To Fill the World

Many miracles happen as we watch the work of the Lord unfold

Joseph Smith Statue

At a priesthood meeting in 1834 the Prophet Joseph Smith said: “It is only a little handful of Priesthood you see here tonight, but this Church will fill North and South America—it will fill the world” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith [2007], 137). Today, Church membership of approximately 17 million in relation to world population is much less than one percent. It could be argued that this prophesy has not yet been fulfilled.

The World

The prophet Nephi, who saw our time in vision, wrote: “And it came to pass that I beheld the church of the Lamb of God, and its numbers were few, because of the wickedness and abominations of the whore who sat upon many waters; nevertheless, I beheld that the church of the Lamb, who were the saints of God, were also upon all the face of the earth; and their dominions upon the face of the earth were small, because of the wickedness of the great whore whom I saw” (1 Nephi 14:12; emphasis added).

Writing on gold plates

These two prophesies may seem contradictory, but they are not mutually exclusive. Joseph Smith did not give a time period for his prediction. In the meantime, Nephi’s words are coming to pass as Church members are few in relation to world population but found all over the earth. It is amazing how the Church is fulfilling its mandate to take the restored gospel to “every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people” (Doctrine and Covenants 133:37).

World map

One example of filling the world

Some nations have not allowed the Church to establish a presence, but over the years the Church has prevailed, often in miraculous ways. The Soviet Union is an example. An essay written by Arnold K. Garr and interviews with Steven R. Mecham provide the basis for the following account (see endnotes):

It was June 19, 1987, and Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles was setting Brother [Steven] Mecham apart as president of the Finland Helsinki Mission. In that blessing Elder Nelson told President Mecham that he would open missionary work in Russia and the Baltic States . . . The promise was . . . astounding because . . . the Soviet Union had suppressed religious activity for decades, and most Latter-day Saints felt that the likelihood of the Church going into these nations was remote . . . if not impossible . . . Yet the promise would be fulfilled sooner than most people thought possible.

In 1990 missionary work had tentatively begun in Estonia, one of the three Baltic states. On January 26 of that year, President Mecham and others traveled from Helsinki to Tallinn to meet with the Estonian minister of religion, Ants Liimets, to determine what was needed for the Church to gain legal recognition. Over the months that followed, President Mecham and Ants Liimets became friends. The latter even attended several sacrament meetings in Tallinn.

President Nelson
President Russell M. Nelson

On April 25, 1990 Elder Russel M. Nelson dedicated Estonia for the preaching of the gospel. At that time, another meeting was held with Ants Liimets, who assured Church leaders that their application of recognition would soon be approved. However, after several weeks went by with no word about the approval, President Mecham received a phone call from Salt Lake City asking about the delay. That evening he prayed for help in getting the recognition.

Around midnight, he got a panic call from Ants Liimets, who was stranded in Helsinki. Liimets had attended a conference in that city and could not return home to Tallinn as Mikhail Gorbachev had closed all the Baltic ports in retaliation for the Baltic states’ “rebelliousness.” President Mecham and his wife Donna immediately jumped in the Saab and drove down to the harbor. They took the relieved minister to the mission home, where he thoroughly enjoyed “Mormon” hospitality for several days.

Temples of the world map

Before leaving for home, Liimets said that staying at the mission home had been a “grand experience” and promised that he would personally do all that he could to walk those papers through and to be there when recognition was given. Liimets kept his promise and on June 29, 1990 The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was granted official status in Estonia, the first such recognition in the Soviet Union.

How Estonia granted the Church legal status is only one of many such examples of divine intervention bringing about the fulfillment of the prophesy that the fledgling Church would spread throughout the world to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people. For example, when I joined the Church in 1957 there were only ten Latter-day Saint temples, all but two of them in North America.

Daniel dream interpretation

In a BYU talk, Elder Jack N. Gerard of the Seventy asked rhetorically, “Do you think the Saints who endured unspeakable adversity crossing the plains could have supposed that their sacrifice would lead to temples dotting the earth?” (Jack N. Gerard, “Could We Have Supposed?” [Brigham Young University devotional, March 17, 2020],

Who indeed! As of April 2024 there are 350 operating, under construction or announced temples. Many of them, to repeat the title of a popular song of my youth, are in far away places with strange sounding names: Mbuji-Mayi, Antananarivo, Ulaanbaatar, Bengaluru, Dubai, and so forth.

Nephi’s prophesy that the gospel would be found upon all the face of the earth has surely come to pass in preparation for Joseph’s prophesy that it would eventually fill the world.



Arnold K. Garr, “Mormon Pioneers in Communist Estonia” [essay], 1989-1990.

Steven R. Mecham interviews and dictation: Salt Lake City, Utah, 1991-1994; Call Number: OH 1190 in the Church History Library.