For the past three weeks, I have been in Europe where life is quite different from America. For starters, Europeans don’t understand why Americans like so much ice and air conditioning. Nevertheless, they politely accept our barbaric ways.
Europeans are either extremely religious (it varies between personal devotion and traditional behavior) or not religious at all. Either belief makes missionary work very difficult. But, Mormons have not come to play, they have come to save. The saints who are there are strong, the missionaries are fierce, and visitors come and go, shining their light at a steady flow. All are human saviors.
My thoughts have run deep as I ponder what it’s like to live my religion in a place so full of monuments, idols, gold, and ritual. As I read the talks in this session, my thoughts easily tied into the impressions I observed these past three weeks.
Elder Jacob de Jager told a story about fishermen caught in a storm. A rescue crew was sent out to bring the fishermen in. There was room for everyone on the boat except for one, who had to be left behind. The storm was severe and no one wanted to go back out to bring in the last fishermen, except for a young man who volunteered. His mother pleaded with him not to go. You see, she had already lost one son to the sea and couldn’t bear to lose another. He told her he felt it was his duty.
Hours later, the call went out that the boat had returned. The watchman yelled to the rescuer, “Did you save him?” to which the reply came, “Yes, and tell my mother that it’s my brother!”
Missionary work often brings guilty feelings to us because we let fear stop us from doing our duty. I don’t feel I have many opportunities for missionary work so I brought pass along cards with me on our trip. We took an Uber to the Rome Temple site. Our driver couldn’t speak English and struggled to find the best spot so we could hop out, take a selfie, and hop back in and go. But we did it! And the guy must have thought we were “crazy Americans.” We gave him a pass along card.
We also went to the Paris Temple. We took an Uber to the temple and called for another Uber to pick us up. And, you guessed it, we gave them each pass along cards. Like the title of Elder de Jager states, “You Never Know Who You May Save.” In my own shy, imperfect way, I can be a human savior.
I love to people watch and I did a lot of that in each of the countries we visited. Europe is full of colorful people. By “colorful,” I not only mean skin-wise but dress-wise; beautiful African clothing peppered the streets in every city we visited. And the way people use their voices and hands; listening to people speak in another language often sounds harsh, even though it clearly isn’t, especially when they speak so fast. A magnificent feast of diversity!
We saw families, gay couples, homeless beggars, business people, tattooed bikers, all with their own lives and stories lived. When were they ever going to hear the gospel? Elder de Jager stated that there were 230 million people in China alone (in 1976) who still needed to hear the word of God. Today, there are 1.3 billion; not including the rest of the world. How will it ever be accomplished? Oh, to be a human savior and touch just one life for good.
The cathedrals in Europe are magnificent. The stained glass, the gold and marble, the intricate carvings. All you can do is stand in the back of the nave and say, “Wow!” Rome alone has 800 cathedrals. Every piazza has its own spectacular Cathedral. No one has time to look inside each one, but after seeing several my husband and I agreed that we were “cathedraled out.” There was just too much stimulation to take in.
Just by accident, we happened to enter some Cathedrals right when Mass was starting. They don’t ask you to leave, they simply section off the nave so they can conduct their service. Crowds still are able to walk along the transepts. Even though people are asked to be quiet, or refrain from taking pictures or videos, it is not a peaceful service.
Each Cathedral emphasizes different things. Many have relics that are prayed over. We actually ran across Christ’s crown of thorns. In several others, saints, apostles, and martyrs stood stoically as loving parishioners touched a toe or a hand, rubbing it completely smooth, asking for pious luck. In every Cathedral, there is the bloodied figure of Jesus Christ on the cross.
I couldn’t help compare the masses of people walking through these Cathedrals–religious, not religious; respectful, not respectful–from the quiet stillness of the Paris Temple as we wandered the garden where a statue of the resurrected Lord stood. The contrast was stark and I felt I had come home. We weren’t alone, but there weren’t crowds of tourists clamoring through either. And the decorations were minimal in their beauty.
The simplicity of Christ was beautifully reflected in Elder Le Grand Richards’ talk. He testified of the same things that I was feeling. In his typically bold, unapologetic manner, he said,
“What a difference between the corrupted idea of the Christ, compared with when Stephen was stoned to death and he gazed into heaven and he saw Jesus standing on the right hand of His Father. How could He stand on His right side or right hand if He had no body? How could He stand if He had no feet? Then compare this also with the marvelous vision of the Prophet Joseph in this dispensation when a light descended from heaven, according to his testimony, brighter than the noonday sun. In the midst of that glorious light were two heavenly messengers: the Father and the Son. The Father, pointing to the Son, said: “This is My Beloved Son. Hear Him!” That is the simplicity that is in Christ.”
How can the world deny the existence of the physical presence of our Heavenly Father after seeing Michelangelo’s masterpiece in the Sistine Chapel? Do they not make the connection between the artist’s testimony and truth; of God’s finger reaching toward Adam’s?
One final thought from Elder Richards:
“Our scriptures were written long before man was upon the earth. That is why we read of Christ, the Lamb slain before the foundation of this earth. Not that He was literally slain, but in the Lord’s great eternal plan, He had offered Himself and He was to give His life.”
This is such an interesting idea for me to ponder. We, like Jesus Christ, offered ourselves up before we came to earth. Though imperfect, we are human saviors. We made promises and
decisions in the Spirit World to save one another, to bear witness. How do we do it against such odds?
Every single child of God was meant to find truth. Before this world was created we promised to be co-captains in heralding that truth. It requires no fanfare, no gold, riches, or even power. As glorious as those Cathedrals are to look at, nothing compares with the simple beauty of a human savior compliant to how the spirit works; and like The House of the Lord, each one of us can stand for simple truth in the world.
Additional General Conference Odyssey posts:
To Fill the Inner Man With Light Marilyn Nielson