MEXICO CITY, Mexico — Arriving more than an hour before he was to preside over a Sunday meeting with the Amecameca Mexico Stake in Mexico City, Elder David A. Bednar walked into a large tent set up to accommodate an overflow crowd. There the member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles noticed a young boy of 5 or 6 years and his father — he greeted the child as the father identified the visitor by name.
“Oh, Apostle Bednar,” said the boy. Giving a hug to his father and then to Elder Bednar, the boy looked up as he embraced the latter and asked, “Where’s Jesus?”
And how was the innocent question answered?
Elder Bednar gently told the young boy, “Just like you are with your father, Jesus is with His Father.”
Questions served as a common thread of Elder Bednar’s nine-day trip to Mexico’s capital and four other cities in the country’s central region in late August and early September 2018. Thousands of members, leaders and missionaries turned out in a series of youth and young single adult gatherings, leadership conferences, stake meetings and mission settings to not only listen to what messages the Apostle shared but also his answers to the invited questions.
A plethora of questions
Elder Bednar provides opportunities for those attending meetings to ask questions, online or via text, which are then forwarded to his digital tablet. As he scrolls through and scans the anonymous inquiries during the meeting, he answers “questions of the heart,” as he calls them, teaching doctrine, encouraging commitment to gospel principles and counseling with compassion.
“The questions reflect a lot of young people trying to get their lives in alignment with the gospel of Jesus Christ,” he said. “Some are staying on the covenant path, and some have made mistakes but are trying to come back to the path. This is evidence they are not quitting … they’re wrestling with ‘how do I press forward’ or ‘how do I get back?’”
Elder Arnulfo Valenzuela, General Authority Seventy and president of the Mexico Area, said members in the meetings — and missionaries in particular — responded enthusiastically to the “asking questions” format.
“The missionaries asked very inspired questions that allowed Elder Bednar to enlighten their understanding of gospel principles, such as the power of faith, agency, the Atonement of Christ, and how to help others be their own agents,” he said, adding many received answers that will help them in being good missionaries, good members, and provide relief from afflictions.
Embracing the Savior
In one of the several missionary meetings, a young elder expressed uncertainty of how some of the Savior’s teachings could work in his life. Elder Bednar emphasized the difference between believing in Christ but not necessarily believing Christ, where one might believe the Savior’s teachings apply to others — but not to one’s own self.
Inviting the elder to stand and come to the front of the chapel, Elder Bednar looked him in the eyes and said: “I am talking to you. I am not talking to your companion. I am not talking to the people on the stand. The Lord’s love and blessings apply specifically and personally to you,” said Elder Bednar, who underscored the interaction by giving the elder an abrazo, Spanish for “embrace.”
Ministering to the one
In a meeting with priesthood and auxiliary leaders, a young Relief Society president asked how she could continue to help others despite struggling with personal challenges and the demands of her calling. Elder Valenzuela watched Elder Bednar call on his wife, Sister Susan Bednar, to advise the tearful woman.
“We were able to witness how, in the midst of a great crowd, Sister Bednar ministered to this sister,” Elder Valenzuela said, calling it “a revelation that we all received” as the congregation of leaders watched and listened to the counsel.
“They both ministered ‘to the one’ among more than 700 people,” he continued. “I learned that there is no need for a specific place to minister to people. It can be where it is required — a meeting, a home, a workplace or a place of diversion. We do not require a program to do it.”
Elder John C. Pingree, second counselor in the Mexico Area presidency and a General Authority Seventy, witnessed a similar moment in a mission conference as an elder asked why he was not experiencing more success as a missionary even though he was striving to be obedient, to work hard and to exercise faith.
“Elder Bednar took a significant amount of time to understand this missionary’s feelings and to teach pertinent doctrines to address the missionary’s concerns,” Elder Pingree said. “He took the time to minister to the one, just as the Savior would have done.”
When an Apostle asks the questions
Sometimes Elder Bednar himself was asking the questions, such as in Monterrey when he asked stake priesthood and auxiliary leaders what they have learned about ministering. A sister leader said she had learned one must be more Christ-like to really minister, needing to follow the Savior’s higher and holier way and striving to become more like Him.
Elder Bednar commented that such ministering efforts by members and leaders are “really quite remarkable.”
Other times he perceived questions that members may have, such as a moment with nearly 800 missionaries in a Mexico Missionary Training Center devotional. Elder Bednar counseled about the devastation some young people have as they watch parents struggle to honor their temple-marriage covenants.
“These young people think to themselves, ‘If marriage did not work for my mom and dad, who were sealed in the temple, how is it going to work for me?’ ” said Elder Bednar.
He answered with a pointed message: “You do not find the marriage you hope to have, you create it. As an agent, you create the relationship, the family, and the happiness you hope to have.”
What matters most
Church members worldwide could learn from the Mexican Saints — from the “simplicity of their lives and how they live the gospel,” said Elder Bednar after his Mexico assignment. By comparison, he cited passages in Jacob 4:14 about those who “sought for things that they could not understand” and whose spiritual blindness “came by looking beyond the mark.”
Church members in Mexico typically focus on the Savior, he added. “In some places, one can be overly concerned about programs and procedures — they focus on the simplicity of what matters most.”
Elder Rafael E. Pino, General Authority Seventy and first counselor in the Mexico Area presidency, said the participating members and missionaries had prepared well and were anxious to have their questions answered.
“Elder Bednar made it clear in the very beginning that the Holy Ghost is the teacher and that they would be taught as much as they were prepared and willing to learn,” Elder Pino said. “With this kind of preparation, we were able to receive inspiration, knowledge, revelation and vision. We have felt the Lord in our midst speaking and teaching us through one of the His apostles.”