For an inhabitant of the Seattle area, visiting Vancouver, BC is like traveling to a nearby parallel universe. The climate and the general look and feel of the place are about right, but like the Kinder Eggs we enjoyed there, Vancouver is loaded with surprises that not only aren’t chocolate, they should be played with rather than eaten.
Superficial differences abound. English is the local language, but everyone employs a certain well-known diphthong pronunciation. The traffic signals look familiar until the green lights start blinking, and someone seems to have changed the Firefox theme of the traffic signs alongside the road. Looking further, the jagged Coast Mountains are to the north rather than the east, Mt. Baker isn’t Mt. Rainier, and the smooth glass facades of downtown Seattle are replaced with residential high-rises fuzzy with balconies. My sharp-eyed younger daughter spies a familiar bottle on a grocery store shelf, but the well-known packaging and styling sport a different name. The strong illusion of being at home is regularly wrecked by the many delightful differences.
We are almost to the temple site. The neon-vest-clad brother in front of the Langley YSA building informs us that the lot behind him is for parking overflow and bids us continue down the road. We are an eclectic group. My mother from Arizona and my wife’s parents from Utah ride with us in the van. Behind us my brother rides with our two non-member guests: the girl who grew up across the street from us in AZ, and her boyfriend from Coquitlam, BC. After meeting us at our hotel, the pair are about to experience an LDS temple open house.
My wife is the first one to spot the temple through the trees, and soon we pull in next to it, the branco siena granite from Brazil glittering in the spring sunshine. It reminds me of the Brazilian cotton white granite on the Porto Alegre temple in that country, and from this point on I notice not the differences between Seattle and Vancouver, but those between this and the previous temple open house I attended almost ten years ago. Chartered buses from all over Rio Grande do Sul have been replaced by empty minivans and trucks from all over BC and WA, and three tired-looking protestors try to do in Langley whatever it was their more energetic counterparts tried to do on the hill in Porto Alegre.
Leading up to the Porto Alegre Temple Visitação, my companion and I had been tasked with organizing the work schedule of the elders who would help. The corresponding task for the sister missionaries was given to three sisters who would go home that month. I knew two of them well, but I only knew Sister S. from her solid reputation. We joined them in meetings with the mission presidents and our counterparts from the Porto Alegre North Mission, and when the gates were opened we were ready. We directed visitors into air-conditioned tents and showed a DVD (the first time I had used the technology) on the purposes of the temple. We shepherded the groups being led through the temple by general authorities and area authority seventies. After the tours, we encouraged visitors to fill out comment/referral cards as they munched on orelhas de macaco and sipped guaraná.
Mid-week, Sister S. came inside the mission office with her parents on their way out of town, and I shook their hands. He spoke Portuguese. Now I sit remembering that day in a room of the brand-new stake center behind the Vancouver Temple, as two young-looking sister missionaries introduce their comment cards and start their own DVD. I am impressed by their approach. “As the temple is a very special place, you may have especially strong feelings or thoughts. We invite you to share them with us.” The former Sister S. (now often called Sister Pratt) sits on my left, our younger daughter sits on my lap, and my beloved parents-in-law are on my right. The video features a standard history of temple building among God’s chosen people, interspersed with stock footage of temples from around the world, snippets of testimony from church members speaking various languages (overdubbed with the interpretation when necessary), and nuggets from interviews with President Packer, Elder Holland, and President Monson. I am moved almost to tears several times, and I rejoice in the power of temple blessings and the chance to see this temple with my eternal family.
Now we walk toward the temple entrance under the temporary awning covering the entire length of the walkway. The fragrant hyacinths are bordered by still-lovely daffodils. We have only to lift up our feet and booties are applied over our shoes by volunteers. We have arrived. Holiness to the Lord. The House of the Lord. Our guide is a local woman, and she leads us in.
Ushers stand at key points inside, as if to prevent tour groups from colliding, but I never see them have to do anything, as all the groups glide around in sync on the marble floors. We pass the recommend desk, a central foyer/waiting area, and a changing room to see the baptistry. Light pours in through stained glass, and as if in reply the water in the font gently stirs. We ascend the splendid staircase and pass through a locker room to see the Bride’s Room with a stunning chandelier and beautiful flowers in the floor tiles of the open washroom. Stained-glass windows in opposite walls of the Chapel allow natural light to fall on the staircase. Entering an Instruction Room, my daughters revel in the hand-painted mural depicting a BC wilderness and in the hand-cut design in the carpet surrounding the altar. Moving forward, the next Instruction Room is noticeably finer and brighter, and the girls pick up on both differences. Stepping into the hallway, we enter the Celestial room.
We are silent here, in this place that represents returning to the presence of God. Windows on three walls bring in the light, which plays off of small crystals in the chandelier and other fixtures. Pacific dogwood (the BC provincial flower) decorates the 10-meter-high ceiling, reflecting the same blossoms hand-cut into the carpet. Standing in this room with my family is simply heavenly.
Outside again, we take pictures among the tulips. In the Stake Center we find cookies and both lemon- and cucumber-water. Our non-member friend looks very happy. She (call her Sarah) has really enjoyed the time spent in the temple and on the grounds, and asks my mother to take a brochure to her mother, that the latter may see photos of what Sarah saw in the LDS temple in BC, and that she may read about the purposes of temples. In some sense, through simply walking through the temple with us, Sarah has become one of us.
In sacrament meeting the next morning, a young girl springs to the stand before the bishop even finishes. She also went to the temple open house, and she radiates the joy she found there. A woman describes her son’s recent temple marriage and her non-member sister’s displeasure with waiting outside. After going through the temple on Saturday, her sister said that she understands completely now why that had to be that way, and she is at peace about it. Other testimonies focus on the open house, with accents from around the world, including the ubiquitous “aboot” pronunciation. But the accents don’t make any difference, for it turns out that the people here are my people . This place is my home after all, for it is a stake of Zion, my place. Best of all, the people with me as we cross the border into the United States of America are my family. And through temples and the ordinances administered there and only there, they are mine for good.