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BYU football building bridges of friendship and faith in Mississippi

TUPELO, MISS.

The Brigham Young University football team not only came away from Mississippi with a winning football game, it also left with a key to the city of Tupelo. City Councilman, Jonny Davis, presented BYU President Cecil O. Samuelson a key to the city at a devotional Friday, Sept. 2, the night before the big game.

Mr. Davis stated, “There will always be a bond between the City of Tupelo and Brigham Young University.”

“This was such an important event for the Church. The south is a very religious place, but it is also very loyal. It is difficult to get friends of other faiths into our Church building because they feel such a strong allegiance to their own religion,” said Director of Public Affairs for the Tupelo Stake, Gina Thorderson.

Sister Thorderson continued, “Typically, churches who want to have a multi-faith activity have to hold it on neutral ground. But the BYU football team helped us build a new bridge in our community and open our doors successfully to all faiths.”

Councilman Jonny Davis presents a key to the city to Pres. Cecil O. Samuelson, right.
Councilman Jonny Davis presents a key to the city to Pres. Cecil O. Samuelson, right. Photo: Photo by Mark Philbrick, BYU

Local stake leaders estimated between 600-700 would attend but were happily surprised to have a final count of 1,150. “We were busting at the seams,” said Nels Thorderson, 2nd Counselor in the Tupelo stake presidency.

Devotional held with BYU players in Mississippi.
Devotional held with BYU players in Mississippi. Photo: Photo by Mark Philbrick, BYU

“The chapel and cultural hall were completely filled with people sitting on the floor in the front of the chapel along with every other room in the building filled to capacity with closed circuit TVs,” continued Pres. Thorderson.

Elder R. Randall Bluth, an Area Seventy, Coach Bronco Mendenhall, Councilman Jonny Davis, and Pres. Cecil O. Samuelson
Elder R. Randall Bluth, an Area Seventy, Coach Bronco Mendenhall, Councilman Jonny Davis, and Pres. Cecil O. Samuelson Photo: Photo by Gina Thorderson

“I was sitting between the city councilman, his wife, and the religion editor for the local newspaper during the devotional. It was fun to watch them and try to read their responses to this outpouring of the Spirit from such an unusual source,” Sister Thorderson said.

“They were all touched by the Spirit and were anxious to meet President Samuelson and talk to Sister Samuelson and Sister Peggy Worthen, wife of BYU vice president Kevin J Worthen, who happened to be sitting on the pew in front of us,” she continued.

Elder R. Randall Bluth, an Area Seventy, Coach Bronco Mendenhall, Councilman Jonny Davis, and Pres. Cecil O. Samuelson
Elder R. Randall Bluth, an Area Seventy, Coach Bronco Mendenhall, Councilman Jonny Davis, and Pres. Cecil O. Samuelson Photo: Photo by Gina Thorderson
Bryan Kariya, a BYU fullback, poses for a photo with a young member of the devotional audience.
Bryan Kariya, a BYU fullback, poses for a photo with a young member of the devotional audience. Photo: Photo by Mark Philbrick, BYU

Following the meeting, Councilman Davis reported to Sister Thorderson, “We had a great time. Sherry and I enjoyed the fellowship and inspirational testimony from all. It was an honor and privilege to be part of this experience. Please pass my personal and official thanks to all; we will never forget being included in the LDS family.”

As the BYU football players, prayed, spoke, sang and even played the piano, there was a feeling that was comparable to the Missionary Training Center. “It’s not every day you get to hear a football squad sing, ‘We’ll Bring the World His Truth.’ It reminded me of singing ‘Called to Serve’ in the MTC. There was a power there that was more than just the physical strength those players displayed,” said Sister Thorderson.

Members of the BYU football team.
Members of the BYU football team. Photo: Photo by Mark Philbrick, BYU

“Coach Mendenhall and his wife brought such an amazing spirit to the meeting also. They were so easy to relate to but also so precise and in tune. I think attendees enjoyed learning of their trials and testimonies on such a personal level that they otherwise would never experience,” said Sister Thorderson.

Councilman Jonny Davis presents a key to the city to Pres. Cecil O. Samuelson, right.
Councilman Jonny Davis presents a key to the city to Pres. Cecil O. Samuelson, right. Photo: Photo by Mark Philbrick, BYU

“Tupelo was truly blessed to have this group visit them and bring their part of the vineyard an amazing and unique experience. The BYU football team did bring the world His truth on a hot, humid night in the deep South and I think our community has grown closer together and closer to the Savior because of their generosity.”

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