It took two years to build, but the new temple in KC is finished! It has been open to the general public for a month, so that anyone can tour it and see what it looks like before it is set apart, dedicated, and consecrated as a holy place, the House of the Lord. Temples are not secret, which is why they open to the public before being dedicated, so anyone can go to see the baptistry with the oxen representing the twelve tribes of Israel, the simple instruction rooms where we learn about and remember the creation story and the plan of salvation, the small but brightly lit rooms where marriages are sealed for time and all eternity, and even the private changing rooms with individual stalls and lockers so people can modestly change into the white clothes we wear in the temple. Nothing is secret, but it will be set apart as a sacred place, after the pattern of temples in the Old Testament. After today’s dedication, only those who have prepared specifically and proven themselves worthy of making and keeping sacred covenants will be able to enter the temple.
Everything is about making and keeping covenants. Some say that our church has too many rules, or is legalistic, or is too “hard”, but none of it happens all at once. It comes a little at a time, as we seek to become more like the Savior. The point of most all religions is to progress in righteousness as we study and try to become closer to God and becoming better as He works in our lives. Christianity depends on the atonement of Jesus Christ to do so. Following His example changes us, and as we learn individually and collectively, we make choices about what to do and what not to do. This does not earn His love, but does give evidence of our love for Him and evidence of His Spirit working in our lives – as well as acknowledge our dependence upon the grace of God to provide for us, enable us, strengthen us, and empower us.
Last night was a cultural celebration honoring the people of Kansas and Missouri, past and present, and celebrating those who will be in the district for the new temple. While I am in the district for the Oklahoma City temple, my brother and his family that live in Springfield will be in the new district for the Kansas City temple (they previously used the St. Louis temple). We can visit any temple as long as we have our “temple recommend” that gives evidence of our worthiness to enter (signed by our ward bishop, stake president, and ourselves), but our local temple is the one we use primarily.
Traditionally, when a new temple is dedicated, the youth of the district put on a performance to celebrate their local culture. We attended the cultural celebration last night, in which my nieces sang in the choir as well as dancing (along with my nephew). It was amazing! There were more than 3,000 youth (ages 12-18), and they filled the floor of the arena, the circle walkways around the floor levels, and all the aisles!
First there were some remarks from the prophet, President Monson. The kids were so good, sitting still while he spoke. I am so grateful that we have a prophet, to know that God is the same God today as He always was, and that He works in the same ways He always has. I am grateful for the guidance of the prophet to us as people, and for the Spirit that gives personal revelation to guide me as well (and to correct me, which I often need just as much).
After his blessing, which included encouragement for the kids as they did their best, they began to sing, and the show began! It was so amazing to see so many kids who had worked so hard, and sacrificed so much! After the opening song, the kids performed by stake – a stake is a geographical area, like Springfield or Joplin – with each group having a specific theme. The first group shared the native and pioneer history of Kansas and Missouri, all in song and dance:
The next stake showed the cultural changes with the 1900’s, the 1920’s, and 1940’s. They did a maple leaf rag dance, which I loved because of my study of the Peabody in ballroom dance. They did so great! They also did a number from “Bye, Bye, Birdie”, which mom loved. Then they celebrated basketball in a fun number where the bouncing of their balls matched the music. It was so fun!
The third group was the Springfield stake, so my nieces left the choir to join their friends and my nephew, and did some line dancing! I knew for the Midwest, a line dance would have to be included! They did so great!
The next group were the Polynesians, as Kansas and Missouri (along with Arkansas and Oklahoma) have some of the highest population concentration of Marshallese, Polynesians, Hmong, and other immigrants in all of the United States! Their dance was by far one of the most fun favorites, with the cheers roaring long and loud. These kids were amazing!
There was also a Hispanic group, with the flying colors of the girls’ skirts:
And a German group with the whole arena clapping to the polka:
And a Russian group, whose dances were another crowd favorite:
These cultures came together for a final number that reflected our diversity:
The next stake was Joplin, and I cried and cried – no, I sobbed – through the whole thing. It was the most emotionally powerful of the evening, and I think most everyone sobbed. It was beyond incredible. As you know, a year ago one third of Joplin was wiped out completely by a tornado, including their stake center. My brother’s family was driving through on their way to drop off and pick up kids from weekend visitation, and they missed the tornado by minutes. I was called as a first responder, and spent the next three days in the storms and wind trying to help find survivors. In the first 24 hours, we pulled out 120 people and only 7 of them were alive (you can read my experience HERE). A few weeks ago, we met with the survivors and spoke with them, and I so love them and am so bonded with them through this experience, though my experience of the aftermath was nothing compared to their experience of surviving it. But for all of us, this moment in the cultural celebration, even the restoration of a temple in Missouri in historical context, was healing to all of us after the purging and cleansing that had to happen first.
In this song, Joplin told their story. In this song, Joplin proved itself beyond survival. In this song, we cried together and we healed together.
The song, sung by the who survived the tornado and then lost his arm in helping with recovery, opened on a dark scene with houses flattened and debris everywhere:
Then separated families searched for each other, running to embrace as they found each other again. This is when we all lost it, sobbing as we felt the power of the experience following the tornado, a temporal example of our frail and difficult mortality, a spiritual symbol of how the temple blessings gathers our families together again, and heals us, and unites us, and brings us peace.
Then the people began to pick up debris:
Then the kids formed a circle around one of the torn down homes, and built a shelter:
While they finished the shelter, more kids came on and wrapped blankets around the survivors:
Then kids wearing “Mormon Helping Hands” t-shirts showed up, packed up boxes of food and supplies, and passed them out to the people:
While they worked, more kids showed up and built more shelters:
When all three frames were put back together, the kids encircles each one in arms of love, and another climbed a ladder and put an American flag on top of the middle one. The crowd roared, still sobbing, but standing to their feet and cheering and crying:
It was so moving, and so powerful, and absolutely the highlight of the night.
The final segments included a tribute to the primary children with “popcorn popping on the apricot trees”:
Some hip hop dance and alternative music numbers:
There was also a drumline:
And a tribute to the military, which got another standing ovation, as did the tribute to the missionaries:
Then I was delighted to see that the final song was done in sign language, which is important especially because the Kansas State School for the Deaf is right in the area, and because Kansas City has a mega-huge Deaf population. What an amazing thing, to see 3,000 youth signing together! I have never seen anything like it, and I loved it!
At the close, the youth cheered back when President Monson saluted them. I was so proud of our kids!
I was even proud of the little ones who were so well behaved through the whole show!