. My approach to poverty alleviation reflects verses in the Book Mormon that spoke to my heart: “Think of your brethren like unto yourselves, and be familiar with all and free with your substance, that they may be rich like unto you. But before ye seek for riches, seek ye the kingdom of God. And after ye have obtained a hope in Christ ye shall obtain riches, if ye seek them; and you will seek them for the intent to do good, to clothe the naked, and to feed the hungry, and to liberate the captive, and administer relief to the sick and the afflicted” (Jacob 2: 17-19).
Another significant influence in my life was Dr. James Yen, who brought literacy to some fifty million Chinese villagers between 1922 and 1937. He introduced me to the three basic dimensions of rural development analysis: 1. theoretical/intellectual, 2. practical/utilitarian, and 3. spiritual/core values. The first dimension tends to be dominated by academics, theoreticians, researchers, and high level officials, focusing on logic, reason, and sequential analysis. The second dimension tends to be dominated by practitioners, project managers, rural extension workers, and people in the field. Their work is mainly described in books and reports in anthropology, rural sociology, and community development. The third dimension is approached with some trepidation. The essence of the spiritual dimension is much more difficult to capture. This dimension springs from historically confirmed human values and from cultural and religious norms that challenge people to strive to fulfill their potential, and encourages a holistic ideal of humankind that exalts not just the economic but the artistic, not just the social but the philosophical, and not just the political but the humanistic. I use the word “spiritual” in a very special way to mean the search for purpose and meaning in one’s life. Rural development (poverty alleviation) is about people development; its sources are found within the cultural sinews, the religious traditions, and the sacred values of people. But most of all, these core values reflect the search for fulfillment of the human experience not just for the few but for the many. If theory and the intellect provide us with the logic and reason of rural development, and if the practical dimension suggests the appropriate strategies and procedures for its implementation, it will be the spiritual/core values or factors that generate the commitment and motivation to initiate and sustain such a process.
I have come to believe this third dimension is significant, perhaps even crucial, to understanding why and when rural development (poverty alleviation) may be successful in the lives of poor villagers. When one reviews the literature on poverty alleviation, one is struck by the scarcity of really successful and effective programs of rural development. Much money has been raised and spent, yet the scourge of extreme poverty is still with us. We are beginning to realize that poverty alleviation is not about spending money, nor implementing projects, nor even solving problems for people. It is true that money is needed, that projects do need to be implemented, and that problems obviously must be solved. However, social change is an amorphous process, generating some successes but often many unintended negative consequences, motivating people in the short run to achieve some goals, but such goals are often not sustainable. New circumstances, challenges, and constraints continually emerge, making former ideas, institutions, strategies, and approaches no longer valid and efficacious. So how does one deal with negative unintended consequences and how does one institutionalize processes that are sustainable or prepare people for the new challenges and problems that come into every society over time? Experience suggests that changes/improvements in one’s quality of life represent a cyclical process that expresses moments of success and moments of failure, programs that generate solutions which later stimulate new problems. These cycles of success and failure test one’s patience, one’s faith, and one’s hope for the future even in the most modern and wealthy of societies. It is not surprising that positive change is very difficult to achieve for people who face extreme poverty, illiteracy, sickness, and unemployment for much of their lives.
We learn new things from science (innovations and technologies) and gain understanding and confidence through the practical processes of experience in the field, but what is not so easy to understand is where the feelings of hope, resilience, cooperation, ingenuity, and motivation come from that allow people to continue through the unending cycles of unintended consequences and the ever emerging unexpected new challenges from the forces of nature (drought and famine), the tragedies of fate (death, unemployment, civil unrest), and the pain of unfulfilled dreams. Such strength does not come from logic nor even from experience, for they fail us in the face of these unintended, these unexpected, new challenges we all face.
This is why spirituality is so crucial, for the key words that reflect the core values found in every culture usually include the notions of dedication, perseverance, enthusiasm, belief and vision, unselfishness and service, a sense of mission and purpose. Such sentiments, such emotions and feelings, are seldom stimulated by logic or reason, and the inculcation of such sources of energy, initiative, and feelings of responsibility is rarely characteristic of a bureaucracy or an administrative system structured to implement rural development policy.
Over the past forty years I have been very fortunate in having wonderful teachers and mentors, stimulating students and collaborators, and finally dedicated co-workers and outstanding staff. My testimony of Mormonism is a reflection of lessons learned from the many whom I have worked with in the challenging but gratifying work of village development. The list would be endless, but let me mention the few that have played the greatest role in developing my understanding of the possibilities of rural development and what is needed if the disadvantaged and the poor of this planet are to be given a hand up: Mohandas K. Gandhi, Y.C. James Yen, Ahmad al-Naggar, Muhammad Yunus, Norman T. Uphoff, David C. Korten, Amartya Sen, Robert Chambers, and Ahangamane T. Ariyaratn.
Yet the real heroes for me are those who have been willing to spend an extended time out in the villages, often without potable water, electricity, and the basic amenities of life. There are thousands of examples of people who have made a difference, working without fanfare, plodding along day in and day out, in the smoldering sun and the drenching rain, addressing an injustice here, challenging an exploitative relationship there, but really just doing their work to help the truly poor of this world. The ones I know best and to whom I dedicate this testimony are those who have worked and many who still do work for CHOICE Humanitarian: Rita Lagogo in Kenya; Juan Alducin and Chris Johnson in Mexico; Mark and Andrea Austin and Javier Rabanales and now Jorge Chen in Guatemala; Steve Pierce, Wilma Johnson and Willy and Maxima Mendoza in Bolivia; Becky Bingham and John Samuel in India; and Nirmal Neupane, Bishnu H. Adhikari, and K. C. Arjun in Nepal. My testimony is dedicated to these people.
A New Paradigm for Village Development
My approach to poverty alleviation has evolved over the past thirty years, as I have tried to remain open to new ideas. Historically, development agencies have assumed that the key to development was the establishment of projects through which resources, technologies, and services could be distributed. This was a “service delivery” paradigm in which the poor were considered “beneficiaries” who needed to be taken care of, who needed to be given free food, clothing, medicine, and supplies, with little or nothing expected in return.
The CHOICE strategy is based upon a “resource mobilization” paradigm, in which the poor are encouraged to develop the skills, competencies, and attitudes of self-reliance needed as they learn to help themselves. The old paradigm of development assumed outsiders knew best what villagers needed, that, if you provided them with free services and resources, they would respond with gratitude and appreciation. Unfortunately, this paradigm has tended to spawn the opposite: increased dependency, increased frustration and animosity, and a kind of fatalism and welfarism that breeds apathy, disillusionment, and certainly a lack of pride and dignity.
The new paradigm argues that when people learn to mobilize their own resources, when they see themselves achieving results based upon their own efforts, there is a pride, a sense of self-esteem and dignity, that is infectious and self-perpetuating. The old paradigm emphasized people’s physical and material needs and entitlements, suggesting that people improve when someone takes care of them. The new paradigm emphasizes, first, that there is a motivating force from cultural and moral values and spiritual responsibilities. Second, there is a power unleashed when people are free to choose for themselves, suggesting that people improve when they are allowed to participate in their own processes of decision making and when they can align their lives to a set of values and moral principles that they find meaningful and significant. Mahatma Gandhi, in his work among the poor of India, argued that development devoid of human values and principles of spirituality that motivate people to a higher standard of ethics and morality will seldom generate the social energy (sometimes called social capital) and individual responsibility needed to implement a sustainable process of societal development. This new paradigm is not simply about funding projects; rather, this is about investing in people and their ability to help themselves through a process of their own networking and empowerment, which will motivate a significant majority of the whole community to participate in the achievement of their own goals and priorities. In essence, this approach creates a true partnership among citizens throughout the world.
My Church Callings
People outside the LDS Church often wonder how the Church functions with no paid ministry. From the time I can remember as a young boy, I was given opportunities to prepare simple two minute talks and learned to pass the sacrament as a young deacon, to go monthly with an adult companion to visit our assigned families to determine and help with their needs. I remember vividly one time, probably around 8pm in the evening, my companion called me and said he needed me to go with him to visit with a widow in our ward who wanted us to give her sick daughter a priesthood blessing. By the time I was eighteen, I had given at least a dozen talks before the whole congregation, had been a teacher in Sunday school, had worked on the Church farm, and been a counselor in the priests quorum. In every ward, all the major leadership positions (the bishop and his counselors, Sunday school teachers, women’s leaders, youth and children leaders) are performed by voluntary, nonsalaried members of the Ward. No paid ministry is needed. This is probably one of the most unique qualities of the LDS Church. It was expected that every member in our congregation would participate, giving talks in sacrament meeting, singing in the ward choir, working on the weekends on the Church farm, accepting callings to serve as a teacher or a quorum advisor, directing the youth program, and eventually going on a mission. By the time one is married, has children, and has a full job in one’s chosen profession, most adults expect to be called in some key position often requiring 10-20 hours each week, if not more.
In March 1990, I agreed to go to Egypt (July through September) on an assignment for USAID to conduct a workshop on Egyptian local government reform. In May, one of my daughters announced she was getting married in August. When I called USAID to cancel my assignment, my colleague in Washington asked if it were still possible to go to Egypt but simply fly home for the week of the wedding and then return to complete my assignment in Egypt. When I arrived home for the wedding, my stake president called me and said he wanted to talk to me. “Brother Mayfield, the Lord wants you to be the bishop of the Federal Heights Ward.” I was stunned. I thought to myself: There are many in this ward far more qualified than I am. If I had not come home from Egypt, they certainly would have found someone else to call. Nevertheless, I accepted the call, watched my daughter married for time and eternity in the temple, and returned to Egypt. I remember kneeling in my hotel room in Cairo, pleading with the Lord to help me in the new assignment. I knew Mormon bishops are usually called for five years and that they often work 20-30 hours a week above and beyond their regular jobs. How was I to fulfill my faculty, teaching, and research assignments, and especially the over twenty masters students and six PhD candidates that I was supervising at the University of Utah? As I prayed, I felt a very comforting spirit enter the room, my heart with filled with gratitude, and I knew this calling had come from God and that He would help me do this.
The Source of My Testimony: My Faith and Belief
Both of my grandparents listened to the missionaries, studied the Book of Mormon and teachings of the Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ, and left family and friends to follow the dictates of their conscience. Many, accustomed to following the dictates of logic and reason, cannot comprehend how a person could leave his family and friends to follow a new religion. Trained in the methodologies of the social sciences, I completely understand the disbelief, the amazement, that a scholar, a professor, a widely traveled person, could accept the notions of Mormonism. The secular basis of my testimony rests upon a careful study of most of the major religions of this world—all of which have many good qualities of service, faith, and spirituality, all of which present moral and ethical codes of conduct related to kindness, compassion, tolerance, and service. What attracts me to Mormonism is not that all in my faith are perfect, for they are not, but that the doctrines, the scope and comprehensiveness of its teachings, are absolutely amazing.
What most people do not understand is that we do not call ourselves Mormons (a nickname invented by others who only know that we have a book called “The Book of Mormon”). For, within our community of faith, we acknowledge that Jesus Christ organized his church by calling apostles/prophets and sent them out into the world to preach the true Gospel of Jesus Christ. We believe that, by the end of the second century, all of these apostles/prophets and their close followers had been killed, and that, gradually, the purity of the Gospel in its fullness was replaced by literally hundreds of different churches, each teaching different doctrines and gospels, each claiming to be the true church and declaring all others heretical. While a form of Christianity has been preserved throughout the centuries, in this maze of confusion, a young boy, Joseph Smith, not much older than the prophet Samuel when he first received a revelation from God, wondered which of the many churches he should join, for all, in their squabbles and differences, could not have the Gospel of Jesus Christ in its perfect form. Joseph Smith read in the Bible (James 1:5) “If anyone lacks wisdom let him ask of God.” Following this admonition, Joseph went into the woods near his home, knelt down, and prayed sincerely for an answer to his troubling question. He testified, with a conviction that cost him his life, that God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ appeared to him and announced that the Gospel of Christ in its pristine form was to be restored to the world through the ministrations of an Angel. (See Revelation 14:6: “And I saw another angel fly in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach unto them that dwell on the earth, to every nation, and kindred, and tongue and people.”) Such a story could be rejected out of hand except for the fact that Joseph Smith received a set of plates from this angel, which he translated into English through the power of God. That is his claim and this is what is at stake.
We see ourselves as members of the “restored” Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, to distinguish ourselves from the Church of Jesus Christ formed in the “Earlier Days.” We acknowledge that both Catholics and Protestants are Christians, that they teach a form of Christianity, which, if they follow the teachings of Christ, will be blessed by God, and that every human being, of all faiths, both believers and unbelievers, will have an opportunity to hear and accept His Gospel.
Many of my friends have rejected the Book of Mormon, without reading it and certainly without studying carefully what it has to say. We as a world are faced with a crisis of faith, with few having answers to life’s greatest challenges. If the Book of Mormon is truly the Word of God as Joseph Smith proclaimed, people of honest hearts should certainly at least read the book. I have seen many people out of curiosity willingly give it a careful look themselves, and not just rely on what opponents of the LDS Church might say.
Many wonder why we members of the LDS Church accept both the Bible and the Book of Mormon as scripture. First, the Old Testament (Ezkiel 37:14-25) testifies there will be two records: the Stick of Judah, today called the Bible, and the Stick of Joseph, today called the Book of Mormon. Both books testify that Jesus is the Christ and that God is the same “yesterday, today, and forever.” Jesus himself indicated he had “other sheep which are not of this fold [the Old World] and that they too must hear my voice [in the New World].” (See John 16:10, in the Bible, and 3 Nephi 15:12-24, in the Book of Mormon.)
As a final word, I must share my feelings and testimony of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon. No book that I have read, other than the Bible itself, has touched my heart, expanded my understanding of things spiritual and transcendental, like the Book of Mormon. The prophets writing in this book specifically outlined how and why this book was written for our day and generation. In a world where scholars and pundits are challenging the authenticity of the Bible, with many seeing it as a collection of myths and traditions not to be taken literally, the Book of Mormon is the only book of scripture that confirms that the Bible is the true word of God, that He has revealed His will to people in the Holy Land (Jerusalem) but also to people on the American Continent, and that references that other people in other parts of the world also received his words and that their scriptures will also someday be shown to the world. Yet, in the final analysis, one’s faith is a personal matter. As I have shared some of the personal aspects of my life, many will be skeptical, unconvinced, as to how my life has been shaped, directed, and guided by forces not seen nor understood by the senses. Science teaches us to think outside the box, to test and experiment with the new, the strange, and the different. Logic and the senses can show the truth of hypotheses, while experience and observation can demonstrate the efficaciousness and utility of the wonders of technology. What is more difficult to discern is the power and influence of the Spirit of God in our lives. It has been said that one can know the value and truth of specific religious teachings, doctrines, and institutions by their fruits. A tree is known by the fruits it produces. I guess in the final analysis my testimony can only be judged by the fruits of my life. You be the judge! It has been the Gospel of Jesus Christ revealed to the Prophet Joseph Smith that has given my life its powerful meaning and purpose. For that, I will be eternally grateful.
Posted October 2011 on FairMormon.org
James B. Mayfield earned his BS (1958) and MA (1959) from the University of Utah, and his PhD (1967) from the University of Texas.
He is an internationally recognized expert in local government reform, including decentralization policy implementation, management effectiveness in rural development programming activities, and local capacity building at the village level through institutions of good governance. He has over forty years of professional experience, in Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, Tunisia, Sudan, Kenya, Pakistan, the Philippines, Indonesia, and India.
Since 1966, first as a Fulbright Scholar in Egypt and then a research consultant with USAID, Dr. Mayfield focused on local government development at the provincial, district, and village levels, and he was recently honored for his definitive book on Local Government in Egypt. In the early 1980s, Dr. Mayfield was a consultant with USAID in the Philippines, assigned to help design, implement, and evaluate the Charter City Program, which was eventually expanded into a full-fledged decentralized local government system, one of the first in Asia. In 2003-2004, Dr. Mayfield was hired by Chemonics International to be RTI’s South Central Regional Director in Iraq for the Local Governance Development Program, supervising some forty expatriates and over one hundred Iraqi staff. In 2005, he led a team to Amman, Jordan, to assess their local governance sector, and to design a strategic framework for programming and RFP for USAID/Jordan’s Democracy and Governance Office. During 2006, Dr Mayfield was recruited as a senior management consultant in Chemonics International’s headquarters in Washington DC, to help coordinate the USAID-funded “Building Reform and Recovery through Democratic Governance” (BRDG) program to assist USAID missions worldwide to promote democratic governance in a number of developing countries.
During 2007-2011, as a co-founder and former chairman of the board of CHOICE Humanitarian, Dr. Mayfield has devoted his full time to document the Self Developing Village Program used by CHOICE in Mexico, Guatemala, Bolivia, Kenya, and Nepal in a book entitled The Time Has Come. This model is based upon a “Rural District Networking and Empowerment strategy” and will be used to prepare villages to integrate the Concero Connect VSAT internet technology in ways that are sensitive to their local cultures and still provide needed telephony, health, education, and other e-government services, help expand their local economic development opportunities, and, thereby, enhance their quality of life. Dr. Mayfield has expressed his belief that thousands of villages throughout the world will be benefited by this new technology. He is scheduled to convene a workshop in Cairo, Egypt, on local Government Reform in January 2012, in which fifty international scholars will meet to review and suggests way that the new local government system in Egypt will be based upon principles of good governance and democracy. Dr. Mayfield is also a professor emeritus from the University of Utah, with over thirty years of teaching experience in the fields of Public Administration and Rural Development Management.
Dr. Mayfield has twenty years of experience as a specialist in survey research, questionnaire development, sample design, interviewer training and supervision, data coding and entry, statistical analysis of data, and report writing. He was owner and manager of Wasatch Opinion Research Corporation (1968-1980) and a summer intern with the Michigan Survey Research Center (1968-69). Wasatch Opinion Research Corporation was the largest survey research organization in the intermountain states area in the 1960s and 1970s, conducting data collection for a number of national firms and government organizations, including George Gallop, the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research, HUD, the Peace Corps, and the National Drug Usage Survey.
He is co founder of CHOICE Humanitarian, a nonprofit NGO committed to improving the quality of life in rural villages in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. He has lived and/or worked in some 168 village communities over the past forty years, in Egypt, Tunisia, the Sudan, the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, Bangladesh, Vietnam, Nepal, Pakistan, India, Kenya, Mali, Guatemala, Bolivia, Mexico, and Western Samoa.
Dr. Mayfield has at least some facility in Arabic, French, Finnish, Spanish, Swahili, Bahasa Indonesia, Tagalog, and Urdu. He has a wonderful wife (Rosalind), eleven children, fifty three grandchildren, and six great grandchildren. (Yes, he says, he knows all their names, but he uses a computer program to remember their birthdays.)
His hobbies and interests include writing, reading, scripture study, studies of early Christianity, snow and water skiing, shell collecting (he is an amateur malacologist), collecting first edition books, running and mountain climbing (he climbed Mount Kilimanjaro at the age of 62, in August 1996), studying and understanding different cultures, and playing with his grandchildren.
In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Dr. Mayfield has served as a missionary in Finland, 1955-1958; a high councilman, 1972-78; a member of the LDS Church Correlation and Evaluation Committee, 1978-1990; bishop of the Federal Heights Ward, 1990-1995; and president of the Houston Texas Mission, 1999-2002. Currently, he is a Sunday School teacher for the Gospel Doctrine class in his Ward.
Mr. Satie Najm, former associate in the Iraqi Audit Bureau, Professor of Accounting at the University of Babel, and Regional Team leader, CPA, USAID, Local Governance Program (2004-2007), was Dr. Mayfield’s Executive Assistant (June 2003 to May 2004). In a letter of appreciation for Dr. Mayfield’s contribution during his work in Iraq, Mr. Najm stated: “James Mayfield left unforgettable memories in Iraqis’ minds. Jim helped Iraqis in the South Central Region of Iraq to understand their rights, and trained them on how to express their minds and thoughts openly, with no fear and with high confidence. He brought to the region a new set of ideals and programs about democracy and human rights, through a series of workshops, meetings, and seminars. Hundreds of senior politicians, officials, and tribal leaders were eager to sit with him and listen carefully to his wise thoughts, explanations, and advice. He used to talk to everyone no matter who they were: poor, rich, educated, simple people, men, women, young, and old. He had an amazing way of talking to people in their own language. He was so generous with providing advice to those who were in need. Despite his age, the stressful job, and the instability in Iraq, Jim used to travel to villages to meet with farmers and sit with them, talk to them, and encourage them to practice their rights in the new Iraq. Jim became part of Iraq’s history as he left his touch in all sides of life. He participated in building government systems, administrative structures, and he was the first one to bring the concepts of local council governance to the area. Words cannot describe Jim’s achievements in my country; we owe him, and will remember him always. God bless his heart. Sincerely, Satie Najm.”