In a devotional in the Marriott Center at BYU on Nov. 3, Bishop Dean M. Davies of the Presiding Bishopric shared with the students his love for the school. “This campus is sacred,” he said. “For while I worked and studied here, I also pondered questions that many of you might be asking at this time of your life.”
Bishop Davies addressed two of those questions students may be asking at this time in their lives. “First, if you dedicate your life to God’s service, will He direct your steps and use you for His righteous purposes? Second, if you choose to follow the Savior and walk in the path of discipleship, will the Lord watch over you, guide you, bless you, and fill you with a spirit of joy and fulfillment?”
In the 10 years prior to being called to the Presiding Bishopric, Bishop Davies helped identify and acquire temple sites around the world. He shared a few of his experiences with finding these sites to show how these questions can be answered.
In 2008, President Thomas S. Monson announced plans to build a temple in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The man who owned the site they ultimately picked had not developed the property for 25 years. “He had always felt that the property had a ‘higher and better purpose,’” Bishop Davies said. “When we offered to buy it, he said it felt right.”
However, “Shortly after we filed the paperwork, the city of Philadelphia, through a city-controlled agency, filed a legal claim that stopped the transaction,” Bishop Davies said. They did all they could to remove the claim, and as a last resort, he, an Area Seventy and two local Church members met with the mayor.
One of these members was Vai Sikahema, a well-known local celebrity in Philadelphia. After his career in the NFL, including playing for the Philadelphia Eagles from 1992-1993, he had retired and become the Sports Director for a local television station.
“Before the meeting with the mayor, our little group of five met together and talked about the purpose for the meeting. Then, we knelt in prayer — we knew that we would desperately need the Lord’s blessing that day,” Bishop Davies said.
In the meeting, the atmosphere felt cold, like the decision had already been made and the meeting was little more than a formality, he said, and that “the hearts of the city officials had been set against our building a temple there.” As the meeting progressed, it seemed that had run out of options.
Then Brother Sikahema asked if he could speak. “In a humble voice,” Bishop Davies said, “he went on to say something like this: ‘Mr. Mayor, many years ago as a young boy in Tonga, my father and mother and my brothers and sisters sold our home — we sold fruits and vegetables — we sold everything we could to have enough money to travel to Hamilton, New Zealand, to be sealed as an eternal family in the temple. You need this temple. This temple will bless your city. This temple will bless your community. It will bless the people.’”
After he sat down, it was clear that everything had changed, Bishop Davies said. An African-American nonmember city councilman also asked to speak, saying, “’Mr. Mayor, I have spoken with the leaders in the community and neighbors of this property. We want this temple. We need this temple,’” Bishop Davies said.
The Spirit filled the meeting and the mayor agreed to let the temple be built on the selected site.
Bishop Davies then invited Brother Sikahema, who was in the Marriott Center that day, to stand. “He’s not just a football player,” he said. “He’s not just a stake president. He’s an instrument in the hands of the Lord. … [The Lord] knew that Vai Sikahema’s humble testimony would need to be shared — that it would be the turning point that made the difference at a critical time.”
Just as God used Brother Sikahema, “He will use you,” Bishop Davies said. “If you give your hearts to Him and strive to walk in faith and compassion on the path the Savior commanded, He will use you.”
God has repeatedly used the weak things of the earth to bring to pass great things, he said. “God chooses the average and the weak so that no man can boast and say, ‘I have done this out of my own ability.’ He uses ordinary, earthen vessels, ‘that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us’” (2 Cor. 4:7).
While searching for a temple site in San Salvador, El Salvador, after it was announced in 2006, Bishop Davies witnessed this power. Despite finding many potential sites in San Salvador, Bishop Davies felt that a particular property was where God wanted His temple to be built. “I reached out to the owners through the real estate agent and received word that the property was not available,” he said.
He came back to this property repeatedly, unable to “shake the feeling that this is where the temple should be,” Bishop Davies said. But the family that owned it did not want to sell their ancestral home. Finally, he reached out to the Duenas family who owned the property, and asked to meet with them.
They agreed to do so. Bishop Davies traveled to San Salvador with Robert Fox, a friend and employee in the real estate division. “That morning, we knelt in prayer in my room before beginning the day and asked for the Lord’s assistance,” he said.
As they explained their purpose for acquiring the property — to build a temple that would the country — the Duenas family repeatedly declined the offer. Finally with every last option and offer turned down, “My heart was filled with an urgent prayer, ‘Father please help us to know what to say or do,’” Bishop Davies said.
As they prepared to leave, “You could feel the Spirit of the Lord enter the room,” Bishop Davies said. “It was tangible. Everyone in the room felt it. Roberto Duenas, who was not a member of the Church, began to cry with tears cascading down his cheeks.”
Mr. Duenas finally turned to his brother and said, “If we can’t sell our ancestral home, couldn’t we sell the very best of the property we have across the street?”
“That was the property they offered for the temple of the Lord,” Bishop Davies said. “It truly was a miracle.”
Bishop Davies concluded, “I promise you that if you will but incline your hearts to your Father in Heaven, if you will strive each day to love and follow Him more perfectly, if you will in compassion and kindness share the burdens and lift up the hands of those who are struggling around you, then the Lord God of Heaven will direct your paths.
“He will use you for His sublime purposes. He will bless you in ways you cannot imagine.”