Elder Gerrit W. Gong and his wife, Susan Lindsay Gong, were with the Shanghai International District this past weekend for our District Conference. What delightful and intelligent people!
Apart from the big Saturday morning tours of Shanghai that we had organized for young single adults coming to District Conference, District Conference began with a Priesthood Leadership training session on Saturday afternoon. I had been asked to kick it off with a short talk (8 minutes), and used the theme of the Sabbath and its connections to the Temple. This is an area where modern revelation and ancient paradigms blend so well, IMO.
I began with a quick summary of the Sabbath connections in the construction of Solomon’s temple. Built in seven years, dedicated during a seven-day festival in the seventh month, called a house of rest, a place where the Lord can rest, etc. I read a passage from Jewish scholar Jon Levenson on these connections, where the theme of rest connects the temple and Sabbath. That is beautifully amplified by Doctrine and Covenants 84, where modern revelation explains that Moses was seeking to bring his people into the presence of the Lord, which is the Lord’s rest, the fullness of His glory. And then I referred to Elder Dallin H. Oaks’ marvelous talk from April 1985 about taking the name of the Lord upon us and how it connects the Sabbath to the temple, for the covenants we renew in the sacrament point us not just to baptismal covenants but to the covenants of the temple, where we most fully take upon us the name of Christ, to which we witness our willingness to do so in partaking of the sacrament.
I then summarized by explaining that the temple, like Mount Zion, is sacred space that punctuates the plane of the mundane, while the Sabbath is sacred time that is distinct from the mundane week around it. The temple and the Sabbath are linked through the concept of divine rest, renewal of sacred covenants, and being sacred partitions (sacred space, sacred time) in the midst of the mundane. I urged us to help our members yearn for the spiritual uplift that the Sabbath should bring, as does the temple, and asked priesthood leaders to help members better develop their own personal observance of the Sabbath so it would be distinct from ordinary days, a time for preparing to enter into the presence of the Lord, and a time to renew and ponder upon sacred covenants, to help us draw closer to the Lord and to be more able to serve.
We then had a couple of panel discussions lead by Elder Gong and by our District President, Stephen W. Dyer, who introduced three-person panels and drew some valuable thoughts out of them. I really liked how the meeting ran. Topics were feasting upon the word of Christ, and how to follow the Spirit to better counsel members in dealing with their challenges.
What surprised me most was that after the meeting, Elder Gong came over and asked me where I had encountered the concept of sacred time and sacred space. I mentioned Mircea Eliade’s The Sacred and the Profane, and was surprised that he nodded and began discussing Eliade. I shouldn’t be all that surprised, but it was quite pleasant. My wife reminded me later that he was a Rhodes Scholar and probably knows (and reads) a whole lot more than any of us ordinary mortals. A very thoughtful and kind man, too.
His wife impressed everyone as well. She is equally eloquent and interesting, with a love of great books and literature as well. I especially loved the story she told of an LDS man in India who impressed her with his love for his wife and his healthy, happy family. She asked him how he met his wife. Anil said that he first met his wife on her wedding day, the day she was supposed to be married to a different man. Anil came as a guest–this was before he became LDS. But something went wrong. He heard yelling as the groom’s family was demanding a bigger dowry from the bride’s family. They now wanted a car to be thrown in. The poor family had no car and no hope of meeting that demand. It turned into a big argument. Then Anil heard weeping, and saw the beautiful bride hiding, sobbing, and even threatening suicide, she was so humiliated. Anil felt that he needed to do something, and that he could do something. He approached the bride’s father. Here’s how I recall the story:
“Sir, I can solve this problem. I will take your daughter as my wife.”
“You? What will you demand as a dowry?”
“I ask for no dowry. But if you allow me to marry her, I promise you that I will make it my business every day of my life to make your daughter happy.”
Deal! Anil married the daughter, lived up to his promise, and they are now a happy couple and happy LDS family raising wonderful children in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Sister Gong was really struck by what a strong, happy family those two people had created, recovering so well from a disastrous failed wedding day.
Men who love their wives and treat them with kindness and respect are such a treasure, and one of the most important intended fruits of the Gospel. Thank you, Anil, for your commitment to your wife and your commitment to Christ.
Another story from Sister Gong made me chuckle. Once while visiting a large LDS church in the U.S., she saw her young son (age 5, I think) was running laps in the hallways around the gym. When she saw him running, she called him by name and asked, “Where are you right now?” He stopped and answered correctly: “In Heavenly Father’s house.” Sister Gong then looked at him and said, “And?” Naturally, she expected him to say something about how he needed to be reverent. Instead, she got this: “And he’s got a place where he plays basketball!”
District Conference in Shanghai is always a lot of fun. Come join us!