Fifty years to the day — in fact, nearly to the hour — of his convert baptism as a young man in his native France, Yves R. Perrin joined his wife, Kathleen, in receiving a call to serve as temple president and matron of the Papeete Tahiti Temple.
Mixed emotions washed over them, ranging from the thrill of returning to where he had taken his young family to preside over the Tahiti Papeete Mission nearly three decades earlier to the overwhelming uncertainties of whether they could measure up and fulfill such a sacred call.
The return to Tahiti inches closer, as President and Sister Perrin prepare to begin their three-year temple assignment on Nov. 1. Key to that preparation was attending the 2018 Seminar for New Temple Presidents and Matrons, held Oct. 16-18 in the Salt Lake Temple — an appropriate site given the sacred topics of three-day instruction and discussion.
The Perrins were one of 69 couples involved in the training provided by Church and Temple Department leaders prior to starting their assignments across the globe.
“We don’t have a lot of experience to be qualified for this call,” President Perrin said. “But we are willing to serve, and the instruction provided here has been extremely helpful for us to engage in our new calling.”
This year’s seminar for new temple presidents and matrons was the largest ever conducted — nearly two dozen more than the previous largest number attending.
Of that number, 39 couples are assigned to temples in North America — eight in Utah and another 18 throughout the rest of the United States with another six for temples in Mexico and three in Canada.
Also, 12 are assigned to temples in South America, eight in Europe, four in the Oceania/Pacific area and three each in Asia and Africa. Two of the 69 couples had been serving already, with the 2018 seminar the first opportunity for them to attend such a training.
Taught by prophets
Leading many sessions were members of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, with the First Presidency attending the morning sessions each day.
“Being taught at the feet of the First Presidency in the temple has been so special,” said President Wolfgang Pilz, who with his wife, Sister Karin Pilz, have been assigned to the Frankfurt Germany Temple.
President César A. Dávila, who will serve with his wife, Sister Miryam Hernández de Dávila in the Barranquilla Colombia Temple, spoke of how seminar participants felt valued, loved and needed as they interacted with the prophets.
“We’ve seen the importance of the temples now more than ever,” said President Dávila. “We’ve seen the First Presidency, the Quorum of the Twelve all present. They’re speaking to us, directing us, clarifying what it truly means — the mission, the vision and, at the end of the day, the exaltation.”
Everything leads to God’s promise of exaltation for His children, Sister Dávila added. “Everybody must go that process. That’s our homework on earth.”
Around the world
Of the 69 president/matron couples, eight were training to preside in temples not yet dedicated or fully completed, including temples in Barranquilla, Colombia; Concepcion, Chile; Durban, South Africa; Fortaleza, Brazil; Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo; Lisbon, Portugal; Port-au-Prince, Haiti; and Rome, Italy.
Another three will be over temples at the final stages of renovation: in Asuncion, Paraguay; Frankfurt, Germany; and Oakland, California.
Members assigned to the districts of both new and recently closed temples will welcome the proximity of an operating temple, forgoing the great distances and time demands to travel in order to participate in sessions and ordinances.
Those in northern Colombia in and around Barranquilla have traveled as much as 20 hours to reach the temple in Bogota. “We know, because we had that blessing to see them arriving at the temple by bus, and then staying for three or four days before returning,” said President Davila, who with his wife had served previously in the Bogota temple.
Often, Barranquilla members were leaving the coastal city at the time of the weeklong “carnival” festivities. “While everyone else was partying, they were traveling to the temple and making major economic sacrifices to attend the temple,” she said.
Returning after renovation
With the Frankfurt temple closed, members in Germany have gone not only to the country’s other operating temple in Freiberg but, if closer, to temples in Copenhagen, Denmark; The Hague, Netherlands; or Bern, Switzerland.
“I think the members have learned to appreciate the temple even more because they have had to travel much further, and they’re spending several days at a time at the temple,” said President Pilz, adding “they’re all waiting for the day when they will come together into one temple.”
And when reopened, the Frankfurt temple will convey both a sense of familiarity as well as considerable newness. “It will be completely different from what we know it to be,” Sister Pilz said. “While the outer walls are the same, everything inside will be different.”
Many of the president/matron couples are well accustomed with the area of the temple and its assigned membership, such as the Pilzes, who are from the Frankfurt area. Others are returning to familiar ground, such as the Davilas and the Perrins, who presided over missions headquartered in the same cities where their assigned temples are located — the Davilas over the Colombia Barranquilla Mission and the Perrins the Tahiti Papeete Mission.
“Among the most touching comments we received from all the acknowledgements of our call was a few of them that said, ‘Welcome home,’” said President Perrin.
With many of their returned missionaries serving in Tahiti in various callings, “it’s gratifying to be able to go back and see how they have progressed in the gospel,” Sister Perrin said.
Not only that, but it’s a chance for the Perrins’ children to return to sacred ground — their three children were pre-teens and younger when the couple served as mission president and wife. “So it’s a blessing for us to go back and hopefully have our children bring their children to see where they grew up,” Sister Perrin said.
Back to Barranquilla
For the Dávilas, they are returning once again to their second home city, after Bogota, the capital of Colombia. Shortly after his work as an architect with the design and building of the Bogota temple in the late 1990s, the Dávilas were called soon thereafter to preside over the Colombia Barranquilla Mission. They were back in Barranquilla for the past several years while he was a project manager for the new temple.
With that temple all but complete, the Dávilas were packing their bags and ready to return to Bogota when they received their call from President Dallin H. Oaks, first counselor in the First Presidency. “He asked how we were doing, if we were healthy, and if we were ready to work,” Sister Dávila said. “We said, ‘Si, Señor’ — yes, sir!”
“The Lord has a special way of blessing and aligning things so that things will work out,” said President Dávila of their Barranquilla connection.
Temple presidents and matrons often reflect on their own temple experiences as they prepare for their three-year service to assist others in temple work and worship. For the Perrins, it was the attending the seminar in the temple of their 1974 marriage. And for the Dávilas, it was the mid-1990s trips from Colombia to the Jordan River Utah Temple, first for their own sealing as a couple, followed by being sealed as parents with their son and daughter.
Both President and Sister Pilz recalled their own initial temple experiences as young children dressed in white and brought into a room in the Swiss Temple — now the Bern Switzerland Temple — to be sealed to their respective parents.
Sister Pilz retains only fleeting recollections of that sealing that first time, soon after the temple’s 1955 dedication, with her family regularly traveling the three days each way from northern Germany. A highlight for the children was when they became old enough to participate in proxy baptisms for deceased relatives.
The Pilzes were married in that same temple in 1978, but the Frankfurt Germany Temple — which opened in 1987 — soon became “our temple” for them and their children.
The most important lesson
Following the three-day seminar, participating president-and-matron couples felt more ready to begin their new assignments, most with the traditional starting of Nov. 1 at the currently operating temples.
“To sit at the feet of the prophets, we learned the most important thing we can do is to love the people and to create an atmosphere of caring and kindness,” President Perrin said. “And even though we feel overwhelmed with all of our responsibilities, we feel like we can love and care for the people. We love them already.”
And, with the benefit of a half-century’s hindsight, he begins his three-year temple service, mindful that his call came on the 50th-year anniversary of his baptism.
“I think it was an indication to me that the Lord was tapping me on the shoulder as if to say, ‘Get ready, get prepared.’”