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Sarah Jane Weaver: How I know a connection to God leads to a connection with His children


Outside of the stately Government Palace in the Peruvian capital city of Lima in October 2018, President Russell M. Nelson paused before meeting Peru President Martín Vizcarra, catching the eye of a local tour guide.

“Who is that man?” she asked members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints waiting to interview President Nelson.

President Russell M. Nelson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, center, Elder Gary E. Stevenson, of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, and Elder Enrique Falabella, General Authority Seventy, speak with media after leaving the Government Palace after visiting the president of Peru in Lima, Peru, on Oct. 20, 2018.

President Russell M. Nelson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, center, Elder Gary E. Stevenson, of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, and Elder Enrique Falabella, General Authority Seventy, speak with media after leaving the Government Palace after visiting the president of Peru in Lima, Peru, on Oct. 20, 2018.

Credit: Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Then, trusting in what she was sensing from President Nelson — a man she clearly did not know — she yelled out: “Will you bless Peru?”

The interaction was one of many during President Nelson’s ministry visit to South America; in addition to the meeting with the president of Peru, he also addressed missionaries in the South America Northwest Area and spoke to almost 6,000 at a member devotional broadcast throughout the country from Lima’s Coliseo Mariscal Caceres, an indoor arena.

Read more about President Nelson’s ministry in Peru

At the conclusion of the day, President Nelson offered a blessing on the land and people of Peru.

For me, the moment was tender and powerful, the fulfillment of a plea from a stranger to a leader.

Several years later, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the Catholic archbishop of New York, articulated why that moment — and so many like it — mattered so much to me.

Gathering with prominent faith and thought leaders on the University of Notre Dame campus on June 28-29, 2021, for the inaugural Notre Dame Religious Liberty Summit, Cardinal Dolan said the word “religion” comes  “from the Latin word meaning a tie, a bond.”

“Religion gives you a sense of responsibility, a sense of duty, and a sense of giving back. Religion becomes a light to the world, a leaven to society. We can’t build bridges to one another until we have the bridge to the Lord.”

Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Archbishop of New York, left, and Elder Quentin L. Cook, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, laugh during an interview during the Notre Dame Religious Liberty Summit at the University of Notre Dame in Notre Dame, Indiana, on Monday, June 28, 2021.

Cardinal Timothy Dolan, archbishop of New York, left, and Elder Quentin L. Cook, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, laugh during an interview during the Notre Dame Religious Liberty Summit at the University of Notre Dame in Notre Dame, Indiana, on Monday, June 28, 2021.

Credit: Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

The lesson was simple. A connection to God, leads to a connection with His children.

That sweet sentiment is also a hallmark of President Nelson’s global ministry.

Faith in God is, and has always been, the preeminent force for good in this world, wrote President Nelson in an op-ed article published Feb. 10, 2019, in the Arizona Republic.

Reflecting on his nine and a half decades of life, President Nelson simply wrote: “A life with God is far better — more filled with hope — than one without Him. Faith in God is, and has always been, the preeminent force for good in this world. It is the most enduring source of peace for minds and hearts.”

But in recent years, President Nelson said, we have experienced a shift from a world in which it seemed impossible not to believe in God to one in which faith is simply an option — and far too often subject to ridicule. Indeed, he wrote, human souls yearn to understand the purpose of life and to realize that God knows and cares about them.

“Whatever your faith tradition or personal circumstances, as a servant of the Lord, I invite you to look to Him and make Him the center of your life. Pour out your heart to God and ask Him for His help. He will infuse your life with meaning and fill your heart with hope that transcends anything the world can offer.”

Just seven months after offering a simple prayer for the nation of Peru, President Nelson met with Mustafa Farouk, president of the Islamic Associations of New Zealand. The pair discussed “incomprehensible” attacks at the Al Noor and Linwood mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, a few months earlier — which resulted in 51 deaths.

President Russell M. Nelson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints greets Sheik Mohammad Amir and Elder Gerrit W. Gong, of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, shakes hands with Dr. Mustafa Farouk in Auckland, New Zealand on May 21, 2019.

President Russell M. Nelson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints greets Sheik Mohammad Amir and Elder Gerrit W. Gong, of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, shakes hands with Dr. Mustafa Farouk in Auckland, New Zealand on May 21, 2019.

Credit: Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

President Nelson slipped his arm into the arm of Farouk. “We are brothers. We are brothers,” he said.

Farouk said linking arms with President Nelson was a symbol of unity.

“We are all united,” he said. “We are all one.”

The leaders had built a bridge to one another, because they both had built a bridge to God.

Just as he had months earlier offered a prayer on Peru — fulfilling a sincere request from a stranger outside the presidential palace — President Nelson approached mosque shooting victim Ahmed Jahangir, released that week from the hospital and still bearing the injuries of the attack. President Nelson asked his name and the name of his doctor.

President Nelson left Jahangir with a sweet promise that became, as Cardinal Dolan later articulated, a connection to him because of a shared connection to God.

“I will pray for you, and I will pray for your doctor,” he said.

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