He had just attended the centennial celebration of the Juárez Academy in Colonia Juárez and was on his way to the airport to return to Salt Lake City.
“As we were riding to El Paso, I reflected on what we could do to help these people in the Church colonies in Mexico,” said president Hinckley in a Church News interview in 1998. “They’ve been so very faithful over the years. They’ve kept the faith. They’ve gone on missions in large numbers. These stakes have produced very many mission presidents who served faithfully and well. They’ve been the very epitome of faithfulness. And yet, they’ve had to travel all the way to Mesa, Arizona to go to a temple.” “I thought of these things and what could be done,” he explained. “The concept of these smaller temples came into my mind.”
“I concluded we didn’t need the laundry. We didn’t need to rent temple clothing. We didn’t need eating facilities. These have been added for the convenience of the people, but are not necessary for the temple ordinances.”
President Hinckley explained that all the necessary features of a temple could be incorporated into a smaller structure, that could be constructed in a relatively short period of time.
Once on the airplane, President Hinckley put his ideas onto paper. “I took a piece of paper and sketched out the [floor] plan, and turned it over to the architects to refine it. The concept is beautiful,” he said. “It’s a very workable concept.”
A miracle and a blessing
Four months later, during the October Conference of 1997, president Hinckley announced the concept of smaller temples and the ambitious goal to double the number of operational temples from 50 to 100 in only three years by the year 2000. Not only was the realization of these announcements a miracle, but president Hinckley’s inspired concept also proved to be a great blessing to members of the Church worldwide.
“This seems to be just the beginning,” Truman G. Madsen explained. “Our access to temples will dramatically increase with these many new temples. In this amazing multiplication, temple dedications will no longer be rare. They may still be once in a lifetime, but now that glorious experience will happen to Latter-day Saints all over the world.” (The Temple: Where Heaven Meets Earth, p. 44-45).
In October 2008 Elder William R. Walker, executive director of the Temple Department and a member of the First Quorum of Seventy, declared: “Eighty-two percent of the members live within 200 miles of a temple worldwide, which is essentially within about three hours of ground transportation.” That means that four of every five church members throughout the world can visit a temple and return home in the same day. (Article of October 3, 2008 on the KSL Newsradio website).