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Capping a series of Church News articles on the COVID-19 pandemic, President Nelson and his counselors in the First Presidency — President Dallin H. Oaks and President Henry B. Eyring — reflected on the pandemic that caused illness and death, stifled economies, altered missionary assignments, closed schools, and curtailed Church meetings and daily routines across the globe.
“What I feel about the pandemic is sorrow,” said President Nelson, speaking of those worldwide facing dire circumstances or disappointment. Then he added: “I’ve learned that even through clouds of sorrow, there can be silver linings found.”
President Oaks explained, “We prefer to look on COVID-19 as an opportunity for the righteous to grow.”
The “crucial thing,” added President Eyring, is to “connect with God” — to have the feeling that “God is walking with you. It is a feeling of trusting in the Lord, that He is watching over you. … The only way to deal with fear is faith.”
President Nelson, President Oaks and President Eyring said Church leaders saw what needed to be done and responded with “unprecedented action” — suspending meetings, closing temples and directing the return of thousands of missionaries to their home countries. As circumstances allowed and opportunities arose, they also found ways for members to safely gather, for temple work to be performed, and for missionaries to safely share the gospel message.
Timeline: How the Church has responded to the global COVID-19 pandemic
Peace in Difficult Times through Faith
President Oaks stated, “The principles we want our members to understand about COVID-19 and dealing with COVID-19 are the same fundamentals of faith and obedience that our Church leaders have always taught our members.”
Quoting John 14:27, President Oaks emphasized the Lord’s promise to those who suffer: “My peace I give unto you, not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.”
With this confidence, Latter-day Saints have taken advantage of opportunities over the past six months to increase their focus on service, embrace home-centered worship, and complete family history work.
“I’ve learned how marvelous our members are,” said President Nelson. “Individual heroes have emerged. For example, countless health care professionals and providers have risked their own lives to care for others.”
In addition, President Nelson noted that the home is now “reenthroned as the primary sanctuary of their faith,” missionaries “are teaching more than ever,” and Latter-day Saint voluntary fast offering and humanitarian aid contributions have increased.
Church members, said President Eyring, “surprise you by how well they adapt and move through difficult times.”
In the Book of Mormon, Lehi taught his son Jacob to remember the greatness of God, who “will consecrate thine afflictions, for thy gain” (2 Nephi 2:2). President Oaks explained: “That scriptural principle applies to what we’re going through in COVID-19 … It would be a true principle to say that when faith is tested and when we respond, faith grows.”
Church members, added President Eyring, cannot see the end but are going forward with faith that the Lord “has set us on the path and it will be wonderful.”
Gathering, Teaching, and Ministering
During the past six months, the First Presidency has most missed regular and personal contact with Church members worldwide.
“The scriptures tell us to gather together to worship,” said President Oaks. Leaders look forward to the time members can again assemble in large groups, “even though we cherish the ways that have been authorized and promoted to carry on when we can’t gather together.”
Until then, some of the spiritual power of gathering has been duplicated with technology, said President Eyring.
“We are grateful for the technology that has allowed us to continue to communicate with our members and to allow our leaders to do the same,” said President Oaks. “And we appreciate the faithful way that our members have continued to teach and minister by a variety of means during this time.”
Church Leaders Encourage Prudence and Endurance
President Nelson, President Oaks and President Eyring said Church leaders continue to respond to the pandemic in ways that are prudent. They are taking all the steps necessary to protect those around them, noting that high-risk members were taken into account when decisions have been made about gathering and temple work.
“I am avoiding the situations which are obviously dangerous,” said President Eyring. “I am trying as much as I can to do everything not to be the one who exposes others.”
Church leaders worry about the physical, financial, and emotional effects of COVID-19. “I ache when I think of the number of Latter-day Saints who because of the pandemic are in real difficulty,” said President Eyring.
President Oaks said much can be learned by reflecting on the suffering of the Prophet Joseph Smith: “He was in Liberty Jail, and he had been imprisoned, was faced with a possible death sentence, while his wife and children and the Saints were being driven out of Missouri in the middle of the winter. He pleaded with the Lord to relieve the Saints and to give some relief from this situation.”
The Lord’s reply is recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 121:7-8: “My son, peace be unto thy soul; thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment; And then, if thou endure it well, God shall exalt thee on high; thou shalt triumph over all thy foes.”
Endurance, said President Oaks, is part of the challenge, “But peace and exaltation are the promised effects of keeping commandments and trusting in the Lord.”
The Way Forward
Although he could, President Nelson — a surgeon with medical and scientific expertise — is not speculating on what will happen with the pandemic. Instead, he is gathering the best information, seeking inspiration from the Lord, and moving forward with deliberateness.
“God is in His Heaven,” said President Eyring. “This is the true Church of Jesus Christ … both Heavenly Father and the Savior are guiding us and protecting us. And if we can rely on Them, all will be well.”
The way forward is clear, President Oaks added, quoting Proverbs 3:5-6: “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.”
President Nelson said: “We are not through with revelation or with the Restoration. The Lord will accomplish many wonderful things before He comes again.”
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