RENO, Nev. Little Lehi Otuafi was born several months early. Too weak, he was gone within hours. His parents, Alifeleti and Meliame Otuafi, named him Lehi, after the Book of Mormon prophet, because he "was the first to partake of the fruit" or the first of their family to go beyond the veil.
Today, a year and a half later, Brother and Sister Otuafi have tasted somewhat of that fruit. On Easter Sunday, April 23 a day of birth, life and hope they gathered with thousands of other Latter-day Saints here for the dedication of the new Reno Nevada Temple.
"I was trying to hold my tears [in the temple]," Sister Otuafi of the Reno (Nev.) 4th Ward said after the last dedicatory session.
That simple statement was true for many on this sunny day in western Nevada as President Thomas S. Monson, first counselor in the First Presidency, dedicated in four sessions the Church's 81st operating temple and the newest of the smaller temples. Accompanying President Monson were Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve and Elder Rex D. Pinegar of the Seventy. With their husbands were Sisters Frances Monson, Barbara Ballard and Bonnie Pinegar.
Only about 200, including a 65-voice choir, were able to gather for the cornerstone ceremony as the grounds behind the temple stop short at an iron fence before sloping steeply downward. Standing here, one can see downtown Reno in the distance as well as much of the surrounding valley. But smaller numbers aside, there was no less enthusiasm as President Monson, his wife by his side, led the temple entourage around the side of the building to the cornerstone. He waved at those in the back of the crowd, shook hands of those in front and warmly bantered with those assembled.
Then, after having the General Authorities' wives and members of the temple presidency take a turn at applying mortar to the cornerstone, he called for children.
By the end of the day, some 7,774 had attended the dedication, including those in stake centers around the temple district receiving a satellite feed. Many wandering the grounds throughout the day were those who had attended at stake centers and then drove up to the temple, some just to "touch it."
It seemed the temple touched many back.
"Having the temple here in Reno has awakened a spirit in the people that I don't believe has been here previously," Reno Nevada North Stake President Robert A. Trimble, who also served as temple coordinator, told the Church News. "I've heard bishops and stake presidents say they've had lines of people getting dedication tickets and temple recommends both new and renewed."
The awakening President Trimble spoke of seemed to happen in the lives of all ages and all walks of life even for some of other faiths. Temple President W. Darrell Foote chuckled when he related how local leaders, in keeping their promises to neighbors living near the temple that there would not be masses of people coming up the hill every day, urged members to not visit the construction site too often. However, he added, "a lot of non-members have made a trip up the hill."
Their interest went from passive curiosity, he explained, to a warm questioning of what really happens in a temple. Several construction workers even took the missionary discussions, he added.
For members, this is their temple far up a hill from a city of glittering lights and neon signs. One sister, Dorothy Keele of the Reno 1st Ward, Reno North Nevada Stake, lovingly hung many of the individual crystals on the chandelier in the celestial room. But she did not use her sense of sight. She is legally blind. Touch guided her fingers.
The day before the dedication, Penni Abney of the Stead Ward, Reno North stake, helped iron white skirts for the television monitor stands. Baptized Feb. 28, 1998, she is looking forward to Saturday, April 29, 2000, when she will be one of the first to receive her endowments in the new temple.
She has wanted to make the trip to the Oakland California Temple, across the Sierra Nevada Mountains, several times, but "every car we've had has broken down, every one of them. Now I don't have to worry about that. Knowing [the temple] is here is such a comfort."
For Julie Edwards of the Tonopah Ward, Fallon Nevada South Stake, the temple is her beacon of hope. With tears streaming down her face, she spoke of family challenges that have weighed down her heart. Temple blessings, she said, are what have kept her, her husband and their family pushing forward "because of that promise of eternal happiness. I've never been so grateful for the gospel as I have the last few months. I'm doing what [the Lord] wants because He promised."
Alifeleti Otuafi is also grateful. Standing on the temple grounds, he thinks of not only his son, Lehi, but also of his parents. He was 15 when his father and mother left their home in Tonga, before that island had a temple, to travel to New Zealand for their lifelong dream of being sealed in the temple. They could afford to take only one of their 10 children. Brother Otuafi waited at home.
"I never thought in a million years I'd be close to a temple," he recalled. But after his mission, he moved to Reno and is now helping with temple maintenance. "Often times, I have to pinch myself to see if I'm dreaming, but it's all here," he related, looking toward the new temple.
You can reach Julie A. Dockstader by E-mail at [email protected]