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Elder Neil L. Andersen of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles speaks April 2 during the 186th Annual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

"God loves children. He loves all children," Elder Neil L. Andersen of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said during the Saturday afternoon session of general conference.

"We recognize the many good parents across the world, of all faiths, who lovingly care for their children," Elder Andersen said. "And we gratefully acknowledge the families in [the Church] who are wrapped in the care of a father and mother converted to the Savior, who are sealed by the authority of the priesthood, and who are learning in their family to love and trust their Heavenly Father and His Son, Jesus Christ."

Elder Andersen addressed his remarks to the children, youth and young adults who do not come from these 'picture perfect' families. "I speak not only of the youth who have experienced death, divorce, and diminishing faith of their parents, but also of the tens of thousands of young men and young women from all around the world who embrace the gospel without a mother or father to come into the Church with them," he said.

"We will continue to teach the Lord's pattern for families, but now with millions of members, and the diversity we have in the children of the Church, we need to be even more thoughtful and sensitive," Elder Andersen advised. He shared examples from the lives of his friends Bette and Leif who each felt singled out or scared because their parents didn't come to church with them.

Elder Andersen shared some of the testimonies of his friends who were blessed with "believing hearts and spiritual gifts."

"Our friend Veronique said, 'As I learned the principles of the gospel and studied the Book of Mormon, it was as though I was remembering things I had already known but had forgotten.'"

"While a child's earthly situation may not be ideal, a child's spiritual DNA is perfect, because one's true identity is as a son or daughter of God," Elder Andersen said. "Let's open our arms and our hearts a little wider. These youth need our time and our testimonies."

Many youth wait years to be baptized at the request of their parents, Elder Andersen said. For instance, brothers Colten and Preston have not received permission from their parents to be baptized. "Even though they can't pass the sacrament, they bring the bread each week," Elder Andersen said. "The greatest influence on helping our youth feel included, is other righteous youth."

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During a trip to Africa, Elder Andersen and his wife, Kathy, visited Mubji-Maya, Democratic Republic of Congo. At a meeting held outside under large plastic coverings supported by bamboo poles as the chapel wasn't large enough for the 2,000 members, Elder and Sister Andersen noticed dozens of children outside the fence looking in. "Kathy quietly whispered, 'Neil,' do you think that you might want to invite the children to come in?'"

When invited inside, "the children not only came, but came running," Elder Andersen said. "I was deeply moved by this experience and saw it as symbolic our need to reach out to the youth who feel alone, left behind, or outside the fence."

vjohnson@deseretnews.com

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