1 of 29
Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
President Russell M. Nelson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints gives a Book of Mormon to New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in Wellington, New Zealand, on Monday, May 20, 2019.

Editor's note: Deseret News reporter Tad Walch is in the South Pacific reporting on the impact of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the current trip of the faith's leader, President Russell M. Nelson, in six island nations.

WELLINGTON, New Zealand — On her first day back at work after a triumphant trip to Paris that substantiated her No. 2 ranking on Fortune's list of the world's greatest leaders, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern welcomed President Russell M. Nelson, leader of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

President Nelson told Ardern the church will make donations Tuesday night to leaders of the two mosques where a gunman killed 51 people in attacks on March 15 in Christchurch, 270 miles south of here.

"We will be making contributions to those mosques to help them repair from their damages," he said.

He called it a great privilege to meet with her and praised Ardern's leadership in the wake of those attacks.

"She's courageous," he said, adding, "The world will discover they've got a real leader here. It's an unlikely scenario, a young mother leading a great nation, a peacemaker, a policymaker, a consensus-builder. We're very confident she'll have a great future."

Ravell Call, Deseret News
An aerial view of New Zealand on Sunday, May 19, 2019.

A pacesetter

Ardern swept into power amid "Jacindamania" throughout New Zealand, bore a child in office last year and then rocketed to worldwide acclaim for her leadership in the wake of the mosque attacks.

Immediately after the attacks, Ardern wore a hijab to grieve with New Zealand's Muslims, earning gratitude throughout the Muslim world, and then quickly led new, virtually unanimous legislation to ban most semi-automatic weapons and some pump-action shotguns, action that made worldwide headlines.

Last week, her expanding global clout brought some of the world's most powerful digital powerhouses to the table with government leaders in Paris to spearhead a stunning agreement to curb internet extremism.

Ardern pulled off a "blinder," a New Zealand term for an excellent performance in sports or elsewhere.

Eight technology companies, including tech titans Amazon, Facebook, Google, Twitter, Microsoft and YouTube, signed the agreement on Thursday, along with 17 nations and the European Union.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
President Russell M. Nelson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints gives a Book of Mormon to New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Arden in Wellington, New Zealand on Monday, May 20, 2019 (Sunday May 20 in United States).

In the meeting

Ardern discussed the Christchurch call to action in Paris with President Nelson and his wife, Sister Wendy Nelson, and Elder Gerrit W. Gong of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and his wife, Sister Susan Gong.

"One of the topics that came up was the importance of using social media in a proper way," Elder Gong said. "There needs to be a balance between religious freedom and the ability to speak out but also to use it in a way that is responsible, particularly when it involves what children might see. That's something the prime minister was concerned about. She and President Nelson had a very important dialogue on that."

The Christchurch gunman had violated Facebook rules. Facebook announced last week it now will block users who violate rules from livestreaming, a Facebook feature the gunman used during his attack.

In the three-page Christchurch Call agreement, the tech giants all agreed to stop livestreaming extremist content and said they would review algorithms that could drive users to terrorist content and redirect them. They also committed to develop crisis response protocols to respond to online terrorism.

The agreement also directed signatories to abide by the principles of free speech and an open, secure internet.

The White House issued a statement supporting the principles behind the call but did not join the agreement out of ongoing concerns about free speech implications. Ardern defended the U.S. position but said the agreement does not infringe on free speech.

Ravell Call, Deseret News
President Russell M. Nelson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, third from right, stands with his wife, Sister Wendy Nelson and other general authorities and their wives, for a photo in front of the New Zealand Parliament in Wellington on Monday, May 20, 2019.

Church donations

The attacks were a blow to all Pacific islanders, said Elder O. Vincent Haleck, president of the church's Pacific Area Presidency and a native of American Samoa who was accompanied by his wife, Sister Peggy Haleck. He said the donations to the mosques come from a desire to help.

"We're clearly sensitive to what's happened there," he said of Christchurch. "Our hearts were broken when we heard about the tragedy that happened and the loss of life, and so the church is reaching out as it does in these kinds of situations in other parts of the world to lend a hand, to be there for our brothers and sisters who are of another ethnicity and another religious group. That doesn't matter to us. We're there to help and that's the reason why we are helping and continue to help, not just for tomorrow but continuing."

The meeting took place in the Parliament known as the beehive here in Wellington, the nation's seaside capital. Afterward, President Nelson spoke to media as New Zealand flags flapped in the breeze of a cool, sunny fall day in the Southern Hemisphere.

He said they talked about helping diverse populations live together.

"It's a multicultural community in New Zealand, a diverse community, but she's a peacemaker," he said. "We have that problem in all the countries of the world, really, how people can have differing points of view and can learn to love and live with one another."

"President Nelson is a natural diplomat," Elder Gong said. "He's a prophet for the church and he's also a prophet for the world."

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
President Russell M. Nelson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and his wife Sister Wendy Nelson and Elder Gerrit W. Gong, of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, and his wife Sister Susan Gong meets with New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Arden in Wellington, New Zealand on Monday, May 20, 2019 (Sunday, May 19 in United States).

A gift

The Nelsons and Gongs and Halecks were joined by Ardern's uncle, Elder Ian S. Ardern and Sister Paula Ardern. The prime minister's parents, including Elder Ardern's twin brother, were in the meeting, as was the prime minister's young daughter.

"We felt like family, really," President Nelson said.

"Part of the warmth of the meeting was the prime minister describing her rich family heritage and the great values that she takes from her upbringing," Elder Gong said. "In fact, she said she was so grateful that she received, once she first became the prime minister, her family genealogy and the roots of her family. That was a source of great warmth."

Ardern was raised in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints but is no longer a practicing member. She showed the church contingent the books the church prepared for her about her family ancestry after she became prime minister.

41 comments on this story

During Monday's meeting, President Nelson presented her with a leather-bound copy of the Book of Mormon with her name embossed on the front.

"That's mine," she told her mother, Elder Ardern said with a laugh.

President Nelson is on a tour of six Pacific nations. He spoke first at a devotional in Hawaii on Thursday followed by another Saturday in Samoa and a third Sunday in Australia. He will speak here in Auckland on Tuesday night, then in Fiji on Wednesday, Tonga on Thursday and finally wrap up in Tahiti on Friday.

In Samoa he met with the prime minister and the head of state.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
President Russell M. Nelson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and his wife Sister Wendy Nelson gives photos of the LDS First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles to New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Arden in Wellington, New Zealand on Monday, May 19, 2019 (Sunday, May 19 in the United States).