Boyd Matheson: 1 year after historic Rome temple dedication, apostles exemplify ‘whatsoever place ye cannot go ye shall send’

On March 11, 2019, the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles gathered at the visitors center of the soon-to-be-dedicated Rome Italy Temple. President Russell M. Nelson had invited his brethren in the Holy Apostleship to join him for what he described as a hinge point in the history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The 15 latter-day apostles stood for a stunning photograph in front of Thorvaldsen’s majestic Christus, flanked by heroic statues of the ancient apostles. The moment was historic. The picture instantly iconic.

It was a breathtaking and soul-stirring moment never to be forgotten. Observing the scene in hushed silence, it seemed to me that the echo of the Savior’s charge, “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations” reverberated through the hall, penetrated every heart and reflected in many tear-filled eyes.

For the next 12 months, the apostles criss-crossed the globe attempting to keep up with our spiritually striving and physically sprinting prophet. Each apostle went, proclaiming his special witness of Christ Jesus to, quite literally, all the world.

Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and his wife, Sister Susan Bednar, walk from the Rome Italy Temple to the Rome Temple Visitors' Center of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on Monday, Jan. 14, 2019. Rome City officials and other dignitaries follow behind.
Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and his wife, Sister Susan Bednar, walk from the Rome Italy Temple to the Rome Temple Visitors’ Center of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on Monday, Jan. 14, 2019. Rome City officials and other dignitaries follow behind. Credit: Ravell Call, Deseret News

One year and one day after that hinge point in Rome — everything changed. Or so we thought. On March 12, the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles announced that all public gatherings of Church members were temporarily suspended worldwide due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

On a Sunday shortly thereafter, I sat on a couch in my living room as my sons knelt before a small wooden table that my father had made himself when he was their age many years before. As my boys blessed and administered the sacrament, I looked up at that iconic picture on our wall of the 15 living apostles, with the majestic statues of the Savior and the ancient apostles, from Rome.

A familiar voice, that quiet inspiring echo from Rome, returned, “Therefore, go ye into all the world;” this time continuing, “and unto whatsoever place ye cannot go ye shall send, that the testimony may go from you into all the world” (Doctrine and Covenants 84:62).

In the weeks that have followed, “Where you cannot go — send,” continues to resound in my mind and heart. I have been spiritually nudged numerous times to observe the way the Lord works through, and with, His servants in such times. 

For a season, prophets and apostles have not been able to travel as they have in the recent past. But where they cannot go, apostles and prophets will continue to send. As Elder Dale G. Renlund reminded, “The First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles are not idle, not sidelined” by the pandemic.

Nor should we be.

Latter-day prophets and apostles are each sending their testimony and special witness to all the world by myriad means. President Nelson has sent several videos to members of the Church of Jesus Christ. He issued an inspired invitation to all the world to join in a day of fasting and prayer. General conference did not include the traditional large gathering of members but was still sent around the world. Apostles have posted messages and videos on social media, participated in video-conference meetings, made countless phone calls, transmitted texts, exchanged emails and engaged in insightful interviews.

Why we need to stay connected amid COVID-19 social distancing, Elder and Sister Gong say

Through it all, they have shared what they have learned, what they have felt, what they now know — and above all, they have declared their special witness of Jesus Christ.

In the meridian of time, other apostles also had crises and challenges to contend with when they, too, had to send because they were unable to go.  The apostles Peter and Paul were each held captive for a time in Rome for teaching and declaring their witness of the living Christ. Neither were sidelined nor silenced while in isolated lockdown. They sent.

Specifically, we know that Paul sent letters to Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians and Philemon. It is interesting to note that the principles, doctrines, teaching and testimony the ancient apostle sent in these letters constitute four of the New Testament’s 27 books. That is a significant portion of canonized scripture sent during a period of isolation.

Some 2,000 years later, back in Rome, Elder David A. Bednar and Elder Ronald A. Rasband visited the dungeon prison Mamertinum, which is believed to be the place both apostles were held for a time. The latter-day apostles stood outside the dungeon door to record a video message.

Along with the video, Elder Bednar sent powerful words via social media: “Joyfully, we declare our sure witnesses of the reality of the Lord Jesus Christ. We witness that He lives, that He is the light and life of the world, and the only source of enduring, true joy. We gladly declare this witness in this sacred place.”

The Prophet Joseph Smith knew a thing or two or about sending when you cannot go. Indeed, some of the richest doctrine of the last dispensation was sent by an isolated Prophet from Liberty Jail.

Joseph clearly worried about the Saints. He wanted to go and be with them, to comfort, guide and bless them. From his sequestered squalor of dank prison, he wrote to them his heaven-sent plea for them: “Remember thy suffering saints, O our God; and thy servants will rejoice in thy name forever” (Doctrine and Covenants 121:6). Even in isolation, the Prophet was ministering.

The message sent to the Saints concluded with a powerful admonition and promise, “Therefore, dearly beloved brethren, let us cheerfully do all things that lie in our power; and then may we stand still, with the utmost assurance, to see the salvation of God, and for his arm to be revealed” (Doctrine and Covenants 123:17).

President Russell M. Nelson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints walks with his wife, Sister Wendy Nelson, in the Rome Italy Temple Visitors' Center in Rome, Italy, on Monday, March 11, 2019.
President Russell M. Nelson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints walks with his wife, Sister Wendy Nelson, in the Rome Italy Temple Visitors’ Center in Rome, Italy, on Monday, March 11, 2019. Credit: Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

The words and witnesses currently being created and distributed to the world by the Lord’s servants in this special season of “where you cannot go, send,” will be seen through the lens of history as a great apostolic mosaic, a tapestry of testimony, a prophetic patchwork of witnessing words to comfort and inspire all Heavenly Father’s children. 

In this time of crisis, the question is not whether or not living apostles will send, the question is whether or not we will receive what they send.

Spiritually wise women and men will heed and hearken to the words of latter-day apostles and prophets — today. The Savior’s words and admonition to “Go and teach all nations” has not ended. For the moment, “where you cannot go, send,” will be the way.

If we receive what the Savior has sent through His servants, His promise of “Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world” (Matthew 28:20) shall strengthen and bless us during these difficult days and most trying of times.

—Boyd Matheson is the opinion editor and head of strategic reach at the Deseret News