Monday, February 8, 2016

Superconference with Elder Bednar

February 16, 2008

The streets of Boca del Río, the municipality just south of the port of Veracruz. The only thing I knew about getting to the temple from the Veracruz bus terminal was to take the bus that said “Vía Muerta” (“Dead Way”).

In February President Johnson announced that Elder Bednar, of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, one of the most senior governing bodies of the church, would be visiting our mission. This was a big deal to us missionaries, and especially for those who hadn’t lived in Utah before. To most of us, members of the Quorum of the Twelve were celebrities, people we’d seen on TV during General Conference or read about in magazines, but never in real life before becoming missionaries. Some of us may have heard one of them speak in person at the MTC or BYU, but almost none of us would have met them before. My understanding is that these kinds of visits to missions were regular events, but still rare. This would be the only time an apostle would visit while I was on my mission.

Another part of why it was so exciting was because the entire mission would be gathering together for a massive conference. I looked forward to seeing many of the missionaries I’d gotten to know that had been transferred away to other places, especially Elder Stojic. This conference was something of a bonus, too, since we’d already had our zone conference for that transfer. I was so excited the night before we left that I had a hard time writing in my journal.

Early in the morning on the day of the conference, Elder Nájera and I got on a bus to Veracruz. At the Veracruz bus terminal, we once again got on a city bus that would take us down past the temple. The conference was being held at the stake center on the temple grounds, the same place we had the Christmas conference only a couple of months prior.

When we arrived, President Johnson seemed a little nervous. He was trying to get all 190 or so missionaries seated and ready for Elder Bednar before he got there. He was asking zone leaders and district leaders whether all of their groups had arrived, who wasn’t there yet, and what was going on. I remember one pair of elders walked in late (though still before Elder Bednar arrived) and got singled out for it. I was glad we hadn’t hit traffic or had some other delay. With everyone accounted for, we filed out of the chapel to take a group photo of all the missionaries.

The entire mission in front of the Veracruz Temple for the conference with Elder Bednar. They lined us up by height, so I’m on the back row.

Once we were done with the photo, President Johnson got up to prime us for Elder Bednar. He mentioned that visiting authorities like Elder Bednar frequently offer opportunities for missionaries to ask them questions about church doctrine, their job, or other things. I remember President Johnson specifically telling us not to ask Elder Bednar any really strange, unknown questions like, “What’s the name of God’s wife?”

A minute or two later, Elder Bednar walked in, and the conference began. The first thing he told us was to avoid writing down everything he said, and instead to listen carefully and write down impressions and connections that came to our minds while listening. My notes show that Elder Bednar encouraged us to be bold and unafraid since fear was an expression of a lack of love towards the people we could be talking to. I probably wrote this down because I definitely didn’t feel like I was bold, and I knew that I didn’t have enough love towards the people around me because I was still feeling culture shocked. I couldn’t feel comfortable adapting myself to the attitudes and lifestyle of most of the Mexicans around me, so I think I frequently ended up judging them more than serving them. My notes have a few more items, but it’s clear that I only wrote down things that seemed particularly relevant to my own mission.

When he had finished his remarks, Elder Bednar invited us to ask questions, just like President Johnson had predicted. Elder Bednar had obviously been asked a few curveball questions in the past, because before he let anyone ask anything, he also said to try to ask good questions, such as, “What has your role as an apostle taught you about prayer,” to which he could give a detailed, productive answer, and to avoid bad questions, such as, “Where is the Sword of Laban,” to which Elder Bednar said his only answer would be, “I don’t know.” I chuckled and wondered how many times eager missionaries must have asked apostles (or mission presidents) questions like these, for them to both go our of their way to give examples of what not to ask. As for myself, I was too worried about looking silly to ask anything in front of the whole group, but I listened to the answers he gave to others’ questions.

When his time was up, the whole mission lined up to meet Elder Bednar and shake his hand individually. It was too brief of a meeting for him to learn anything personal about us, but it was a nice gesture and it was still exciting to all of us.

As with the conference when Elder Grow visited, this superconference went much later than a typical zone conference. By the time it was over, the sun had already gone down, so we needed to hurry back to the bus terminal and then back home to Xalapa. But before I left, I managed to say hi to lots of the missionaries I hadn’t seen in a while, including Elder Stojic. He and I hadn’t talked since we arrived in the field, so I was eager to hear how things were going for him. He had spent his first few transfers in the southern half of the mission, where the climate and culture are pretty different from Xalapa. He said it was always really hot and that the food was heavily seasoned and spicy. I could tell by looking at him that he’d lost a lot of weight since the MTC. His suit looked big on him and his face was a lot more narrow. I wondered if the southern food had been rough on him.

Elder Stojic and I after the superconference.

It was great to talk to Elder Stojic again. By this point it seemed odd to me that I had had a tough time when we were companions in the MTC. It hadn’t even been four months since then, but it felt like more than a year, given how much we’d gone through in the field. Now I considered him among my closest friends in the mission and hoped I’d have a chance to work with him again in the future.

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