Elder Gary E. Stevenson remembers the Sunday in August 1975 when he and his missionary companion were the only people attending sacrament meeting in the small branch in Amami Oshima, Japan. All the other members in the area had traveled to a regional conference in Tokyo.
Elder Stevenson and his companion had wanted to go to the conference — during which President Spencer W. Kimball spoke.
“We were understanding yet disappointed when it was determined that the 12-hour boat ride to Kagoshima followed by an all-day train ride from Kagoshima to Tokyo was too far for us to travel,” he recalled.
At that time, Japanese Latter-day Saints were part of the Laie Hawaii Temple district.
“I remember well how faithful saints prepared themselves spiritually and financially to travel to Hawaii to receive temple ordinances,” Elder Stevenson said.
That is why the members returned from the conference “overjoyed.”
During the conference, President Kimball announced the Church’s plans to build the Tokyo Japan Temple — the Church’s first temple in Japan.
“I will never forget the excitement of the branch members when they returned to Amami Oshima and shared the announcement with us. They told us that at the conference the members were so filled with joy upon hearing the temple announcement that they all began to clap their hands.”
Five years later the temple was dedicated, followed 20 years after that with the dedication of the Fukuoka Japan Temple.
And now President Russell M. Nelson, president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, has dedicated a third temple in Japan.
After spending more than nine years of his life in Japan, Elder Stevenson shares the excitement of the Japanese members.
“It’s really my second home,” he said, noting that he served as a young missionary in the Japan Fukuoka Mission, returned to Japan many times on business, and then served as the president of the Japan Nagoya Mission (2004–2007) and as area president of the Church’s Asia North Area (2008–2012).
“I feel especially blessed to have participated in the site selection, the groundbreaking, the construction and now the dedication of this beautiful temple, all under the direction of the First Presidency,” he said.
He said the temple dedication represents “the end of a long, patient journey to the completion of a temple in Northern Japan.”
Elder Stevenson said Latter-day Saints in Northern Japan worked hard to qualify for a temple — increasing the number of current temple recommend holders and attending the temple in Tokyo — an airplane flight away.
Ground was broken for the Sapporo temple in 2011, on a rainy and windy day.
“We bow before Thee at this beautiful site chosen by Thee and thank Thee for the faithfulness and sacrifice of the members and converts in all of Japan,” said Elder Stevenson in the dedicatory prayer.
Six months later, Elder Stevenson would accept a call as Presiding Bishop of the Church; in that capacity he had input into the design and contractors of the new temple. “Then to be there for the construction phase as Presiding Bishop was a great blessing as well,” he said.
“Japan has become an integral part of my life,” said Elder Stevenson, noting that his first conference assignment as a new General Authority in Japan was in an area that would become part of the Sapporo Temple District.
And for Japanese members, the Sapporo Japan Temple is a literal symbol of hope.
Months before the temple groundbreaking, a 9.0-magnitude earthquake and powerful tsunami left more than 20,000 people dead, displaced thousands and destroyed more than 551,000 homes throughout Japan.
“It is interesting to note the groundbreaking of the Sapporo temple came just over six months following the devastating earthquake and tsunami of northeastern Japan,” said Elder Stevenson. “The period of construction to completion of this magnificent temple and grounds serves as a symbol of the recovery and reconstruction of hundreds of miles of coastal Japan. This temple will bring promised blessings to faithful, resilient Latter-day Saints who attend it, and will be an inspiration to thousands of Japanese who visit its grounds.”
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