Elder William R. Walker — of the Seventy and executive director of the Church's Temple Department — learned early of the blessings that can be realized when faithful members have access to the temple.
In 1965, Elder Walker was a young full-time missionary serving in Japan. A temple did not exist then in that Asian nation and few of the local priesthood leaders had received temple ordinances. Under the direction of Elder Gordon B. Hinckley of the Quorum of the Twelve, a fund was organized to allow many of the local Japanese leaders to travel to Hawaii and receive their own temple blessings in the Laie Hawaii Temple.
The Church in Japan, said Elder Walker, was never the same.
"When those priesthood leaders returned home there was an obvious difference — they were blessed with a new faith and devotion. The had been spiritually energized."
Thanks to a vigorous, worldwide building effort over the past 15 years, more members have practical access to a temple than ever before. But there are tens of thousands of members — particularly those living in regions of the world where the Church is relatively young — who are still unable to afford a trip to the temple.
But a trip to a temple to claim sacred blessings and be sealed as families for eternity need not be mere dreams for such faithful members. The Church-directed General Temple Patron Assistance Fund allows temple-loving people everywhere to help fellow Saints in need.
In his opening address at the recent semiannual general conference, President Thomas S. Monson spoke of the importance of the temple patron fund.
"There are still areas of the world where temples are so distant from our members that they cannot afford the travel required to get to them," he said. "They are thus unable to partake of the sacred and eternal blessings temples provide.
"To help in this regard, we have available what is called the General Temple Patron Assistance Fund. This fund provides a one-time visit to the temple for those who otherwise would not be able to go to the temple and yet who long desperately for that opportunity."
The fund is supported entirely by contributions. No other Church funds are utilized. And it's simple to donate. Members and others can give to the General Temple Patron Assistance Fund via the normal contribution slip, which is given to the bishop each month. Contributions can also be made online via www.ldsphilanthropies.com.
Elder Walker said the fund is in great demand in areas of Africa, Asia and the Pacific Islands. Nations such as India, Mongolia and many in Africa have enjoyed remarkable growth in recent years, but few of the members — including some local leaders — have been able to attend the temple.
The assistance fund "is helping those who do not have the means to get to the temple," he said.
Over the past two years, some 2,000 faithful members each year have been able to visit a temple for the first time. The fund is administered locally by area presidencies. While the money collected through the fund is pivotal in allowing many to attend the temple, each participating family is expected to make sacrifices to make the trip possible.
"If there was more money in the fund we could assist more people," said Elder Walker.
Being able to enter the temple — even just once in a lifetime — can forever change lives and families. Elder Walker remembers visiting with a devout sister living in Micronesia. The woman told him she had been able to travel to a distant temple and receive her endowment, thanks to the General Temple Patron Assistance Fund. Elder Walker asked if she felt bad that she could not regularly attend the temple.
The woman shook her head and said, "Now I have the temple in my heart."
The blessings of the fund are not limited to the beneficiaries and their families and communities. Those who contribute will also realize priceless joy, said Elder Walker.
"They can know that someone out there in the world who cannot get to the temple on their own can now go. You are enabling someone else to get to the temple."