The scenario for the Gilbert Arizona Temple Cultural Celebration on March 1 unfolded much as if it followed an epic movie script. With a cast of thousands and titled “Live True to the Faith,” its storyline began in Old Testament times and continued with stories from the Book of Mormon, Church history in Arizona and the present.
“In ancient times, as well as today, God’s covenant people are known as ‘the children of Abraham,’ a narrator proclaimed. “The Lord calls the faithful of all ages to be standard bearers of the truth. Tonight we answer His call and say: We’ll be ‘true to the faith,’ for we are the children of Abraham.”
The script did not call for portrayals of the children of Israel crossing the Red Sea on dry ground. However, in the production the children of Abraham got very wet as they sang and danced in the rain.
People in this part of Arizona have been praying for rain, which they had not received for several months. Skies were cloudy during Saturday afternoon’s performance, which served as a dress rehearsal, with just a few sprinkles coming as it ended. However, within an hour before the evening performance a light drizzle began. The drizzle soon turned into a downpour. About 15 minutes before President Thomas S. Monson and others were scheduled to arrive, rain drenched the performers and audience. Then, as he arrived on the podium, the rain slowed to a light drizzle. But that didn’t last. Much of the 90-minute performance took place during heavy rain. The venue, in Discovery Park near the temple, serves as a retention basin. By the time the program ended, the performers were dancing in mud puddles.
In offering the invocation Gilbert Arizona San Tan Stake President Roland B. Derrick expressed gratitude for the moisture.
President Monson gave his first counselor, President Henry B. Eyring, the opportunity to address the 12,000 youth before the performance began. President Eyring’s grandparents and his father lived in Pima, Ariz.
He conveyed to the youth President Monson’s love for them and for “these wonderful occasions” of cultural programs held in conjunction with temple dedications.
The reason for the program, President Eyring said, was for the youth to express their love and appreciation for all whose sacrifice and faithfulness “made it possible for the Lord to give us the blessing of a beautiful temple of God here.”
“Tonight, you honor the heroes whose faith and sacrifice made it possible for us to receive such a blessing. They were pioneers who chose to follow the Lord wherever He needed them to serve and at whatever the cost. They were like the brave people who followed Captain Moroni among the children of Lehi. They were willing to give their all for God, their families, and for the freedom to worship God.
“And they did it with a smile, even when they had little to cheer them. Some were your ancestors who made music and danced as they struggled to build Zion in the desert for their families.”
He told the youth that some of them were heroes themselves. He said that many of them will go into the world to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ in noble work that will take the kind of sacrifice and endurance experienced by their ancestors, their brothers and sisters and missionaries who brought the gospel to them and their families.
He encouraged the youth to write in their journals about what they saw and felt so that on some future day they will be able to tell their children and grandchildren “what it meant to you to be a part of the celebration of the completion of a temple of God.”
President Eyring blessed the young men and young women that they would feel the love of their Heavenly Father “tonight and always,” that their desire to be true to their covenants with God will increase, and that their determination to follow Jesus Christ will grow and remain with them.
“And I bless you that this experience tonight will stay in your memory like a light and will draw you back to the temple time and time again,” he said.
Elder William R. Walker, Executive Director of the Temple Department, conducted the program prior to the staging of the celebration. Also present were Elder Tad R. Callister of the Presidency of the Seventy, and his wife, Kathryn; Elder Kent F. Richards of the Seventy, and his wife, Marsha; Elder Walker’s wife, Vicki; and President Monson’s daughter, Ann M. Dibb, and her husband, Roger.
Rosanne Tidwell, who was a writer of the script along with Robert Madsen, Richard Madsen and Jason Barney, told the Church News of some of the logistics of staging the cultural celebration. The first thing she mentioned was what it took to bring together 12,000 youth. They divided the youth into six regions and arranged for each region to practice separately in places such as high school football fields. The whole “cast of thousands” met together for the first time on Saturday, Feb. 22.
“It was amazing,” she said as she tried to describe the sight of 12,000 youth filling the soccer fields in view of the temple in the background. “Many of the young men and young women sacrificed time and other activities in order to participate in the celebration.”
She said that the youth, upon hearing forecasts for rain earlier in the week, made a plea to the program’s organizers that the show would go on despite the weather. It went on. Other than having wet hair and drenched clothing, the young people carried out their roles seemingly without missing a beat. Water streamed down their beaming faces. They performed as if the added moisture didn’t bother them. According to Jake Dalton, 12, the rain wasn’t a problem. He described the experience of being in the program as “really fun. It was amazing how I couldn’t really feel we were wet, even though we were soaked.” If the chance came along again to perform in the rain, he said, “I would do it in a minute; I would do it multiple times.”
Caitie Marble, 17, was among fiddlers playing for a hoedown number. She and other musicians saw the rain as an obstacle, “something that could have caused costly damage to my mom’s nicer violin. But I made a commitment to take part, and I wouldn’t miss the experience for anything in the world.
“I was willing to gladly accept any monetary consequence in return to have the opportunity to share my personal excitement and gratitude for the temple through the talents I have been blessed with. So I said a silent prayer and had the time of my life onstage.
“It was an experience I will never forget. Miraculously, there was no harm done to that violin, despite the fact that it was soaked. ...
“I believe that that rain was an outpouring of [the Lord’s] Spirit upon us. I quite literally felt His presence at the celebration.”