Editor's note: Third of a four-part series looking at the ministry of President Thomas S. Monson.
President Thomas S. Monson has spent most of his life in the service of God — and for the past 50 years, as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve, First Presidency and president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
At the young age of 22, President Monson was called to be bishop of a ward with many needs, of which he often speaks.
At 31, he became president of the Canadian Mission, which he presided over for three years.
In 1963, at age 36, President Monson became the youngest man in 53 years called to the Quorum of the Twelve.
And five years ago, President Monson was called as president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
But it isn't the milestones of this prolific leader that set him apart as a minister among men. It's a life lived in fulfillment of the four purposes of the LDS Church: perfect the Saints, proclaim the gospel, redeem the dead, and care for the poor and needy.
Redeeming the dead
"There is much to be done in our temples in behalf of those who wait beyond the veil. As we do the work for them, we will know that we have accomplished what they cannot do for themselves," said President Monson in an April 2011 general conference talk, "The Holy Temple — a Beacon to the World."
Temple work has been a key message from the 16th president of the LDS Church throughout his ministry and apostleship. And President Monson has seen the work of the Lord grow exponentially.
In the 50 years that President Monson has served as a general authority, he has seen 129 temples dedicated with 15 more currently under construction and 14 more announced as of April 6, bringing the total number of temples to 170.
President Monson has always taken great strides to make sure that the Saints have access to temples.
In 1968, after a lengthy assignment to oversee the Saints in Australia and the South Pacific, President Monson was called to oversee European missions in Germany, Switzerland, Austria and Italy.
This spearheaded the effort to provide the East German Saints with the full blessings of the gospel.
"Since the Berlin Wall had gone up in 1961, no general authority had attempted to visit the Soviet Zone in Germany. It was now 1968, and, 'trusting in the Lord,' Elder Monson, newly assigned to the European nations, decided he would be the one to make that visit," according to President Monson's biography, "To the Rescue."
It was during a primitive visit among the humblest of Saints in East Germany in November 1968 that President Monson made a bold statement.
“If you will remain true and faithful to the commandments of God,” he promised, as related in his biography, “every blessing any member of the church enjoys in any other country will be yours.”
This encompassed everything the war-torn country was still lacking — missionaries, patriarchs, church literature and access to a temple.
President Monson's returning visits in the years following brought slow but steady growth within the church in Germany, fulfilling the prophesy from the 1968 meeting.
Yet the question of temple work — for the Saints' individual ordinances as well as their kindred dead — continued to trouble the young apostle.
As recounted in "To the Rescue," LDS President Spencer W. Kimball summoned President Monson to the temple in the spring of 1978. President Kimball remarked on the great love President Monson held in reserve for the people of Germany and acknowledged their struggle with performing temple work.
"The Lord will not deny temple blessings to those worthy members," President Kimball said, according to the biography. "And then with a smile, he said, 'You find the way.’ ”
What followed was careful and calculated brainstorming of how to extend the blessings of the temple to the German Saints.
In his biography, President Monson said they exhausted every potential solution, including government authorized trips for small groups of members, and authorized sealings outside of the temple.
Yet it was in May 1978 that the German government allowed for the best forseeable answer — to build a temple in East Germany.
After many long years of logistical planning with LDS Church leaders and the German government, President Gordon B. Hinckley dedicated the Freiberg Germany Temple on June 25, 1985 — the culmination of President Monson's 17 years of efforts among the German people.
The Freiberg Germany Temple was the second temple in Germany.
Emmilie Buchanan-Whitlock is an intern for the Deseret News with Mormon Times. She recently graduated from Brigham Young University-Idaho. Contact her by email: [email protected] or on Twitter: emmiliewhitlock