For some time the rumors had been coming in from Salt Lake City, but confirmation of the facts was difficult. Finally, the official word came in a brief telegram signed “Hinckley.” The word spread quickly amongst the members of the Israel Group—“President Lee is definitely coming. The Prophet will be here in the Holy Land.” And so there we were, at the airport, waiting in the VIP room with representatives of the Ministries of Tourism, Foreign Affairs, and Religious Affairs. With fewer than thirty Latter-day Saints in the entire country, the prospects of a meeting with President Harold B. Lee, Elder Gordon B. Hinckley, and President Edwin Q. Cannon, Jr., of the Switzerland Mission—along with their wives—was exciting, to say the least.
President Lee had come to retrace the footsteps of the Savior during a brief trip that took him to several countries and a number of conferences of the Church. President and Sister Cannon had been invited to join the party in Athens and to accompany them (the Switzerland Mission having authority over branches in the Middle East).
I had met President Lee before, as had some of our other members—including group leader David B. Galbraith. But this visit was different, for he now came as the Lord’s anointed. There had been many visits to the Holy Land by General Authorities of the Church since Orson Hyde’s visit in 1841, and several of the present-day leaders of the Church had met with us in our Sacrament meetings. But this was the very first visit of any president of the Church in this dispensation to this land where the head of the Church, our Lord and Master, spent his mortal life.
In the hustle and bustle of the official reception and introductions, I was particularly impressed by the humble spirit displayed by the man for whom all the fuss was being made. Extending his hand he said, simply, “Hello. I’m Brother Lee.”
“Brother Lee”—a simple, yet somehow exalted title. Laying aside his title of president of the Church, he chose to represent himself in his most important role—that of a spirit-child of God, a true brother to all of us. His deference to others was continually displayed in the way he courteously assisted his wife at all times, even when it was inconvenient for himself. At one meal, while we were eating fish, President Lee arose from his place—leaving his own meal to cool—and carefully took the bones from her fish.
During their visits to sites where Jesus had lived and taught, both President Lee and Elder Hinckley were occasionally seen sitting in silent meditation, often with tears in their eyes, as they contemplated the mission of the man who had called them into his service. On several occasions, President Lee tried to play down the activities of the noisy crowds of tourists who poured into the holy places.
We found the President both firm in his convictions and willing to listen to the ideas of others. Brother Galbraith drove the car for President and Sister Lee and Elder and Sister Hinckley, explaining to them many things of interest along the way. On one occasion Sister Lee said, “Dear, I haven’t heard you say a word for the past forty minutes.” To this the President replied, “Darling, I learn much more by listening than by talking.”
Such a great lesson it was, and he taught it not by word but by example, as a true disciple of Christ should. He set the example for us in many ways. One evening, after a long tiring day, President Lee was so bothered by an ailment that it was difficult for him to go to sleep. He called upon Elder Hinckley and President Cannon to give him a blessing, which resulted in great relief. Here indeed is a man who takes the priesthood for what it truly is—a blessing from God to be put to use and not merely hidden away until Sunday morning.
Most impressive to us members was our meeting with three presiding brethren in the Garden Tomb in Jerusalem on September 20. Their strong testimony of Jesus, given in this sacred spot from whence he arose from the dead, moved us to a greater determination to do good. And this being one of the essentials of the calling of a prophet, we can thereby further testify that Harold B. Lee is deserving of that title.
At that time the small group of Saints was officially organized as the Jerusalem Branch, President Cannon calling for the sustaining votes. Brother Galbraith was set apart as branch president by President Lee, and Elder Hinckley set me apart as first counselor. I have received numerous blessings in the Church at the hands of the priesthood but none so inspiring as that given to me on this occasion. Elder Hinckley’s words concerning matters that he could not have known without revelation from the Lord, and the subsequent fulfillment of two specific promises given in that blessing, are additional evidence of the Spirit that guides the leaders of the Church.
I made a deliberate attempt to gain some idea of the reaction of the brethren when the call was made for sustaining votes, and hence looked in President Lee’s direction. I have often sat in conferences of the Church and raised my hand to sustain the prophet of the Lord. But this was the first time I had ever witnessed a prophet raising his hand to sustain me. It was something I’ll never forget, something which, embedded in my memory, will remind me of my responsibilities if ever I hesitate to do that which the Lord requires of me.
Words cannot really express my feelings at spending these several precious hours in the presence of God’s chosen spokesman and his close associates. But somehow I have felt the need to try in order that others may profit in some small measure from the Spirit that was and has remained with us since the Prophet of God visited. I hope that all who read these words will come to appreciate the sincere love and concern of President Harold B. Lee for each member of the Church and for all mankind—a love that makes him most fitting as the channel through which God extends to mankind the means whereby salvation and exaltation may be attained.