Easter themes, with an international flair, permeated the final day of the 191st Annual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
A week ago, in a Palm Sunday YouTube message — which has amassed nearly 30 million views — church President Russell M. Nelson invited viewers and listeners to tune in Sunday to all-virtual sessions “filled with Christ-centered messages and music.”
President Dallin H. Oaks, Nelson’s first counselor in the governing First Presidency and conducting the morning session, said the music would feature choirs from around the world singing previously recorded hymns. A troupe from Mexico and a children’s choir from Korea performed two initial songs. An international choir, with participants from a number of nations, also sang.
At Nelson’s request, Oaks said, the morning’s speakers would also have a worldwide flavor. They did, coming from the four corners of the globe.
President Russell Nelson announces 20 new temples and 26th in Utah
Church President Russell M. Nelson closed the conference with plans to build 20 new temples. They will be in:
• Smithfield, which would become Utah’s 26th Latter-day Saint temple.
• Oslo, Norway.
• Brussels, Belgium.
• Vienna, Austria.
• Kumasi, Ghana.
• Beira, Mozambique.
• Cape Town, South Africa.
• Belo Horizonte, Brazil.
• Cali, Colombia.
• Querétaro, México.
• Torreón, México.
• Helena, Mont.
• Casper, Wyo.
• Grand Junction, Colo.
• Farmington, N.M.
• Burley, Idaho.
• Eugene, Ore.
• Elko, Nev.
• Yorba Linda, Calif.
Let gospel principles be your guide, apostle David Bednar counsels
Apostle David A. Bednar discussed the oft-quoted statement by church founder Joseph Smith that he taught members “correct principles and they govern themselves.”
A gospel principle is “a doctrinally based guideline for the righteous exercise of moral agency,” Bednar said. “Principles derive from broader gospel truths and provide direction and standards as we press forward on the covenant path.”
He then outlined several church principles, including the church’s health code known as the Word of Wisdom, teachings about the Sabbath and being willing to “let God prevail.”
Gospel principles “are, for me and you, what a helm is to a ship. Correct principles enable us to find our way and to stand firm, steadfast and immovable,” Bednar said, “so we do not lose our balance and fall in the raging latter-day storms of darkness and confusion.”
Seventy points to the rise of temples
Alan R. Walker, a native of Argentina and a general authority Seventy, recounted flying 6,000 miles with his parents in April 1973 — because “there were no temples in all of Latin America at the time — to be “sealed” to his family in the Salt Lake Temple.
He was just 2 years old at the time, but, he said, he does “clearly remember being in a sacred room of the Salt Lake Temple, where sealings of couples and of families are performed for time and for all eternity.”
He also recalled being sealed in the temple to his wife and attending his daughter’s sealing.
“The ongoing restoration has been marked by the building and dedication of temples at an augmented pace,” Walker said. “As we gather on both sides of the veil, as we make sacrifices to serve and make the temple pivotal in our lives, the Lord is truly building us — He is building his covenant people.”
Covenants help us focus on Christ, apostle D. Todd Christofferson says
Why should anyone commit to the faith’s “covenant path?” asked apostle D. Todd Christofferson.
Some argue that they can “make good choices with or without baptism,” the apostle said. “I don’t need covenants to be an honorable and successful person.”
To some extent, he said, such people “act in a way that mirrors the choices and contributions of those who are on the path.”
What is the difference?
The covenant path includes “the nature of our obedience, the character of God’s commitment to us, the divine help we receive, the blessings tied to gathering as a covenant people, and, most importantly, our eternal inheritance,” Christofferson said. “…With covenants, we are intent on more than just avoiding mistakes or being prudent in our decisions. We feel accountable to God for our choices and our lives. We take upon us the name of Christ.”
Those who follow this path, he said, “are focused on Christ — on being valiant in the testimony of Jesus and on developing the character of Christ. We offer the sacrifice of a broken heart and a contrite spirit.”
God brings light, Seventy says
Timothy J. Dyches of the Quorum of the Seventy recounted a trip he took with his two sons and a church youth group to California’s Moaning Cave, where, “without warning, the lights suddenly went completely out. … When the lights did return, the darkness instantly surrendered, as darkness must always surrender, to even the faintest light.”
Dyches compared that to the way “God grants the light of Christ to every person.” He went on to say that “the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost will lead you to make choices that will tend to keep you in the light. Conversely, choices made without the Holy Ghost’s influence will tend to lead you into shadows and darkness.”
The church leader recalled a tale his grandfather Milo told of being lost in a snowstorm while riding his horse, Prince. The animal refused to go in the direction Milo urged. After a prayer, Milo heard a voice telling him to “give Prince his head,” and the horse led him to safety — Milo had urged him toward a deadly cliff.
“Based on that experience,” Dyches said, “and many others, Grandpa counseled, ‘The best and greatest partner you will ever have is your Father in Heaven.’”
Miracles still happen, apostle Ronald Rasband testifies
Miracles continue in present times, apostle Ronald A. Rasband said Sunday afternoon.
“Miracles, signs and wonders abound among followers of Jesus Christ today, in your lives and in mine,” he said. “Miracles are divine acts, manifestations and expressions of God’s limitless power.”
He said that many people have “witnessed miracles, more than you realize. They may seem small in comparison to Jesus raising the dead. But the magnitude does not distinguish a miracle, only that it came from God.” And they are not, as “some suggest … simply coincidences or sheer luck.”
The apostle recounted an incident this past fall, when he was to participate in a church broadcast from Goshen, a small Utah hamlet where the denomination has built a movie set re-creation of old Jerusalem. There, a wildfire knocked out the power just before the broadcast. He prayed — as did others — and the electricity returned. The show began a few minutes late but continued uninterrupted.
“We were off and running,” Rasband said. “We had experienced a miracle. … The Lord had put forth his hand and the power came on.”
Dallin Oaks expounds on U.S. Constitution
No political party, platform or individual candidate represents all the church’s positions, Dallin H. Oaks, first counselor in the governing First Presidency, said to kick off the final, afternoon session. “We should never assert that a faithful Latter-day Saint cannot belong to a particular party or vote for a particular candidate.”
In fact, Oaks said, in a civic sermon reinforcing a long-held teaching of the church, “there are many political issues, and no party, platform or individual candidate can satisfy all personal preferences.”
“Each citizen must therefore decide which issues are most important to him or her at any particular time,” he said. “Then, members should seek inspiration on how to exercise their influence according to their individual priorities. This process will not be easy. It may require changing party support or candidate choices, even from election to election.”
Members’ independent actions “will sometimes require voters to support candidates or political parties or platforms whose other positions they cannot approve,” said Oaks, who noted his long history as a lawyer, clerk to the chief justice of the United States, and as a justice on the Utah Supreme Court. “That is one reason we encourage our members to refrain from judging one another in political matters.”
Latter-day Saint leaders insist and ask their local leaders to insist as well, he said, “that political choices and affiliations not be the subject of teachings or advocacy in any of our church meetings.”
In a focused exploration of the U.S. Constitution — and a departure from the morning’s international theme — Oaks made several points that reflect current events in the country:
• Latter-day Saint belief that the founding U.S. document is “divinely inspired” does not mean that God “dictated every word and phrase.” Hence, the need for “inspired amendments [that] abolished slavery and gave women the right to vote.”
• Loyalty should be “to the Constitution and its principles and processes, not to any officeholder.”
• The Constitution’s “dignity and force … is reduced by those who refer to it like a loyalty test or a political slogan.”
Faithful Latter-days around the world should “exercise our influence civilly and peacefully within the framework of our constitutions and applicable laws,” Oaks said. “On contested issues, we should seek to moderate and unify.”
Build on your faith, not your doubts, President Russell Nelson urges members
As the concluding speaker Sunday morning, Nelson gave a strongly worded sermon on faith in Jesus Christ.
He opened by acknowledging the pain and suffering of the global pandemic, praising the members’ “resilience and spiritual strength in the face of illness, loss and isolation.”
He celebrated the morning’s inclusion of speakers from “every populated continent on Earth.”
The blessings of the gospel “are for every race, language and people,” he said. “The Church of Jesus Christ is a global church. Jesus Christ is our leader.”
Nelson then added that “even a pandemic has not been able to slow the onward march of his truth.”
It has, however, thwarted proselytizing efforts. Convert baptisms plunged by nearly 50% last year as full-time missionaries had to be released and reassigned due to COVID-19.
No message “is more vital” to human happiness than the “healing, redeeming message of Jesus Christ,” the 96-year-old prophet-president said. “No other message is more filled with hope. No other message can eliminate contention in our society. Faith in Jesus Christ is the foundation of all belief and the conduit of divine power.”
And everything good in life, he said, begins with faith — “every potential blessing of eternal significance begins with faith.
God does not require “perfect faith for us to have access to his perfect power,” Nelson said. “But he does ask us to believe.”
He called on members this Easter morning to start now to boost their faith.
Through faith in Jesus Christ, you will be able “to move the mountains in your life — even though your personal challenges may loom as large as Mount Everest.”
Increasing faith takes work, he said. “Lazy learners and lax disciples will always struggle to muster even a particle of faith.”
Nelson then offered five suggestions on how to do it:
• Study scriptures and church teachings.
• Choose to believe — (“Stop increasing your doubts by rehearsing them with other doubters”).
• Act in faith.
• Partake of sacred ordinances
• Ask God, in the name of Jesus Christ, for help.
Nelson warned his listeners not to “minimize” the faith they already have.
“It takes faith to follow prophets rather than pundits and popular opinion. It takes faith to serve a mission during a pandemic,” he said. “It takes faith to live a chaste life when the world shouts that God’s law of chastity is now outmoded. It takes faith to teach the gospel to children in a secular world. It takes faith to plead for the life of a loved one, and even more faith to accept a disappointing answer.”
Faith in Jesus Christ is “the greatest power available to us in this life,” Nelson concluded. “All things are possible to them that believe.”
Get to really know Christ, Seventy counsels
Philippine native Michael John U. Teh of the Seventy said “that knowing the Savior is the most important pursuit of our lives. It should take priority over anything else.”
And he said that knowing about Jesus Christ and knowing him are two different things.
“As I studied and pondered, I came to the stark realization that what I know about the Savior greatly outweighed how much I really know him,” Teh said. “I resolved then to put forth more effort to know him.”
Going to church once a week isn’t enough, says Seventy
Chi Hong (Sam) Wong of the Quorum of the Seventy, a native of Hong Kong, urged Latter-day Saints to “let God prevail in our lives and not the adversary.” And he urged consistency.
“Some of us may think, ‘The gospel is good, so we need to put it in our lives, maybe once a week,’” Wong said. “Just going to church once a week is not enough to build upon the rock. Our entire lives should be filled with the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
“The gospel is not part of our life,” he added, “but our life is actually part of the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
Wong was called to be a general authority in April 2014. Six months later, he became the first speaker to deliver a General Conference address in a language other English — Cantonese.
See life’s trials as ‘learning experiences,’ Seventy advises
Taniela B. Wakolo, a general authority Seventy who was born in Fiji and serves in the Philippines, addressed the ways in which God shows his love for humanity — through family relationships, through an inspired prophet and through chastening.
During 2020, the Philippines was “severely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as a volcanic eruption, earthquakes, strong typhoons and devastating floods,” Wakolo said. “But, like a pillar of light shining through dark clouds of fear, loneliness, and despair, came the words of the prophet.”
Nelson, a former heart surgeon, called for “worldwide fasting and prayer” and counseled people to “move forward despite the pandemic,” the Seventy said. “He invited us to make our homes personal sanctuaries of faith. He called upon Latter-day Saints everywhere to respect all of God’s children and to let God prevail in our lives.”
Also stirring, he said, was Nelson’s video testimony in November about the power of gratitude.
In 2016, while serving a mission in Little Rock, Ark., Wakolo unexpectedly learned that his older sister, who lived on an island in Fiji, had died 10 days earlier.
“I had self-pity and even felt a little upset that my family did not even bother to let me know,” he said. But his wife assured him that “all these experiences” were for his good and development.
“You have been teaching and sharing your testimony about the atonement of Jesus Christ,” his wife told him. “Now live accordingly.”
He concluded that he would “no longer refer to my challenges as trials and tribulations,” he said, “but as my ‘learning experiences. … And because of [Christ’s] perfect and sinless life, I will no longer refer to my shortcomings and lack of abilities as weaknesses, but rather, as my ‘development opportunities.’”
Keep your eyes on ‘heavenly home,’ Seventy says
José A. Teixeira of the Presidency of the Seventy, a native of Portugal, said that “one of the most important things we can do in this life is to recognize and remember the pathway back to our Heavenly Father.”
He offered “four reminders that, when used and applied consistently in our lives, can rekindle feelings of our heavenly home.”
• “First, we can remember that we are children of God.”
• “Second, we can remember the foundation that protects us.”
• “Third, we can remember to be prayerful.”
• “Fourth, we can remember to serve others.”
Teixeira recounted the story of a Portuguese couple who were forced to abandon their home amid a civil war and said, “We lost everything we had, but it was a good thing because it compelled us to consider the importance of eternal blessings.”
“They lost their earthly home,” Teixeira said, “but they found the way back to their heavenly home.”
Seventy Edward Dube recalls tender moment with apostle
Edward Dube, a Seventy from Zimbabwe, was feeling “overwhelmed and inadequate” in 2012, when he entered his first General Conference leadership meeting.
He did not belong in that group, Dube thought. “A serious mistake had been made.”
Just as he was taking his seat, apostle Jeffrey R. Holland approached him and “tenderly patted” his face.
“I felt like a baby,” the African said. “His love and embrace warmed me up and helped me to feel the spirit of belonging, the spirit of brotherhood.”
The next day, he saw Holland “warmly patting Elder Dallin H. Oaks’ face, who is his senior,” Dube said. “Elder Holland, through his kind, natural actions, helped me to overcome my self-centeredness and my feelings of inadequacy. He helped me to focus on the sacred and joyful work to which I had been called — to bring souls to Christ.”
The Seventy, the third Black leader to speak this conference weekend, recalled a night when his mother suffered terrible pain from cancer.
“As my mother expressed her acceptance of God’s will,” Dube said, “I remembered the reason Jesus Christ suffered in the Garden of Gethsemane and on the cross at Golgotha.”
Recently, he talked with a bishop in Pretoria, South Africa, whose wife and his adult daughter both died from COVID-19.
“Bishop Teddy Thabete’s response strengthened my resolve,” Dube said, “to follow the words and counsel from the Lord’s prophets, seers and revelators.”
Thabete declared that “there is always hope and comfort in knowing that the Savior has taken upon himself the pains of his people, that he may know how to succor us.”
The challenges of mortality “will come to all of us in one way or another,” Dube said. He then encouraged members to focus on the goal of “‘pressing toward the mark’,” which is the prize of the high calling of God.”
Daughter’s death led Dad to Mormonism, says general authority
S. Mark Palmer of the Seventy recalled a family tragedy.
The New Zealander’s parents, who were sheep farmers, were “on holiday together at a lake” when “17-month-old [daughter] Ann toddled off,” and “she was found lifeless in the water. … Dad wrote years later that some of the laughter went out of their lives forever.”
But it “also caused a yearning for answers to life’s most important questions: What will become of our precious Ann? Will we ever see her again? How can our family ever be happy again?’”
His father and the family found their answers after two young Latter-day Saint missionaries came to the family farm.
“Mum instantly recognized truth and received a witness of the spirit,” Palmer said, while his father struggled before he “committed to the Lord.”
“Many years later, Dad told me that if not for Ann’s tragic death, he would never have been humble enough to accept the restored gospel,” Palmer said. “Yet the spirit of the Lord instilled hope that what the missionaries taught was true.”
Women’s leader Reyna Aburto recalls brother lost in quake
Reyna I. Aburto, second counselor in the Relief Society general presidency, said she can empathize with the sorrow and pain felt by Jesus’ followers like Mary Magdalene.
Mary “stayed at the tomb by herself. Only two days before, she had seen the tragic death of her friend and master,” said Aburto, originally from Nicaragua and then from Mexico. “Now his tomb was empty, and she did not know where he was. It was too much for her to take in, and she wept.”
Aburto, the second female speaker this conference weekend, speculated that the Lord “may have allowed Mary Magdalene to grieve and to express her pain,” she said. “He then called her by her name, and she turned to him and recognized him. She saw the resurrected Christ and was a witness of his glorious resurrection.”
When she was 9 years old, Aburto’s brother was killed in an earthquake.
“Because it happened unexpectedly, it took me a while to grasp the reality of what had occurred,” she said. “I was heartbroken by sorrow, and I would ask myself, ‘What happened to my brother? Where is he? Where did he go? Will I ever see him again?’”
That kind of questioning and yearning, she said, is common.
“A few years after, I started thinking of my brother in a specific way. I would imagine him knocking on our door,” Aburto said. “I would open the door, he would be standing there, and he would tell me, ‘I am not dead. I am alive. I could not come to you, but now I will stay with you and never leave again.’”
That “imagining, almost a dream,” the Relief Society counselor said, “helped me cope with the pain that I felt over losing him.”
That thought was “a witness that my brother’s spirit is not dead,” she said. “He is alive.”
Through the “redeeming atonement and glorious resurrection of Jesus Christ, broken hearts can be healed, anguish can become peace, and distress can become hope,” Aburto concluded. “He can embrace us in his arms of mercy, comforting, empowering and healing each of us.”
Apostle Ulisses Soares: We must repent
Brazilian apostle Ulisses Soares hailed the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, but reminded Latter-day Saints that “while through his sacrifice the Savior unconditionally removed the effects of physical death, he did not eliminate our personal responsibility to repent for the sins we commit.”
“My dear friends,” he said, “I testify to you that as we genuinely repent of our sins, we allow the atoning sacrifice of Christ to become wholly effective in our life.”
Soares, the faith’s first Latin American apostle, spoke of a married couple in Brazil who died within four days of each other of COVID-19 complications. Their son, a lay bishop in the church, told him that while “it was so difficult to see my parents depart from this world in that condition,” he could “clearly feel the hand of the Lord in my life amidst that tragedy, because I received strength and peace that transcended my understanding.”
The 62-year-old Soares contracted COVID-19 earlier this year and recovered.