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Travels with President Nelson: Touching the hearts of Church members around the world

FILE - In this Oct. 6, 2018, file photo, President Russell M. Nelson and his wife, Wendy, wave as they leave the morning session of a twice-annual conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File)

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah — President Russell M. Nelson, the President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, has traveled more than 90,000 miles to 28 countries and territories and has met with over 100 world and religious leaders.

And all of that travel has happened in the relatively few months since the 95-year-old man and former heart surgeon was sustained as the 17th president of the Church, on January 14, 2018.

From Europe, to Africa, Asia and Hawaii; to South America and North America, President Russel’s travels have taken him to sixteen nations. In the first year alone, with over 55,000 flight miles under his belt, President Russell flew more than twice the earth’s circumference.

On many of these trips President Nelson was accompanied by his wife, Sister Wendy Nelson, and other leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

What is driving President Nelson on these worldwide ministry tours?

Those around him say, “Love.”

Inaugural global ministry trip

President Nelson was sustained as president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in April 2018. And it wasn’t long after that when he began an inaugural global ministry tour. This trip took President Nelson, his wife, Sister Wendy Nelson, and Elder Jeffery R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles to meet with church members in Europe, Africa, Asia, and Hawaii.

The first stop was in London, where nearly 40% of the population was born outside of the United Kingdom.

“This is a global, international trip around the world,” said President Nelson. “We just realized we will meet all the world’s population right here in London.”

During this trip, President Nelson recorded a video message called “A special witness of Christ in Jerusalem.” It was given to people in Zimbabwe and encouraged temple-worthy living.

In India President Nelson expanded on the topic of temple worthiness, drawing attention to what church members across the globe have in common. Temple worthiness, he would say, was necessary regardless of where the individual lived.

President Nelson toured three continents and eight cities.  “One of the most important things I felt he was addressing,” said a Church member in the UK, “was loving others, being kind to others, and supporting others.”

Symbolism of the first trip

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, of the Church’s Quorum of the 12 Apostles, was one of President Nelson’s traveling companions during the first leg of his travels.

“The symbolism of this visit is, in a way, is as important as the actual stops,” Holland said. “So that the whole world, the whole church will know that the prophet cares about them and wants to be out with them.”

This symbolism would be carried on through the remainder of President Nelson’s initial travels.

What’s in a name?

President Nelson and his wife waited only a few months after returning from their first trip to embark on their next stop in Alberta, Canada. Along with devotionals and church meetings, President and Sister Nelson met with Mrs. Nelson’s extended family and friends.

Just a few months later, in August of 2018, President Nelson returned to Canada for more extensive devotionals. It was during this trip that he underscored the importance of using the Church’s full name.

“The Lord has said thus shall the name of the church be called,” President Nelson said. “The name of the church is non-negotiable.”

South American Ministry Tour

In the Fall of 2018, President Nelson traveled to the Caribbean and South America. He visited Peru, Bolivia, Paraguay and Uruguay. Very often he spoke to members in Spanish, their native language.

On October 28, 2018, President Nelson dedicated his first temple as President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Located in Concepcion, Chile, it was the second temple in this South American nation. And it was here that President Nelson promised more to come, as the Church expands into a new era of international temples.

Domestic and humanitarian travels

During his first year as President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, President Nelson visited five different continents. While there, he visited national leaders as well as members of the Church.

But his travels took him to North America, too.

Those trips included Seattle, Washington and Vancouver, British Columbia. In Seattle, he spoke at Safeco Field Stadium. With nearly 50,000 people in attendance, his visit broke a record for the largest non-sporting event.

It was November 2018, when a wildfire named the Camp fire, burned in Paradise, California. It was the deadliest and most destructive wildfire ever recorded in California. President Nelson and Sister Nelson went to the area in January of 2019.

“We have come to minister unto you,” said President Nelson. “I know the Lord has been guiding you in your efforts to recover and move forward in faith.”

The Church’s Humanitarian program, Latter-day Saint Charities, focuses on fostering self-reliance and providing opportunities for service, like assisting in natural disasters such as the Camp Fire.

President Nelson visits Orlando

President Nelson continued his message of humanitarian work and outreach in a visit to Orlando, Florida. Before a devotional there, President Nelson reached out to local government, interfaith and business leaders. They included Barbra Poma, the owner of the Pulse nightclub where 49 people, members of the LGBT community, were killed by a mass shooter.

Poma would later say about the visit, “I was moved that President Nelson knew what we were doing. We come together on June 12th to really stand together in solidarity. To comfort one another.”

110th annual convention of the NAACP

In July 2019, President Nelson was invited to Detroit, Michigan, to speak at the 110th annual convention of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Here, he complimented the efforts and goals of the NAACP. And other church leaders complimented President Nelson, too.

“This is a fateful evening to introduce a brother from another mother of a different race and faith tradition,” said Reverend Amos C. Brown, Pastor of the Third Baptist Church of San Francisco. “It can be well in this nation when we lock arms as a nation … as children of God who are about helping all of God’s children.”

Rome and Pacific Tour

One of the most notable trips President Nelson has taken since assuming the leadership of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints has been to accompany the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and the First Presidency, as they dedicated the Rome, Italy temple.

President Russell M. Nelson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints met with Pope Francis at the Vatican in Rome, Italy on Saturday, March 9, 2019.

This was one of only a handful of instances where the entire Church leadership had gathered outside of the Church’s headquarters in Salt Lake City, Utah.  While in Rome, President Nelson was given a formal audience with another global church leader; Pope Francis.

“We had a most cordial unforgettable experience with His Holiness,” said President Nelson. “We talked about mutual concerns for the world’s suffering, religious practice, family, youth, and have the stability that faith in Christ would bring to their lives.”

It took more than ten years after the announcement of a temple in Rome, Italy, before the building could be completed. One of the biggest hurdles involved the Church being recognized as a religion by the Italian government. Ground was broken in October 2010.

The Rome temple was dedicated in sessions lasting several days. It is the 162nd of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and is expected to serve over 23-thousand Church members living in Italy and in neighboring countries.

A ministering tour to the Pacific Islands

Just two months after helping to dedicate the Rome temple, President Russell M. Nelson set out on another ministering tour. This time he traveled to the Pacific Islands. This trip included Hawaii and Samoa, where President Nelson met with the country’s prime minister and head of state.

He’d meet with another head of state in New Zealand. He said of Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, “We are very impressed with her, we discussed matters of [a] diverse population and how people must learn to live and love with one another.”

President Nelson’s audiences with world leaders continued in Fiji and Tonga, where he met with the King and Queen to discuss their love of the people.”

“We spoke of our love for Tonga, and the Tongan people,” said Nelson. “As we work for strong families we will have strong nations and a kinder world.”

Finally, the Pacific Ministry tour concluded in Tahiti, where President Edouard Fritch and the First Lady of French Polynesia hosted President and Sister Nelson. The group enjoyed a cultural celebration marking the 175th anniversary of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in Tonga.

“We see evidence that the church is a source for good here,” President Nelson said.

Finally, Latin America

In late August and early September of 2019, President Russell M. Nelson conducted a nine-day tour through Latin America, visiting Guatemala, Colombia, Ecuador, Argentina and Brazil.

This represents 14 thousand miles of ministry, visiting with nearly 345-thousand Latter-day Saints. And again, President Nelson was able to speak to Church members in their native language. This thoughtfulness was not lost on at least one church member who said, “Even though I speak English, it’s not the same as hearing him speak in your language. It’s amazing!”

President Nelson concluded his Latin American ministry tour in Brazil, the largest country in both South America and Latin America. In Sao Paulo, more than 37-thousand people attended a devotional at the Anheimbi Convention center.

It was the largest gathering President Nelson had spoken to outside of the United States. “It was a thrill to see so many faithful Latter-day Saints,” Nelson said.