A few nights ago I had the privilege of going with the young men and women from our ward to the L.A. Temple for a night of performing baptisms for the dead. It was an awesome trip. I drove 6 of the young men with me -- boys between 13 and 17 -- on the quick drive down to the temple.
Nobody had a "real" camera, so I ended up taking pictures with my DroidX, which has an 8 mega-pixel camera on it. (Still absolutely love it. You want one, you know it.) Here's the result (click for full-size picture):
After that, we went inside to perform the baptisms. Two of the youth had a whole pile of names that they wanted to be done, which were supplied to them by their loco-for-genealogy grandmother. I ran the names upstairs to have the cards printed for them, and returned with a stack of roughly 60 cards that were relatives of these two youth.
One of the counselors from the temple presidency came down to the baptistry and told us a story. He explained that an uncle of his was nothing short of a villain, and how when he, the temple presidency member, had joined the church he firmly believed that nobody would want this man's temple work done because, frankly, everybody believed he was going to hell anyway. He then explained that he eventually came to realize that those who never had the opportunity to hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ in this life have the opportunity to do so in the next, and that the baptisms we do in the temple afford those who have heard that Gospel and accepted it in the hereafter an opportunity to receive the saving ordinance of baptism for themselves.
Once he finally came to this understanding, he himself did the work for this villainous family member, and had an exceptionally moving spiritual experience where he felt that his uncle had accepted the Gospel and was so very grateful for the opportunity to have his sins washed away. He reminded us that we here on Earth are not to act as the judges of people's hearts and minds, and that that privilege is reserved only for the Savior. It is our obligation to do the work and make those opportunities available for those on the other side, and allow the infinite Atonement of the Savior to work.
It was a great story, and the youth seemed to understand that the names for which they would be doing the ordinances weren't just names on a piece of paper, but rather names of actual people who have passed away, who had lived lives with experiences both good and bad that we can't begin to guess at.
After this, several of the men who were with us took some of the youth to do confirmations, and I went to the baptismal font with several others to help the youth actually be baptized. We started with those who had brought the names, and it was a great experience for them (and for those of us who were there). The man who was in the font did a great job with each of them, explaining how to stand and how to go all the way under the water appropriately, and took his time with each of the youth.
I recorded that the ordinances for each name had been performed, while two others acted as witnesses that the ordinances had been performed properly. The experience was great for each of the kids, who seemed happy to be there. For a few of the youth, it was their first opportunity to do baptisms for the dead, and for others, they were well-familiar with how things went. Several of them seemed honestly moved to be there, and I was pleased to find out that some of them had prepared themselves to have a spiritual experience by fasting throughout the day.
When all was said and done, each of the 23 youth had been baptized and confirmed for about 10 people for each ordinance, including those 60 or so relatives from the youth who had their own family names to do.
As we separated to go home, each of the drivers selected someplace to go for dinner with the boys. For me and my car full of ravenous teenage boys, they wanted to go to Souplantation for dinner because they wanted all-you-can-eat. It took us 20 minutes to get there, and then they all concluded that $10 was too much for them to pay for dinner. So, we made our way over to In-N-Out -- another 20 minutes -- for burgers and fries. We went through the drive-through, which worked well, but the timing wasn't so good for one of the young men in my van, who was diabetic and had elected to fast that day (which didn't go well). Unfortunately, there wasn't anything I could do to help him, except to get him home as quick as I could, which didn't go well due to the excessive traffic.
Despite the difficulty in getting home, I have confidence that, at least for those in my van, the experience was a great one, and I am very grateful that I had the ability to be a part of it.