Latter-day Saints around the world make covenants and participate in temple ordinances in nearly 100 languages. The Mesa Arizona Temple served as the first to offer ordinances in a non-English language, with Spanish work beginning 76 years ago in 1945 when it was known as the Arizona Temple.
President Dallin H. Oaks, first counselor in the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, said participation in the temple shouldn’t be limited by language.
“I’m sure the Lord wants the temples to be available to all of His children in whatever language they speak,” he said. “This temple was the first to begin to expand temple blessings and temple work beyond the English language.”
President Oaks rededicated the Mesa temple Sunday, Dec. 12, following a lengthy renovation to the building and the grounds. The temple was originally dedicated Oct. 23, 1927, by President Heber J. Grant.
Providing the opportunity to worship in the temple in different languages is a way to help Saints feel they are a part of Heavenly Father’s eternal family.
God’s children represent “different cultures with many different languages and circumstances,” President Oaks said. “But when we come to the temple, we all dress in white. We are indistinguishable by the clothing that we wear.”
President Oaks said Latter-day Saints are equals — daughters and sons of God — when they attend the temple.
“The ordinances, the covenants, the blessings are the same for people of whatever language or culture or marital status or age or citizenship,” he said. “The temple is a uniting influence for all of the children of God, reminding us that the culture we belong to is the culture of the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
Accessibility is more than language
The addition of new languages to the temple worship experience is one step in helping more people make temple covenants with Heavenly Father, but Elder Gerrit W. Gong of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles also pointed out another important aspect of temple worship — physical accessibility.
“Temples coming closer to God’s children across the earth is a manifestation of Heavenly Father’s love all of his children,” he said. “Temple ordinances and covenants draw us to Jesus Christ, offering inspiration and protection as we centered our temple worship and service in our Savior Jesus Christ and in serving His children on both sides of the veil.”
Sister Susan L. Gong, who accompanied her husband during the rededication weekend, added: “All temples are special, but the history of this one is so rich and glorious in including God’s children from many different places.”
Tears of joy for loved ones
Elder Paul B. Pieper, General Authority Seventy and president of the Church’s North America Southwest Area, grew up in Idaho but has close ties to the Mesa Arizona Temple because of its Spanish language capacity. He welcomed the assignment to join in the temple’s rededication events.
Following his mission as a young man, Elder Pieper had the opportunity to attend the temple in Mesa with some of the families he saw accept the gospel in Mexico.
“Having served my mission in Mexico and having served in the area presidency there, I know how much power has come to Mexico because of what happened here,” he said.
When seeing those members come to the temple for the first time, Elder Pieper’s eyes were filled with tears, he recalled. He said the joy behind those tears is relatable to others who have watched someone they love go through the temple for the first time.
Saints in Mexico weren’t the only ones to benefit from the opportunity to be endowed and participate in other ordinances of the temple in their native language.
Members from Central and South America began to organize trips to Arizona when the opportunity to participate at the temple in Spanish became available. For decades, it was also the temple of choice for Latter-day Saints throughout the United States’ South and Southwest regions.
Being first isn’t easy
Elder Pieper shared the story of Udine Falabela of Guatemala CIty, Guatemala. When his wife, Leonor, passed away in 1955, Falabela described his marriage as being “pure and holy.” Seven years after the passing, he learned about the restored gospel of Jesus Christ and the doctrine of eternal marriage.
He wanted to have a way to be married to her for longer than they had been together on this earth and knew that meant he had to be sealed to her in the temple. Being sealed would benefit not only his late wife and him but also their four children.
In 1964, Brother Falabela was called to serve as a district president. President Terrence Hansen, the mission president in Guatemala at the time, asked the newly called President Falabela to identify the first thing he would do in his new calling. His response was immediate.
“Go to the temple.”
While the response came quickly, the process would take a little longer.
The Saints in Guatemala didn’t have the money to travel, they didn’t have a place to stay, and they couldn’t take time away from work that sustained their families.
Through inspiration, ingenuity and hard work, those who wanted to make the trip did everything they could to get to Mesa.
In 1972, the Ensign magazine published a story about temple excursions to Mesa, their challenges and their rewards. The article cited President David O. McKay telling Spanish-speaking Latter-day Saints that their efforts opened the eyes of Church leaders to the possibilities of providing temple ordinances in other languages.
“It was because of your faithfulness and diligence that we felt impressed to give to other people the opportunity of receiving these blessings,” President McKay said.
Now, thanks to technology and translation resources, temple ordinances can be made available in nearly all of the Church’s 170 temples in almost 100 languages.
Returning to a spiritual anchor
President Falabela’s first trip to Mesa began a pattern followed by additional members in Guatemala and other Central and South American countries.
Silvia Alvarez, also from Guatemala City, remembers coming to Mesa decades ago at the age of 10 to be sealed to her family. Within the last two years, she moved to Arizona and works at the temple in Mesa.
During the temple’s recent open house, Alvarez mentioned she hoped she would one day have the opportunity to meet an Apostle. She prayed and asked Heavenly Father if it was OK with Him that she meet one in person. Time passed, and she felt content that her hope might not be what He had planned for her.
But as a long day at the open house was coming to a close, she said Elder Gong was going through the temple and stopped to say hello to her.
“He asked me, ‘Are you happy right now?’ I responded, ‘Yes, yes, I’m very happy right now’,” she said, relating the experience outside the temple on its Dec. 12 rededication day.
Her hope had been realized. “The Lord answers our prayers,” she said, “when we’re faithful and work for Him.”
The feeling is the same
Latter-day Saints around the world live in circumstances that can’t be easily compared to each other. Culture, food, politics and weather are different from place to place and from people to people. But temples are in a different category.
Leda Goodwin has lived in the United States for four years and moved to Mesa from her home in Venezuela.
“To be here in the temple is the most beautiful thing there is,” said Goodwin outside the Mesa temple, while serving with Alvarez in collecting discarded shoe coverings following Sunday’s first session.
“In Venezuela, we only have one temple, and it was five or six hours away and was hard to get to.”
But whether the temple is hours away or just down the street, each temple has the same purpose and feeling.
“Serving in the temple has been an immense blessing for me and for my family,” Goodwin said. “Here, you feel a special spirit. In all the temples, you feel the same special spirit.”
Serving alongside those who speak a different language has highlighted that feeling for Goodwin.
“It doesn’t matter that we don’t speak the same language,” she said. “But we all feel the same thing. It’s exactly the same.”