Monday, May 22, 2017

Celebration and Dedication

"How did we get to be in this place at this time?"  It seems that we keep asking ourselves this same question.  We first got to spend over three weeks serving as guides for the Paris Temple open house.  And then last Saturday evening was the cultural celebration for the temple and yesterday we participated in the Paris Temple dedication.

The "Spectacle Culturel" was titled "Que Votre Lumière Luise Ainsi Devant les Hommes" - Let your light so shine before men.  Youth, nearly 1,000 of them, from each of the thirteen French-speaking stakes in the Europe area sang and danced significant events of enlightenment from their French history.  One stake opened with a performance based on a poem by Bernard of Clairvaux, a 10th century Cistercian monk.  Others followed with themes from the medieval pilgrimages, the Reformation, Victor Hugo and other great French thinkers and writers, John Taylors' dedication of the land in 1850 during the Napoleonic III era, and celebrations of early French converts who are the Mormon pioneers of France.  The culminating presentation and purpose of the celebration was the completion of the first temple here in France.

Then yesterday, a beautiful spring morning, the temple was dedicated.  Regular Sunday meetings were not conducted anywhere in France.  Rather, each of the chapels became temporary extensions of the Paris temple, where those with dedication recommends were able to participate in the sacred ceremony.  President Henry B. Eyring pronounced a beautiful dedicatory prayer.  Many blessings were pronounced upon the temple, on this country, the people of France, and upon the missionaries who have and are now serving here.  What great blessing we have been promised.

Over the past 30 years as we would bring students to Europe each spring, we came only as visitors.  We loved being here, we appreciated the art, the culture, the language, the food. . .but we were really just students: one notch up from tourists.  We were here to take everything in but we really didn't give much back.  But being here as missionaries is very different.  As we try to give something back, we find ourselves developing a sense of "fierté" (good pride) about this place and these people.  We were very proud our Lyon Stake youth, and we cheered with our Écully Ward members in our chapel as we watched them perform in our cultural celebration.  And like the French saints who have waited so long, we are so excited about our new temple.  

Our Écully chapel burst into celebration when it was the Lyon Stake's turn to perform.

Some of our cute kids performing at the cultural celebration.

Getting ready for the temple dedication.

The corner stone ready to be set.  A time capsule was placed inside that included the names of those
who participated in the open house!

President Eyring and Bishop Caussé during the placement of the corner stone.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

The Paris Temple

The last three weeks have been filled with amazing experiences as we have been giving guided tours through the new Paris temple in Le Chesney, two blocks from the garden of Versailles palace. We have run into people we know from home; Griffins, Rinewands, Eriksons (Tammy and Eric), Brian Memmot’s sister-in-law, the Sanders, Betsy Holly and her daughters in law; people we know from the mission; friends and family of friends and family; general authorities (Matthew Bennesar of the 70); students that had us in classes years and years ago; and many missionaries who served in France at one time and “came home” to enjoy the fulfillment of prophecy.  We have taken a few groups in French, but have mostly done English speaking tours.  We have actually really been needed for this open house.  We’re are so glad we were here at the right time.
We have taken French natives who live in the neighborhood of the temple who said that they have been worried what this temple might do to the area.  We asked them what they thought now, and they said that they were quite pleased with the beauty, peacefulness and orderliness of the temple.  They added that it is certainly better than the electricity company that resided in the building there before.  It helps that there is a 150 place parking lot deep underneath the temple, so there is no great bother to the local parking which is already a nightmare. These people had been afraid that the “Mormons” would come into the area, pound on their doors and force their religion on everyone.  After having visited the temple, their fears were soothed, and they very much admired the magnificent temple. The majestic Thorvaldsen Christos in the gardens pronounces to the world that we are indeed Christian.   Another French native told us that she was so impressed with all the non-salaried volunteers who were helping with the open house.  She is a lovely woman who works with handicapped children and has great difficulty getting enough volunteers to help with her work.  Another visitor said, “You can’t pay people to smile like these volunteers in this place.”
One man who served in the association that worked against the temple project and helped with a petition signed by 6,000 people to nullify the building of the temple, came on a VIP tour a few days ago.  Michel, the director of the open house sharing the account with us, said that when this man was in the celestial room, he fell to his knees. Everyone rushed around him to see if he was all right.  He was very overcome because he had just seen his father who had died 50 years previously. Another gentleman who also served in this association to stop the building of the temple confessed at the end of the tour that he deeply regretted having been actively trying to stop it.
One of the other directors of the open house is also a bishop in his ward.  He shared with us that one young lady who had not been active in the church for a very long time and had done every wrong thing possible out of rebellion, came to the open house as a personal favor to this bishop. She recounted to him afterwards that she loved seeing the temple and just wanted to know if “Jesus still loved her.” When she left the interior of the temple and stood on the beautiful grounds in front of the Christos, she felt as if someone was physically wrapping their arms around her. She told her bishop, “I’m ready to come back.  Jesus still loves me.”
Today we had the unexpected privilege of taking a VIP group on the visit.  It included John Welch who is the Founding Director of The Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies and a renowned LDS scholar and author, and his wife, Jeannie Welch who is a retired professor of French at BYU.  Sister Welch and I had become acquainted at some of the ACTFL conferences for teachers of foreign languages. The Welches were accompanied by people from Stanford, Harvard and Cambridge Universities. Elder Wilson of the 70’s family were also represented.   Most unique to this group was a woman from Cambridge University, Margaret Barker who is a pastor in her faith and a well-known expert on ancient temples.  It was fascinating to hear her commentary on how accurate and authentic the configuration, symbolism and ceremonies as described to her, were to ancient temples.  She was very much in awe of the concept of restoration and divine authority.  When we were allowed to bear our testimony in the Sealing Room about the importance of eternal marriage and the joy of chains of generations of families linked together, she was visibly touched.  She seemed to be moved by the fact that we will soon celebrate our 45th wedding anniversary while here in France, as well as our emotional declaration that “heaven would not be heaven without each other and our children.”
We savored listening to John Welch’s conversation with the Cambridge scholar about temples, ancient and modern, and our LDS beliefs. They recently presented a lecture on temples at UCLA (one of my alma maters) and are currently preparing a lecture to be presented in Paris tomorrow evening.  We wish we could attend, but it is the last day of the temple open house and over 4,000 people are expected to visit today.  It was also so wonderful that Matt was able to share his knowledge of religious symbolism during the tour. That’s my companion!

How blessed we have been to rub shoulders with these powerful saints working for the open house and the almost 50,000 visitors who came and were able to enjoy the splendor!  

Jack & Jeannie Welch and Margaret Barker.  We took them on a tour of the temple and we able to listen in on their insightful commentary.

We had a very nice visit with Gerry and Marilyn Griffin.

Betsy, one of Chris' former students from BYU Idaho.

The Sanders family from our old 12th ward in Rexburg.

Jesse (formerly Elder) Wade with Pierette and Jade (formerly Sœur) from our Lyon mission.

Renee & John Hall, and American couple who have been living in France for the past 17 years.   John is the bishop of the Saint Merri Ward in Paris.

Chris with Sœur Blanchon from the Mont-de-Marsan Branch.

With Frère Bernier.

Playing games with all the senior missionary couples in the Paris mission.

We got to lead a tour for President and Sister Ronney, the former president of the Lyon Mission.

Brian Memmott's sister-in-law from Rexburg.

A former student of our son-in-law from BYU Idaho.

Elder and Sister Egan with members of the Chalon-sur Saône branch.

Two of the sister missionaries taking a the wheelchairs!

A cute little visitor who helped us guide one of the tours.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Lists and Labels

In our attempts to maintain a sense of order, we organize things (events, foods, even people) into lists and then put labels on them.  It is easy to get uncomfortable when we encounter something that doesn't quite fit.  This is a normal thing to do and is even to some extent helpful.  But it can also be a little dangerous, especially if our mental lists and labels are "written" in ink.  Fortunately, we can move things around.

Today is the half-way point of our mission.  In one sense, the past nine months have flown by.  In another, this is the only life we have ever known.  Our lists and labels have really changed in our first nine months here in France, and they will no doubt change even more in the nine months to come.  Our list of things that are "hard to do", or "don't make sense" and the list of "things that we miss from home" are much shorter now.  Missing family is still at the top, but many of the things after that have dropped off or even been moved to the "easy" or "logical" list. 

As we now turn the corner on our mission experience, we are finding that there are other lists that are starting to grow.  We notice that we are often saying to each other, "We are really going to miss ______ when we leave here".  These ever growing lists includes many gastronomic entries, beautiful things from nature, an incredibly rich culture and history, art and architecture, a beautiful language, and high on the list, so many extraordinary people.  Another incredibly significant thing we will no doubt miss is all the great blessings that come when one has the privilege to wear a missionary badge.  Many of these blessings are so immediately evident to us that it almost makes us laugh, while others are so subtle that they are easy to miss.  The reality is that we probably aren't even completely aware of all of them, and the full impact of the blessings of missionary service will only become fully evident when we take our badges off in nine more months from now.  But driving and parking in big cities stays where we first put it, in indelible ink!

Here are just a few examples of things from our "we are really going to miss this" list.

Beautiful French marchés... tile roofs covered in moss and lichens...


...associating with crazy-wonderful missionaries...

...funny little cars...

...hundreds, sometimes even thousands of years of architecture all in a row...

...the smell of fresh baking bread on almost any street...

...cheese that smells likes angels' feet...

...little "bouchon" restaurants where the table is yours for the entire evening...

...fields of yellow canola flower blossoms...

...narrow cobblestone roads...

...scriptures in glass...

...and the blessings of wearing these.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Beyond Magnificent

Working as tour guides in the Paris temple is a dream come true (can you say "blessing come true?") No words can describe our gratitude for this experience or love for this place and the wonderful, faithful people who have worked so hard and sacrificed so much to make it possible.  Everyday we go in to do our little part, we ask each other, "Is this really happening?  How on earth (or more appropriately, how in heaven) did we get to do this?"

The temple itself is beyond magnificent.  No pictures can even come close to doing it justice.  We have posted outside pictures while pictures of the inside are available on-line.  But again, it is just not the same as in person. Every detail, every artistic conception is rich in significance to the gospel of Jesus Christ or to the historic and cultural heritage of this great part of the world.  The stained-glass windows are as beautiful as anything I have seen here in Europe.  They have the colors and feeling of an impressionistic Monet painting.  Blues, violets, and greens all blend to make a more than spectacular visual feast.  And when the sun comes shining through those windows... Oh la la! ---pronounced Ah la la!  I honestly cannot get enough of those windows.  There are amazing paintings tastefully placed throughout the temple; many copies of Carl Bloch's work, many that I have seen before in other temples, and several original pieces primarily depicting the life and teachings of our Savior.

The mural room which is shown on-line has scenes from the Normandy cliffs and the Seine River Valley. The glass in this room has gorgeous blue wild flowers called "Les Bleuets" which are a symbol of the memory of those 20,000 plus fallen victims of WWI.  Nurses who wanted to lift the morale of those maimed and wounded made fabric bleuets to brighten the surroundings in the hospitals and sold many of them to raise enough money to take care of the needs of those suffering from the carnage of the war. The flower is now known as the "Symbole National du Souvenir" the national symbol of remembrance.  Over 138,000 flowers were sold in those days, and today these flowers are sold on November 11 and May 8.

Another prevalent flower that serves as a theme in the hand-painted stained glass, carved carpet, and wall decor is the beautiful lily. This is particularly powerful since the "fleur-de-lis" or lily flower is the symbol of France.  

Even more impressive than the artistry is the feeling of calm beauty and reverence that reigns in the temple.  Even though it has not yet been dedicated, there is a sweet spirit of love and devotion.  The people we are working with are so kind and generous.  One little lady who is the wife of Michel, the director of the open house, goes around distributing hot chocolate, nuts, fruit, and pastries to the workers.  But we definitely earn the goodies.  Saturday we left our gîte at 7:30 in the morning and got back at nearly 10:00 p.m.  We took 13 groups of visitors up to the top floor and back.  By all rights, we should not even be able to walk today, but we have been so blessed and are back at it.

Nous sommes bien benis!  (We are so blessed and grateful)

The temple at night

The darling young missionaries, and yes, the guy in the back is really 7'2"

The darling not-so-young missionaries

Monet-like flowers in the stained glass.

Bleuet flowers in the temple.

Bleuets in bloom.

French national symbol of remembrance

Treats distributed to the missionaries and other workers at the open house.