"President Thomas S. Monson: Taking Temples to All the World"
Thomas E. Coburn
Managing Director, Temple Department
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
I have the wonderful blessing in my employment as Managing Director of the Church’s Temple Department and as a member of the Temple Department Executive Committee to be associated with the First Presidency as they approve temples to be built throughout the world and direct the ongoing redemptive work performed in temples.
Since President Thomas S. Monson became president of the Church on February 3, 2008, I have been blessed to attend temple dedications and rededications with him or his counselors around the world. I can assure you, brothers and sisters, that temple work and construction has not slowed down one bit under President Monson. He has taken up the banner passed to him by President Gordon B. Hinckley and has moved this work forward in a truly remarkable way. I know that the Lord has prepared him his entire life for this time. We are all witnesses and participants to history in the making. I hope you’re writing your feelings in your journals about these times.
I’d like to recap for you some recent events with temples and temple work around the world. Last month, President Henry B. Eyring, on assignment from President Thomas S. Monson, dedicated the new San Salvador El Salvador Temple. This is the first temple in El Salvador; the temple district is comprised of stakes solely from within El Salvador. It is a beautiful temple, which has already blessed the lives of the Saints in that country. Over 165,000 people attended the open house and nearly 5,000 people requested the missionaries come visit them.
As is customary, the evening before the dedication there was a cultural celebration presented by the youth in the temple district. Those kids were awesome! There was a tremendous sense of righteous power emanating from them. I can tell you that the future of the Church in El Salvador is very secure. President Monson loves these kinds of gatherings, which allow the youth to associate with thousands of young men and women their own age, who share the same values, and to experience something that they will remember all the days of their lives.
On Saturday, September 17, 2011, President Eyring, also on assignment from President Monson, broke ground for the Philadelphia Pennsylvania Temple. You may not know this, but President Eyring grew up in Princeton, New Jersey, about an hour away, and was baptized at the first Latter-day Saint meetinghouse built in Philadelphia! This will be a magnificent temple, right in the heart of Philadelphia, adjacent to Logan Square, on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, a major thoroughfare of this historic city. Philadelphia’s mayor, the Honorable Michael A. Nutter, and other dignitaries joined in. What an incredible blessing it is to have a temple right in the heart of our nation’s cradle of liberty.
President Monson has assigned President Dieter F. Uchtdorf to dedicate the new Quetzaltenango Guatemala Temple on December 11, 2011. This will be the second temple in Guatemala and is a beautiful monument to the Savior in the western half of the country, which is a large and mostly rural area. Situated at 7,500 feet elevation, it is located on a prominent hill overlooking the city of Quetzaltenango. Many of the patrons attending this temple will be indigenous, speaking several native languages.
May I take this opportunity to thank you for your constant and enthusiastic support of the Rexburg Idaho Temple? Years ago, I remember our daughter telling us about waiting in long lines at the Idaho Falls Temple to perform baptisms for the dead. To have a temple right here in Rexburg, crowning the hill above this beautiful campus, is truly a dream come true. President Clair O. Thueson tells us how reverent and patient and faithful you are. Thanks to you, the Rexburg Temple is virtually fully utilized, and in terms of ordinance activity levels, it clearly sets the pace for temples its size.
Talk with your priesthood leaders about receiving your own limited-use recommend if you don’t possess one (this goes for those of you who are new members of the Church as well) and attend the temple as often as your circumstances allow. For you returned missionaries, nowhere will you feel the spirit as you did on your mission, like you will in the temple. It will give you the power to go back out into the world to be the salt of the earth.
From the 84th section of the Doctrine and Covenants, verses 20-21, we read: “Therefore, in the ordinances thereof, the power of godliness is manifest. And without the ordinances thereof and the authority of the priesthood, the power of godliness is not manifest unto men in the flesh.”
President Howard W. Hunter taught: “All of our efforts in proclaiming the gospel, perfecting the Saints, and redeeming the dead lead to the holy temple. This is because the temple ordinances are absolutely crucial; we cannot return to God’s presence without them. I encourage everyone to worthily attend the temple or to work toward the day when you can enter that holy house to receive your ordinances and covenants. As the prophets have said, the temple is a place of beauty; it is a place of revelation; it is a place of peace. It is the house of the Lord. It is holy unto the Lord. It must be holy and important to us.”
In the 26th chapter of Alma, we read of the success of the sons of Mosiah reporting to the Church on their mission to the Lamanites. In the beautiful imagery of the harvest, Ammon speaks of the new converts being gathered into the garner to protect them from the “whirlwinds” of the adversary. Typically, we understand those garners to be the institutional organization of the Church, with meetinghouses and priesthood watch care.
But I like to think when I read verse 5 that the temple is the great garner. Individuals and families who receive the saving ordinances of the temple, and are sealed in eternal family units, are much more likely to remain active in the Church, send children on missions, and see their children marry in holy temples because of the protection and power of temple covenants and ordinances. Being worthy of a temple recommend, and actively worshiping in the temple is an important part of the whole armor of God, literally part of the oil in our lanterns in preparation for the glorious second coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. The temple provides us with protection against Satan and the whirlwinds of his temptations.
The temple has greatly blessed my life and it will greatly bless yours. There’s something ennobling and refining about temple work. President Gordon B. Hinckley used to teach that when we participate in the sacred redeeming ordinances of the temple, we always leave the temple as better people. He taught that the temple is a house of forgiveness; that when we go to the temple with a repentant heart, we can receive forgiveness for our sins.
President Monson taught in April conference that each temple “stands as a beacon to the world, an expression of our testimony that God, our Eternal Father, lives, that He desires to bless us…an expression of our testimony that life beyond the grave is as real and as certain as is our life here on earth.”
I believe it would be safe to say that the average commute time for most of you to get to the Rexburg Temple is probably in the 5-10minute range! I ask you to think for a moment of those faithful Saints around the world who still have not had the opportunity to receive their own temple ordinances, and for whom it will be highly unlikely that they will have the resources to travel to the nearest temple, which in some cases may be thousands of miles away.
Since 1992, there is a fund available to them. It is the General Temple Patron Assistance Fund. Thousands of Saints around the world are blessed by this fund annually. Take, for instance, the Nestor Illunga family, who live in the interior of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Brother Illunga saved money for four years so that he could take his wife, Sombodi, and their seven children to the Johannesburg South Africa Temple.
This is a huge, life-impacting blessing to saints around the world. Were it not for this fund, these faithful members would have to wait many years to be able to save up for such an expensive trip. Over the past two years, the fund has assisted over 8,000 people! It is supported fully by outside donations and not by general Church funds. A sister from India, after receiving her ordinances in the Hong Kong China Temple, said, “I always thought that only people with lots of money were able to attend the temple.”
You may not be aware, but donations to the fund are welcome. To contribute, you can simply write on your donation slip, under the category “Other,” “Temple Patron Assistance Fund,” or go online to www.ldsphilanthropies.org and donate to the “Temple Patrons’ Fund.” President Monson also shared in the April 2011 General Conference, the following:
“Why are so many willing to give so much in order to receive the blessings of the temple? Those who understand the eternal blessings which come from the temple know that no sacrifice is too great, no price too heavy, no struggle too difficult in order to receive those blessings. There are never too many miles to travel, too many obstacles to overcome, or too much discomfort to endure. They understand that the saving ordinances received in the temple, that permit us to someday return to our Heavenly Father in an eternal family relationship, and to be endowed with blessings and power from on high, are worth every sacrifice and every effort.”
“Now, my young friends…always have the temple in your sights. Do nothing which will keep you from entering its doors and partaking of the sacred and eternal blessings there. I commend those of you who already go to the temple regularly to perform baptisms for the dead, arising in the very early hours of the morning so you can participate in such baptisms before school begins. I can think of no better way to start the day.”
Now, brothers and sisters, what you don’t see or hear, by observing President Monson at the General Conference pulpit, is just how energizing his presence is for the Saints wherever he goes throughout the world, especially for the youth. I’ve been blessed to witness this first-hand. President Monson is a people’s prophet. He loves getting out among the people and they love him being there with them. They don’t want him to leave and he doesn’t want to go either. After the dedicatory services of the Kyiv Ukraine Temple, the Saints did not want him to go. And so he “tarried a bit longer.” The similarities to the Savior’s ministry are not circumstantial, but more of that later.
I testify, from my own experience, that the Lord has raised up President Thomas S. Monson for this very day. President Monson loves the temple and feels the urgency of this work, and he is moving this work along at an incredible pace to all corners of the globe! Since he became President of the Church, President Monson has announced 23 new temples and rededicated three existing temples. That’s a rate of one new temple every other month! Pretty amazing growth, isn’t it?
The Buenos Aires Argentina and Boise Idaho Temples, both built in the early 1980s were well-worn, tired, and in need of significant mechanical and infrastructure improvements. The Buenos Aires Temple will have a completely new baptistery addition, new temple missionary housing building, and renovated patron housing facility.
You may not be aware, but the Ogden Utah Temple renovation project is the largest of its kind ever in the history of the Church. The entire exterior “skin” of the temple has been peeled off down to the steel beams and concrete footings and a new temple is being built on top of that superstructure. The renovation of the Ogden Temple block will be a significant contributor to the revitalization and beautification of downtown Ogden.
In the 124th Section of the Doctrine and Covenants, we read the Lord’s injunction to the Prophet Joseph Smith, in verse 26: “Come ye, with all your gold, and your silver, and your precious stones, and with all your antiquities; and with all who have knowledge of antiquities . . . and bring the box-tree, and the fir-tree, and the pine-tree, together with all the precious trees of the earth.”
Temples are monuments to the Lord and to Heavenly Father. They are built at a higher standard than meetinghouses. Even in ancient times, we read in 2 Nephi 5:16, shortly after the prophet Nephi escaped with his family into the wilderness, “And I, Nephi, did build a temple; and I did construct it after the manner of the temple of Solomon save it were not built of so many precious things; for they were not to be found upon the land, wherefore it could not be built like unto Solomon’s temple. But the manner of the construction was like unto the temple of Solomon; and the workmanship thereof was exceedingly fine” (emphasis added).
In 2010, President Monson dedicated four temples and rededicated one. In April of this year he rededicated the refurbished Atlanta Georgia Temple. I’d like to now take you on a brief trip with President Monson as he has traveled the length and breadth of the world to dedicate these houses of the Lord over the past year or so.
If you’re around President Monson for very long, you will notice a couple of his attributes that perhaps are not so visible when he is seen at General Conference. First of all, he has incredible stamina. His energy is boundless. He just turned 84, but has the vitality of a 60-year old! We’re scrambling to try and keep up with him. He’s wearing us out! Next, he loves to be out among the people. His desire to be among the Saints far outweighs his interest in the architectural details of the temple, however beautiful they may be.
As you know, President Monson absolutely loves Canada. He considers himself part Canadian. The Canadian Saints consider him to be their own, too. This was very evident in May 2010, when he traveled to Vancouver, British Columbia to dedicate the temple there. The night before the dedication, a youth cultural celebration was held in a local ice hockey arena. This gathering began as a regular Church meeting with song and prayer.
Instead of singing the hymn on the program, President Monson directed that the congregation sing the national anthem, “O, Canada!”The crowd, including some 2,000 youth, erupted into cheers! As he got up to speak, President Monson gently touched the lapel pin on his suit coat and the Canadian Maple Leaf flag began to flash red and white! The arena went wild! The youth had made two huge cards for him with their greetings. When he held one of them up to show his appreciation, once again total pandemonium from the youth!
Three weeks later, in the town of Central, Arizona, situated between Pima and Thatcher, in Spencer W. Kimball country, President Monson dedicated a new temple, The Gila Valley Arizona Temple. You’ve probably seen the YouTube segment of him stopping on the desert highway to greet a group of members standing by the road with “We Thank Thee, O God, for a Prophet” signs held high in the air. He got out of the car and chatted with the members along the roadside in 90+ degree weather, seemingly unconcerned about the pressing demands on his weekend schedule! That evening during the cultural celebration, held at the outdoor stadium grounds of the College of Eastern Arizona, he marveled at the beautiful program of dancing and song.
If you haven’t read, or are reading, To the Rescue—A Biography of Thomas S. Monson, I highly encourage you to get a hold of a copy and start coming to know the Lord’s prophet. President Monson reaches out to the unheralded, the downtrodden, the depressed, the physically disabled, the aged and the lonely. His sensitivity radar is always on high alert for anyone who would not normally be singled out.
He loved the evening. A highlight of the pageantry was the segment on President Spencer W. Kimball. President Monson noted that the concept of the “smaller temple” was enthusiastically promoted by President Kimball. There was a strong spiritual connection that night with President Spencer W. Kimball. The next day, after the three dedicatory sessions, as he was leaving the temple, President Monson asked his security team, “Which way do we go?” As soon as they pointed the way to where his car was waiting in the parking lot, he turned around and headed in the completely opposite direction to go greet the throngs lined up behind the roped-off areas, waiting to catch a glimpse, or perhaps even shake the hand of the Lord’s prophet! Thirty minutes later he got into the car and was off to the airport. Lives were touched, many tears shed, because the Lord’s prophet tarried a bit longer among the people, in no hurry to catch the plane home.
Next, the Cebu City Philippines Temple. President Monson was really taken with the Philippine people. Time and again he told them what a beautiful people they are. He got very emotional when he made mention of the Filipino freedom fighters of World War II, who helped our soldiers in the fight to liberate the Philippines, and who, he taught, were waiting for their temple work to be performed by their Latter-day Saint countrymen. Cebu City is the second largest city in the Philippines, and home to the newest temple in that nation.
The cultural celebration was held in a downtown indoor arena. Cebu’s climate ranges somewhere between hot and muggy and extremely warm and humid. The indoor venue had no air conditioning. President Monson had given the visiting General Authorities and official party permission to not wear their suit coats, for which we were most grateful. But incredibly, he and President Eyring kept their coats on! It was over 90 degrees inside the building with over 95 percent humidity. So hot, in fact, that a dozen or so youth among the performers fainted and had to be carried out! Yet, President Monson was as cool as a cucumber, and seemed to be having the time of his life, while the rest of us were in meltdown mode, even without our jackets. Once again, I learned from his example that day that his own comfort is of secondary importance to him, and that what really matters to him is being with the people, reaching out to them and touching their lives.
The Kyiv Ukraine Temple came next. This was a very long trip for President Monson, even on the Huntsman jet; they had to make a couple of layovers to and from Ukraine. President Monson was fascinated with the Ukrainian people, who just a little over 20 years ago, had gained their own independence from the Soviet Union. He marveled at the quality of construction of the Kyiv Ukraine Temple, which is an exceptionally well-built temple considering the very difficult circumstances that surround construction projects there. He went out of his way to complement the temple project manager, Brother Hanno Luschin, of Germany, for the quality of his work. President Monson knew Brother Luschin’s father, Imo Luschin.
The cultural celebration was held in a grand old Soviet Union-era theatre. The diversity of cultures in the temple district was well represented with not only Ukrainian songs and dances, but also interwoven into the script were musical numbers from youth groups in Belarus, Georgia, Estonia, Lithuania, Kazakhstan, Romania, and Russia. President Monson’s opening remarks prior to the commencement of the program fired up the youth and they danced their hearts out for him. He said that he was very much in favor of these types of activities for the youth and that they would make friends for life among their fellow performers.
Next came the Laie Hawaii Temple rededication. President Monson has a tender affinity for Hawaii and its people. He was the last apostle called by President David O. McKay and it did not go unnoticed that President McKay’s imprint is still felt in the islands, especially in Laie. This was a historic renovation of the beautiful Laie temple, which had been closed for nearly two years. President Monson paid tribute to the construction team for their successful achievement. President Henry B. Eyring, who accompanied him, noted that they had achieved a balance of “enhancing the original temple without detracting from it,” which is something, he indicated, was not easy to do.
In his opening remarks the evening of the cultural celebration, President Monson commented again that he was very much in favor of these types of activities, where boys and girls can come together and have some wholesome fun together. “Now,” he said, “some may say they don’t need these types of activities and they’re fine at home. They don’t want to be at home with their parents!” he said. “They want to be part of something truly fun and memorable with young people their own age.”
The history of the Hawaiian Islands is intertwined with the outbreak of World War II, and President Monson particularly loved the segment depicting the growth of the Church during that era. The Cannon Center exploded into hearty cheers and applause when a young Tom Monson’s picture from his Navy career flashed on the screen.
The stakes in the temple district had made an effort to involve children and youth who were perhaps physically impaired, but whose spirit brightened the hearts of all those in attendance. The hula dance segment was beautiful, as a young girl in a wheelchair, Briana Garrido, caught the attention of not only the whole arena, but also the president of the Church. As the most important part of hula dancing is done with the hands, this beautiful girl was among the best dancers there that night. Afterward, President Monson singled her out and went over and gave her a kiss, a sweet and tender scene.
On April 30, President Monson flew to Atlanta, Georgia, for the rededication of that temple, which had been closed to the public for nearly two years for major renovation. As a young apostle, President Monson attended the original dedication of the Atlanta Temple in 1983. Fast-forwarding 28 years, President Monson was with the Saints again, gathered outside the temple, reaching out to the one. The anticipation of the youth in that temple district to dance and sing their hearts out for the Lord’s prophet was electrifying. It was a joyous occasion for all. President Monson thoroughly enjoys being out with the Saints.
And so the work goes on, brothers and sisters. President Thomas S. Monson has raised the banner of Zion and is bringing it to all the world as he builds temples closer to our Father in Heaven’s children. He announced at General Conference that 85 percent of members are now within 200 miles of a temple, and that percentage is increasing! Isaiah’s prophecy of the establishment of the mountain of the Lord’s house is literally being fulfilled. Temples literally dot the globe.
As we emulate President Monson’s example of selfless service, as we reach out and touch the lives of those around us, we will become more like our Savior, Jesus Christ. We will draw closer to Him by following the example of President Monson. I can think of no better pattern to follow, which so typifies the life and way of our Savior, Jesus Christ. We can show our gratitude to the Lord for his living prophet by following his counsels, to live worthily and prepare to serve a mission, to worship often in the temple, to reach out, serve, and rescue as he has done all of his life.
May the Lord bless us to catch a glimpse of this great and ongoing work and a greater love and appreciation for His prophet, to be active participants in the growth of His kingdom, I pray, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.