Friday, October 10, 2014
Joseph Fielding McConkie: Preacher, Teacher, and Counselor
One year ago today, Joseph Fielding McConkie left his mortal probation to his next sphere of life in the spirit world. He had battled colon cancer for over 10 years, and while the Lord saw fit to spare his life for a time, eventually he was called to a different sphere. He was 72, and is survived by his wife Brenda and his 9 children.
This article is not about the accomplishments he had in this life; Deseret Book and others will talk about that. It is about how this man influenced my life during our brief friendship. It will mention some of his writings and teachings however.
I came into contact with Joseph on my mission to Alabama from 2010 to 2012. My mission president, Richard Neitzel Holzapfel, was a colleague and friend of Joseph’s from BYU where the two taught together in the religion department. After finding out that I was a fan of the late Elder Bruce R. McConkie (who was Joseph’s father), President Holzapfel brought Joseph up, saying that he was like unto his father. This intrigued me, but I didn’t plan on ever talking to or meeting Joseph personally.
However, anyone who has served a full-time mission knows that most things do not goes as planned in the mission field. As I was in Tupelo, Mississippi I had my second interview with President Holzapfel. I asked him how old Joseph was and was shocked when he answered, “I am not sure. Let’s call him and find out”. 2 minutes later, I heard Joseph’s voice for the first time, and asked him how he was doing. After saying that he was fine, he said, “ I am going to tell you how to be a great Elder. You bear testimony of Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon. I am tired of missionaries and members not doing it. I may not be able to convert everyone, but I can convert you”.
I then realized how important both Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon were to missionary work. They are the bookends of what we do. Bearing witness of Christ does not make us different from other Christian churches, which also believe in him. Our message is not that “God Spake”, rather it is “ God speaks, and has spoken through the Prophet Joseph Smith”.
Some months later, I received the first of many letters from Joseph, where he again counseled me to bring up the Prophet Joseph Smith, and to always close with my testimony of him. I did this throughout my mission, and was blessed for it. My testimony grew much because of this on my mission, and if my children decide to serve missions I will encourage them to do the same.
Something Joseph taught me that I had struggled with throughout my mission was that titles don’t matter. What matters is that you serve in such a way as to have the spirit as your companion. While I am not fully converted to that principle, I hope to be one day.
In other letters, Joseph and I discussed various gospel subjects, political issues, and other things that occurred in my mission. In his last letter he counseled me to never stop learning more about the gospel, to always keep my covenants, and to realize that I was never released as a missionary, just a missionary assignment. If it had not been for some of the things Joseph said, I doubt I would have stayed in Alabama the full two years.
After being released, I called Joseph to let him know I was home. He told me to call him occasionally, and to visit him when I arrived in Utah. After settling in, I visited him in his home in Orem, Utah. Due to his cancer treatment, he had lost his hair and was much thinner than what I had seen in pictures. Nevertheless, he was smiling and very optimistic when I arrived. We discussed a few subjects, including evolution. His wife Brenda jokingly said “Oh no, you have gotten him started”.
At the end of the visit, Joseph and I shook hands and asked me to keep in touch with him, which I did. About 1 month and a half ago, President Holzapfel called me and told me that Joseph did not have long to live. I called him and we had the following conversation: Tarik: “Joseph, how are you?” Joseph: “Not well” Tarik: “How long do you think?” Joseph: “A few weeks, if I am lucky” Tarik: (voicing choking) “Thanks for all you have done for me. I didn’t deserve it” Joseph: “I am glad to have been of help. Stick with the Restoration and the Prophet Joseph Smith, and I promise all will be well” Tarik: “I will see you….” Joseph: “Under much better circumstances” Tarik: “Farewell friend.” Joseph “ Carry On”.
Joseph Fielding McConkie was a preacher, teacher and counselor. He was a preacher of righteousness, a teacher of the doctrines of the Restoration, and a counselor to people whom he knew were bound for great things. He was the last of a dying breed in a sense, as he taught many of the fundamental doctrines of the gospel that we seem to neglect or overlook now. Each of his books is an intellectual and spiritual feast.
He is now shoulder to shoulder with his father, his grandfathers Joseph Fielding Smith and Oscar Walter McConkie, his brother Bruce, and other loved ones. I know that together they are doing a great work on the other side of the veil. I also have no doubt that he has given an accounting to the Lord Jesus Christ and like Thomas of old has said “My Lord and my God”, and that the Savior has given him the blessing he foretold for the faithful “Enter thou into the joy of the Lord”.
Joseph, know that I love you and your teachings. You were a mentor and hero to me. I will never forget what you taught me, and I promise I will never cease to testify of the Prophet Joseph Smith, the Book of Mormon, and the doctrines of the Restoration. Well done Joseph. I miss you brother.