Editor's note: Deseret News and Church News writers are chronicling the ministry of LDS Church President Russell M. Nelson as he and other church officials travel to Europe, Africa and Asia during the next two weeks. Tad Walch reports today from London.
LONDON — Sacha Winters had not been actively attending church when she had a miscarriage more than a year ago, but her Mormon bishop, other leaders and some local missionaries came to see her and offer comfort.
"They helped us get back to church," Winters said. "There was a transition period there where they really supported us and helped us get back to the temple, where I felt so much peace."
On Thursday, Winters and her family of five met new LDS Church President Russell M. Nelson during his global tour's first stop, when he shared more information about the ministering concept he unveiled two weeks ago during the last general conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
"I just want to cry, I feel so overwhelmed. It's so surreal," said an emotional Winters, who now teaches Sunday School. "We came back to the church last year and our children were baptized. It just seems impossible. I just felt his love and I just know that he's ordained of God. It's such an honor."
In an interview, President Nelson also explained why he decided to make his first international trip as the church's leader now and why he selected some of the eight countries on the tour. Then he hinted at another trip in the future.
"The Lord’s message is for everyone," he said. "This is a global work. Whenever I'm comfortably situated in my home, I'm in the wrong place. I need to be where the people are. We need to bring them the message of the Savior."
He said he chose London as the starting point because of its international diversity.
"It's a melting pot, and ours is a global ministry, so at least we can get a sample," he said. "Most of the nations of the world are here in London."
Some 750 people began to arrive more than two hours before Thursday night's meeting with President Nelson at the historic Hyde Park Chapel. They stood in a line that stretched down Exhibition Road past London's landmark Victoria and Albert Museum while a single protester yelled at them.
Earlier in the day, President Nelson met briefly with four families and presided at a conference for all missionaries in the United Kingdom and Ireland.
Jerusalem is next on his itinerary because of its significance as the place of Jesus Christ's birth, life, death and resurrection.
"We felt that was where we wanted to be rooted," he said. "Then we’ll go from there to parts of Africa and Asia."
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and Sister Patricia Holland participated with President and Sister Wendy Nelson throughout the day.
"Their hope and their dream," Elder Holland said, "literally and figuratively, is to reach out to the world to show the internationalization of the church and the growth of the church. Our role is to sustain them in that."
President Nelson said he expected to continue his travels.
"No matter where we would go, we would neglect more than we'd serve," he said, "but we’ll do all we can do in two weeks, and we'll go home and rest for a while, then tackle another journey."
This journey kicked off Thursday with brief media interviews and short visits with families in the Hyde Park building's lobby. Then 169 missionaries from the England London Mission greeted him by singing "We Thank Thee O God for a Prophet."
Then the Nelsons and Hollands shook hands with every missionary. Sister Megan Bain of Sandy, Utah, said she'd been advised to look into their eyes during the moment she shook their hands and told them her name and hometown.
"I made sure to do that," Bain said. "I saw light and love, in both Elder Holland’s and President Nelson’s eyes. Warm smiles, as well."
Then, in a crisp blue suit, blue vest and blue-and-white striped tie, President Nelson addressed the mission conference, joined by five other missions via broadcast. He gave them tips on missionary work. One was to ask people the names of their great-grandparents, then connect them to the family history specialists in local congregations.
Sister Nelson told the missionaries that many of the ancestors of the people they teach have accepted Christ after death and are cheering for the missionaries to reach their descendants. She told them to imagine 100 to 1,000 people surrounding them as they teach, pulling for them.
Elder Holland's mission to London as a 19-year-old changed him forever. He hoped all missionaries felt the same about their missions.
"The location doesn’t matter," he said. "It is the experience of the service, and of the sacrifice, yes, the Spirit, the revelation, the leadership that we receive."
One missionary was absent. Sister Anne Nicole Balgue of the Philippines had the chicken pox. Elder Holland mentioned her by name during the meeting and blew her a symbolic kiss.
Sister Holland taught the missionaries to engage occasionally in deeper prayer.
The evening meeting was broadcast to tens of thousands in meetinghouses in 47 stakes and districts in the United Kingdom and Ireland.
President Nelson returned to the ministering concept, which replaced the LDS program of home and visiting teaching. He revealed that church leaders considered the term "shepherds" instead of ministering but felt shepherds would be too easily misunderstood.
"We are to be ministers among our fellow men," he said. "How are you going to do that? Just the way Jesus would, that's all. You find someone who is having a bad day or is lonely or afraid, feeling unwanted or unloved. We're going to take care of them. I call it the higher and holier way of loving our neighbor."
He said home and visiting teaching saved many lives.
"Now we can take a step higher, not worry so much about checking off a box, but really loving someone, extending ourselves, being physicians in a way, spiritual physicians. You may have to diagnose what the problem is, where the pain's coming from, but no matter what it is, the gospel of Jesus Christ has within it the power to lift, to love, to serve. That's all we're asking. Just minister."
Sister Nelson described one way President Nelson receives spiritual direction and said "the frequency and abundance of messages from heaven have increased exponentially" since he became the church's 17th president in January.
She said in the evening, during the night and in the morning, he regularly takes a yellow pad of paper out of a drawer by the side of his bed and writes notes as he receives inspiration.
Elder Holland encouraged listeners to revisit President Nelson's conference talk on revelation. He said the church's ultimate message is about Jesus Christ's Atonement, but he said it starts when people understand "that God lives and talks to prophets."
Sister Holland provided insight into the Hollands' relationship with the new church president.
"God has bestowed on President Russell Nelson what was said about another prophet, Isaiah, that those who are obedient to him could have peace like a river," she said. "President Nelson has peace like a river, and he gives me and everyone he knows peace like a river. He is such a peaceful man."
Missionaries and members were thrilled to hear, see and in some cases meet the church leaders.
Raquel Silva, 28, a Portugal native living in London, wiped her eyes as President Nelson passed close by her and left the chapel.
"I just feel so blessed," she said. "I can't believe I saw a prophet and Elder Holland and got to shake Elder Holland's hand. I've never felt so close to the Lord, because those are literal prophets and apostles of the Lord."
Nearby, tears streamed down the face of Lhea Phillips, 32, a native of Cagayan de Oro, Philippines, while President Nelson hugged her just inside the chapel doors after the meeting.
"My hands are shaking," she said. "I'm not going to wash my hands until I can get home and hold Clara," her baby.
Chris Cooke, a member of the Wandsworth Stake presidency in South London, smiled broadly as he recalled President Nelson's message.
"It's very difficult to define in words the impact of the experience," Cooke said. "I like the fact he brought it down to love God and your fellow man. That's the whole message of the ministering effort. It's fantastic, because it's so simple. We don't need a massive program. Just apply those two principles and we're home. It was cool when the Lord said it 2,000 years ago, and it's still just as powerful now."
President Nelson said in an interview that his tour's message "is to invite all of God's children on both sides of the veil to come unto their Savior and enjoy the blessings of the temple, have enduring joy and qualify for eternal life. And that will bring hope, help and lift to all people."16 comments on this story
Sacha Winters said she felt lifted doing vicarious temple work for her late grandmother last month in the Preston England Temple. Her husband Nigel said another reason for their post-miscarriage decision to return to church was to help provide spiritual guidance for their children. Joshua, 18; Alex, 14; and Lizzie, 12; were grateful to meet President Nelson on Thursday.
"It still hasn't sunk in yet," Lizzie said. "It's amazing to think I just shook hands with the prophet. It's the best day of my life since my baptism last year."