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 break...in the wheelchairs!
A cute little visitor who helped us guide one of the tours.