Letter to my Book of Mormon Teacher

[Leaun Otten was my teacher during two semesters in 1982-1983 at BYU in studying the Book of Mormon.  I felt to write him a letter recently, and felt, because of his great influence upon me, to make the letter public.  I guess perhaps I do this in commemoration of Thanksgiving in two days.]

Leaun Otten

Friday, November 16, 2018

Brother Otten:

Your name came to mind recently as I was studying Isaiah, and I reviewed some notes I had taken from your Book of Mormon classes at BYU in 1982-83.  I searched the internet and found the Legacy article written about you in the Salem Newsletter in May, 2014.  I was pleased to learn more about you, and reflect more about what I learned from you.  I thought I would like to send you a letter of thanks.

In doing so, I thought it might be nice to share a few of my memories from 35 years ago, particularly perhaps to share with your children and grandchildren.  Our children and grandchildren rarely get to appreciate the contributions we make in the world through our employment.  I am sure I am typical of the impact you had through your teaching on probably thousands of individuals over the course of your career.

The specific Isaiah point that brought you to mind, which I have used in my own Gospel teaching through the years (in fact I shared this as a comment in Gospel Doctrine just a few weeks ago) is that Nephi and Jacob and others, when quoting Isaiah, “tell us what they will tell us, then they quote Isaiah to tell it to us, and then they tell us what they have told us.”  That pattern makes clear how to use the Book of Mormon to understand Isaiah.

I remember your teaching about Lehi’s momentary weakness in murmuring in 1 Nephi 16, noting that you had a time early in your married life of not being able to feed your babies as you felt you should, and the pain it caused you.  That empathy for Lehi’s struggle stays with me even now.

I have thought of another story from early in your married life that you shared, about righteous priesthood authority.  I remember you describing soon after marriage you metaphorically climbing atop a chair to proclaim some decision you were making as patriarch of the house, only upon descending to realize it was not the right decision at all.  I had a few similar experiences a few years after taking your class when I was first married.

I just pulled out the notes I have from your classes that I have reviewed a few times in my life.  A number of other memories flood back.  On September 13, 1982 you taught us the pattern, “Obedience, Sacrifice, Faith, Blessings.”

On the next page is a diagram of two boxes, one large and one small to teach us about the large plates vs the small plates; another place has a chalk board diagram to understand the different groups through the book of Mosiah.  But lest we become too focused on unimportant matters in the book, I also remember the very simple diagram you drew for a representation of the map of Book of Mormon lands which was nearly as simple as two vertical lines, and an area in the middle called the wilderness.

And speaking of the chalkboard, I also remember you had a peculiar way of drawing a circle on the chalk board by pivoting on your elbow in a rapid motion, and you were a bit proud to point out your skill in doing so; everyone in the class chuckled at it.  You created good feelings in the classroom; we wanted to be there to learn from you.

There are multiple references in my notes to President Kimball’s instruction to immerse ourselves in the scriptures, which is a favorite quote of mine, and probably became such because of you.  I have remembered clearly your teaching from the Book of Ether that Moroni was so excited to get to the point about having to serve the God of the land or be swept off that he nearly skipped the story of the first set of barges that were built.  That insights has helped me look at the Book of Mormon as a real book, written by real people, and something that can apply to how we live today.

Your quote books of General Authority statements on passages of the Book of Mormon were an excellent text, and very helpful in keeping the message on point, and clarifying what was meant by various passages.  I remember you making the point clearly that you didn’t want to be quoted by us (although I have done this some in my life, I must admit); you wanted us to be able to quote scripture first, and the church leaders second.  Although being a popular religion teacher I suspect could engender a certain ego from admiring students, I detected none of that in you; that example has stayed with me throughout my life.

Well, I have perhaps fifty pages of notes, and could continue longer, but probably not with more effect.

In closing it probably is most important to note that the Book of Mormon at the time was not subtitled “Another Testament of Jesus Christ” but if there is one thing I gained from your class it was clear to me how central he was to the book, and to our salvation. I had a testimony of the Book of Mormon from my days in seminary, but I was not well enough grounded in the centrality of Christ to it, and to me.  You dealt with that issue from the title page through to 3 Nephi and on to the end of the book.  I cannot quote specific passages about this point, but I remember being very clear about having gained that knowledge through your teaching that year.

I hope this letter warms your heart, and repays you a bit for your years of work in teaching students.  I am certain I would be joined by thousands of others in saying thank you.  I pray as we enter this Holiday Season that the warmth of your testimony of the Savior and his love for you and your family rests deeply upon you.


Kip M. Twitchell

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