At the time, Church leaders had recently suspended gatherings worldwide in response to COVID-19, and more than half the Church’s missionary force had returned or were returning to their home nations to be released or reassigned. The day after President Ballard’s statement, the First Presidency would close all temples.
In the ensuing months, Church leaders continued to respond to COVID-19 with “unprecedented action.” As circumstances allowed and opportunities arose, they also found ways for members to safely gather, for temple work to be performed and for missionaries to safely share the gospel message.
One year after President Ballard declared the world will win the war on COVID-19, he again offered words of encouragement and counsel: “Number 1, we are going to solve it,” he said in a recent interview, referring to ongoing vaccination efforts to quell the pandemic.
“Does that mean we are going to be secure forever? No, because there may be something that comes rolling around behind it. … I have been through in a lifetime so many circumstances where some thought the world was coming to an end,” said the 92-year-old leader.
“Through it all, we hang on to our witness and our testimony that Jesus is the Christ, that He is the Savior and Redeemer.”
Some things in the world “we can’t control,” President Ballard said, and there may be times of chaos. “But the gospel and doctrine of the Lord Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever.”
“If we are anchored to Jesus Christ, and striving to keep His commandments, let what happens in the world that we can’t control happen. And we will be happy. We will be secure. And we will be helpful and full of service and desire to do the right things. It is that simple.”
President Ballard’s counsel joins thoughts of other senior Church leaders on what members and Church leaders have learned after a year of COVID-19.
‘We will be better’
As chairman of the Church’s Missionary Executive Council, Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles has echoed similar counsel to the global missionary force — who he deemed as “the pioneers of our day.”
“Focus on the things you can do and not on the things you cannot do,” Elder Uchtdorf said during a devotional on Aug. 13, 2020.
He has frequently highlighted technology — including smartphones and social media — as one tool of many inspired means to share the Lord’s gospel in normal and natural ways, telling missionaries not to underestimate its value.
“When restrictions to our missionary work ease again, don’t just go back to the old ways. Go back to the future,” he said in a Feb. 25 devotional. “Move forward and upward as you apply what you have learned during the pandemic.”
During the October 2020 general conference, Elder Uchtdorf acknowledged there are still many unknowns about COVID-19.
“But if there is one thing I do know, it is that this virus did not catch Heavenly Father by surprise. He did not have to muster additional battalions of angels, call emergency meetings, or divert resources from the world-creation division to handle an unexpected need.”
Though the pandemic was unexpected to His children, “God has prepared His children and His Church for this time,” Elder Uchtdorf told the worldwide audience.
“We will endure this, yes. But we will do more than simply grit our teeth, hold on, and wait for things to return to the old normal. We will move forward, and we will be better as a result.”
As restrictions for worshipping in temples continue to impact Latter-day Saints, Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said he sees blessings and growth despite all the temple closures, gradual reopenings and dedication postponements.
“We are in a season when we have experienced something that has never occurred before in this dispensation — all the temples had to be closed,” he said during a Feb. 8 interview. “But it was also an opportunity to learn remarkable lessons.”
Temples worldwide are in various stages of operations as part of the careful and cautious four-phased reopening plan that was announced in May 2020. Today, some temples are open for both proxy and living ordinance work — most performing only living ordinances — while some are paused or are yet to reopen.
“Perhaps for a little longer we cannot be physically in the temple, but is the temple in us? Are the covenants and ordinances in us?” asked Elder Bednar, who serves as chairman of the Temple and Family History Executive Council. “I think we have been compelled to reflect on, remember and cherish temple covenants and ordinances in ways we may not have otherwise appreciated.”
The COVID-19 pandemic resulted in a virtual RootsTech Connect and Temple and Family History Leadership session this year. “Consider how technology has made possible a leadership session involving people from all over the world,” said Elder Bednar during the Feb. 25 broadcast.
Though “constrained in some unusual ways” by COVID-19, these constraints do not have to be restrictive nor limiting. “If we have eyes to see and ears to hear, then in limitations and in constraints there can be remarkable blessings,” he said.
During his October 2020 general conference message on proving and preparation, Elder Bednar said, “I pray that we as individuals and families are learning the valuable lessons that only challenging experiences can teach us.
“I also hope that all of us will more fully acknowledge the ‘greatness of God’ and the truth that “he shall consecrate [our] afflictions for [our] gain” (2 Nephi 2:2).
‘Focus on the Savior’
Through inspired leaders, the Lord prepared His Church both temporally and spiritually for changing and challenging times, said Elder Quentin L. Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in an interview on April 29, 2020.
Those inspired efforts now form “an interlocking pattern of strength” that sustains and supports Latter-day Saints facing the COVID-19 global pandemic.
Such efforts include improving Sabbath day observance, introducing gospel teachings that emulate the Savior, making changes to Melchizedek Priesthood quorums, shifting from home and visiting teaching to ministering, expanding responsibilities of elders quorums and Relief Societies, instituting an integrated curriculum and developing the Children and Youth program.
“This time,” said Elder Cook, chairman of the Priesthood and Family Executive Council, “is foundational and will allow the Church to grow in the future and touch more lives and do more of the work of salvation than ever before. We will look back on this as a foundational time of preparation, and not just something we had to endure.”
Being optimistic and being of good cheer is a decision all can make, regardless of the circumstances, Elder Cook said during a Jan. 27 devotional at BYU-Idaho.
“This attitude usually begins with being grateful,” he said, expressing thanks that President Russell M. Nelson taught this profound principle to the world in November. “Gratitude is the first step towards optimism and good cheer.”
President Nelson issued two invitations to embrace “the healing power of gratitude”: First, turn social media into a gratitude journal with posts using #GiveThanks. Second, thank God through daily prayer.
“No matter our situation, showing gratitude for our privileges is a fast-acting and long-lasting spiritual prescription,” President Nelson said in the video message.
Quoting President Nelson, Elder Cook told BYU-Idaho students, “The joy we feel has little to do with the circumstances of our lives and everything to do with the focus of our lives.”
That focus, Elder Cook said, “is the Savior!”
“As we love, follow and worship the Savior, we will have peace in this world and eternal life in the world to come.”
— Scott Taylor, managing editor of the Church News, contributed to this article.