When my wife and I were preparing to go to the Lima Peru Temple to be sealed in November of 1996, we tried to gather as many names of our ancestors as possible, knowing the need they had to receive the ordinances of the gospel. It was a marvelous opportunity to sit with our grandmothers and grandfathers, asking about and listening to their stories of those of our family who had already passed through the veil and were now waiting for us.
Because of the number of names that we took with us, we spent the majority of our time in the temple engaged in ordinance work for our very own ancestors. It was a great experience to feel that many of them had been waiting for so many years and to imagine the joy they felt seeing that their long wait had ended. My heart was also filled with joy.
Recently, a stake president shared with me a change that he had noticed in the lives of the members in his stake as they lived the gospel and as they were spending more time working on family history and in the temple. “There is a greater sense of commitment to the Lord,” he told me.
“Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the Kingdom of God.” (John 3:5) Vicarious baptism allows our ancestors this marvelous opportunity that they may never have had before passing through the veil.
In a letter that he wrote more than one hundred and fifty years ago, Joseph Smith said, “The Saints have the privilege of being baptized for those of their relatives who are dead. . . who have received the gospel in the spirit world. . . from those . . . who have been commissioned to preach it.” 2. [sic] And, he added, “Those who neglect working in behalf of their deceased relatives, do it at the peril of their own salvation.” (Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith, 2007, pp. 471-472).
Recently, I had the opportunity to meet Great Aunt Florita Peña, the only living sister of my paternal grandmother. It was an amazing experience to listen to her stories and become familiar with the childhood and youth of my grandmother. These feelings brought me closer to her, even though she is no longer with us. I also had the opportunity of meeting my aunt Irene Fortuna, my paternal grandfather’s only sister. These experiences of taking the time to find, to get to know, and converse with our older relatives open the window of understanding and of the heart so that the promise of Elijah may be fulfilled in us, of turning our hearts toward our fathers: “Behold, the time has fully come, which was spoken of by the mouth of Malachi—testifying that he [Elijah] should be sent, before the great and dreadful day of the Lord come . . . to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the children to the fathers. (D&C 110:14-15)
“No work offers greater protection to the Church than the work of the temple and researching the family history that accompanies it. No work provides a more purifying effect on the spirit; no work that we can undertake gives us greater power; none requires of us a more elevated standard of righteousness.” President Boyd K. Packer, “The Holy Temple,” Liahona, October, 2010, p. 35.
I bear my testimony of the joy one feels searching out our ancestors and then going to the temple to have ordinances performed in their behalf. If we feel joy, we can imagine the joy they are filled with watching us do what they could not do or did not have the opportunity to do for themselves. Jesus Christ is our Savior and Redeemer, and He has prepared a merciful plan so that we may return to His presence through baptism and the other saving ordinances.