SALT LAKE CITY — The young Mormon missionaries who walked out of the sweltering heat and into Temple Square's North Visitors Center on Thursday afternoon longingly told reporters they hoped to see the two men who were giving media interviews on the top floor.
That's part of the new normal for Elder Gerrit W. Gong and Elder Ulisses Soares, who have served nearly three months of what are expected to be lifetime roles as members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
"I think our members have a very great love for those who have been called to the office in which we are now privileged to serve," Elder Gong said about how his life has changed since March 31, when LDS Church President Russell M. Nelson announced the two new apostles. "We are just so grateful to interact with them."
During a 15-minute interview with the Deseret News, KSL-TV and the LDS Church News, Elder Gong, 64, and Elder Soares, 59, shared the assignments they've been given, how their perspective on the apostleship has changed since they became members of the quorum themselves, and the impressions and lessons of their first months, including their insights about President Nelson.
Each man has used the word "overwhelming" to describe being called as an apostle for a church with 16.1 million members worldwide. Each already has begun to contribute in weekly quorum meetings, other discussions and on travel assignments made by acting quorum President M. Russell Ballard. Elder Gong has been to Asia and Central America. Elder Soares has been to West Africa.
"It has been very special to me to be part of the discussions of the issues of the church among the members of the Twelve Apostles and the First Presidency and add my little contribution as I bring some experience and background from different parts of the world," Elder Soares said.
The Quorum of the Twelve operates based on seniority in service within the quorum. New members, regardless of age, become the quorum's junior apostles and receive a mentor to aid their adjustment.
Elder Gong's mentor is Elder D. Todd Christofferson, a member of the Twelve for a decade. Elder Soares is mentored by Elder Neil L. Andersen, who has served as an apostle for nine years. The two have known each other for years because of Elder Andersen's prior service in Brazil, Elder Soares' native country.
Their mentors have helped them learn procedures, protocols and principles and gospel doctrine related to their callings.
"Elder Andersen has helped me adjust on this transition from one calling to another," Elder Soares said.
Before their calls, both men had been serving in the Presidency of the Seventy, where they worked under the daily direction of apostles, implementing their directives. Still, both said they have had much to learn and have gained new perspectives on the apostleship.
"Our perspective in the Quorum of the Twelve is to address the needs of the church not only in these days but in the future," Elder Soares said.
"The assignments that the Presidency of the Seventy have are global," Elder Gong said, "and they are under the direction of the Twelve and the First Presidency. To (now) feel those assignments being formed and discussed and to feel and sense the inspiration that comes through the Lord's prophet and through the First Presidency and through the Brethren as we counsel together has been very humbling to me and very real. There are very sacred times of discussion and moments when we know and sense the feeling of the Lord and his direction to the leaders of the church that I think has been very special and very sacred and very humbling in the past few weeks."
Both men represent major milestones in church leadership as the first South American and first Asian-American apostles. Each also has vast international experience in their careers and church service, a boon for an increasingly global church with nearly 60 percent of its members living outside the United States.
President Nelson announced other milestones for the global church on April 1, when he said the first LDS temples will be built in India, Russia and Nicaragua.
"Being called to be a member of the Twelve from another nation, like is my case, has helped me to understand and see the church outside of North America and see some needs," said Elder Soares, who previously served as a General Authority Seventy of the church in Africa and Brazil and as a mission president in Europe. "My contribution to the Quorum of the Twelve is to testify of the divine mission of Jesus Christ, of course, but that background helps me when we are discussing the issues of the church around the world."
"All these experiences have helped me to contribute in one way or another to help the Brethren who are charged to make great decisions about the church," he said.
Elder Soares is assigned to oversee the church's Central America Area and its Africa West Area. As a member of the Presidency of the Seventy, he had worked closely with the Africa West Area as an assistant to a member of the Twelve, and he already has visited the area again with Elder Andersen since his calling to the quorum.
He also is serving as a member of the church's Human Resources Committee and the Missionary Executive Council.
Elder Gong is the chairman of the church's Scriptures Committee and a member of the Leadership and Training committee, the Priesthood and Family Executive Council and the Outreach Committee.
He oversees the Asia and Asia North areas, where he has lived, ministered and worked.
Both new apostles said their callings have given them new insight into senior church leaders.
"It's said that the Brethren are wonderful," Elder Gong said, "but they're even more wonderful when you see them in places where they are not otherwise seen. I think if there's anything I've felt, it's been that: The kindness, the authenticity, the great faith and testimony that you see in private that goes perhaps even beyond that which you see in public."
He said the First Presidency put people first as they discuss issues.8 comments on this story
"The question is always, what will bless the people?" he said. "What will bring the blessings of God into their lives? What will deepen their faith? What will strengthen their testimonies? That's always the question. It's always about what will be of benefit to the members and to other children of God on both sides of the veil."
Elder Soares said all of the church's leadership must work to keep up with the energy of President Nelson, 93.
"He's a man of great talents and gifts, but beyond all this, he's a man of great wisdom," Elder Soares said. "He has a long and vast experience serving in the church dealing with people. He's very loving."