Church president embarks on five-country tour to greet Latter-day Saints, world leaders
“It’s his love and sheer desire to be out among the Saints. It’s really important to him that he shows everyone that prophets, seers and revelators care about them.”
BOGOTA, Colombia — The tireless, hardworking leader of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints begins another international trip this weekend.
President Russell M. Nelson will visit the faith’s members in five Latin American countries.
The first three days go like this: A devotional Saturday night in Guatemala City, Guatemala, after flights totaling 2,956 miles. A devotional Sunday night in Bogota, Colombia, after a 1,135-mile flight. Another devotional on Monday night in Quito, Ecuador after a flight of 384 miles.
Three days. Three flights. Some 4,475 miles. Three devotionals with large numbers of Latter-day Saints. And, if the pattern holds, in some places he will meet with national leaders or other dignitaries. And that’s just the beginning.
Who else does this two weeks before their 95th birthday?
“First of all, like everybody else, I’m completely awed by his stamina and energy,” said Patrick Mason, chair of Mormon History and Culture at Utah State University. “This is not what I expected from a nonagenarian prophet and president of the church.”
That role is consuming enough to warrant staying at a desk, but President Nelson instead is projecting a very strong image of the church’s presidency, Mason said.
“He wants to bring the prophet to the people.”
“He wants to bring the prophet to the people,” he said. “He is fully assuming the mantle of the prophet and his stewardship of the entire world.”
Michael Colemere agreed President Nelson doesn’t have to embark on global trips.
“This is his decision,” said Colemere, associate managing director of recently restructured Church Communications Department. “It’s his love and sheer desire to be out among the Saints. It’s really important to him that he shows everyone that prophets, seers and revelators care about them.”
This is President Nelson’s second extended visit to Latin America. He visited five countries in October 2018. He is visiting five more on this trip, including Argentina and Brazil.
During the first stop of his first global tour in April 2018, President Nelson explained why he chooses to travel to the corners of the world — he has been to North, South and Central America as well as Europe, the South Pacific, Africa, Asia and Australia.
“The Lord’s message is for everyone,” he said in London. “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 has spoken to hundreds of thousands of Latter-day Saints in large stadiums and met with heads of states in their palaces and offices.
The meetings with world leaders serve multiple purposes.
First, President Nelson provides information about the church and its members directly to national leaders, Colemere said.
“It is critical that leaders of countries understand they have citizens who are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, what they stand for and that we ask them to be good citizens,” he said. “He introduces the church to them, what we’re doing in the country and what church members do in their communities and what they are about.”
Elder Gerrit W. Gong of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles accompanied President Nelson as he visited several heads of state and other leaders in the South Pacific in May.
“President Nelson is a natural diplomat,” Elder Gong said.
Meetings with state leaders often draw media coverage that can generate positive publicity and correct sometimes ugly, false rumors about the church, Mason said. Local church public affairs directors invite the media to devotionals or to cover the presidential meetings or in some cases to interview President Nelson. The media coverage introduces the church to an expanding world population in areas where the church sometimes is very small.
“We can’t keep up with people not knowing who we are,” Colemere said. “Introducing media to who we really are is a real benefit of these trips.”
Mason said church leaders remember old lessons that the faith’s core mission is enhanced by building relationships with leaders around the world, though he said sometimes the nature of politics can make those efforts complicated.
Visits with national leaders play at least one other vital role.
“Many places where he goes, church members are a tiny fraction of the population,” Mason said. “President Nelson is able to raise the profile of the church and enhance its prospects. For most members of the church, being a member is a lonely prospect. Those living in the Intermountain West don’t know or don’t always remember that. For the prophet of God to come to your country, to speak to you and meet with your prime minister or president, that’s a tremendous confidence boost for you.”
President Nelson’s first global tour included two stops in Africa. The second was to South America. The third was to the South Pacific. Now he is returning to the Southern Hemisphere.
“The United States will always be important for obvious reasons, but the future of the church is the global south,” Mason said, adding that church leaders are trying to do what they’ve done other places to create conditions for the faith to flourish around the globe.
President Nelson will be accompanied on this trip, which will last nine days, by his wife, Sister Wendy Nelson, and Elder Quentin L. Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve and Sister Mary Cook. They will be joined by other church general authorities with responsibility for overseeing the church in Latin America.