NAUVOO, Ill. In the days prior to their exodus in 1846, Latter-day Saints in Nauvoo, according to Brigham Young, "thronged" the temple to receive their endowments.
Likewise, visitors have thronged the new Nauvoo Illinois Temple during an open house that began May 1, especially in the closing week, ending June 22.
Unlike 1844, there was no ominous anxiety among the visitors; only joy and peace tinged with a touch of curiosity.
According to the tabulations of President J. Samuel Park of the Nauvoo Illinois Mission, 331,849 visitors toured the temple, with a daily average of 7,607 visitors, or 565 per hour.
Each visitor could tell a story.
For John Gilbert of the Stockbridge Ward, Jonesborough Georgia Stake, his visit on the closing day of the open house fulfilled a pledge to his wife, Angie, who died from cancer in 1999. Speaking in testimony meeting in the Nauvoo Ward the next day, he said his wife was near death in April 1999 when President Gordon B. Hinckley at general conference announced the temple would be reconstructed.
"I was so excited I ran home and told my wife," he recalled. "I said, 'We're going to go!' She passed away three days later."
The Gilberts, who raised three daughters together, had visited Nauvoo in 1994 and had always wanted to return.
"Yesterday I kept that promise," he said. "I came to the temple and I went through. As I was leaving the temple, just as I was coming down the staircase, just for a brief moment, I felt as though someone were standing there. I turned and looked and saw no one. I thought of my sweet wife, and I know that she was there."
Church members were not the only ones to have spiritual experiences in the temple.
President Park told of an extended family of 22 Amish people who, persuaded by a Latter-day Saint friend, came from Bloomfield three hours away. But when they arrived, the open house had concluded for the day. The volunteer at the temple had forgotten to tell their friend that the open house closes early on Mondays because of family home evening.
The friend prayed fervently that the family would be able to tour the temple. Some kindly open house volunteers overheard a conversation with a security guard about the problem and offered their services to help with a special tour. Temple missionaries were enlisted to be guides. Permission was obtained from a Temple Department representative who happened to be in the temple at the time, and the family received their tour.
When told that the temple is considered the most sacred place on earth, the men in the family in unison removed their hats in reverence. In one of the sealing rooms, the father of the family gazed at their images in the facing mirrors and exclaimed, "Our family."
President Park said he admonished the missionaries helping with the open house to be constantly "looking for Zaccheus in the tree," a reference to the incident in which Jesus looked beyond the throng and noticed a man who was in special need of spiritual nurturing. (See Luke 19:2-8.) Thus the missionaries sought out those who appeared to "have a little different mood or posture." They would approach them with the question: "Have you had all of your questions answered?"
Thus, 2,086 missionary referrals were obtained through the open house, President Park said. "But we had to dig for them, because the visitors were primarily Church members. We had to look underneath and over and around for those who were not LDS."
One such referral, however, did not have to be searched out. A man approached missionaries at 6 p.m. and requested baptism that very night. His wife and children were members of the Church, and the temple tour was somewhat of a catalyst for him to finally make the decision he had been pondering for some time. President Park arranged all the paper work, contacted the man's bishop and stake president and conducted the interview. The baptism did occur that evening in the nearby Nauvoo Illinois Stake Center.
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