A calling in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, is believed to come from God and is an act of voluntary service that should benefit those served as well as those who serve – callings give members an opportunity to grow and become better people.
“We all have divine potential,” says new IFLC Board Member April Cook, “and so a calling for a member of my church is a way of developing that potential, in leadership, in service, and in love. Every part of our faith tradition is focused around trying to help us become more like our Savior Jesus Christ and realize our divine potential.”
Church members fill each role in the Church’s immense organization, which includes all clerical and lay functions, including the extensive social service structure that assists church family members in need with food, counseling, and support. Church leaders work to interpret these callings and assign members where they will both do and receive the most good.
Cook has been “called” to many roles within the church. And in her life, she has also been pulled towards, or perhaps called to, an in-depth interaction with and examination of the faith traditions of friends and neighbors.
Growing up in Salt Lake City, Utah, Cook was raised in the LDS church but connected with people of other faith traditions. “My best friends were always members of other faiths. I went to church with them. We talked about our beliefs. I’ve always been very aware of people of other faiths and ethnic backgrounds,” says Cook.
In her late teens Cook began an intense journey of faith to understand herself and the teachings of her church. That journey caused her to embrace a whole-hearted exploration of faith, taking classes, reading the sacred texts of other traditions and interviewing friends and work associates about their faiths, exploring faith from a variety of angles and trying to understand God.
“In my church we are told to search, ponder, and pray” says Cook. Her faith journey caused her to study from the standard scriptures of her faith, the Bible and the Book of Mormon, as well as teachings of LDS prophets and apostles, and she even gained a great amount of religious awareness from the literature and theory classes she took in college at the University of California, Irvine. Cook relied on a passage from the Book of Mormon (Moroni 10:4) that exhorts the questioner to take their questions to God.
“At the end of the Book of Mormon, it says, if you want to know anything, ask God. So, I started asking God about everything and the answers that I found were life-changing and brought a lot of peace,” says Cook. “I learned to let go of myself, of answers that I realized were my answers, not God’s answers. It totally changed the way I looked at the world and my place in it. Most importantly, I came to understand the meaning of real joy through a deep and abiding testimony of Jesus Christ. God loves us so much. It is through His love that we can find life’s greatest meaning.”
Cook and her husband Justin, both from Salt Lake City, travelled extensively through his job, living in Northern and Southern California, Ann Arbor, England, and Tokyo before settling in Rochester Hills, where Cook was called to be the Director of Public Affairs for the Grand Blanc Stake (a geographical area made up of several congregations or “wards”, the term is taken from the stakes of a tent mentioned in Isaiah 54:2).
It was a calling that was deeply meaningful and fulfilling for Cook, presenting her with the opportunity to arrange for LDS church members to visit a mosque and Jewish temple, to help coordinate a refugee event and inter-faith service projects for youth, to meet and connect with congregants and leaders of many faith traditions.
“The underlying current of all our beliefs is this core of love,” says Cook. “We may worship differently and we may look different, but at our core we are human beings who are created by a God who loves us and wants us to love each other.”
Two months after accepting that calling, Cook was at an IFLC awards dinner. “I was amazed by what I heard and what I saw. And I’ve always really loved interacting with people of different backgrounds and different beliefs. I was riveted by the awards ceremony. The concept was so exciting to me because it’s such a deep part of who I am,” says Cook. “Soon afterward I started attending Education Committee meetings to offer support and get more involved in our broader religious community. I believe in what the IFLC is doing wholeheartedly.”
IFLC Vice Chairman Greg Geiger recognized Cook’s passion for interfaith work and invited her to join the IFLC board. In spring of 2016 her husband, Justin Cook, accepted the calling as President of the Grand Blanc Stake, a substantial 10 year commitment that meant that the Cook family would need to shift some of their activities and priorities, and see how his calling, his job, and his frequent travel would affect the family.
Family life and responsibilities are taken into account with all LDS church callings. Cook discussed this new opportunity in the IFLC with her ecclesiastical leader and it was decided that she should remain on the Public Affairs Committee but no longer serve as the Director.
“I feel like I’m home in this calling and home in the IFLC,” says Cook, who, in addition to serving as Secretary, is enthusiastically pursuing programming ideas with the IFLC’s Education Committee.
“I love being a wife and a mother. I consider being a mother an incredible job with so many opportunities to teach and to also develop myself. Teaching our children will determine a lot about the future. So, part of my efforts in all that I do is to give my children a foundation in understanding social and faith concepts that I have worked for decades to develop. Through my various church callings and recent involvement with the IFLC I have been able to help my children to see the value of service and sacrifice, the importance of involvement and leadership, the qualities of kindness and enthusiasm that make a difference, and an awareness that love should be at the heart of all that we do. Our actions speak louder than our words and I hope that my life exemplifies my belief that following the example of my Savior Jesus Christ is central to who I am and who I am trying to become.”