Choir tour: `a missionary journey'

Some see the Tabernacle Choir's tour to Europe from June 12-July 2 as an opportunity to present a series of concerts. Those with deeper insight see it for what it really was: a missionary journey.

"A missionary tool in the hand of the Lord." That's how an apostle and several members of the Seventy saw the Tabernacle Choir during its tour.Elder M. Russell Ballard addressed the choir on Sunday evening, June 14, in the Hyde Park Chapel in London. He spoke of the singers' responsibility to be missionaries while on the tour. "You will have the opportunity as you move about, as you're on the trains, as you're on the buses, as you're in the restaurants, as you're in the hotels. Do what you can to encourage people to allow the missionaries to come and share the message of the gospel," he counseled. "The No. 1 problem that the missionaries have in Europe is people to teach. That's the hardest thing for them. Some of the missionaries will teach maybe one or two discussions in a whole week."

He said that he and his wife, Barbara, and others in their family traveled to London by train from Preston, where the Preston England Temple was dedicated June 7-10. He said that he had the opportunity to make friends with the conductor, who agreed to allow missionaries to visit him. Elder Ballard said that in every hotel he stayed in, and every restaurant where he ate, he found people for the missionaries to teach.

"I think you not only can open your voices in song as missionaries for the Church but that you can also do that individually as you're face to face with people in the world. It will be a little more difficult when you get into those lands where you don't know the language, but the language of the Spirit is a powerful language."

Two members of the Seventy who spent the most time with the choir were Elders Dieter F. Uchtdorf, president of the Europe West Area, and his first counselor, Elder Gene R. Cook. Elder F. Burton Howard, also of the Seventy and second counselor in the Europe West Area presidency, was with the choir in Brussels and Geneva. Elder Charles Didier of the Seventy and president of the Europe East Area was with the choir in Brussels. Elder Cecil O. Samuelson of the Seventy and president of the Europe North Area was with the choir in London. Each member of the Seventy was accompanied by his wife: Sisters Harriett Uchtdorf, Janelle Cook, Caroline Howard, Lucie Didier and Sharon Samuelson.

Elder Uchtdorf told the Church News that the choir had come to Europe "at just the right time."

"We have seen baptisms coming up," he said. "We have seen the Church coming out of obscurity in many ways, in public acceptance. We have seen members of the Twelve coming to Europe and giving great promises. We have seen President Gordon B. Hinckley coming here just a few weeks ago and blessing the Saints with his presence.

"The Tabernacle Choir is touching countries where we were hoping for some divine support in establishing the Church in a faster, more solid way. Our prayers have been answered. We have been to the concerts and receptions with local government authorities and people from public life who have important roles in those countries. The miracles are happening. People are opening their hearts and are being more friendly than ever to us. They are offering their help if we have any challenges and are receiving us in a very kind way.

"I feel that the choir has opened many doors, has built more bridges. Now, it is our time, our challenge and opportunity to go over those bridges, and take our local members - especially our local leaders in the priesthood - and follow up and build on what the choir has done to help bring the Church out of obscurity in Europe."

At a sacrament meeting during the tour, Elder Uchtdorf quoted D&C 90:11, "For it shall come to pass in that day, that every man shall hear the fulness of the gospel in his own tongue, and in his own language, through those who are ordained unto this power, by the administration of the Comforter, shed forth upon them for the revelation of Jesus Christ."

Elder Uchtdorf told members of the Tabernacle Choir that they had a role in fulfilling that scripture when they sang in the languages of the audiences during the tour. He said that he always looked around at the audiences, and could see how they were smiling and "loving what you are doing."

"But there is more to it than the spoken language," he said. "Our words are very little if they are not communicating the message of Jesus Christ. This makes the difference. You are the ones, with the spirit - with your wonderful talents, your music - communicating the mission of Jesus Christ. You are revealing Jesus Christ to the people. You are a revelation to the people. You can use that great talent, that power given to you to be missionaries to help the people."

In some areas of the tour, such as Italy, southern France, Spain and Portugal, the Church has been established for only about 25 years or less. He said that "things are happening" and that choir members became part of it. "This will make the difference because it will last for generations."

As choir members sailed from Genoa to Civitavecchia, Italy, he reminded them that they would be going to Rome as missionaries, as did the Apostle Paul.

Elder Cook spoke to choir members at a dinner just before the tour's final concert in Lisbon, Portugal.

"I don't know when we have had more news coverage for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints than we've had in the past three weeks," he said.

He gave summaries of telephone conversations he had with mission presidents where the choir had performed.

Highlights of those comments included:

Brussels, Belgium: "The U.S. ambassador was overcome by what happened there. The ambassador has made numerous comments since that evening. . . . He and his wife were deeply touched. There were many dignitaries at that reception [ at the embassy], most of whom were NATO and European Community officials. . . . `Lots of doors opened' was the comment from the mission president." (Please see Church News, June 27, p. 4, for article on the choir's performance at the ambassador's residence.)

Geneva, Switzerland: "A Swiss celebrity conductor was there. He wrote a letter to 300 choirs in Switzerland promoting the Tabernacle Choir, and during the concert commented to the press, "It is only the discipline and the high moral values of choir members that make this choir so successful.' That's an interesting observation from a pre-eminent conductor in Switzerland."

Rome, Italy: "There was outstanding news coverage. The choir has been playing on radio across all Italy the last couple of days. . . . They're waiting for it to be on television, which is supposed to happen in the next week or so. There were two reporters at that reception who approached some of our missionaries to get some news from them, quizzing them, asking them some questions. Those reporters have had two missionary discussions so far. There were 1,900 at the concert. If we were saying it in terms of the United States, the secretary of state of the president of the republic of Italy was one of the ones who was present there." (Please see Church News, June 27, p. 3, for article on the choir's appearance in Rome.)

Marseille, France: "The mission president and his wife said, We're calling it the miracle of Marseille.' There were only 145 tickets sold 10 days before you arrived. There were 1,900 people at the concert. The missionaries put out 10,000 brochures. Imagine that. . . . They went into different places where they put up the posters for the choir. One nonmember firm that did those posters the week before you got there put up the money for the posters and then when they approached him to pay him, said,No, I made it a gift to you.' They said, We want to pay you for the printing.' He said,No, the gift entails the design and the printing of the posters for free for the choir.'

"They mentioned the members in Marseille were extremely touched, mainly by the choir and the contacts you had with them. The miracle was beyond our dreams. One man walked into the mission office two days ago and said, "My pharmacist was at the choir concert. I didn't get a chance to go. I missed the choir, and I'm greatly disappointed. What can you do?' The missionaries gave him a tape [ recording of the choir] and a Book of Mormon. He had the first discussion last Monday.

"I can't thank you enough. If there was just one single soul influenced or saved, that would be a great success. There will be multitudes of them before this is through."

Barcelona, Spain: "It's always been very hard to get anything in a newspaper in Barcelona - until the last few days. Everyone is talking about the newspaper articles. The missionaries . . . are taking them to people to share what has happened. The mission president's wife was touched enough that the next morning, she went back and got all the programs in the Palau de la Musica with the idea to give them to the missionaries and use them as [ a means to meet] non-members."

"A new member, a doctor, in Barcelona brought a nonmember doctor friend to the concert. . . . The man had his second discussion two days ago. Amazing, isn't it!

"Spain is divided into six or seven districts. The president of Catalonia or all that Barcelona area was there that night. . . . "

El Escorial, Spain: "One of the dukes was there and he was quoted as saying, `This is the most disciplined, the most organized, the best spirit in a choir that I have ever felt.' An ex-minister of government was there, president of a bank, who was very impressed. His wife didn't even want to come on that Sunday but asked all the questions afterward about the Church. They are now committed that they will come to the open house of the temple."

"The footage they took on [ Spain's national] television at El Escorial will be put on videotape and they will use it with the history of El Escorial and the 400th anniversary, alongside of the history of Spain. It will go into 20 countries that are in the European Broadcasting Union. The Catholic priest who attended commented: `Brilliant. Unforgettable. It was a great joy to be there.' " (Please see Church News, July 4, p. 7, for article on the choir's performance at El Escorial.)

Elder Cook spoke also of the impact of the choir's tour on nonmembers: "In phone calls, I've heard mission presidents, almost to the man, say that as the missionaries are out on the street, people know that the choir was there, even if they didn't go to the concert. People know about the Mormons; people are having questions about the Mormons because the choir was there.

"I think of the impact on some of the officials. In one of the countries we were just ready to present to the government a key document which will give the Church much more latitude. The man who will give the final OK was one of the men along the way in this choir reception."

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