Elder David A. Bednar and local Church leaders were walking in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, Spain, in May when they were approached by a man.
“Are you from the Church?” he asked. The man told the group he was a Latter-day Saint, but that he had not been active for 25 years.
Elder Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles looked at the man and said, “It is time to come back.”
That moment is one President Kevin B. Pack of the Madrid Spain Mission will never forget.
“Elder Bednar introduced himself to the man, expressed his love, and invited him now to come back — with his family,” President Pack said. “It was a moving experience to participate in this very tender moment and watch a special witness of the Savior’s name minister to one of His sheep.”
Speaking about his recent trip to Spain and Portugal on May 12–23, Elder Bednar explained that wherever he is assigned to go he is always seeking to find and ministering to “a one.”
Las Palmas, located in the Canary Islands, and Madeira, Portugal, are two of the locations Elder Bednar and his wife, Sister Susan Bednar, visited during the trip. Both cities have an active Church presence, but — because of their location — are not often visited by top Church leaders. Elder Bednar’s visit marked the first time an apostle has visited Madeira Island.
During the trip — which also included stops in Madrid, Spain; and Porto and Lisbon, Portugal — Elder Bednar participated in priesthood leadership meetings and member devotionals.
“It was not so much what he said, but what I observed him do that had an impact on me,” said President Pack. “Wherever he went, I noticed that he looked for opportunities to minister to ‘the one.’ That one person was different wherever he went. The one included a bishop leading a small congregation and feeling the weight of his calling, a missionary wanting to know he was in fact called of God, a less active member he met on the street of Las Palmas, a non-member of the Church wanting to know what he needed to do to believe, and even my own children. I believe Elder Bednar came to Spain to minister to individuals and I observed this first hand on multiple occasions while with him.”
Elder Bednar’s visit marked the first time many members had seen an apostle, President Pack added. “His visit was a living symbol to them of the Lord’s love for them, that He knows them, that He is aware of their situations, and that He is there for them if they will come unto Him. Feeling the Lord’s love through Elder Bednar helped strengthen them in their resolve to live the gospel and be a peculiar people and to continue to be beacons of light to the world.”
Elder Joaquim J. Moreira, an Area Seventy, said it was wonderful for members in Spain and Portugal to hear an apostle say, “I came to talk and learn with you.” He said members had the opportunity to ask questions.
“Many of the questions came from deep within the soul, and were answered with much love and respect, but primarily with much inspiration,” said Elder Moreira. “It should be noted that, question after question, Elder Bednar’s inspired answers had a significant impact on all members. The general consensus was: ‘Although I may not have the opportunity to ask my specific question, I received answers to overcome my personal challenges.’
At the end of the meeting “Elder Bednar prayed for blessings for the people of the Madeira Island, as well as the island itself, so that the people could improve spiritually and become even more steadfast. The strong and distinct presence of the Spirit, as a result of his prayer, was [noted] in the room. In fact, a spirit of love, kindness, union, and peace was felt among all that were present.”
Elder Moreira shared three examples of an Apostle’s influence on Madeira:
Victor, a 19-year-old investigator, had taken the missionary discussions and accepted the gospel, but had decided not to be baptized because of his family’s objections to the Church. However, after feeling the Spirit in a member meeting, Victor determined the sacrifice was worth it and set a baptism date.
Oscar and Pilar are dating and are investigating the Church. “Elder Bednar gave Oscar the opportunity to ask a question. The couple said they felt the Spirit and that their questions were answered. They are continuing the lessons with the goal to be baptized.”
Aaron, a 22-year-old unbaptized son of a branch president, came to the meeting with his parents. He said he would join the Church only when his questions were answered. After the meeting he told his parents that this condition had been met.
President Victor Tavares of the Portugal Lisbon Mission said members felt “it was an experience of a lifetime to be in such a small meeting with a member of the Twelve and ask questions. Because of this visit, members have felt that the Brethren know them and seek for their well-being. They feel of importance for the building up of the Kingdom in Portugal.”
Elder Francisco J. Ruiz de Mendoza, an Area Seventy, said stake leaders in Spain and Portugal “have seen a noticeable difference in their members’ attitude and willingness to uphold the Lord’s work as a result of what they learned by the power of the Holy Ghost.”
He explained, “It is probably taxing on a busy member of the Twelve with quite a few daily responsibilities to go across half of the world, on a tight schedule, to share his special witness of the name of the Lord with members. Members understand this and it makes them grateful. It teaches them a lesson of selflessness and of sacrifice for what really matters and helps them shift the focus from daily routine to the Lord’s work.”
Elder Bednar said because of the devotion of Latter-day Saints in this part of the world “it is easy to fall in love with them.”
These members live in beautiful lands where the influence of religion is diminishing, he said. “These people are devoted and faithful. They are swimming against the current of the secular stream. And they are happy as they press forward in faith.”
He added, “As the world becomes increasingly confused and dark, Latter-day Saints stand out. They radiate goodness and light.”
President Merril T. Dayton of the Spain Barcelona Mission said the story of the growth of the Church in Spain is miraculous; from its opening for proselyting in 1969 to today, more than 53,000 people have joined the Church. “This is more than any European nation except Great Britain. I believe the Latter-day Saints in Spain were deeply honored that one of the Twelve Apostles took time out of his busy schedule to spend time with them.”
President Dayton called the priesthood leadership meeting in Spain historic.
“Every stake president, every bishop, every branch president, every mission president, every district president, and every high councilor over missionary work was present,” he said. “It was a great thrill to sit in that congregation with all of the spiritual leaders of an entire nation! It was obvious that the priesthood leaders in attendance had great love, respect, and even reverence for the holy calling of apostle and its bearer.”
Elder Bednar, who was raised in the San Francisco Bay area, said he found striking similarities between Porto and San Francisco. Visiting the saints in Porto made him “feel like I am home,” he said.
President Paulo Avelar Morgado Ribeiro of the Porto Portugal Stake said Elder Bednar interacted with the members.
“Elder Bednar came to speak with us, and hence gave the members the opportunity to put forth questions in order to find their real needs ,” he explained. “Elder Bednar’s expectation was that, in the future, we should not remember what was said at the pulpit, but what the Spirit had helped us to learn.”
In all, President Ribeiro said, “The message was one of inspiration and encouragement given so that, as members, we could identify through the Spirit what we needed to change.”
He said he recently spoke to an 81-year-old member who reported that he had a wonderful experience.
President Ribeiro said, “The real significance of the visit of an Apostle to Portugal cannot be measured solely by what was said during his visit, but by the spiritual impact that was impressed upon us by his presence and by the clear and direct form with which he taught and edified us as a special witness of the Lord Jesus Christ.”
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