FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Holiday shopping facts and figures snagged the business headlines following the recent Black Friday. But for hundreds of Latter-day Saints living in south Florida, the day was defined by three other key numbers: 500+, 24 and 2,876.
On Nov. 24, more than 500 youth from the Fort Lauderdale Florida Temple District participated in a 24-consecutive-hour temple work project resulting in the completion of 2,876 proxy baptismal ordinances.
Of course for most Americans, November’s final Friday meant “Black Friday” — the annual, quasi-holiday hunt for pre-Christmas deals on electronics, toys, clothes and other wish list items.
But for the south Florida youth and their leaders, the day was aptly named “Temple White Friday.” The eight-stake project — scheduled to kick off the local “Light the World” campaign — began in the baptistery on 10 a.m. Friday and continued, non-stop, until 10 a.m. the next morning.
“It was a great honor to perform ordinances that will help others be able to return and live with their Heavenly Father,” said Victoria Menezes, a 16-year-old from Miami Beach.
“A fantastic experience,” added Elder Stephen E. Thompson, an Area Seventy who presides over the stakes in the district (Boynton Beach, Coral Springs, Fort Lauderdale, Fort Meyers, Miami, Miami Lakes, Miami South and Stuart.)
By the time the final ordinance was performed, “we had all felt an impression that there was great rejoicing on the other side of the veil by a lot of people,” said Miami Lakes Florida Stake President Scott Richards.
The south Florida project was prompted by the “Youth Temple Challenge” issued in 2014 by Elder Neil L. Andersen of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles: “Prepare as many names for the temple as baptisms you perform in the temple, and help someone else to do the same.”
Youth from all across the temple district spent months researching and preparing names from their own family lines. “The overwhelming majority of the youth brought their own names to the temple,” said President Robinson.
Organizing a round-the-clock temple project for hundreds of youth from across south Florida was no small task. For months, local leaders worked closely with the temple presidency to manage the logistics. Each of the eights stakes filled a three-hour shift. And each stake was responsible to staff the temple with its own workers during their assigned block of time.
Simply keeping the temple laundry well stocked with fresh baptistery clothing proved daunting.
“During ‘Temple White Friday,’ we kept praying that the washing machines and dryers would continue to work well,” said Fort Lauderdale Temple President Jack Fisher. “They did — which was a miracle.”
Scores of moms, dads and local youth leaders were also enlisted to shuttle the youth from their homes to the temple and back again.
“None of this would have happened without the sacrifices of parents, temple workers and, of course, the youth,” said President Robinson.
The connections forged by the young participants stretched beyond their kindred dead. Most of the youth are the only Mormons in their school, so serving in the temple alongside fellow Latter-day Saints fostered unity and many new friendships.
“This was an opportunity for our youth to come together with a single purpose,” added President Robinson.
Veronica said she may have missed a few Black Friday deals, but she wouldn’t trade the opportunity “Temple White Friday” offered to be with hundreds of fellow Latter-day Saint youth.
“Being in the Fort Lauderdale temple on that busy day brought me so much peace,” she said.
Following their temple service, the youth gathered for a devotional at the Miami Lake Florida Stake Center. Several shared their testimonies before listening to messages from President Fisher and the temple matron, Sister Maria Mercedes Fisher, along with Elder Thompson.
The Area Seventy said it was uplifting to stand at the pulpit and witness the diversity of the south Florida youth. “It’s like looking at the population of the world because all the continents are represented.”
By midday Saturday, the youth were returning to their homes across the bottom of the Sunshine State. But they won’t soon forget their historic day in Fort Lauderdale.
“I hope we make ‘Temple White Friday’ a tradition,” said Veronica.
The day’s lasting impact, added Elder Thompson, “will be the feeling of the Holy Ghost and the Spirit of Elijah that touched their hearts and as they found family names and performed work for them in the temple.”