GILBERT, Ariz. — The scenario for the Gilbert Arizona Temple Cultural Celebration March 1 unfolded much as an epic movie script. With a cast of thousands and titled "True to the Faith," its storyline began in Old Testament times and continued with stories from the Book of Mormon, LDS 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."
An unscripted part that added a bit of drama to the program was the weather that affected the outdoor event. This part of Arizona had been without rain for months. That couldn't be said for the evening of the celebration. Leading news reports from mid-week through Saturday led with updates on forecasts for heavy rain. Forecasters were accurate. It rained.
Saturday morning. Skies were cloudy during Saturday afternoon's performance — 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. With just minutes to go 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 performance took place during heavy rain. That presented potential problems since the venue in Discovery Park near the temple serves as a retention basin. An inch of rain there quickly can turn into pools of water. By the time the program ended, water was standing in many parts of the venue.
In offering the invocation, Gilbert Arizona San Tan Stake President Roland B. Derrick noted that people in the area had been praying for rain and expressed gratitude for the moisture.
The program's organizers said that the youth, upon hearing forecasts earlier in the week, made a plea 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.
President Monson waved, applauded and cheered them on.
He 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.
President Eyring 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.
President Eyring 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; and Elder Walker's wife, Vicki.
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. Some had to drop out of participating in sports or other school events. Add to that, no cell phones were allowed on what could be called "the set."