Two very exciting things happened this week—for me, at least. First, Elder Russel M. Nelson dedicated a meetinghouse in Voronezh, Russia on October 20th. Previously the church had been renting out buildings to hold their meetings, so it’s very exciting to have one of our own.
I remember bussing out to Lipetsk when I lived in Voronezh to sing at the dedication of the church building there, or what I thought was the dedication of it…now that I think of it, I’m not quite sure what it was. No apostle was present, I’m sure, but something went on and our Voronezh choir combined forces with the Lipetsk choir to do a special musical number.
Sometimes when you live in a foreign country you end up not fully understanding what you’re doing all the time but you still go ahead and do it. At least…that’s what I find.
Such was the case today.
We had our district conference today in lieu of our regular Friday meetings. Elder and Sister Holland spoke, along with Sister Bestor from our branch here in Cairo and some others. We were very excited originally because last year they came here to do a session. This year, however, they decided to broadcast the same session to the whole district from Amman.
This would have been fine, except that the internet went down in Amman and so they weren’t able to broadcast either picture or sound. We were all set up in the chapel with the projector and everything, all for naught.
We ended up using someone’s laptop here to call someone’s cell phone in Amman using Skype. They left the cell phone sitting on the pulpit and all the speakers spoke into it while we strained to hear their messages. It was interesting, as all Skype conversations are; the sound kept cutting in and out and at times there was so much interference that we couldn't make out what the speakers were saying. But we diligently sat and listened and tried to get something out of the meeting, even though it was hard and we couldn’t really understand what was going on a lot of the time.
We joined the congregation in Jordan in singing the opening hymn, Count Your Blessings, which has four verses. At the end of the third verse, though, the piano stopped playing and the congregation in Jordan stopped singing so we all closed our hymnbooks and stopped singing, too. We sat ready for prayer with our arms folded, our heads bowed, our eyes closed, waiting…for a long time. And then the sound came back on and they were in the middle of the final strains of the fourth verse.
We all started laughing but regained our reverence in time for the benediction.
The rest of the meeting followed suit. At times we could hear, at times we couldn’t. What we did hear was wonderful. Elder Holland is a very powerful speaker (as you might have noticed from his address this past session of General Conference) and it is always a treat to listen to him speak. He’s also very personable and went from making jokes about technology in the beginning of his message to bearing a strong and moving testimony of the gospel in the end.
Rachel spent a goodly portion of one talk outside screaming. Andrew took her all the way into the street in hopes that she wouldn’t interrupt the meeting. She was screaming that loudly, yes. (We had a bit of a grumpy day today).
While they were out in the street, a member of our branch who lives out by Suez wandered down the street.
“Is this the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints?” she asked.
“It is,” Andrew assured her.
“Oh, good. I finally found it! Hey, do you know Josie?”
It ended up being one of Josie’s friends from the Star Arabic Language Program at BYU—Sarah, I think her name is. She’s here as an exchange student during her junior year of high school. I had met her a few weeks ago, but she hadn’t met Andrew yet. I actually think that when I met her I was holding a screaming Rachel. No wonder she recognized Andrew as Josie’s brother-in-law!
This district conference was especially important because yesterday Elder Holland dedicated Lebanon for the preaching of the gospel. We’re not exactly sure what that entails or what the legal details are, but we do know that the church has been recognized as an official religion in Lebanon, which is exciting because we aren’t really recognized many places in the Middle East. The only other place that recognizes the church might be the UAE, but we’re not even really sure about how that works over there…
There are always weird things about the church in the Middle East, like the no-proselytizing rule, the fact that we pay tithing online, and how local members are sometimes not allowed to meet with the foreigners. It just doesn’t work as well here as it does other places; it’s more complicated, but slowly I think progress is being made.
Some of the branch members in Beirut went up to the Cedars for a dedicatory prayer offered by Elder Holland. My friend Kristin put some pictures up on Facebook; it looks like she had a wonderful time enjoying the trees and hobnobbing with apostles.
This is particularly touching and exciting for Grandpa Frank and Grandma Sharon, I’m sure, since they served in Lebanon as humanitarian missionaries about seven years ago for 23 months.
A great and marvelous work is about to come forth. It’s funny. There isn’t a whole lot we can do here to share the gospel as members of the church; we’re told to pray, though. And it works. Doors are being opened in places that seemed like solid walls before. It’s the stone cut without hands that fills the whole earth, I guess, and what a marvelous work it is.