Elder David A. Bednar, of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, stood in the urban grove of aged olive trees located at the foot of the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem. It is called the Garden of Gethsemane, although the precise location of the New Testament’s same-named site of the Atonement of Jesus Christ remains uncertain but likely nearby.
“You are close to the location when time and eternity intersected in the Savior’s atoning sacrifice,” said Elder Bednar, recalling his first visit to the Holy Land in January 2019 and the scriptural scenes of the Apostles Peter, James and John accompanying Christ to the garden that night.
“When you are in a place very close to where Christ’s Atonement actually occurred, you try to imagine — but cannot totally — what that experience was like for Him,” said Elder Bednar, who also visited other historical and religious sites in the Old City and near the Sea of Galilee.
Less than two weeks earlier, he had been in Rome, joined by his fellow Apostle, Elder Ronald A. Rasband, in initiating the media and special-guest tours of the new Rome Italy Temple. During the nearly week-long assignment there, the two visited the Mamertine Prison, believed to be the dungeon cells “where Peter and Paul were held captive for publicly declaring their witnesses of the Lord Jesus Christ,” Elder Bednar said.
And in the rotunda of the Rome Italy Temple Visitors’ Center among the Christus and ancient Apostle statues, he pointed to Thorvaldsen’s statue of Peter with two keys gripped in the right hand.
“Peter received from the Savior the keys of the kingdom,” Elder Bednar said, “and there is a mantle associated with the ordination. The apostleship is never about the men. It is about the office and the mantle.
“I love to read about Peter and Paul and their ministries in the New Testament,” he continued. “And the mantle they bore, that Elder Rasband and I have received, is real. For me, the bond with those ancient Apostles is in the majesty and powers of the mantle and in the spiritual witness of the reality of the Restoration in the latter days.”
The two locations — Rome and Jerusalem — served as fitting bookends for the modern-day Apostle’s 18-day assignment. Joined by his wife, Sister Susan Bednar, Elder Bednar went from Rome, with its history of influence, to Egypt and neighboring Middle East nations marked by the antiquity of the region’s early civilizations, and then on to the Holy Land.
“Consider the antiquity of Egypt and its impact on the world and on world culture, and then think of the Roman influence and of Jerusalem,” he said. “It is just a remarkable sequence of places to be and to learn.”
It was a learning experience for others as well, as Elder Bednar met with many in meetings while ministering to the one.
“To be in Jerusalem with an Apostle of the Lord is an experience that none of us will ever forget,” said Elder Wilford W. Andersen, a General Authority Seventy who with his wife, Sister Kathleen Andersen, accompanied the Bednars in the Middle East and Israel.
Between Rome and Jerusalem, the assignment’s itinerary — ranging from conferences and devotionals to humanitarian visits — included stops in the United Arab Emirates cities of Abu Dhabi and Dubai; Sulaymaniyah, Kurdistan; and Cairo, Egypt.
Church members in the Middle Eastern countries face unique and difficult challenges, Elder Andersen said, explaining that, “Elder Bednar’s visit was a comforting reminder to them that Heavenly Father remembers and loves all His children. His teachings and his testimony warmed their hearts.”
In the UAE, Elder Bednar conducted a special meeting of the Abu Dhabi Stake as well as a meeting with youth and young adults ages 12 through 30. While geographically Abu Dhabi is a long distance from Salt Lake City, “the leadership and the Church are not a long way from Abu Dhabi,” he said. “There is a powerful message when we minister to them in their lands and in their homes.”
One humanitarian stop was at the African Hope Learning Centre in Cairo, Egypt, where LDS Charities has donated computers and other materials. For more than two decades, the school has helped educate impoverished children — up to nearly 500 annually — who have fled from Sudan and a dozen other African nations, often without one or both of their parents.
Another visit was at the Ashti IDP Camp — IDP standing for “internally displaced persons,” or refugees within one’s own country — in Iraqi Kurdistan, near the city of Erbil. LDS Charities partnered with the Barzani Charity Foundation to provide 750 large tents — 250 at Ashti and another 500 at the Khazer refugee camp. The tents offered shelter and protection from the cold winter weather, with November flooding in the area damaging the previous refugee shelter.
“We are all sons and daughters of God,” said Elder Bednar of the displaced refugees and their needs. “We help provide some of the assistance they need to survive in really difficult circumstances.”
In addition to visiting historical and religious sites in the Old City and around the Sea of Galilee, Elder Bednar presided over a conference of the Jerusalem District and a devotional at the BYU Jerusalem Center. The Bednars also hosted an impromptu gathering with students in the center’s cafeteria one evening.
Jerusalem District President Dennis Brimhall, who joined the Bednars and Andersens and others in the small group touring the Old City and Galilee, said: “We were continually thinking about a living Apostle walking where the original Apostles walked and were taught — and to be mindful that the words of a living apostle are just as important as those we read in the New Testament.”
President Brimhall reported that in addition to the large-scale gatherings of members and students, Elder Bednar found ways to minister to individuals during his stay. One such person was a sister, Margreta Spencer, who is the district’s longest-residing member in Israel and is confined to a nursing home in the Golan Heights, nearly three hours north of Jerusalem.
Elder Bednar video-recorded a message and blessing for her, President Brimhall said. The district president added that he’ll deliver it to her soon when he goes to do a temple-recommend interview with her.
The Apostle noted his affinity for having visited the areas of Capernaum and Tabgha off the shores of the Sea of Galilee — seeing the foundation of Peter’s home, visualizing the events of the New Testament in the area and being mindful of the Savior’s teachings such as the Bread of Life sermon and the Sermon on the Mount.
“To have the responsibility to bear witness of Him, His divinity, His Resurrection, His living reality causes us to count our many blessings and reflect deeply on all we have been blessed to have received in this dispensation.”