In Any Language

by William Powley

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    His English was not much better than my Russian. But that’s okay. We found a more powerful way to communicate.

    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.

    Later that morning when I entered the music salon where the meeting would be held, my anxious heart rested 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 a white tablecloth from the dining hall had been spread over the piano bench. The bread and water trays sat on the white linen. Brother Wakefield, who had asked me to bless the sacrament, introduced me to a young man about two inches taller than I am.

    “This is Sergei,” Brother Wakefield 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 small white sheet of paper—tattered and used—and unfolded it. It was a definition sheet of LDS religious terms. He pointed to the word sacrament as if to communicate our role in the worship service. I nodded. With a concerned look, he then pointed to the word bread and he pointed to himself.

    “Me, bread?” he asked.

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

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

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

    Sergei’s copy of the Book of Mormon was well used, and it excited me that he had been reading his Russian scriptures. He thumbed through the Book of Mormon 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 on the floating ship. Our knees rested on the floor, and 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, on a ship far from our homes and families, Sergei and I were two people the same age, from different continents, speaking different languages, and 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 and 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.

    Photography by John Luke