In 2007, 20 Belgium teenagers came to Provo, Utah. We had lived in Belgium in 1998 for a year and a half and had met Orlando Casares who was a lawyer and a member of the Church there. He was from Mexico and his wife was Danish and we became fast friends. He contacted me earlier in 2007 about bringing over these students plus chaperones plus Orlando’s family, for a total of 35 people. His whole motive was that they were losing the youth in their stake– as soon as they turned 18 they became inactive.
It was a big deal. It took alot of planning. They came for three weeks and it was a whirl of activity. Many of my friends opened their homes to them. They spent a week at EFY, they went to Temple Square and on hikes in Provo Canyon. One of the final activities was meeting with one of the Seventy at the Church Office building. The students had prepared some songs to sing in French and we drove them up to perform. Orlando told me not to bring any of my children, it was just the Belgians coming to the Church office building. I brought my video camera to capture the experience.
We entered the building next to the Lion House, not the huge high-rise part of Church headquarters. We waited in a room and to our surprise and delight President Uchtdorf came in, smiling and gracious as he always is. It was so exciting to be with a member of the First Presidency! Everyone was so excited and grateful. After chatting for a minute, the students started singing three or four songs in french.
I was sitting quietly on the side of the room, enjoying the whole thing, just a fly on the wall. Suddenly a secret door opened at the end of the room and President Monson stepped in! I was completely unprepared. The students were still singing and hadn’t noticed him yet, because their backs were to him. He came over to me first with his trademark beaming smile and shook my hand. I felt a bolt of electricity. The Spirit slammed me and my thought was, “He is a true prophet of God. He is!”
By then everyone had stopped singing and had turned around. There were gasps and looks of disbelief. There was a pause and a feeling of amazement. Then this small but mighty group was treated to the gold-plated, all-star, “best of” Thomas S. Monson. He told the story of being on the stand and wiggling his ears at the boy in the audience who then wiggled his back. He brought Orlando’s small son over to his side, and showed him specifically how to wiggle his ears. He then played chopsticks on the piano, hamming it up and joking. After asking about their trip and some of the things they had seen, he asked the students to sing their songs to him, so they sang them again to him, with President Uchtdorf patiently waiting. When the Belgians wrapped up the last song, President Monson threw up his hands and said, “This is so wonderful the secretaries need to hear this!” and through that same secret side door he walked back to get the two or three women to come in and listen.
I was starting to sweat for President Uchtdorf who was on his third go-around, but he graciously sat, and heard the hymns again. As soon as the last note was sung, President Uchtdorf took charge and thanked us all for coming and for traveling such a long way. He swept President Monson back through the door, who was all smiles, and good-byes and waving arms. The secretaries followed behind. I turned off the video camera and we all looked at each other in amazement. We had just been a part of an incredible ministering by Thomas S. Monson. Our belief was that he would have stayed with us another hour to enjoy us all the more because he was so relaxed and we felt his enjoyment of us. We walked slowly back to the vans, feeling overwhelmed with the experience and a more than a little awed.
I had video taped the whole thing, and every year after that trip to America, the group would gather at Orlando’s house in Belgium and watch the experience again. They have done that for ten years with whoever was around. Orlando called a couple of months ago and said one girl, who had struggled for a while, had received her mission call and wanted to be in contact with her host family to tell them. Orlando said 18 of the 20 are super grounded in the church. He teases me every time he calls, because I couldn’t help chuckling throughout the taping at President Monson’s antics, and you can hear that on the tape. I wrote my first post about “Finishers Wanted” and as the week went by, this memory surfaced. What an an inspiration President Thomas S. Monson’s life has been! I had the privilege to shake his hand, feel the powerful mantle that he carries and to see the warmth and love he exudes at every turn. His decision to come into that room that day, deeply affected those that lived far away from the hub of the church. I am so glad I got to be that fly on the wall. He will be deeply missed.