Every year visitors come from all over the world to Mesa, Ariz., to see the production of "Jesus the Christ," the annual Easter pageant on the grounds of the temple. This year two special visitors came more than 7,000 miles from Ghana, in West Africa.
Elder Richard K. Ahadjie, an Area Seventy, and his wife, Emelia, were visiting friends in Mesa after attending general conference in Salt Lake City and were overjoyed to see a pageant rehearsal April 7.
"This is just wonderful; we loved it," said Elder Ahadjie following the performance. "I've never seen it before. We feel so blessed to be here. I thank my Heavenly Father for letting me see this performance tonight."
He added, "If this pageant could be presented in Ghana, every person in Ghana would join the Church!"
Pageant Director Nanci Wudel asked him if he would say a word to the 40 "angels" who were still on top of the angel stage high above the main stage. He took the microphone, and said, "Thank you for what you are doing. We love you so much." They shouted back in unison, "We love you, too."
The 65-minute production presents the life and mission of Jesus Christ through drama, dance and music. Two of the nine performances are presented in Spanish and on four nights American Sign Language is offered.
This year the cast is made up of 450 men, women and children, and hundreds more volunteers who help behind the scenes to put on the production, which is presented as a "gift to the community," pageant officials say.
Sheep, a donkey and a miniature pony are also a part of the production. Several white doves fly off the stage in the cleansing of the temple scene and are trained to return.
All work together to present the "good news" of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
"Through the pageant, we testify to all that Jesus is not dead; He has been resurrected so that all of us will be resurrected, as well. He lives … to guide us, help us, protect us, teach us, and open the way for us to live with our loved ones again after this life, and even for eternity," says Sister Wudel. "There is no more profound or true message than this."
"Our wish and prayer is that all who come to the pageant this year will return home with greater hope in their hearts, stronger faith in their souls and more gratitude for Jesus of Nazareth, who gave His life so that we can live in joy and happiness forever as we follow Him."
The pageant not only touches those who see it, but also those who are in it.
For the Parker family of Mesa this is the seventh year being in the cast. Their adopted daughter, Meigan, was in it for the first time in 2007, shortly after the family had brought her from China as a baby.
In one scene of the pageant, the actor portraying Jesus picks a baby out of the multitude and gives the baby a kiss. That year, Meigan was chosen for that part.
Last year the Parkers weren't chosen to be in the cast but they were back this year, and again, Meigan, 5, was chosen for a special part: she now sits on Jesus' lap during a scene with children and this time she gives him a kiss.
"It's been a very good experience for all of us, even the little ones," says the mother, Debbie. "It's a marvelous, moving, wonderful experience and I love having it be a part of Easter for us."
Don Evans, pageant president, said many families come back year after year because of the wonderful experiences they have being involved in the pageant. "It can be a profound experience," he says. "They are involved in something bigger than themselves."