On Sunday, Feb. 16, the member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles will preside for his first time at a temple dedication. But given his earlier service as the executive director of the Church’s Temple Department — unique among the living Latter-day Prophets and Apostles — it will be far from Elder Rasband’s first participation in key temple events.
“Up to this point in my life, this is the single most significant spiritual assignment I have had in the Church,” he said recently in preparing to dedicate South Africa’s second temple. “This is in a category all by itself. This is part of President Russell M. Nelson’s wonderful approach of sharing this grand opportunity with the members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.”
In his two years as president of the Church, President Nelson has involved most of the members of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in presiding at or participating in temple dedications and rededications across the globe, the highlight being the combined presence of the 15 senior Brethren during the March 10-12, 2019, dedication of the Rome Italy Temple.
Prior to that, Elder Rasband and fellow Apostle Elder David A. Bednar led the Rome temple’s public-opening Media Day and special-guest tours and were featured in a one-of-a-kind “virtual tour” and online introduction.
After 17 dedications and rededications the past two years, the Durban temple is the first for 2020. “I was very pleased and honored when President Nelson assigned me to preside over the Durban South Africa Temple dedication,” Elder Rasband said.
Between his calls as a General Authority Seventy in April 2000 and to the Presidency of the Seventy five years later, Elder Rasband served in the Temple Department first as an assistant executive director to the late Elder David E. Sorensen, the executive director whom Elder Rasband called “truly a partner with President Gordon B. Hinckley in that big expansion” of temple building in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
“Then I was assigned,” said Elder Rasband, “to serve as the executive director in 2004, and the expansion continued. One of the great privileges of my life was to be working closely with President Hinckley. He had a very hands-on approach to temple work in the Church.”
Elder Rasband attended his first temple groundbreaking — for the Sacramento California Temple — with President Hinckley in 2004. “He was teaching me and showing me,” said Elder Rasband, who continued in first preparing and later participating in numerous temple dedications, rededications, groundbreakings, announcements and projects.
Even after his Temple Department service ended, he had opportunity to occasionally join Church leaders — including President Hinckley, President Thomas S. Monson, President Nelson — at such temple events.
His fourth-floor office in the Church Administration Building hosts a collection of related mementos — photographs at temple events with various Church leaders and a rack of seven painted golden shovels from groundbreakings of the Sacramento, Oquirrh Mountain Utah, Praia Cape Verde, Kansas City Missouri, Vancouver British Columbia, Fort Collins Colorado and Phoenix Arizona temples. He presided at the latter four.
Elder Rasband said his preparation to preside at the Durban dedication events has included intently and spiritually preparing to give the dedicatory prayer, separate addresses for each of the three dedicatory sessions and a talk for the youth devotional conducted the Saturday evening before.
He arrived with his wife, Sister Melanie Rasband, in South Africa a week early to travel throughout the temple district, including the nations of Lesotho and South Africa, “to meet members in various cities, to preach temple doctrine to them and to get the temple district excited about this.” The result of Elder Rasband’s months of preparation — especially intense in the final weeks before departure — is nearly a dozen different meetings with members and missionaries.
Accompanying the Rasbands in South Africa are Elder Carl B. Cook of the Presidency of the Seventy and his wife, Sister Lynette Cook. “It is a great blessing to have Elder Rasband dedicate the temple,” said Elder Cook, noting the travels to Port Elizabeth, East London and Cape Town, South Africa and Maseru, Lesotho, to meet with as many as possible in the temple district.
The assignment is a first-time-back homecoming for the Cooks, with Elder Cook having served in the Africa Southeast Area presidency from 2011 to 2016, including time in a presidency that included future Apostles Elder Dale G. Renlund and Elder Ulisses Soares. Elder Cook was area president from 2014 to 2016.
“It has been a dream come true to receive this assignment to participate in the dedication of the Durban South Africa Temple,” said Elder Cook, who presided over the temple’s groundbreaking ceremony on April 9, 2016. “When our plane landed and our feet touched African soil, we felt an immediate feeling of belonging. The African people are an important part of our lives — we feel a deep love for them. I felt like a missionary who returned to his first beloved area.”
Noting his supervisory role over the Church Communication Department and its government relations, Elder Rasband put what he called “a premium” on meeting local government leaders, with the current Africa Southeast Area presidency of Elder S. Mark Palmer, Elder Joseph W. Sitati and Elder Joni L. Koch helping make arrangements.
“I am meeting with heads of state and tribal kings to talk with them about temples and their connection to the Lord Jesus Christ,” he said. “It is going to be an added blessing to this trip.”
That included a Monday meeting in Maseru with Lesotho’s King Letsie III and Queen ‘Masenate Mohato Seeiso at the royal palace.
At the same time, Elder Rasband added, it is important that he reaffirms with the government and tribal leaders that the global Church — headquartered in Salt Lake City, more than 10,000 miles away from Durban — has a strong and growing presence throughout the Africa Southeast Area with an organization of general Church leaders to local mission, stake, district, ward and branch leaders.
“I want them to know that in some sense, while it is a global Church, it is also a South Africa Church, it is a Lesotho Church, and it is a Mozambique Church.”
Elder Rasband has been assigned to Africa three times before — including a 2017 stop at the temple site when the foundation was just starting to emerge above the red-dirt ground. “So I already have an affection for the site and the beauty of it.”
On the previous assignments, he conducted leadership conferences, missionary meetings, stake conferences and devotionals with youth and young single adults. “But this time,” he said, “I’m very focused on the temple and enthusing the members and meeting our guests, friends of the Church, to tell them about the divine redemptive work of temples.”