Saying that he never gets over the tremendous responsibility of speaking to the Latter-day Saints, President Gordon B. Hinckley recounted in his Sunday morning conference address highlights of a recent long and wearisome journey in which "it has been wonderful to be out among the Saints."
"If it were possible I would turn all of the day-to-day administrative matters of the Church over to others and then I would spend my time among the people, visiting those in small branches as well as those in large stakes. I would wish to gather with the Saints wherever they may be. I feel that every member of the Church is deserving of a visit," he said.
President Hinckley's recent journey took him, first, to the rededication of the Freiberg Germany Temple, which he dedicated 17 years ago in what was then the East Zone of a divided Germany. The infamous Berlin Wall is now gone, and the rather modest temple constructed in what was then the German Democratic Republic was worn and had become inadequate; the building was enlarged, made more beautiful and serviceable.
President Hinckley said that members gathered from a vast area for the rededication. "In the large room where we sat, we could look into the faces of many of those rugged and solid and wonderful Latter-day Saints who through all these years, in sunshine and in shadow, under government-imposed restraint and now in perfect freedom, have kept the faith, served the Lord and stood like giants," President Hinckley said. "I am so sorry I could not throw my arms around these heroic brethren and sisters and tell them how much I love them."
He then spoke of going to France to take care of Church business, and then to Holland to dedicate The Hague Netherlands Temple, which will accommodate the Saints of the Netherlands, Belgium and parts of France. He said that thousands joined the Church; most emigrated to the States. "But we have there now a wonderful body of precious and faithful Latter-day Saints who are deserving of a House of the Lord in their midst."
He spoke of visiting members in Kiev, Ukraine, where there is "a new sense of freedom in the air. What an inspiration to meet with more than 3,000 Ukrainian Saints. The people gathered from far and near, enduring great discomfort and great expense to get there."
From there, he went to Moscow, Russia, where he noticed a change from when he was there 21 years ago. "It is like electricity," he said of the change. "You cannot see it. But you can feel it. Here again we had a wonderful meeting, with opportunity to converse with important government officials as we had done in Ukraine.
"What a priceless and precious privilege to meet with these wonderful Saints who have been gathered 'one of a city, and two of a family,' into the fold of Zion in fulfillment of the prophecy of Jeremiah," President Hinckley said. "Life is not easy for them. Their burdens are heavy. But their faith is secure and their testimonies are vibrant. In these far away places, strange to most of the Church, the gospel flame burns brightly and lights the way for thousands."
He then told of going to Iceland, where he met with that nation's president and with members in a crowded meetinghouse in Reykjavik.
President Hinckley said he was struck by "the wonder of this work" at each place he visited. He said words of a hymn came to his mind: "How firm a foundation, ye Saints of the Lord, Is laid for your faith in his excellent word!"
"Do we as Latter-day Saints really understand and appreciate the strength of our position?" he asked. "Among the religions of the world it is unique and wonderful."
Further, he said that the Church is an educational institution, a social organization and a mutual aid society. "But beyond these it is the Church and kingdom of God established and directed by our Eternal Father and His Beloved Son, the risen Lord Jesus Christ, to bless all who come within its fold," President Hinckley said. "We declare without equivocation that God the Father and His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, appeared in person to the boy Joseph Smith."
The strength of the Church rests on the validity of that vision, he added. "It either occurred or it did not occur. If it did not, then this work is a fraud. If it did, then it is the most important and wonderful work under the heavens."
President Hinckley asked, "Why did both the Father and the Son come to a boy, a mere lad? For one thing, they came to usher in the greatest gospel dispensation of all time, when all previous dispensations should be gathered and brought together in one," he said.
The Church president said he knew a "so-called intellectual" who said the Church "was trapped by its history."
"My response was that without that history we have nothing," President Hinckley said. "The truth of that unique, singular and remarkable event is the pivotal substance of our faith."
Holding up a copy of the Book of Mormon, he testified, "This remarkable book stands as a testimonial to the living reality of the Son of God."
Further, he said, "I cannot understand why the Christian world does not accept this book. I would think they would be looking for anything and everything that would establish without question the reality and the divinity of the Savior of the world," President Hinckley said.
He said there followed the restoration of the priesthood first, of the Aaronic Priesthood, and, subsequently, of the Melchizedek Priesthood.
"Think of it, my brothers and sisters. Think of the wonder of it," President Hinckley implored.
"This wondrous restoration should make of us a people of tolerance, of neighborliness, of appreciation and kindness toward others," he said. "We cannot be boastful. We cannot be proud. We can be thankful, as we must. We can be humble, as we should be."
President Hinckley said members should love those of other churches, but added the members should never forget their roots that run deep in the soil of this, the final dispensation of the fulness of times.
"This must be our great and singular message to the world," he said. "We do not offer it with boasting. We testify in humility, but with gravity and absolute sincerity. We invite all, the whole earth, to listen to this account and take measure of its truth."