In Any Language


On a vacation, I was traveling by ship down the Volga River in Russia, far from any LDS chapel. That Sunday I had planned to read the Book of Mormon alone in my cabin.

My plans changed when I found out the ship was leased for summer tours to a Latter-day Saint family. With permission from their Church leaders, they had scheduled a worship service for LDS passengers, including several Russian Latter-day Saints traveling on the ship. I was asked to bless the sacrament. I wondered if I would bless the sacrament alone and if I would be the only teenager there. I hoped not.

Later that morning when I entered the music salon where the meeting would be held, my anxious heart quieted as I saw other young men in ties and young women in dresses. I looked around for something resembling a sacrament table. To my right, I noticed that a white tablecloth from the dining hall had been spread over the piano bench. The bread and water trays sat on the white linen. The brother who had asked me to bless the sacrament introduced me to a young man.

“This is Sergei,” he said. “He will bless with you.”

Sergei, from Moscow, had just completed his service in the militia. He had met two missionaries in the subway. That eventually led to his baptism.

Dobray Dien!” I said, practicing what little Russian I had learned.

Dobray Dien,” he responded with a chuckle.

Minyah Savoot, William,” I said, introducing myself.

Minyah Savoot, Sergei.”

“Do you speak English?” I asked.

“A little.”

He pulled out a sheet of paper—tattered from use—and unfolded it. It contained LDS religious terms with their definitions. He pointed to the word sacrament as if to communicate our role in the worship service. I nodded. He next pointed to the word bread and then to himself.

“Me?” he asked.

Then he pointed to the word water and then pointed to me, I understood. He would bless the bread. I would bless the water.

Da,” I said in Russian, agreeing with his plan.

The music began, and a young man, Vladimir, led the congregation in “Come, Come, Ye Saints.” The curtains of the room had been drawn aside, and through the windows we saw a panoramic view of Russia’s countryside.

Sergei’s copy of the Book of Mormon was well used. He thumbed through its pages for the sacrament prayer.

We stood and broke the homemade Russian sourdough bread. I could hear the congregation singing “I Stand All Amazed,” half singing in Russian and the other half in English. No one had hymnbooks, so we sang from memory. I was impressed to hear the combination of Russian and English as if our voices were creating a new language.

When the hymn ended, I knelt with Sergei. As we knelt on the floor, I could feel a slight rocking of the ship. The congregation bowed their heads. Sergei began saying the prayer in Russian.

I felt the Spirit of God enter my heart and burn through my chest. Here we were, Sergei and I, on a ship far from our homes and families, two people from different continents and speaking different languages—but feeling the same Spirit. I understood the words he spoke, clearly and peacefully. I felt solemnity fill my mind.

After wiping a few tears from my eyes, I stood with Sergei. We passed the bread trays to three young priesthood holders, who then passed the bread to the congregation.

A few minutes later, I blessed the water in English, saying the prayer with more conviction than ever before. I felt as if I were actually speaking to the Lord. My heart swelled with joy as I said amen and stood to serve the water trays.

That day, Sergei and I had come together to do the Lord’s work. We had blessed the emblems Christ instituted just before his death and sacrifice. Sergei had spoken Russian. I had spoken English. But for all of us who were present, the language spoken was the Spirit.

[photo] Photograph by John Luke