Editor's note: While thousands gather in the Conference Center for general conference, many more tune in around the globe via several types of technology. This week, Mormon Times shares experiences and memories of those who have participated in general conference outside of the United States.
The best thing about going to church in the first half of 2006 was the way I got there. I would wake up while my roommates were still sleeping, walk a little way down the street to retrieve my bike and then I would ride across town.
I would bump across the cobblestones in the basically deserted early Sunday-morning streets. I had to work desperately to avoid getting my skirt caught in the spokes while I wondered at the beauty of the local synagogue and old cemetery I passed by every week.
The sun seemed to always be shining on Sundays and the glow off the faded yellow walls made going to my little branch that much more inviting.
The ability to go to the Firenze 1st Branch, in the Florence Italy District, every week while I was studying abroad gave me such great comfort. Every member in the relatively tiny branch of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was sincerely loving, interested in the lives of the branch members and so incredibly patient with my basically nonexistent Italian.
They accommodated the few American students every Sunday with translation in the foyer.
That April, I thought about general conference in a different way than I ever had. Of course, I had always mentally noted the expressions of gratitude from the prophet and apostles regarding the technology that allowed general conference to reach members worldwide — but I personally had never been away for it.
I was so grateful that the words of the prophets could reach members almost anywhere.
Living in Florence, away from my family, everything I knew and in an entirely different culture, I naturally looked at things from a unique perspective.
I had come to Italy entirely by myself, taking a break from my year-round schedule at BYU-Idaho. There was one other student in my school in Italy who was LDS, and we were completely surprised to find each other in the first place.
In Florence, my roommates were almost totally unaware of the LDS Church and even more clueless about its members and what their Mormon roommate actually did and didn’t do in the name of her religion. In one of our first in-depth conversations, one of my roommates from the Midwest asked me with a puzzled look on her face why I was using the lights in the apartment. She had assumed Mormonism was some kind of Amish–type religion and didn’t understand why I was utilizing electricity.
My roommates and I formed strong friendships, and I was able to share my beliefs with them and explain things from “a real Mormon” perspective. They always respected my beliefs and choices and I will never forget that.
There, I had no “honor code," no one to notice if I didn’t go to church, no one to join me if I didn’t want to participate in activities my fellow students in Italy did.
But I did have my branch in Florence. Because of the priesthood keys and faithful members, the people of Italy and short-term members like me were able to take the sacrament every week.
These thoughts rang true once again as I pondered on the April 2006 general conference. Sister Julie B. Beck, then the first counselor in the Young Women general presidency, said in her talk titled "An Outpouring of Blessings":
“The blessings of the priesthood make it possible for every person who is set apart to serve in any office in the Lord’s church to receive 'authority, responsibility, and blessings connected with the office.'"
This message from general conference really confirmed my feelings of this truth. I saw it in the branch leadership, I saw it in the full-time missionaries, and I saw it in my American friend who I knew would help me if I needed. He always was so helpful, and it was comforting to know that if I needed priesthood assistance he would give it to me.
During my time in Florence, I really felt the power of the priesthood and also my gratitude for it — knowing what a blessing it was to have access to it, so many miles away from home.
Livi Whitaker is a freelance writer and writes the positive blog for all things lovely, www.thebrightbit.com.