Missionaries often develop a deep affection for the people they serve. So do Apostles. Before his call as a General Authority, Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles had many professional opportunities to return to Germany where he served as a full-time missionary. But when Elder Bednar returned as an Apostle to visit areas in Germany, his feelings for the Saints were tender. He fulfilled an assignment that started in England, (link) moved on to Germany and Denmark, and then returned to England.
“It has been 40 years since I arrived as a missionary in southern Germany,” he said in an interview following an evening meeting. Serving a full-time mission was “remarkable.” Elder Bednar remembers arriving at the airport, being greeted by his mission president and his wife, and being “absolutely bewildered” when the German he had learned at the Language Training Mission “didn’t seem at all related to the Bavarian dialect I heard as I spoke with Germans!”
Growth Comes “Line upon Line”
Since his mission, the Church in Germany has grown “line upon line, precept upon precept.” That growth, he stated, “is not dramatic, but it is steady.” He said members increasingly understand their responsibility to share the gospel, and missionaries are valiant and faithful. “So the work progresses; not rapidly, but it progresses.”
He affirmed that some of those he and his companions taught as missionaries became members of the Church, and he has watched them for decades. “In fact,” he noted, “I now see their grown, mature children marrying in the temple and serving in the Church and more fully understand that the Lord’s course indeed is one eternal round. I am blessed to come back 40 years later and see how those seeds have blossomed and produced magnificent fruit. My heart swells with gratitude for the opportunity to witness all of those things unfold over a relatively short period of time.” He continued, “This is my first assignment [in Germany] since being called as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve . . . and it seems most appropriate that the first city I visit, on my first assignment, is in [the part of] Germany where I served so much of my mission.”
He described the German people as warm, open, determined, and faithful. “Tonight as we met with these good Saints,” he stated, “the Spirit was strong. And I hope that, given my history here and my affection for this these people and this place, a great feeling of love was evident.”
Guiding to Answers
As Apostles often do in bearing witness of the name of Christ, Elder Bednar used the scriptures to teach gospel doctrines and principles to assist leaders, members, and missionaries to find answers to gospel questions. This manner of teaching, Elder Bednar has said many times, helps people increase faith in their ability to recognize personal inspiration. It also teaches them to develop stronger faith in Jesus Christ and understand that the scriptures hold answers to life’s questions.
What Is a Special Witness?
Doctrine and Covenants 107:23 declares Apostles are to be “special witnesses of the name of Christ in all the world.” Asked what that means, Elder Bednar taught that every member can be a witness of Jesus Christ. But when an Apostle is set apart as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, “in the authority of that office and by the power of the keys, Apostles are special witnesses of the name of Jesus Christ.”
The name of Jesus Christ, he said, “refers to Christ as the Only Begotten Son of the Eternal Father, to the divine attributes that enabled Him to perform the atoning sacrifice, and to the authority to preach His doctrine and perform saving ordinances. It is the totality, the completeness of His mission and doctrine.” He said that Apostles travel the earth declaring witness that Jesus Christ lives and that “by ordination, setting apart, and in the authority of the keys, an Apostle is a special witness of the name of Christ in all the world.”
An Instrument of the Lord
Elder Bednar also shared his feelings about bearing witness of Christ during general conference. “When you act in the office of an Apostle, the responsibility is to be the instrument through whom the Lord can reveal His will, not just to members of the Church, but to the world.” Like Alma, “I will not boast in my own strength, but I know from whom the call came and I will boast of my God, for in His strength I can do all things” (see Alma 26:12).
He said, “As I declare my witness to the world, it is always an overwhelming responsibility. In fact I would summarize it in this way: The longer I serve and the more I understand about this responsibility, the more overwhelmed I feel.” He said the same should be true for every member of the Church. “The longer you serve and the more you understand about what you have been called to do and the importance of the work that you are assigned, the more you will feel overwhelmed, humbled, and dependent upon the Lord.”
The Character of Christ
Elder Bednar indicated that he was with President James E. Faust [1920-2007, former Second Counselor in the First Presidency], when he bore powerful testimony of Jesus Christ. Pres. Faust declared, “I know in a way that transcends the five physical senses that Jesus is the Christ.” That is the greatest way to know Christ, Elder Bednar said, remembering that President Faust also said, “The witness that qualifies me to be a special witness I received long before I was called to be a member of the Quorum of the Twelve.”
Saying “the Savior turns outward in service when most of us turn inward,” Elder Bednar described how the Redeemer suffered in the garden of Gethsemane, was betrayed by one of His closest associates, yet He healed a guard’s ear. “As you and I perhaps would have turned inward in self-pity, He turned outward and ministered to others whose needs were far less. That is the character of Christ that causes me to stand all amazed,” he said.
Strengthening Marriages and Families
In response to a question about how to strengthen the relationship between a husband and a wife, Elder Bednar explained that “as you individually come unto Christ, you are drawn closer together.” He said, “There is no challenge you will face that cannot be overcome through faith in Jesus Christ.”
He said, “The first person you should strive to bless is your spouse.” He reminded husbands and fathers that “the priesthood is Christ-centered leadership, using gentleness, meekness, and love unfeigned.” He further counseled fathers that “your greatest responsibility to your family is to always be worthy to righteously exercise the priesthood.”
Growing Up in the Gospel
Children and youth should be close to their parents, Elder Bednar counseled. Bishops and other leaders can help, he said, but parents have the responsibility to guide children and teens to prepare for a “lifelong journey of a continuing conversion to Christ.”
He reminded young people that “when you were baptized, you expressed your willingness to take upon yourself the name of Jesus Christ.” That means “what He wants is most important, because you represent Him; you no longer just represent yourself.” He spoke specifically to the Aaronic Priesthood when he said, “Through the priesthood, as you serve your brothers and sisters, you will become more like Jesus. Priesthood is about what you are to become; it’s not just about what you do.”
Denmark: Steadiness and Movement
Elder Bednar said Latter-day Saints in Denmark were earnest and anxious to learn, and their questions made it clear they have “very good, spiritually oriented hearts.” At a mission presidents’ seminar in Copenhagen, he commented that throughout the world there is a tremendous movement of people who “encounter the gospel and then contribute to the growth of the kingdom in some other part of the world.”
He said that in Denmark, as in Germany and elsewhere in Europe, Church growth is not rapid, but is constant. “It’s the steadiness that’s impressive. That’s the pattern for real growth—steady, sustained, line upon line. That’s the nature of the progress that’s occurring in Europe.”
Evidence in England
For the final stop on his assignment, Elder Bednar met with members in Birmingham, England, who are, in his words, “the salt of the earth, the strength of the Church.” The growth of the Church in England and elsewhere is not always indicated just in numbers. “It is also reflected in the strengthening of testimonies and the deepening of conversion,” he said, “and there is clear evidence that is taking place in England.”
Facing Today’s Challenges
Elder Bednar said that members in Birmingham encounter many of the common challenges of our day. “They have concerns about the influences of the world that can pull children away from basic gospel principles and practices,” he said. “They pray earnestly, love their families, and are doing their very best to come unto Christ.”
Through faith in Christ, Elder Bednar said, Saints in England are blessed with strength beyond their own. “The Atonement blesses us not only with remission of sin, but with strength to do good and become better. What you find in the lives of many of these members is evidence of the grace or the enabling power of the Atonement of Christ, strengthening them to do very hard things.” He also said that local leaders use their spiritual gifts to help members focus on and understand the doctrine of Christ, which provides direction and guidance for the challenges in their lives.
“In a world that grows increasingly wicked and confused,” he said, “there is only one true source of joy—the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
Revelation, Invitation, Agency
“The spiritual gift of revelation operates as thoughts to the mind and feelings to the heart,” Elder Bednar said. He also noted that we receive more inspiration when we have a thankful heart. “Gratitude precedes revelation” and “enables you to more readily recognize the impressions that come by the power of the Holy Ghost.”
Sometimes, he said, we mistakenly talk about “challenging” people. The scriptures use a different word—“invite” which encourages us to act. He said that “agency is the power and capacity of independent action. And as we act in accordance with teachings of Christ, our very natures are changed through His Atonement and by the power of the Holy Ghost. When we focus on coming unto Christ, instead of the natural man demanding incessantly what “I” want, we turn outward to assist others.
Because the Atonement helps us to become better than we could ever become through our limited mortal capacity, we can, through the strengthening or enabling power of the Atonement of Christ, His grace, become agents who press forward. “As we do so,” Elder Bednar said, “we are blessed with and by His Spirit, and that Spirit roots out of us the disposition to do evil.”
In the midst of all the trouble in the world, Elder Bednar said, there is joy in knowing who you are and where you came from, because it provides purpose and direction so that you will have joy in this life and in life to come.
In all of these meetings in Germany, Denmark, and England, Elder Bednar affirmed that even though the questions asked were never the same, they all focused on the same basic issues: “How do I strengthen my faith in the Savior? How do I press forward when so many things in the world around us seem uncertain and confused?”
He remarked that “seeing these Saints pressing forward with a steadfastness of faith strengthens my faith.” He said the basics of the gospel provide light, hope, and guidance “in all of these nations that we’ve visited, and that is the answer needed desperately here and everywhere in the world.”
Seeing the Light of the Gospel
“It is a joy for me to see the light of the gospel in the countenances of these good people,” Elder Bednar said. He said the Church in Germany, Denmark, and England, has a “richness of history across many generations,” blended with the fresh history of many new converts. “It is the light of the gospel in the eyes of new converts as well as in the eyes of members of the Church for three, four, and five generations, that really evidences the truthfulness of the Church,” he said.