As President Dieter F. Uchtdorf began to speak during the Priesthood session of the April 2015 General Conference, I wondered if this was the first time Catherine the Great had ever been mentioned in General Conference. Then when he mentioned the name of one of her local governours, Potemkin, the name caught my attention. Potemkin made me think of the Russian revolution propaganda film ‘Battleship Potemkin’. I wondered what President Uchtdorf was going to say…we seemed a long way from a General Conference topic.
The current second councillor in the First Presidency went on to explain about the fake villages, complete with busy looking villagers created for Catherine’s tour. I recalled the fake village across the river on the border of North and South Korea—now also known as a Potemkin village. In 2002, I had travelled to South Korea to collect my son at the end of his mission in the Seoul South Korea mission. Local Korean friends drove us the short distance north to their nation’s border. Here we entered an observatory building and looked across a river to a village matching the one President Uchtdorf spoke about—a village ‘all for show’. There were no villagers mingling about. The place was deserted. There were large signs which my son translated for me; statements about reunification. It was truly a Potemkin village.
In normal life it is good to make an effort to present our best selves.
There is nothing wrong with shining our shoes, smelling our best, or even hiding the dirty dishes before the home teachers arrive. However, when taken to extremes, this desire to impress can shift from useful to deceitful.
The Lord’s prophets have ever raised a warning voice against those who “draw near [to the Lord] with their mouth, and with their lips do honour [Him], but have removed their heart far from [Him]” (President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, On Being Genuine, Apr. 2015 General Conference).
President Uchtdorf continues by reminding us that it is high time for a course correction.
We were asked if our organisational and personal goals are sometimes the modern equivalent of a Potemkin village.
He encouraged us to remember that our Saviour Jesus Christ will want to know the condition of our hearts. He would want to know ‘how we love and minister to those in our care. How we show that love to our spouse, if we have one, and to our family. How we lighten their daily load.’
This made me think hard. I carefully considered who is ‘in my care’. Some are there officially through visiting teaching assignments, and through my current calling. Others are assigned by the Spirit. Their names come by prompting. Yet others are family; family that are actually related to me and people from the ‘Family of God’ that have become part of my heart-family. These are the people ‘in my care’. Having said that, not all want to be cared for; some can be prickly with independence. Sometimes the best care is to love and wait, as Elder Nielson reminded us—but that’s another great talk….
I thought about the questions ‘Why do I serve?’ and ‘Why do I attend?’ My answers, like yours, will be very closely aligned to President Urchtdorf’s. Or they ought to be. If they are very different, you have some course corrections to make. Don’t be afraid. Start on your knees, then go see your Bishop.
Though speaking at the Priesthood session of General Conference, there was a message relevant to all of us ‘build on whatever strength you have, even if your activity looks like a Potemkin village…’
God’s promises are sure and certain.
Are we not all of us in need of repair, maintenance, and rehabilitation? We come to church not to hide our problems, but to heal them (On Being Genuine, stet).
The cry of teenagers to ‘get real’ or for parents to ‘get a life’, coupled with the various admonitions for women to find their ‘authentic selves’ to not settle, by digging deep to find their real desires and motivations and then forge a path forward, unflinchingly ever forward to being their true selves, regardless … these are futile, unsatisfying banners. Go down this path and for sure you will find yourself constructing a Potemkin village. If you find you have laid the paths and plans for such a village, turn away, make your course correction, and come back to the real village, the village that is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This apostle, even President Dieter F. Uchtdorf has issued a deeper eternal invitation to us to
…resist the temptation to draw attention to ourselves and, instead, strive for a far greater honor: to become humble, genuine disciples of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. As we do so, we will find ourselves walking the path that leads to our best, most genuine, and noblest selves (On Being Genuine, stet).
As an adult Jane moved north to Queensland, here she experienced an intense sense of belonging. She quickly took up Australian citizenship. Research shows that relatives had originally arrived in the states capital in 1881 and built a home which remains standing today.
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