David A. Whitchurch, professor of ancient scripture, addressed a BYU audience Tuesday, Oct. 4, as the devotional speaker. His talk reminded students of the LDS Church’s significant presence in Jerusalem since the Restoration.
Whitchurch and his wife returned in August from a three-year assignment at BYU’s Jerusalem Center for Near Eastern Studies. Whitchurch said the Holy Land had impressed him since his first visit in 1984.
“I felt like I had come home to see a long-lost family member whom I had never met,” Whitchurch said. “I somehow felt connected to a land I had only imagined in my mind, the home of my biblical ancestors and the land where our Savior was born, lived, died and was resurrected.”
This October marks 175 years since Elder Orson Hyde, who spent years as a missionary in Israel, offered a dedicatory prayer in Jerusalem. Whitchurch’s devotional address focused on Hyde’s mission and sacrifices in light of this month’s anniversary.
Hyde needed to fund his mission and asked people to contribute. One anonymous donor provided money and asked the apostle to offer a prayer mentioning him when Hyde reached Jerusalem.
Hyde made good on that promise and prayed for “the stranger in Philadelphia” when offering the dedicatory prayer in Jerusalem.
That stranger was later identified as Joseph Ellison Beck, and Whitchurch invited a direct descendent of both Beck and Hyde to offer the invocation and benediction at his devotional.
Whitchurch said he recently mentioned his devotional address to Eran Hayet, an Israeli and the executive director of the Jerusalem Center.
“(Hayet) told me that 175 years ago Orson Hyde came to Jerusalem to pray over that land,” Whitchurch said. “He said, ‘Tell them we need to continue those prayers today.'”
Whitchurch also explained the process of selecting the site for the current Jerusalem Center. Upon the center’s completion, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland took Teddy Kolleck, then mayor of Jerusalem, on a tour of the of the facility.
Kolleck barely spoke a word until the tour was finished, Whitchurch said, but then called the Jerusalem Center “the most beautiful building built in Jerusalem in recent years.”
The name of Jerusalem means peace, Whitchurch said, so he believes a day will come when there is no more unrest between competing groups of God’s children.
“Brothers and sisters, I envision a day when there will be peace in the Holy City,” Whitchurch said. “For God’s ‘work and glory is to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.'”