Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints gathered around TVs, radios and computers worldwide as the 191st Annual General Conference began Saturday.
In his welcoming message, President Russell M. Nelson encouraged those listening to prepare themselves and the world for the Second Coming of the Lord.
“Part of the gathering of Israel, and a very significant part, is the charge for us as a people to be worthy and willing to help prepare the world for the Second Coming of the Lord,” Nelson said.
Nelson invited members to pray to identify the debris they should remove from their life so they can become more worthy.
Speakers gave instruction on how to prepare oneself to meet the Savior and how to help and teach their children.
“It is astonishing what we can learn when we look a little closer at our Heavenly Father’s plan of salvation and exaltation, the plan of happiness, for His children,” said Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. “When we feel insignificant, cast off and forgotten, we learn that we may be assured that God has not forgotten us; in fact, that He offers to all His children something unimaginable: to become ‘heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ.’”
“The Savior’s infinite Atonement completely changes the way we may view our transgressions and imperfections. Instead of dwelling on them and feeling irredeemable, we can learn from them and feel hopeful,” Uchtdorf said. “The cleansing gift of repentance allows us to leave our sins behind and emerge a new creature. Because of Jesus Christ, our failures do not have to define us. They can refine us.”
Sister Joy B. Jones, General Primary president, encouraged the essential conversion of children.
“There is a uniquely special time in children’s lives when they are protected from Satan’s influence. It is a time when they are innocent and sin-free. It is a sacred time for parent and child. Children are to be taught, by word and example, before and after they have ‘arrived unto the years of accountability before God.’”
“We cannot wait for conversion to simply happen to our children,” Jones said. “Accidental conversion is not a principle of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Becoming like our Savior will not happen randomly.
“Being intentional in loving, teaching and testifying can help children begin at a young age to feel the influence of the Holy Ghost. The Holy Ghost is essential to our children’s testimony of and conversion to Jesus Christ; we desire them to ‘always remember him, that they may have his Spirit to be with them.’”
Brother Jan E. Newman, Second Counselor in the Sunday School General Presidency, addressed teaching in the Savior’s way and in importance of the church curriculum Come, Follow Me.
“First and foremost, take it upon yourself to learn all you can about the Master Teacher Himself,” Newman said. “How did He show love for others? What did they feel when He taught? What did He teach? What were His expectations of those He taught? After you explore questions like these, evaluate and adjust your way of teaching to be more like His.”
Newman noted the Come, Follow Me lessons have been a miracle with families. He shared several examples of family successes.
“The introduction to Come, Follow Me gives a vision of what Christlike teaching can accomplish,” Newman said. “’The aim of all gospel learning and teaching,’ it says, ‘is to deepen our conversion to Jesus Christ and help us become more like Him.”
Newman added, “The kind of gospel learning that strengthens our faith and leads to the miracle of conversion doesn’t happen all at once. It extends beyond the classroom into an individual’s heart and home.”
Elder Gary E. Stevenson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles spoke of knitting hearts together and to stop doing things that would alienate anyone from Christ and his teachings.
“The Lord expects us to teach that inclusion is a positive means towards unity and that exclusion leads to division,” Stevenson said.
“Hearts can be knit together, but there are things that get in our path to hinder us,” he said.
Speaking to the teenagers of the church about bullying, Stevenson said, “Anxiety, depression and worse are often the companion of bullying.”
“While bullying is not a new concept, social media and technology have brought bullying to a new level. It becomes a more constant, ever-present threat — cyberbullying,” Stevenson said.
“Clearly, the adversary is using this to hurt your generation. There is no place for this in your cyberspace, neighborhoods, schools, quorums or classes. Please do all you can to make these places kinder and safer,” Stevenson said.
“If you passively observe or participate in any of this, I know of no better advice than that previously given by Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf: ‘When it comes to hating, gossiping, ignoring, ridiculing, holding grudges or want to cause harm, please apply the following: Stop it!’ Did you hear that? Stop it! As you extend yourself with kindness, care and compassion, even digitally, I promise that you will lift up arms that hang down and will heal hearts.”
Elder Gerrit W. Gong of The Quorum of the Twelve Apostles spoke of being like the Good Samaritan and making sure there is room in our inn for Christ and others.
“As our hearts change and we receive His image in our countenance, we see Him and ourselves in His church. In Him, we find clarity, not dissonance. In Him, we find cause to do good, reason to be good and increasing capacity to become better. In Him, we discover abiding faith, liberating selflessness, caring change and trust in God.”
“In His Inn, we find and deepen our personal relationship with God our Father and Jesus Christ. He trusts us to help make the Inn the place He needs it to be. As we offer our talents and best efforts, His spiritual gifts also strengthen and bless,” Gong added.
“The Good Samaritan promises to return. Miracles occur as we care for each other in His name,” Gong said. “When we who feel rejected, with sorrow or grief, come with broken hearts and contrite spirits, we find voice in Jesus Christ, encircled in His understanding arms of safety.”
Gong added, “Sacred ordinances offer covenant belonging and the power of godliness to sanctify inner intent and outward action. With His lovingkindness and longsuffering, His Church becomes our Inn.”
Closing the Saturday morning session, President Henry B. Eyring, Second Counselor in the First Presidency, spoke of the blessings of the temple.
“On the outside of our temples, we place the words 'Holiness to the Lord.' I know for myself that those words are true. The temple is a holy place where revelation comes to us easily if our hearts are open to it and we are worthy of it,” Eyring said.
“I know that temples of the Lord are holy places. My purpose today in speaking of temples is to increase your desire and mine to be worthy and ready for the increased opportunities for temple experiences that are coming for us.”
The Saturday afternoon session began with a plea from Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, that as we live with war, pain, anxiety and other discomforts to turn to Christ for peace.
“Brothers and sisters, we do see too much conflict, contention and general incivility around us,” Holland said. “Fortunately, the current generation has not had a Third World War to fight, nor have we experienced a global economic crash like the one in 1929 leading to a Great Depression. But we are facing a kind of Third World War that is not a fight to crush our enemies, but a conscription marshaling the children of God to care more about each other and to help heal the wounds we find in a world so conflicted.”
“The Great Depression we now face has less to do with the external loss of our savings and more to do with the internal loss of our self-confidence, with real deficits of faith, hope and charity all around us,” Holland said.
"But the instruments we need to create a brighter day and grow an economy of genuine goodness are abundantly provided for in the gospel of Jesus Christ. We cannot afford — the world cannot afford — our failure to put these gospel concepts and fortifying covenants to full use personally and publicly.”
Elder Jorge T. Becerra of the Seventy, who prerecorded his message, spoke of ministering to others and the importance of the one person who may need a hand up.
“As we minister, we should be led by revelation to those who are most in need, as opposed to just going down a list or visiting individuals in a methodical way. We should be led by the power of inspiration,” Becerra said.
“Hence, in each ward and branch we need everyone — those who may be strong and those who are struggling. All are necessary and vital to the edification of the entire 'body of Christ' (1 Cor 12:27). I often wonder who we are missing in our various congregations that would strengthen us and make us whole.”
Infuriating unfairness was addressed by Elder Dale G. Renlund of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.
“Some unfairness cannot be explained; inexplicable unfairness is infuriating. Unfairness comes from living with bodies that are imperfect, injured or diseased. Mortal life is inherently unfair,” Renlund said. “Some people are born in affluence, others are not. Some have loving parents, others do not. Some live many years, others few. And on and on and on. Some individuals make injurious mistakes even when they are trying to do good. Some choose not to alleviate unfairness when they could.”
Distressingly, some individuals use their God-given agency to hurt others when they never should. Different types of unfairness can merge, creating a tsunami of overwhelming unfairness, Renlund said.
"For instance, the COVID-19 pandemic disproportionately affects those who already are subject to multifactorial, underlying disadvantages. My heart aches for those who face such unfairness, but I declare with all my aching heart that Jesus Christ both understands unfairness and has the power to provide a remedy,” Renlund said. “Nothing compares to the unfairness He endured. It was not fair that He experienced all the pains and afflictions of mankind. It was not fair that He suffered for my sins and mistakes and for yours. But He chose to do so because of His love for us and for Heavenly Father. He perfectly understands what we are experiencing.”
From before a person is born, they are on a personal journey, said Elder Neil L. Andersen, of the Quorum of the Twelves Apostles.
”Each person who comes to earth is a unique son or daughter of God. Our personal journey did not begin at birth. Before we were born, we were together in a world of preparation where we ‘received [our] first lessons in the world of spirits,’” Andersen said.
“Jehovah told Jeremiah, ‘Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee.’ Some may question if life begins with the formation of an embryo, or when the heart begins to beat, or when the baby can live outside of the womb. But for us, there is no question that spirit daughters and sons of God are on their own personal journeys coming to earth to receive a body and experience mortality.”
Andersen spoke the importance of life and the sorrow of abortion.
“Let us share our deep feelings about the sanctity of life with those who make decisions in society. They may not fully appreciate what we believe, but we pray that they will more fully understand why, for us, these decisions go well beyond just what a person wants for his or her own life,” Andersen said.
“May we always remember that each spirit child of God is coming to earth on his or her own personal journey. May we welcome them, safeguard them and always love them.”
Elder Thierry K. Mutombo, of the Seventy, also prerecorded his message of following Christ.
“When we choose to follow Christ, we choose to be changed. ... A man changed for Christ will be captained by Christ, and we will be asking as Paul did, ‘Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?’ (Acts 9:6). We will ‘follow his steps’ (1 Peter 2:21). We will ‘walk, even as he walked’ (1 John 2:6)."
Closing the afternoon session was President M. Russell Ballard, acting president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.
He spoke of loneliness within the church, particularly to the singles, widows, widowers and those who have never been married.
“I have experienced this loneliness since the death of my precious wife, Barbara, over two years ago. I know what it is to be surrounded by family members, friends and associates but still feel lonely — because the love of my life is no longer here beside me. The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted this sense of isolation and loneliness for many,” Ballard said.
“Nevertheless, despite the challenges we face in life, like that first Easter morning, we can awake to a new life in Christ with new and marvelous possibilities and new realities as we turn to the Lord for hope and belonging.”
“I speak of hope in Christ not as wishful thinking,” Ballard said. “Instead, I speak of hope as an expectation that will be realized. Such hope is essential to overcoming adversity, fostering spiritual resilience and strength, and coming to know that we are loved by our Eternal Father and that we are His children who belong to His family.