We had an Apostle to lunch!  Crazy as that might sound, it was an amazing experience.  

While serving with my husband, who was called to be the Mission President in the Santiago, Dominican Republic Mission, there was a Priesthood leadership meeting on Saturday in Santiago for all the Priesthood leadership of the Church in the Caribbean. Every four years, this meeting is held in a different country of the Caribbean and broadcast to the other countries. This year, it was held in Santiago.

Several General Authorities of the Church came to preside over this meeting. These included:

Elder Neil L. Andersen, of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles; Elder Ronald Rasband, Senior President of the Seventy; Elder Wilford Andersen, a Seventy, and Area President; Devn Cornish, a Seventy and Elder Dominguez, an Area Seventy.

All these leaders also had their wives with them. Normally, when a General Authority visits this area, we invite them to stay at the Mission Home, but with a group this big, it was impossible. Instead, they stayed at a hotel nearby, but agreed to come to lunch at the mission home before the meeting.

If you count the numbers, (and include John and me) you will realize that there were 12 people.  We had one extra person, because the Cornish’s have an adult child, Reid, who has Down Syndrome. They always bring him when they travel. Reid is one of the most delightful people in the world and we love him dearly. But that brought our number to 13.

That number only matters, because our table only seats 12 people. Never having done this before, I wondered if it was kosher to ask an Apostle to “squeeze in” like you would normally do in a similar situation.  But not having any other options, I just decided on my own, that this would be the order of the day. When the table was set, we would squeeze in an extra seat at one end.

I have to say that this is one of the biggest things that has ever happened to me. These leaders are people that I have reverenced throughout my life, never dreaming that I would one day get to actually meet them, let alone have them for lunch in my home. Naturally, I wanted it to be a perfect occasion.

I worked on this lunch for over a month. First John and I scoured Santiago for decent dinnerware. China was not to be had in Santiago, but we hated to serve all these important people on cafeteria plates. We finally found some cute plates at an unlikely store. They had exactly 13 of these plates!

Tablecloths are also hard to come by in this city, but we eventually got two that we could put together to make a passable tablecloth. I taught myself from an internet site, how to fold dramatic napkins. Olga, my assistant, outdid herself on filling our home with beautiful flowers, and made an especially beautiful arrangement for the dinner table.

I began to receive notices from Church headquarters asking me to submit the seating arrangement for the lunch. I resisted, because I didn’t want to be told that Reid would have to sit at another table, since the table could only accommodate 12 people. These requests continued to come and began to have urgency markers on them.  I ignored them, admittedly with a knot in my stomach.

The lunch was to begin at 11:00 AM, giving us nearly an hour and a half before the Leadership Meeting. All was in order at 11:00. The only problem was that there were no people here. An hour slipped by before the doorbell finally rang. Suddenly the home was full of people—a lot of people—including security, etc. Someone announced to me that they had only 20 minutes before they needed to leave for the meeting. Aaaah!

Everyone came to the table to be seated, and I realized with a sinking feeling in my stomach that there were TWO EXTRA people (the Temple President and his wife), that I had not been told about. My already overly full table was going to have to accommodate two more people! It was seemingly impossible. Because of the shortened schedule, time was essential as the following scene unfolded.

Elder Andersen turned to me and asked me for the seating arrangement. I stammered out that I had not sent one in. Realizing my predicament, and trying to be as gracious as possible, Sister Cornish said to her son Reid, “Reid, honey, please take your plate and eat on the couch.”  Inwardly I groaned, Oh, NO!!!  I recoiled and started to protest but realized that I couldn’t realistically ask any of the General Authorities to eat anywhere other than at the table. Time was slipping away. I didn’t know what to do. What happened next, I will remember for the rest of my life. Elder Neil Andersen interrupted and said, “No! Reid, please take your seat next to me.” He had just given Reid the seat of honor at the table (the seat that I suspect everyone there had inwardly been hoping to be given). Reid beamed and sat down next to Elder Andersen.  

Honestly, I felt that we had just all been instructed by the example of a man that we reverence as a special witness of Jesus Christ. As far as I can ascertain from the scriptures, this is exactly what Jesus, himself, would have done in a similar situation. The Savior of mankind had no patience for the traditions of men that put one man above another. He taught over and over again, that he that is greatest in the kingdom of God shall be the servant of all. Jesus surrounded himself, not with prestigious religious and government leaders, but instead, with the poor, the outcast, the blind, the halt, the maimed, the prostitutes, and the hated tax collectors. 

Without another word spoken, everyone could feel the power of the lesson that we had just witnessed. Quietly, two more places were set at the table, extra chairs were brought in and everyone squeezed even more tightly together.

In all the confusion, two “cafeteria” plates were brought in and set for Elder Rasband and his wife. Everyday silverware was found and two more regular glasses brought in. Normally I would have been mortified. But, somehow, none of this seemed to matter anymore.

I would have to say that the luncheon was indeed a perfect occasion, made even more so by the beaming Reid, who never stopped smiling the entire luncheon.

The next day Elder Andersen officiated at a Stake Conference. The building was packed. Not only were the chapel and the overflow and gym packed, but every single room in the Church, was packed to capacity. The meeting was televised in those rooms on close circuit TV. After the meeting, Elder Andersen only had a limited amount of time before he had to leave to catch his flight out of Santo Domingo. He knew that everyone there wanted to shake his hand. Most had never before seen an Apostle of the Lord in person. 

Elder Andersen announced at the end of his talk, that given the short time that he had to stay afterwards, he would like to invite any children who wanted to shake his hand to come forward first. I couldn’t believe it—not the Bishops, not the High Council members—the children. For the next 35 minutes, he shook the hands of the children who had come. Once again, it reminded me of how Jesus always found time to spend with the children. The organist quickly changed his postlude music to the Primary song, I Am a Child of God.  Personally, I had to fight tears.

I was reminded of this remarkable experience as I listened to General Conference this past weekend. I was so touched when our Prophet asked us to be an example to the world—a light on a hill, if you will—of setting aside prejudice and to work to provide opportunities for all; black, white, bond, free, wealthy, poor, male, female. In the midst of a divided nation, the prophet of the Lord had called out with a clarion call.

I once had a powerful and wonderful example set for me by a Bishop who had moved away from our Athens, GA ward. We had been close friends. When we heard he had been back in town, our first question was, “What? I can’t believe he didn’t call us!” He later told us, that when he returned for a visit, he did not seek out his counselors or the Stake Presidency or other close friends to visit. He knew that they were all on the right path and would be okay. He also knew that he would have a chance in the next life to renew his precious friendship with them.

Instead, he made time to visit the people in the ward who had gone inactive; people he had personally worked with and who he had encouraged. This included a Latino man with a persistent drug problem, a woman who struggled with alcoholism, a black family whose father was incarcerated, a single mom living with her boyfriend. These were people that were easy to be on the forgotten list.

My guess is that if Jesus were to come today, just like my former Bishop, Jesus would likely seek out the very type of people He sought out during His lifetime; not the wealthy, the powerful, the righteous.  Instead, I believe He would seek out the lost sheep—the ostracized, the marginalized, the stigmatized. He would seek out the refugee, the person in the slums, the “other”; be they black, white, brown, male or female. He would bring respect, love, peace and healing.  He would be doing exactly what our prophet asked us to do on Sunday.

At a time when our country is suffering from a deadly pandemic and is politically divided as never before in our memories, our Prophet has invited us to be messengers of unity, by reminding us “that if you are not one, you are not mine.” (D&C 38:27). He has also asked us to lay aside any prejudices we may harbor against others. Basically, he’s asking us to act like representatives of the Master we serve.

For me, this conference was similar to my earlier experience of watching an Apostle of the Lord at a simple luncheon choose to honor a young man that many others would have easily dismissed. Our beloved Prophet has encouraged all of us to be a similar light and example of our Savior at this time of our country’s great need. What a supernal blessing it is to have a prophet to lead and guide us through such times!