Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Eternal Blessings Await the Eternal City

Bernini Angel

Got a blessing Tuesday night from the assistants.  I was looking for advice on how to handle the last couple months of my mission.  And, among other things, the Lord told me I would see miracles daily for the rest of my mission. That's right.

So, here goes...

Zone Conference
Rome West Zone Conference (I'm over on the right)
photo: Sorella Waddoups' blog

My Family genealogy booklet

Zone Conference this week was great as usual.  We talked about the importance of scriptures in our teaching.

We also received the My Family booklet doodly-doo from familysearch.org.  It is pretty sweet for recording genealogy.
Now I can carry it around with me and share my family history!

Wednesday's Miracle
We met a dude named Michael on the street, talked at a bus stop and gave him a Book of Mormon.  He liked the idea of a challenge when we shared Moroni 10:3-5, and we set up a time to see him Wednesday afternoon.  Come Wednesday morning, he texted us, "4:00 today, don't forget!"  And we met at the same bus stop where he asked for us to show him the Church.  Off to the Church we went, showed him around, and read a chapter of the Book of Mormon with him.  He agreed to be baptized once he gained a testimony, but asked, "What would happen if I've done bad things in the past that violated some of the commandments?" No prob.  We talked of repentance and how the Atonement of Christ can make him clean. It was really cool.

I got to see Sorella Marsh again!  She came up to Rome with her companion for the Missionary Leadership Conference, which meant she got to spend the day with me!  She had been transferred from Palermo to Pozzuoli (near Naples).  So we got to chit chat and catch up on life.  Love that girl!

That evening, we went to the neighborhood of the Temple and did some Finding and publicity for the fireside on the Temple (which was on Sunday).  We walked around with a poster with a picture of the Temple on it.  Italians are very curious and couldn't help but look as they walked or drove past.  We talked to a LOT of people.  It was great.  I couldn't stop smiling.

Friday's Miracle
Hosted Sorella Perkins for the day (she had been a temporary companion for a sister who went home due to a broken ankle, so she stayed with us). She's a lovely sister originally from Australia (still has the accent) who now lives in Colorado.  Reminds me of Julie Andrews on The Sound of Music.  She is really cool.

We were talking about the temple and how it really is taking a while to be constructed (scheduled now to open in 2015).  As we talked, we realized the reason it is not yet ready is because the people here are not yet ready.  What do they need to do to be ready?  It hit us - GENEALOGY.  They must do their family history.  It makes sense.  Hastening of Family History = Hastening of the Temple.

Bethel - House of God
Jacob's Dream  by Bartolome Esteban Murillo 1665
With that realization, a lot of other things from my mission melded together to make sense.  I knew Heavenly Father was trying to tell me something when all of my studies a year ago at the beginning of my mission were all about the Temple.

Most of you know, the song Nearer, My God, to Thee has followed me my whole mission. Much of that hymn refers to a dream Jacob (from the Old Testament) had on his way to Haran (Genesis 28:10-22). The Ladder with angels traveling up and down is a metaphor for the Temple - the connection and pathway between heaven and earth - and the angels who minister in the work.  After the dream, Jacob took the stone he used as his pillow, made an altar, and called the place Bethel.  Beth-el literally means House of God.
(Editor's Note:  For added meaning to the song, see family blog: nefchronicles.wordpress.com "Nearer, My God, to Thee").

The Goal: Forever Families
One of the recent changes, from Elder Russell M. Nelson, announced to us at Zone Conference is a directive to work very closely with new converts for a full year after baptism.  Why a year?  Because it is 1 year until they are Temple ready.  It was reiterated to us at Zone Conference that our goal is not baptism for investigators.  Our goal is Forever Families - families sealed in the temple.

It all comes down to the Temple.  The Temple is everything.  It not only links heaven and earth, but the covenants made there bind us to the Lord and seal us to generations preceding and following.

My week was finding a theme, and the Lord was not finished.

Saturday's Miracle
Saturday's miracle only crescendoed the temple even further.  It came in my personal study.  I picked up a Liahona Magazine, General Conference May 2011 issue.  It was opened to Elder Bednar's "Spirit of Revelation" talk.  Studied that, it was REALLY good.  And then I decided to continue on and read the next talk in the issue, which was President Monson's talk on....Temples.  And if the title alone wasn't confirming enough to my thoughts on the Temple, listen to what he said near the end of his talk:
"In the not-too-distant future as new temples take shape around the world, one will rise in a city which came into being over 2,500 years ago.  I speak of the temple which is now being built in Rome, Italy.

"Every temple is a house of God, filling the same functions and with identical blessings and ordinances. The Rome Italy Temple, uniquely, is being built in one of the most historic locations in the world, a city where the ancient Apostles Peter and Paul preached the gospel of Christ and where each was martyred.

"Last October, as we gathered on a lovely pastoral site in the northeastern corner of Rome, it was my opportunity to offer a prayer of dedication as we prepared to break the ground.  I felt impressed to call upon Italian Senator Lucio Malan and Rome's Vice-Mayor Giuseppe Ciardi to be among the first to turn a shovelful of earth.  Each had been a part of the decision to allow us to build a temple in their city.

"That day was overcast but warm, and although rain threatened, not more than a drop or two fell.  As the magnificent choir sang in Italian the beautiful strains of "The Spirit of God," one felt as though heaven and earth were joined in a glorious hymn of praise and gratitude to Almighty God.  Tears could not be restrained.

"In a coming day, the faithful in this, the Eternal City, will receive ordinances eternal in nature in a Holy House of God."

I will admit, I got teary eyed on that one.  I didn't have a clue that the temple talk, much less the bit on Rome, was in that issue.  Isn't the Lord funny how He just puts stuff like that in our path?  A little nod of inspiration that led into my second miracle of the day.

Saturday's Miracle #2
We were doing more publicity near the Temple and after reaching my Pass-Along Cards goal, a bus came by and I thought, on a whim, that we should take it.
Whim: (wim), English, noun.  Connoting an inkling, a hunch, a gut instinct.
In other words, a whispering of the Spirit.
So we got on the bus, talked to some ragazzi (youth) during the ride, and eventually got off basically in the middle of nowhere, because I thought we should - on a whim - and I saw a cute family.  We approached and introduced ourselves.  What followed was brief - probably less than a minute - as the family was getting in their car to leave.  They had just gotten out of a funeral for their uncle.  We talked to the mom about the temple, eternal families, and bore testimony.
     "Do you believe that families can be eternal?" we asked.
     "Speriamo (Well, I hope so)," she responded with a familiar Italian expression.  But then she stopped, looked at me more deeply and added, "Well, it's what we say anyway.  But I do hope so." 

Then they got into the car and drove away.  Sorella Udall and I didn't have much time to talk, we didn't have much of a chance to do anything, but that brief exchange was a holy moment.  An eternal instant. In that limited interaction something very reverent happened.  So much so that we just walked way in silence. I don't know if I will see that family again, but the mom was gazing at the Temple as they drove away.

Sunday's Temple Fireside
Cristus  by Bertel Thorvaldsen
The Fireside.  Can I just say - it was awesome. They updated everyone on the progress of the Temple and the site, showing pictures, and speaking specifically   of the artist who originally made the statues of the Apostles and the Cristus.

Ok, so this dude was named Bertel Thorvaldsen.
He was Danish, born in 1770, before the American Revolution.  At the age of 27, he decided to move to Rome - a move that forever altered his life.

Bertel "Alberto" Thorvaldsen
His love for Rome was evident in the fact that he changed his name to Alberto and remained there for the next 40 years.  He was a Protestant and sculpted the only statue by a Protestant currently in the Vatican (the pope was one of his patrons).  

Sculpting the Cristus statue began in the year 1820, the year of the First Vision.  It was unique for its time because all other artists depicted Christ on the cross or as a child.  But Thorvaldsen envisioned Christ as resurrected, glorious, arms open.  

Statues of the apostles were sculpted in the years 1820-1836 (1836 is when the Kirtland Temple was dedicated).  All statues were sculpted in Rome and moved to a Cathedral in Denmark where they have remained to this day.  Now, for the Rome Temple Visitor's Center and the exact replicas of the Cristus and the Apostles being installed, the statues are figuratively returning to where they were first created.  

The statues are really cool and are almost complete.  Made from Italian Carrara marble (from the Tuscany region), the same marble as the original statues.  The same marble Michelangelo used. 

Thorvaldsen died in 1844, the year the Prophet Joseph Smith died.

Temple Progress
Rome Temple, June 2014 

The temple will have olive leaf detailing on the front.  The exterior is basically only missing its 14 meter high spires and the Angel Moroni atop.  Outer granite is from Sardegna, and looks gray in cloudy weather, but in the sunlight it is WHITE.  It just glows.
Bernini Angel at Sant'Angelo Castel

What a week, huh?  In the Eternal City rich with ruins of ancient temples, the Lord's Temple is finally coming to bring eternal blessings to families.  And Family History will be key to seeing it through, because we need all the heavenly help we can get.
There let the way appear, Steps unto heav'n;
All that thou sendest me, In mercy giv'n;
Angels to beckon me Nearer, my God, to thee,
Nearer, my God, to thee, Nearer to thee!
Nearer, My God, to Thee
Hymn 100
Nearer indeed.

Check out this cool video link on the Rome Temple and its statues:

Le Famiglie Sono per Sempre  (Families are Forever),
Sorella Ashley Nef

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