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Church leaders speak on charity, belonging and great adventures in Sunday morning session

Conferencegoers sing during the Sunday morning session of the 189th Semiannual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Salt Lake City on Sunday, Oct. 6, 2019.
Conferencegoers sing during the Sunday morning session of the 189th Semiannual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Salt Lake City on Sunday, Oct. 6, 2019.
Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Church members enjoy covenant belonging to God and Jesus Christ and are making a global impact with their humanitarian aid, leaders said during the Sunday morning session of the 189th Semiannual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

President Russell M. Nelson thanked conferencegoers for generous donations that have allowed Latter-day Saint Charities to provide more than $2 billion in aid around the world.

“Latter-day Saints, as with other followers of Jesus Christ, are always looking for ways to help, to lift and to love others,” President Nelson said. “They truly seek to live the first and second great commandments. When we love God with all our hearts, he turns our hearts to the well-being of others in a beautiful, virtuous cycle.”

Last year, the church provided:

• Emergency supplies to refugees in 56 countries.

• Approximately 400,000 food orders to individuals in need through 124 bishops’ storehouses throughout the world.

• Millions of pounds of clothing to members in need and other charitable organizations, which distribute the items worldwide.

• Vision care for more than 300,000 people in 35 countries.

• Newborn care for thousands of mothers and infants in 39 countries.

• Wheelchairs for more than 50,000 people living in dozens of countries.

“As members of the church, we feel a kinship to those who suffer in any way,” President Nelson said. “We heed an Old Testament admonition: ‘Thou shalt open thine hand wide unto thy brother, to thy poor, and to thy needy.’”

President Russell M. Nelson shakes hands with general authorities after the Sunday morning session of the 189th Semiannual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at the Conference Center in Salt Lake City on Sunday, Oct. 6, 2019.
President Russell M. Nelson shakes hands with general authorities after the Sunday morning session of the 189th Semiannual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at the Conference Center in Salt Lake City on Sunday, Oct. 6, 2019.
Laura Seitz, Deseret News

The church offers assistance to all, regardless of their church affiliation, nationality, race, sexual orientation, gender or political persuasion. It also has provided clean water initiatives in 76 countries.

He said he has marveled as presidents, prime ministers and ambassadors have thanked him for humanitarian aid for their people.

“How grateful we are for your contributions,” he said to church members. “Thanks to your heartfelt generosity, millions throughout the world will receive much needed food, clothing, temporary shelter, wheelchairs, medicines, clean water and more.”

Many are seeking, said Elder Gerrit W. Gong of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.

Elder Gerrit W. Gong of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles speaks during the Sunday morning session of the 189th Semiannual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the Conference Center in Salt Lake City on Sunday, Oct. 6, 2019.
Elder Gerrit W. Gong of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles speaks during the Sunday morning session of the 189th Semiannual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the Conference Center in Salt Lake City on Sunday, Oct. 6, 2019.
Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

“This world is full of mirage, illusion, sleight of hand. So much seems transitory and superficial. When we put aside the masks, pretense, crowd-sourced likes and dislikes, we yearn for more than fleeting veneer, ephemeral connection or the pursuit of worldly self-interest. Gratefully, there is a way through to answers that matter,” he said.

He taught the concept of covenant belonging, saying, “Our God is a God of covenant. ... We are not meant to wander in existential uncertainty and doubt, but to rejoice in cherished covenant relationships “stronger than the cords of death.”

Walking together with God in the shared promise of a covenant helps believers to change for the better.

“In losing our worldly self through covenant belonging, we find and become our best eternal self — free, alive, real — and define our most important relationships,” Elder Gong said. “Covenant belonging is to make and keep solemn promises to God and each other through sacred ordinances that invite the power of godliness to be manifest in our lives. When we covenant all we are, we can become more than we are.

“Covenant belonging gives us place, narrative, capacity to become. It produces faith unto life and salvation.”

He provided a list about the concept.

“First, covenant belonging centers in Jesus Christ as ‘mediator of the new covenant.’ ... Second, the Book of Mormon is evidence we can hold in our hand of covenant belonging.” Another is the restored priesthood of God.

“Finally, the blessings of covenant belonging come when we follow the Lord’s prophet, and rejoice in covenant living, including in marriage. Covenant marriage becomes supernal and eternal as we daily choose the happiness of our spouse and family before our own.”

The desire to change for the better allows a person to “become open to direction, help and strength,” he said. “We can come by covenant to belong with God and a community of faithful believers.”

Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles invoked the novel “The Hobbit” to remind members they are on their own great adventure, and that the church’s doctrine teaches it began with their premortal decision to undertake it.

Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles speaks during the Sunday morning session of the 189th Semiannual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the Conference Center in Salt Lake City on Sunday, Oct. 6, 2019.
Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles speaks during the Sunday morning session of the 189th Semiannual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the Conference Center in Salt Lake City on Sunday, Oct. 6, 2019.
Laura Seitz, Deseret News

He said they knew it would not be an easier one than that of Bilbo Baggins.

“There are many bends in this road. There are hills, valleys and detours. There may even be metaphorical spiders, trolls and even a dragon or two. But if you stay on the path and trust in God, you will eventually find the way to your glorious destiny and back to your heavenly home,” he said.

He said Bilbo hesitated, but church members and those searching for meaning should do what he did: drop everything and start.

“If you hesitate in this adventure because you doubt your ability, remember that discipleship is not about doing things perfectly; it’s about doing things intentionally,” Elder Uchtdorf said. “It is your choices that show what you truly are, far more than your abilities.”

It’s time to begin, he added.

“If you sense that your life could have more meaning, a higher purpose, stronger family bonds and a closer connection with God, please, come join with us,” he said. “If you seek a community of people who are working to become the best versions of themselves, help those in need and make this world a better place, come join with us!”

Elder Gary E. Stevenson of the Quorum of the Twelve warned members that Satan purposefully dresses up bad things as good in an attempt to deceive them.

“There are forces at play today designed to deliberately lead us away from absolute truth. These deceptions and lies go far beyond innocent mistaken identity and often have dire, not minor, consequences.”

He used two stories about innocent mistakes by his children.

Latter-day Saints smile as President Russell M. Nelson waves to the audience while leaving the Sunday morning session of the 189th Semiannual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at the Conference Center in Salt Lake City on Sunday, Oct. 6, 2019.
Latter-day Saints smile as President Russell M. Nelson waves to the audience while leaving the Sunday morning session of the 189th Semiannual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at the Conference Center in Salt Lake City on Sunday, Oct. 6, 2019.
Laura Seitz, Deseret News

“He has made a reputation for himself of convincing mortals that skunks are just kittens or that, with an application of paint, you can transform a Labrador into a Dalmatian!” he said to laughter.

Elder Stevenson offered counsel on overcoming deceptions.

“Obedience to commandments given to our prophet is a key not only in avoiding the influence of the deceiver, but also in experiencing lasting joy and happiness,” he said. “This divine formula is rather simple: righteousness, or obedience to commandments, brings blessings, and blessings bring happiness, or joy, into our lives.”

Elder Walter F. González, a General Authority Seventy, reminded the conference that Christ was a carpenter.

“If you feel that in any way you are not clean, if you feel broken, please know you can be made clean, you can be mended,” he said.

Sister Cristina B. Franco, second counselor in the Primary general presidency, asked church members to share that message, talking about a friend named Susana who daily prayed and acted in ways designed to spark gospel conversations with others.

Leaders listen during the Sunday morning session of the 189th Semiannual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the Conference Center in Salt Lake City on Sunday, Oct. 6, 2019.
Leaders listen during the Sunday morning session of the 189th Semiannual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the Conference Center in Salt Lake City on Sunday, Oct. 6, 2019.
Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

“Can we be like my friend Susana and share the gospel with others?” Sister Franco asked. “Can we invite a friend who is not of our faith to come to church with us on Sunday? Or can we perhaps share a copy of the Book of Mormon with a relative or a friend? Can we help others find their ancestors on FamilySearch or share with others what we have learned during the week as we have been studying ‘Come, Follow Me?’ Can we be more like our Savior Jesus Christ and share with others what brings us joy to our lives?

“The answer to all of these questions is Yes! We can do it!”

President Henry B. Eyring, second counselor in the First Presidency, conducted the session.

The Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square performed “O Wondrous and Great,” “High on the Mountain Top,” “A Child’s Prayer,” “Teach Me to Walk in the Light,” “True to the Faith” and “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling.”

Elder O. Vincent Haleck, an emeritus General Authority Seventy, and Sister Becky Craven, second counselor in the Young Women general presidency, provided the prayers.