Saturday’s cultural celebration featured some 850 young people from all parts of Panama who danced (by stake or district) a variety of traditional and modern dances to the visiting general authorities (President Monson, President Uchtdorf, Sister Uchtdorf, Elder Richard G. Scott, and Sister Ann Dibb, daughter of President Monson and second counselor in the general Young Women’s presidency) and about 7000 others in a giant convention center auditorium. I feared the worst at the rehearsals on Friday, when the sound volume was about ten times what it should have been, with a giant speaker directly over where the Prophet was to sit, but by Saturday they had it turned down to a thoroughly respectable level. Even better than the dances were the comments of President Monson and a more spiritual part of the program toward the end when they dramatized the plan of salvation, including a couple’s being sealed in a big styrofoam replica of the temple which descended from the ceiling. There was even a part in which all the missionaries, including an initially reluctant yours truly, marched around on the stage in circles with a copy of the Book of Mormon in hand while “Called to Serve” was playing. Reportedly President Monson spoke for ten minutes in the fourth dedicatory session on Sunday about the cultural event, and Elder Scott is said to have commented that it was one of the best he had ever seen, so despite some ragged edges with our meager parking and ushering crew, it came off quite well, and the young people who participated will forever remember having danced for the Prophet.
That night was a short night, as we got to bed about midnight and were up again at 5:00 to get to the temple by 6:30 to get ready for the dedication. Things went reasonably smooth for the first of the four sessions from a logistical standpoint, but the man who was supposed to relieve me as general supervisor of ushering midway through the second session so that we could attend the third session didn’t show up on time. To dampen my spirits even more (as well as the rest of me), it rained repeatedly throughout the day, despite Virginia’s confident prediction that it would not rain at all. She says it just shows that it wasn’t important to Heavenly Father that it not rain that day, and I’m sure that’s true, but it took me a while to see the humor in the situation. Despite my replacement’s not showing up as scheduled, we decided to go into the temple for our assigned session anyway, as we had a good ushering crew in place for that session and figured they didn’t need a lot of extra supervision. When we came out of the session, the missing supervisor was there taking charge of things for the fourth session, so I guess I can’t complain too much (much as I felt like I wanted to at the time). The dedicatory session itself was very nice, and it was an honor and privilege to be among the comparatively few in the celestial room to see the proceedings up close rather than on a monitor. We had understood that it was unlikely that President Monson would speak in that session, but he did—along with President Uchtdorf and others. We always knew that President Monson was a great speaker, but we’ve come to also really appreciate President Uchtdorf, who is extremely personable and very powerful. In the dedicatory prayer I was humbled by a mention of gratitude for those who had helped organize and carry out the open house, feeling that the Lord may have known I needed to have my spirits lifted that day. Obviously, I was just one of may who were involved in that endeavor, and President Monson didn’t know any of us individually, but I’m assured that the Lord does, and I was personally uplifted by the reference.
As part of my ushering duties, I assigned myself to be near the temple door when the visiting brethren and the temple presidency came out of the temple about 9:15 a.m. for the customary cornerstone ceremony. I was officially helping keep the crowd back, but unofficially I also managed to get a photo or two on my cell phone, that I’ll post on this site.
Monday had a couple more highlights. We left home again early to arrive at 6:30 at the temple, where in the adjoining chapel we would get to hear from President Monson and others at a 9:00 a.m. or so meeting with the missionaries, following his meeting with the president of Panama and the first lady. They didn’t arrive until nearly 10:00, as the president convinced them that they just had to go see the Panama Canal before they left, which they did, but they still gave us an hour and a half of their time once they arrived. We are told the visit with the president and first lady went very well. The president himself never made it over to the open house but had hoped to have the meeting with President Monson and the others in the temple. They had to explain to him that that would not now be possible. We didn’t get to shake any hands or get any pictures on Monday (though we did get to shake Elder Scott’s hand the day before as we exited the celestial room), but we did enjoy very much hearing from Elder Scott, President and Sister Uchtdorf, Sister Dibb, and President Monson, all of whom spoke quite informally but powerfully to the assembled missionaries from all parts of the mission, some of whom traveled through the night on bus to be present.
President Monson returning to temple from cornerstone ceremony
President Monson leaving temple for cornerstone ceremony
President Monson with umbrella following cornerstone ceremony
Elder Scott and the Clarkes leave temple for cornerstone ceremony
Dancers and replica of temple at cultural celebration