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New Harmony: Experiences with Gordon B. Hinckley 30 years later

Published: Sunday, Jan. 29 2012 5:00 a.m. MST

As for the square, I can still hear Elder Hinckley speaking plainly to our corps of missionaries, moving his right hand up and down like a man with a hammer. He would speak that same way 30 years later at the temple dedication. He measured twice and cut once. He squared every corner. Like the Savior, he was a builder. He loved to build things — buildings, programs, testimonies, character. He personally designed the Monticello Temple where, at the dedication, journalists found him inspecting the miter joints in the doorways. He liked things to be plumbed and squared.

But along with the square, he was also the compass — or better, he was the metal spike in the middle that held firm while others whirled about. You always knew where to find him. He was in the center of things. He was as sturdy as a landmark and as helpful as a lighthouse.

And his visit to Bolivia was as spiritually refreshing for the elders and sisters as the rains called down by Elijah.

The day after the conference, on April 18, 1969, Elder Hinckley would again write about us in his personal journal:

“This is one of the amazing and wonderful things of the Church,” he wrote, “to see the young people, who live under difficult circumstances and who have come out of such comfortable homes, express such tremendous love for the land and the people with which they labor.”

He was writing about us.

That was in 1969.

Thirty years later — the year 2000 — the country actually did have a new temple. And I was on my way to Cochabamba to write the first draft of its history.

As my bus huffed and growled into Cochabamba, just as it had three decades earlier, I didn’t know it yet, but at the dedication I’d be singled out to carry the torch for the hundreds of elders and sisters who had left their hearts buried in Bolivian soil. I’d be given a privilege that dwarfed everything I’d done before.

My moment of truth had come.

Jerry Johnston is a former Deseret News staff writer.

Email: jerjohn@desnews.com

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