Samuel the Lamanite’s Staff

Today’s scripture block was Helaman 13. How to make this come alive for the students in my class? Other than the first four verses of the historical background of what happens, the rest of the entire 39 verses are Samuel’s speech.

We started off with an overview provided by the teacher’s manual (as a rule, I do not use outside teaching materials, since the church requests we do not use sources other than CES ones).

As suggested in the manual, I held up a picture of President Hinckley and we talked briefly about what a prophet, seer, and revelator does.

We compared our modern day prophet with the ancient prophets and talked a bit about how sometimes people are surprised to see our modern day prophet without a beard. But without photographic equipment thousands of years ago, does anyone really know the physical appearance of Abraham, Moses, etc.?

What is more important is what a prophet does and how one can obtain a testimony of his teachings.

We talked about walking through a trecherous forest and the difference of what it would be like whether during the daytime or during the night. Which would be preferable? And regardless of whether it was day or night, a trustworthy guide would make a tremendous difference in getting safely through that forest (the parallel obviously was our world today).

And then we spoke of how, while in that forest, we can err. How? We err when we make that initial step onto the slippery slope of sin; we do this the moment we begin to ignore the guides the Lord has given us – the prophets. And we start slipping down that slope when we first start justifying sin.

This is what the Nephites were doing. I asked what we had studied last week. A student said, “Nephi and his prophecy about the dead chief judge.” I said, “That’s right. And did the people listen?” Unfortunately, most did not. And the people continued to slip down the slope of sin until they got to the point where Samuel tells them they are worse than their fathers.

In fact, the manual brings out the point that the people had sunk so deeply in sin that the Lord had to send a Lamanite prophet to the people. I had a student look in Helaman 13:1-4 to see how many times Samuel came to the people (I was surprised to find out the kids didn’t know this already).

We read in Helaman 13 that the Nephites just really did not want to hear Samuel and the second time he came, they wouldn’t even let him in the city. They instead wanted other kinds of guides. We talked about what kinds of false guides are in our world today and how dangerous it is to let our minds be filled with their falsehoods and advice.

So then we turned to an application activity to get them into the scriptures themselves. I passed out cardboard tubes I’d saved when Saturday I threw away my extra Christmas wrapping paper (if I’d not had these, I could have used paper towel rolls, etc.). Each team of two kids received one of these, in addition to a few colorful markers.

I instructed the kids that they were creating Samuel’s Staff. On it they were to write all of the warnings Samuel was shouting to the people while standing on the city wall. The general guideline I gave was that for every verse from verse 5 to the final verse 39, they were to write one phrase on their staff.

It wasn’t until they were nearly finished with all 35-plus warnings written on the staffs, that I told them they also could decorate the staff with any kind of creative motifs to make the staff look ancient (I didn’t want them to get all hung up on fun decorations before having completed the assignment).

What I noticed from this activity was that the kids began to feel more deeply about these warnings listed so articulately in Helaman 13. My goal is always to deepen the scriptures for the students. It is all too easy to gloss over the chapters, the storylines, the verses, and to think, “That was then. This is now. This doesn’t apply.”

So I’m always trying to find ways to bring these teachings home to the hearts of these great students. At first the kids had seemed somewhat lighthearted doing the assignment. But as they continued to read the warnings Samuel gives in this chapter, they became more sober. In fact, one girl called out, “This is kind of scary!”

The lesson seemed to hit home by the end of class. They were much more recognizing where the slippery slope of sin leads. The picture of where it all ends up is very well encapsulated in Helaman 13:29, and we read that as a class.

The scriptures are amazing and make the most potent of learning texts. For truly, isn’t this the purpose of having the Lord’s guides, the prophets? To point out the truth of sinful living and where it leads.

At the beginning of the lesson (to encourage participation) I had announced we would have “Best of Show” at the end of today’s class, where everyone could vote on the best shouting staff (participation is a really big thing for me and I’m always looking for ways to encourage it). But by the end of class, everyone had gotten so absorbed in the activity that the class decided that everyone had won “Best of Show.” Now that’s a day well done! The kids did an absolutely great job creating their staff for Samuel.

When they were finished, I asked each team to share something that struck them or how what they read affected them. One of the comments really struck me: “How hard-headed the Nephites were.” How very true. And how important to make sure we are not the same.

IMPORTANT THOUGHT (for me at least):

Watching someone eat is never as satisfying as is joining in the meal. Thus, I always want each seminary lesson to get the kids actually IN the scriptures, not just HEARING about them. The kids really do need time to handle their scriptures, physically read the verses, and then talk about what THEY have learned from the experience. That is why I am always creating so many different approaches to get the kids reading in the verses and making application about those teachings on their own. This way I know the students have actually feasted at the scriptural table of sustenance – not just hear me talk about the delicious fruits of the spirit and how yummy they are! :0)

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