REXBURG, Idaho — Looking out among 15,000 students in the BYU-Idaho Center here on Sunday, Sept. 22, Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles moved his finger across the screen of his iPad and read a question.
It was one of approximately 11,000 anonymous questions texted to him during the devotional.
Addressing young adults in the congregation — as well as those listening on the radio or via live internet streaming — Elder Bednar had started his evening address by inviting the students to “exercise faith in Jesus Christ by acting” and submitting questions.
Then he insisted they not focus on his answers.
He told them he hoped they wouldn’t remember his words or the words of his wife, Sister Susan Bednar — who would soon join him at the podium. Pay attention, the apostle emphasized, “to what you hear and feel by the power of the Holy Ghost.”
“Sister Bednar and I are incapable of answering the questions you will ask,” he said. “But we will exercise faith and try to do our best as you exercise faith and try to do your best.”
The discussion would become a promised blessing from an invitation found in Doctrine and Covenants 88:122. “Appoint among yourselves a teacher and let not all be spokesmen at once; but let one speak at a time and let all listen unto his sayings, that when all have spoken that all may be edified of all, and that every man may have an equal privilege.”
The pattern — one he has replicated countless times across the globe — always works, he said. It involves teaching doctrines and principles, issuing invitations and expecting promised blessings. All individuals are students learning from the ultimate teacher — the Holy Ghost.
As the evening began, thousands of students held their scriptures and journals high in the air — a sign they were prepared for the devotional and ready to learn.
“You should pay very close attention to the thoughts that come to your mind and the feelings that come to your heart by the power of the Holy Ghost,” Elder Bednar told them. “The messages you receive in your mind and in your heart are from God to you individually and personally.”
‘All my questions were answered’
Kelli Ferre said she came to the devotional after fasting and praying. She had thought all day about Elder Bednar and the message he would share. She had walked to the temple and pondered.
But Elder Bednar did not select one of the questions she sent confidentially to his iPad. In fact, he didn’t read a question similar to her own.
“Somehow I still received so much peace and assurance, and all of my questions were answered,” she reported. “It had been a very hard week for me and I had so much on my mind. But it seemed like Elder Bednar and his wife said all things I needed to hear. They even gave me answers to questions I didn’t even know I had.”
Elder Bednar said he simply uses the same inspired pattern found in the “Come, Follow Me” curriculum — aided by technology.
After becoming president of BYU-Idaho, Elder Bednar opened his door to a group of BYU-Idaho students on a Monday evening in 1997. The young adults had cookies and ice cream and asked if they could join Elder and Sister Bednar for Family Home Evening. There, in that intimate setting in the Bednars’ home, the group learned together. All were edified.
The evening was the beginning of a passionate pursuit of a principle for the Bednars and thousands of students over the next seven and a half years. Weekly Family Home Evenings with the Bednars and the students continued, first, in their home, and then in larger venues on campus.
Elder Bednar uses what he refers to as a “magic iPad.” Small or large congregations can submit anonymous questions. He saves every one. To date, he has collected hundreds of thousands of questions asked by Latter-day Saints across the globe on his personal computer.
“If in the most unlikely of circumstances participants can have this kind of personal, spiritual experience and learn by the Holy Ghost, they can gain confidence and realize, ‘I can do this on my own; I do not need an apostle to answer my questions. I can seek my own answers anywhere, anytime throughout my life.’ ”
The best answers
Not too long ago, Breanna Latouche was up late, getting ready for bed and praying. She asked, “Where am I supposed to be? What am I doing with my life and time?” And she didn’t think much about those questions again — until the devotional with Elder and Sister Bednar.
“Towards the end of the devotional, I received a strong confirmation that I am in the right place at the right time. None of the questions that I texted were answered because I already knew the answer to them, but the Lord knew that. … He will lead me to where I need to be.”
Reagan Thacker did not text Elder Bednar a question. He didn’t even know he had a question until he received an answer. “Those are the best answers,” he said. “We receive them in our hearts.”
Austin and Monica Mangelson have been married a year. As they watched Elder and Sister Bednar, they thought of their own marriage. They found encouragement in the Bednars’ example.
Alexa Coltrin also felt the guidance of the Spirit. “All these students were here with the same questions,” she said. “We can all learn and grow together. It gave me comfort to know I wasn’t in this alone.”
Faith in the Savior — a principle of action and power
Elder Bednar taught the BYU-Idaho students that faith in Jesus Christ is a principle of action and of power.
“There are complementary dimensions of faith — faith to make things happen and faith to accept the things that happen. A disciple has to have both,” said Elder Bednar. “You have to be willing to act and to wait upon the Lord.
As impossible as it seems with a room filled with thousands of people, the experience can be intimate, he said. “By inviting the congregation to act, you are enlisting their help to learn by the Spirit.”
Once a young missionary described to Elder Bednar the process in simple terms. The missionary said when he hears what a speaker says with his ears, then he knows the message is for everyone. But when “I hear the message in my mind and in my heart, then I know the message is just for me.”
The week before the BYU-Idaho devotional with Elder and Sister Bednar was very hard for Maddilyn Dennett.
“I needed and yearned for direction in my life,” she said. “Sometime into Elder David A. Bednar’s talk, he clearly said exactly what I needed to hear. What I heard in that moment was, ‘What option do I have but to continue trying?’ The simplicity of these words shook me to my frame. There was no doubt in my mind that God needs me to do a work, and that the only way I can do this is by continuing to try and to not give up.”
Maddilyn said she expects her life to change because “of the words that spoke to my spirit. I have a greater understanding of life and my purpose.”
After listening to the devotional, Emilee Prologo said, “This was a unique experience that I will never forget. As a result of the devotional I have been actively looking for the prompting and guiding hand of the Holy Ghost in my life.”
Elder Bednar closed his devotional address by inviting the students “to cherish and relish every opportunity you have as a student to learn by the power of the Holy Ghost — a preparation for you to continue learning throughout your entire life.”