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Church apostles using social media to minister globally while managing COVID-19 pandemic

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President Russell M. Nelson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, center, and his counselors, President Dallin H. Oaks, first counselor in the First Presidency, left, and President Henry B. Eyring, second counselor in the First Presidency, center, and other general authorities stand after entering the Conference Center in Salt Lake City for the Saturday afternoon session of the 188th Semiannual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Oct. 6, 2018.

SALT LAKE CITY — The coronavirus pandemic has brought much of the world to a standstill, but Latter-day Saint apostles — those referred to as “traveling councilors” in the faith’s scriptures — have continued to minister globally directly through social media and other avenues.

Several have posted on social media specific messages of peace and faith amid the COVID-19 crisis that have reached millions of people. The senior apostle, church President Russell M. Nelson, has released two videos about the pandemic. He posted again on Tuesday morning, and his written message received responses from tens of thousands of appreciative followers on Instagram and Facebook.

“I know that concerns about your health, the health of your families, the economy and your own employment weigh heavily upon your minds at this time,” he said on his Facebook and Instagram accounts. He added, “What is true is that amid the gloomy darkness of a troubled world, the light of Jesus Christ shines ever brighter. He can speak truth to our hearts and minds as we seek him and learn to hear him.”

That post, like several released by members of the church’s First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, pointed directly toward this weekend’s online and broadcast-only international general conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

“I remain optimistic for the future,” President Nelson said March 14 in a video message of comfort that has been viewed more than 4.3 million times. His video invitation to worldwide fasting and prayer for relief from COVID-19’s physical, emotional and economic effects has 2.5 million views and brought together a global church on Sunday in united purpose.

Some of the messages are quite personal. Others illustrate how the church’s senior leadership is managing the crisis, which has required moving some 30,000 missionaries from their international missions to their home countries as well as making major decisions about church operations.

‘We are going to get through this one’

The acting president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles has been especially active over the past 10 days. In addition to the typical busy preparations for general conference, President M. Russell Ballard has posted twice and given an interview to the Church News about his own personal experiences with global tragedy.

“Dear friends, we are living in a unique time,” he said on Instagram and Facebook on March 23. “Though there are reasons for concern, we also have many reasons to be optimistic about the future.”

He said he experienced panic and felt the fear of losing everything on Dec. 7, 1941, when he came home from Sunday School as a 13-year-old boy to learn from his mother about Pearl Harbor.

“But that’s not what happened,” he told the Church News and later posted on social media. “The people of the free world rallied and freedom prevailed and things resolved themselves. In a similar manner, I believe that we will win the war on COVID-19.”

On Sunday, President Ballard used Twitter and other platforms to say he was “following President Russell M. Nelson’s invitation and joining with you in fasting and prayer to appeal to our Heavenly Father to provide relief from the COVID-19 pandemic. I recognize that many of you are worried about this disease and its impact on your families.”

“From the beginning of history,” he added, “there have been circumstances similar to this one. Somehow they got through them, and we are going to get through this one.”

More personal stories

Two other apostles shared family stories.

“Recently we have had tens of thousands of missionaries traveling around the globe back to their home countries,” Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf, chairman of the Missionary Executive Council, said in a post on Friday. He said missionaries continue to preach, even if they are restricted to their apartments.

As an example, he shared a video of his grandson performing a hymn with his companion from their missionary apartment in Europe. The video has nearly a quarter million views.

“These missionaries are an example to me during this difficult time,” Elder Uchtdorf wrote. “Look and see what you can do right now to lift yourself and others. Protect the health of others by being careful and considerate. Find hope in the many opportunities we have to be a good example and follow the Savior. There are so many ways we can do this! I wish you happiness and hope you will stay healthy and safe at this time.”

Elder Dale G. Renlund of the Twelve shared a story last week about his niece’s son, Joshua, who lives in Oregon and recently turned 8. Grandparents, aunts, uncles “and a slew of cousins” planned to attend Joshua’s baptism until church and health department restrictions for the date of the ceremony allowed only smaller gatherings.

When his mother asked if he wanted to postpone his baptism or hold it as scheduled without the big gathering, Joshua said, “Keep the plan we have because I want to have the Holy Ghost with me.”

‘Can we hush the fears? Yes’

Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles directly addressed the fear and apprehension he said can be caused by endless reports of COVID-19 cases and restrictions.

“I testify that a correct knowledge of and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ drives fear away,” he said in a March 20 post. He shared a story of a Book of Mormon prophet who did not hush his people’s fears but taught them that increasing their knowledge of Christ’s love for them would help them hush their own concerns.

“But can we hush the fears that so easily and frequently beset us in our contemporary world?” Elder Bednar said. “The answer to this question is an unequivocal ‘yes.’ Correct knowledge of and faith in the Lord empower us to hush our fears because Jesus Christ is the only source of enduring peace.”

That post, like others, both drew on past conference talks by leaders while providing a clear theme that true peace is found in Jesus Christ and that those who want it must seek and learn to hear him. Leaders repeatedly used the hashtag #HearHim.

“We will focus on the Restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ in its fullness,” President Nelson said in one of his videos, referring to the upcoming general conference. “That gospel provides certain hope and help to a troubled world. I love you, I pray for you and I promise that you will receive comfort and peace as you continue to hear him.”

Additional messages

The leaders’ posts on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram have generated hundreds of thousands of likes, reactions, shares and comments.

As the nation has received pervasive stay-at-home advice and orders from health and government officials, President Dallin H. Oaks, first counselor in the First Presidency, invited church members to study the Restoration ahead of general conference, which will be a celebration of the 200th anniversary of the First Vision.

“May we each utilize the gift of personal revelation in our lives and truly seek to #HearHim,” he said.

Similarly, Elder Gerrit W. Gong of the Twelve implored members in light of current events to “please consider ways you can hear the Lord’s voice more often.”

Elder Ronald A. Rasband of the Twelve used the term “troubled days” to refer to the coronavirus crisis and posted comments about a talk he gave called “Be Not Troubled, in which he said, “I bless you to believe in the promises of Jesus Christ, that he lives and that he is watching over us, caring for us and standing by us.”

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland’s post on Thursday said Joseph Smith “faced commotion and confusion, crowds and contention” in 1820. “There is still plenty of that in our world,” the member of the Twelve said. “Yet, both then and now, our Heavenly Father beckons to us: ‘This is My Beloved Son. Hear Him!’

Elder Neil L. Andersen of the Twelve acknowledged in his most recent social media post that many people “may be feeling wounded right now, with the unexpected difficulties, the uncertainty, and the confusion that exists in our world this very moment.”

“Never give up,” he added, quoting a conference talk he gave in October 2018, “however deep the wounds of your soul, whatever their source, wherever or whenever they happen, and however short or long they persist, you are not meant to perish spiritually. You are meant to survive spiritually and blossom in your faith and trust in God. …”

Christ not only delivered the world from death and sin, he said, “He also stands ready to save us from the sorrows and pains of our wounded souls.”