It’s become a Mormon tradition that when a new Mormon temple is built, the teenagers in the area put on a special program before church leaders and huge audiences. It is always a cultural celebration with music and dance traditional to their own culture. When a temple was built in New York City, a very diverse area, each youth group was assigned a culture. When it was time for the Kiev Ukraine Temple celebration in August of 2010, teens from a number of different local countries showed the world their own culture. At the end of the article, you’ll be able to watch a video about the celebration.
Many of the teenagers in the area served by the Kiev Ukraine temple are from small countries. Some of them said they were performing because they wanted the world to know their country existed. Coming from little countries like Belarus, Kazakhstan, Belarus, Bulgaria, Georgia, Romania, and Ukraine, they are very proud of their national heritage, but feel the world may not remember them among all the bigger countries. One teen also said they wanted the prophet to know there was a rising generation he could count on to do the Lord’s work.
Because the church has so few members in these areas, many of the youth are aware that they are pioneers in their country, helping to spread what is a new religion to most of the people in their country. They know their examples will help to decide the future of the church there. This performance was one way they showed their commitment to bringing a new faith to their countries. They dressed in traditional costumes and danced the traditional dances of their cultures. Youth provided the orchestra as well. These were just ordinary teens, not professional performers and for many dancing in public might have been a challenging new experience. However, the prophet came to see their performance and when he clapped, they felt all their hard work had been rewarded.
Many of the teenagers said their testimonies were strengthened during the week they spent at the temple dedication and cultural celebration. For some, it was where they first received a testimony of the truthfulness of the gospel. Although fun, it was also a powerful spiritual experience for them.
The building of a temple in the Ukraine is something of a miracle. The church was organized for missionary work only six years ago. In that time, membership has grown to five thousand people. The first meetinghouse was only dedicated there in June. (There must be enough people in one area to have a meetinghouse built.) The temple will serve a large portion of Eastern Europe, allowing people to attend without having to go so far from home.
A Mormon temple is different from a meetinghouse. A meetinghouse, or chapel, is used for regular Sunday worship services and weekday activities. Anyone can enter these buildings, even if they aren’t Mormons.
The temple is different. Only members of the Church may go there and they must first be interviewed by a church leader to be sure they are living the moral standards of the church and have a testimony. Teenagers can go to the temple once they are twelve, but they can only enter certain parts of it. While they are there, they are baptized on behalf of people who died without having an opportunity to accept the gospel. This does not make those people Mormons and they are not listed on the church records as Mormons.
Mormons believe a loving God would never punish someone for not being a Christian or accepting the gospel when he had never even heard of it. That wouldn’t be fair and God is always fair. They believe if a person dies without that opportunity, God will allow them to be taught the gospel when they die and then they have the choice to accept it or reject it, just as they would have if they’d learned about it on earth. Even if a person knows it is true because he is dead, he might still prefer not to live according to the Savior’s teachings. However, the Bible says a person must be baptized. In the Bible, Paul mentions baptism for the dead in a way that shows the people listening knew about it:
Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all? Why are they then baptized for the dead? (1 Corinthians 15:29.)
They can’t be baptized after they die, so even then, it would not be fair. They would have learned the gospel, accepted Jesus Christ as their Savior, and then not be allowed to have a part in it. Because God loves all His children, even those who have never heard of Him, he prepared a way for this to be taken care of. People twelve and older can go to the temple and be baptized by immersion (being placed completely under water for a moment, as Jesus was) in someone else’s name. They must have already been baptized for themselves, of course, in a regular font in a chapel. It is then recorded that this was done for the person, but they are not made members of the church.
The names come from Mormons who research their own genealogy and turn in the names of their ancestors. Teenagers can help to give their ancestors a very special gift of love by doing this research and then being baptized for their families.
Watch the video below and see how Mormon teenagers in Eastern Europe are celebrating their new temple.