Several years ago I traveled to a small Romanian village as a volunteer for a humanitarian organization. On my second morning there, a Sunday, I was awakened by a symphony of bells pealing from the many church towers that dotted the town. I arose and opened the window of my small hotel room, which looked out onto the town square. It was a beautiful spring morning, and the townspeople were dressed in their Sunday best, making their way through the narrow streets toward one of the churches for morning service. I knew little about the local religions and spoke almost no Romanian, but being far from any Latter-day Saint branch, I felt a sudden, strong desire to share in the sweet spirit I was certain I would find within any one of these humble churches. Even if I couldn’t understand what was being said, at least I could listen to the songs being sung and feel the spirit of the people through their music.
I dressed quickly and strode across the town square toward the nearest church. The service was already in progress, so I crept through the rear door and seated myself in an empty pew in the back. This was a cavernous chapel with a large congregation of about 200, in addition to a wonderful youth choir that was singing hymns. I basked blissfully in the sweet spirit I had come seeking.
As I sat there, absorbing with appreciation that universal language which is music, my reverie was suddenly interrupted by a man in a suit who was standing above me and holding out his hand. I was confused by this but even more perplexed by the unnerving realization that the members of the congregation were all turning in their seats to look back at me and this man. He took me by the hand and smilingly escorted me to the front of the chapel, where he spoke in a loud voice to the congregation, gesturing all the while toward me. I was a new sheep to their fold, and it seemed they wanted to know something about me. This fellow finally turned and spoke directly to me in Romanian, then appeared to await my response. With a few simple words of English and even fewer and simpler of Romanian, I managed to convey to the man that I was from America and could not speak their language—a fact that quickly became obvious to everyone.
With this news, I became their guest of honor for the remainder of the service. I was promptly seated in the center of the front-row pew and given a somewhat tattered English Bible. I was feeling uncomfortably conspicuous but still smiled gratefully, thanking the church members for their kind attentions with what few Romanian words I knew. The two dozen youth in the choir seemed to enjoy having a special guest to perform for, and they sang even louder, beaming at me all the while; a few of them even waved discreetly at me between numbers. I understood none of the preaching or readings delivered from the pulpit, but the man next to me took it upon himself to painstakingly look up for me in my English Bible whichever passage was being discussed. Fortunately the meeting was also interspersed with many choir songs, which had been my reason for coming in the first place.
Toward the end of the meeting, the man in the suit handed me a small, folded piece of paper. I opened the note and read the few scrawled words of English with growing trepidation: “Do you have a song for us?”
The man looked at me expectantly. Indeed, the whole congregation seemed to be waiting with an air of anxious anticipation. In my startled panic, I blurted out the only Romanian word I could think of—“Da!”—which means, unfortunately, “Yes!”
With this, I was ushered promptly and somewhat ceremoniously to the pulpit. Now, I am no great singer by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, previously I would have deemed it utterly impossible to be coaxed into singing a solo for anyone, let alone an audience of 200. But there I stood before these parishioners with curious, upturned eyes and unsuspecting ears.
I had not given a thought to my Primary music leader in years, but standing there before that microphone, palms sweating and knees trembling, I gained a sudden and profound gratitude for her and her tireless efforts to teach us youngsters all those Primary songs so many years ago. One of those blessed songs from Primary popped into my head, and I began to sing from a long-distant memory:
As I have loved you,
Love one another.
This new commandment:
Love one another.
By this shall men know
Ye are my disciples,
If ye have love
One to another.
(“Love One Another,” Hymns, no. 308)
When I finished, there was a hushed reverence over the entire congregation. My technical performance had been unspectacular, to say the least, and the members of the congregation had doubtless understood few if any of my words. But the simple truth and tender spirit of the music seemed to have touched them, just as theirs had touched me.
As I walked back to my seat, I felt awash in the love and warmth which all true followers of Christ can share, even when beliefs and languages differ. The experience became a precious memory that I will long treasure.