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The Paris France Temple will be dedicated on Sunday, May 21, 2017.
It is almost 11:00 in this quiet village of Le Chesnay by Paris. The lights are off in the surrounding homes and the traffic has quieted on the road as most people have long ago retired for the night.
We are circling the Paris France Temple to capture some night photography, hoping to capture the spill of flowers on the art glass window as the light streams through it. We stay just outside the fence that is now locked for the evening, searching for angles, watching for the shots that can show the radiant beauty.
But something else captures our eyes, something that will linger with us just as long as the majesty of the temple. There in the yard is a mother with a young child. Doesn’t she know how late it is?
We have dimly seen other Latter-day Saints through the temple windows too. Each night, after the crowd of an open house, forty people come to clean the temple and the grounds to assure it is perfectly ready for the next day.
From our vantage point outside the wall, we can also see into the hall of the patron’s building, which is also on the temple grounds. Upstairs we see a man, standing in the hall, dressed in a gray suit, checking a stack of papers. He too is burning the midnight oil doing some work for the temple. Doesn’t he know how late it is?
A stranger might wonder how much these people are being paid, or if perhaps they are getting extra for taking the night shift, and would be surprised to learn that this is an all-volunteer crowd. That wouldn’t surprise any Latter-day Saint, who understands why people would stay up late to clean a building that hardly needed touching.
It is what we do for love of the Savior, one small way we can begin to express our cascade of gratitude for his atonement, which cost Him everything and gave us everything. This gift we give back of work and dedication is never more apparent than when a new temple is built, igniting Latter-day Saints to sacrifice what they can in love for the Lord.
It is so apparent in France just now.
After the open house and before the dedication, those in charge will comb through the temple with post-it notes looking for any chink in the wood or mar to the paint that has developed with the crowds coming through, and, therefore, has to be redone and perfected before the dedication. Every one of these will be attended to.
The Flower Garden
To the surprise of members, they became impromptu gardeners before the first VIP open house. A graceful part of the 3-acre temple lot is a garden on many levels with a heroic-size Christus at its heart. It was planned to be a garden in the style of the French, and to that end, has been planted with trees, bushes, shrubs—and many bulbs.
This is a garden to which neighbors can come and enjoy even after the temple is dedicated.
The night before the first VIP open house, where many dignitaries in the area would be in attendance, Elder Neil L. Andersen of the Quorum of the Twelve was given his first tour. The building was spectacular, but those bulbs had not yet blossomed and he felt that the gardens needed many more flowers.
The problem was this was evening and the open house was the next morning. It could have been a great moment for panic, but Ramon Lopez, the project manager, did what Mormons do. He headed to the local nursery, catching them just before they closed, bought every flowering plant they had, and, then, of course, called on the bishop to come up with a crowd of volunteers to plant the gardens by night so it could look better in the morning.
Gerard Giraud-Carrier, the new temple president said, “In 30 minutes we had 40 people here. It was great experience for them. Children were as busy as their parents and as happy as their parents planting flowers in the temple gardens.”
Doug Barnes, who with his wife, Karen, serve as the office couple in the Paris mission office, was one who came to the call and was enlisted. He had had some experience with selling flowers in Utah.
They unloaded hundreds and hundreds of flats of flowers and when everybody was called together, the project manager pointed to Doug and said, “He’s in charge. He’s going to tell you all where to go and what to plant.”
He had thought his only job that night was to deliver the mission president’s assistants over to work, and suddenly he found himself in charge. “It gave me chills,” he said, “and all I knew for sure was that French gardens were symmetrical.
“Suddenly I’ve got little Primary kids delivering flowers to me. I’d say, ‘I need two more white ones. I need three more pink ones,’ and they’d run and bring them down to me.
“I got home at 1:00 in the morning and I said to Karen, ‘I think I’ve just made the most valuable contribution of my mission. It’s not what I thought it would be.
“The next morning when Elder Andersen came he said, “100% better.”
In that evening, France had her own Minutemen, ready to go at an instant when needed.
I’m So Happy
Alexandra Beckley, whose laughter is contagious, came from Lyon to serve at the temple during the open house. “Today,” she said, “I am an usher, but every day I have a different mission. It is such a blessing just to be part of the adventure. I prayed so much and I fasted that I would be put to work wherever the Lord wanted me to serve. The first day, I had to help remove the slippers when people exited the temple, and I was just so happy.
“I would be happy to be asked to clean even the toilet in the temple, because I know the Spirit would be there,” she said.
“Within five minutes of taking my first assignment,” she said, “someone asked me to bear my testimony about tithing. I felt the Spirit so much, and I told them how thankful I was to be a member of the Church, and I knew they understood.”
A Very Long Mission
Doug and Pauline Todd have been construction missionaries as the temple rose on the site. He said his job was to try to make the project manager’s job easier and hers was to record what was happening each day.
Every morning, she would arise, put on a hard hat, steel-toed shoes and a neon vest and grabbing her camera head out to the site, photographing every detail of the construction every day. She has taken 20,000 photos and a time-lapse video to capture the history. “There’s a weekly report of what I’m doing and then photos to illustrate,” she said.
She said, “Our office used to be where the president’s garden is and we had a great vantage to take photos from every day. X marked the spot, but then the X moved,” she laughed. “They took down the cabin.”
Theirs is another story of remarkable consecration. They were called on a mission to Geneva, Switzerland to be an office couple in 2010 and then just two weeks before that mission ended, they received a call from a former colleague who had worked with him. Elder Todd had been the Church’s area architect in Southeast Asia and before that worked with the development of the City Creek mall.
He was asked if they would be interested in another mission to begin right away with the construction of the Paris temple. They had not packed yet to return from this mission when another mission loomed before them. The Todds agreed.
As it turned out, they had 18 months home, but arrived in Paris to begin their work Oct. 1, 2013 and will be finished with the dedication of the temple in 2017. Just add up those numbers. It was a long, even overbearingly long mission. They loved it.
One might ask, who paid them for this work. Only Latter-day Saints would completely understand Who paid them.
A Call with a Choice
Elder Matthieu Bennasar is an Area Authority Seventy who was also asked if he would chair the temple dedication committee, a job, which on top of his quorum stewardship, is daunting at best. It involves all the arrangements for the open house, the cultural celebration which will bring 1,000 LDS youth and 200 of their leaders from across France, and, of course, the dedication itself. It is a more complex, backbreaking job than any one could understand who hadn’t viewed the logistics firsthand.
“We don’t want to sink you,” said Elder Patrick Kearon, when he was called.
“But as soon as he said that,” said Elder Bennasar, “I knew I couldn’t refuse. I couldn’t say, ‘I’ll pass on my turn and give it to someone else.’
“There are many capable people here in the Church, but I knew the choice to do this was offered because my father had been an LDS pioneer here in France, and out of respect for all those pioneers, I felt I had no other option than to agree. I said to myself I will go and do what the Lord wants me to do.”
When Elder Bennasar thinks of the temple, thoughts of his father flood his mind. “Dad passed away three years ago,” he said. “He was the kind of person who literally delighted in the temple. That was where he belonged on this earth. In the temple he was in flight.
“He was set apart as a temple sealer in 1979 and I think that more than anyone else I know he was craving for a temple to be built in France. If you took him apart and took every bit of his heart, that would be the last thing remaining—that we would have a temple in France.
“In November 2015, my mother was released after 40 years as a temple worker. She did that on top of serving as a stake RS president and seminary teacher Three years after my parents’ baptism they went to the temple and my sister was sealed to them. Three-fourths of their vacation time was spent at the temple every year.
“I have felt my father’s influence as I’ve worked on the temple dedication,” he said. “Sometimes I have felt like I could almost hear the things he would have in mind about how to do things, because his memory is living on.
“Whenever I am taking people through the temple and am in the sealing room, I am standing where he would have stood, and it is difficult not to think of him in his white suit and the way he would say things and the way he would tick the card to say the ordinance has been performed.”
Elder Bennasar explained the scope of his job. “I have to correlate with the temple department. I have to work with public affairs and their committees. I have to deal with other church leaders, but also work with the presiding bishop’s office. I have to correlate and coordinate with the local leaders here. It amounts to 2,000 emails every month I have to process. It involves being a chair over 13 sub-committees that involves security, cultural celebration, hosting and many others. It is an enormous job.”
This is all on top of a full-time job and a family of three children.
He said, “I knew we would be drowning in practicalities and details and preparing and making phone calls,” but the way he made this duty light “was to make sure we would keep our eyes forward to the dedication and backward to realizing this is a fulfillment of prophetic statements that were made by some men who hold apostolic keys and are authorized to use them. That is truly a fulfillment of prophecy.”
There are many instances he said when he felt “a bit of an angelic push on the project,” for example, when he called the 13 people who would each head the sub-committees. “I don’t know how you call 13 people in just days and within two weeks, the entire structure is set up. I clearly saw the hand of the Lord in that.”
He also mentioned that sometimes his competing schedules concerned him. He said, “I was kind of worried coming up to April 6, the first day of the VIP open house because if I left for a day, I got behind and I was leaving for six days for General Conference. Bishop Gérald Caussé said to me, “The Lord wants this temple. Do you think he’s going to give it up now? That eased a little bit of the pressure. I know we have to do our part, but the Lord does the rest. So far it has been an amazing success.”
Elder Bennasar said, “The people have responded with so much enthusiasm. We had to say no to some of the people who wanted to volunteer because we had too many people. All of the sub-committee chair people are dedicated and hard working. They are strong, seasoned leaders who have come to their responsibility with great preparation.”
He also said watching the members’ reaction to requests of them has been very humbling. “I was privileged to speak to a few of the members, and tell them they would be invited inside the temple for the dedication and would be in the presence of a member of the First Presidency. Unanimously the response was a very emotional one, but even though these members feel it is a privilege, they answer, ‘I would love this, but I would love this older couple who is in my ward to take my place.’” The idea is that the older couples are pioneers who have waited long for the temple and deserve to see the fulfillment of their long-held hope.
He First Loved Us
John, the beloved apostle of Christ taught us, “We love him, because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19), and perhaps there is no greater outpouring of love than in the temple where we are promised so much. It is that love that permeates to the very cells and shoots our soul with light that Latter-day Saints respond to, and in turn express their love in service, freely given that simply does not have its equal in the world.
As we stood that night in Paris outside the temple, hoping to catch some photos and seeing instead the service of the Saints, we knew we would carry all these images of devotion away with us that no photograph can capture.