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One year of COVID-19: What we know now

President M. Russell Ballard, acting president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, talks about pioneers while sitting in front of the Mary Fielding Smith home at This Is the Place Heritage Park in Salt Lake City on Monday, June 15, 2020. Credit: Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
President M. Russell Ballard, Elder Brent Nielson, Presidency of the Seventy, and Sister Sharon Eubank, First Counselor, Relief Society General Presidency, participate in a Zoom meeting with young single adults from the Church Office Building in Salt Lake City on Sunday, March 7, 2021. Credit: Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
President M. Russell Ballard speaks about Topsfield, Massachusetts, where a new monument now honors five generations of Joseph Smith’s family. Credit: Photo by Rhett Lewis
Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and his wife, Sister Harriet R. Uchtdorf, address missionaries during a devotional, broadcast on February 23, 2021. Credit: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
Elder Neil L. Andersen, Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf and Elder David A. Bednar converse in the Conference Center Theater before the Saturday morning session of the 190th Semiannual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on Oct. 3, 2020. Credit: Intellectual Reserve, Inc.
Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf speaks in a virtual missionary devotional broadcast Aug. 13, 2020. Credit: Intellectual Reserve, Inc.
Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints sits down for an interview at the Relief Society building on Temple in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2021. Credit: Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
Elder David A. Bednar, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, is pictured during the Saturday morning session of the 190th Semiannual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on Oct. 3, 2020. Credit: Intellectual Reserve, Inc.
Elder Quentin L. Cook and his wife, Sister Mary Cook, wave to young adults who participated in the virtual Mexico YSA National Conference on Sunday, Nov. 29, 2020. Credit: Screenshot
Elder Quentin L. Cook, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and his wife, Sister Mary Cook, enter the Conference Center Theater for the church's 190th Semiannual General Conference on Saturday, Oct. 3, 2020. Credit: Intellectual Reserve, Inc.
Elder Luis Castillo, left, and Elder Isaac Escalante of the Ecuador Quito Mission pose in front of a wall while taking a walk in their area in Quito, Ecuador, in late summer 2020. Missionaries have found new and creative ways to do missionary work during Credit: David Winters
Missionaries of the China Hong Kong Mission move their luggage toward the check-in counters at the airport as they evacuate due to growing coronavirus concerns, as shown in a photo courtesy of President Dennis L. Phillips. The photo is one he included as a submission to the Church History Department's project of documenting missionary experiences during the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic, which drew 7,000 online entries from missionaries and mission leaders worldwide. Credit: Intellectual Reserve, Inc.
Bishop Darren L. Harline and his wife, Cherilyn Harline, and their six children observe the Sabbath in their home in San Clemente, California, on March 15, 2020, after the Church suspended all meetings in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Credit: Photo by Alan Gibby
Bishop Darren L. Harline and his wife, Cherilyn Harline, and their six children observe the Sabbath in their home in San Clemente, California, on March 15, 2020, after the Church suspended all meetings in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Credit: Photo by Alan Gibby
Michael Brock and his daughter, Jessica, prepare for the sacrament in their home in Henderson, Nevada, on March 15, 2020. Traditional gatherings were cancelled because of the coronavirus pandemic. Credit: Photo courtesy of Nanda Brock
The Trochez Family gathers for a home sacrament service in Cali, Colombia, on March 15, 2020. Traditional gatherings were cancelled because of the coronavirus pandemic. Credit: Photo courtesy of Argemiro Trochez
Rome Temple in Rome, Italy, on Friday, Nov. 16, 2018. Credit: Kristin Murphy, Deseret News
Seattle Washington Temple Credit: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
Originally dedicated in 2002 by President Gordon B. Hinckley, the Asuncion Paraguay Temple was rededicated on Nov. 3, 2019, by Elder D. Todd Christofferson. Credit: Jason Swensen
The Asunción Paraguay Temple. Credit: Intellectual Reserve, Inc.
Leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints participate in the Saturday morning session of the 190th Annual General Conference at Church headquarters on April 4, 2020. Credit: Intellectual Reserve, Inc.
President Russell M. Nelson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints participates in the Saturday morning session of the 190th Annual General Conference at Church headquarters on April 4, 2020. Credit: Intellectual Reserve, Inc.

The world will win this “war on the coronavirus,” said President M. Russell Ballard, Acting President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, in an interview March 24, 2020. 

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. 

Timeline: How the Church has responded to the global COVID-19 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.

Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf speaks in a virtual missionary devotional broadcast Aug. 13, 2020.
Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf speaks in a virtual missionary devotional broadcast Aug. 13, 2020. | Credit: Intellectual Reserve, Inc.

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. 

Elder Luis Castillo, left, and Elder Isaac Escalante of the Ecuador Quito Mission pose in front of a wall while taking a walk in their area in Quito, Ecuador, in late summer 2020. Missionaries have found new and creative ways to do missionary work during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Elder Luis Castillo, left, and Elder Isaac Escalante of the Ecuador Quito Mission pose in front of a wall while taking a walk in their area in Quito, Ecuador, in late summer 2020. Missionaries have found new and creative ways to do missionary work during the COVID-19 pandemic. | Credit: David Winters

“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.”

‘Remarkable lessons’

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.”

Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints sits down for an interview at the Relief Society building on Temple in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2021.
Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints sits down for an interview at the Relief Society building on Temple in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2021. | Credit: Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

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. 

A view of the Rome Italy Temple and the Italian-style piazza on the temple grounds.
A view of the Rome Italy Temple and the Italian-style piazza on the temple grounds. | Credit: Intellectual Reserve, Inc.

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.

Elder Quentin L. Cook and his wife, Sister Mary Cook, wave to young adults who participated in the virtual Mexico YSA National Conference on Sunday, Nov. 29, 2020.
Elder Quentin L. Cook and his wife, Sister Mary Cook, wave to young adults who participated in the virtual Mexico YSA National Conference on Sunday, Nov. 29, 2020. | Credit: Screenshot

“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. 

Bishop Darren L. Harline and his wife, Cherilyn Harline, and their six children observe the Sabbath in their home in San Clemente, California, on March 15, 2020, after the Church suspended all meetings in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Bishop Darren L. Harline and his wife, Cherilyn Harline, and their six children observe the Sabbath in their home in San Clemente, California, on March 15, 2020, after the Church suspended all meetings in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. | Credit: Photo by Alan Gibby

“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.

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