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Episode 79: Elder Kevin W. Pearson on the positive influence Utah has on the global Church; featuring Sheri Dew as guest host

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Elder Kevin W. Pearson, a General Authority Seventy and president of the Utah Area, joins the Church News podcast to discuss the unique challenges and opportunities of building the Church in Utah.


The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a global Church headquartered in Salt Lake City, Utah. While the Utah Area is small in terms of geography, it is the Church’s largest in terms of membership, activity and influence.

This episode of the Church News podcast features Elder Kevin W. Pearson, a General Authority Seventy and president of the Utah Area, to discuss the unique challenges and opportunities of building the Church in this area of the world.

Elder Pearson is joined by guest host Sheri L. Dew, executive vice president and chief content officer of Deseret Management Corp. and a former member of the Relief Society general presidency. The podcast was recorded just before the April 2022 general conference of the Church.

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Transcript

Elder Kevin W. Pearson: Having a strong, faithful, energetic Church in Utah is very important to the perception of the Church, but also to the capacity of the Church to continue to grow in every other part of the world. There isn’t a ward in the world, much less in Utah, that represents what the Church is on a global basis. I think members of the Church would be shocked if they could see the scope of the goodness of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on the world. It’s been an eye-opening experience for me, but the work that the Church does, the scope of what the restored gospel of Jesus Christ is, and its influence on the world, is almost incomprehensible.

Sarah Jane Weaver: I’m Sarah Jane Weaver, editor of the Church News. Welcome to the Church News podcast. We are taking you on a journey of connection as we discuss news and events of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. 

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a global church headquartered in Salt Lake City, Utah. While the Utah Area is small in terms of geography, it’s the Church’s largest in terms of membership, activity and influence. Today on the Church News podcast, we’re joined by the president of the Utah Area, Elder Kevin W. Pearson, to discuss the unique challenges and opportunities of building the Church in Utah. Elder Pearson was sustained as a General Authority Seventy in April 2008. His calling and service have taken him around the world as president of the Washington Tacoma Mission, a counselor in the Europe East Area, president of the Pacific Area, assistant in the North America Southwest Area, and an assistant executive director of the Missionary Department. 

Elder Pearson is joined today by special guest host Sheri L. Dew, executive vice president and chief content officer of Deseret Management Corp. and a former member of the Relief Society general presidency. Welcome both of you to the Church News podcast, and we’ll turn the microphone over to you.

Sheri Dew: Thank you, Sarah. It's wonderful to be here with you today, Elder Pearson, thank you so much for being willing to talk to us today.

Elder Kevin W. Pearson: Happy to be here.

Sheri Dew: As Sarah said in her introduction, you have served in several area presidencies: Europe East, you’ve been the president of the Pacific Area presidency. Now you’re the president of the Utah Area presidency. When I think about those three area presidencies, that’s a pretty broad spectrum. They’re not terribly alike, I wouldn’t think. And I’m wondering if we could just start by saying, what have you learned? What are you learning from those very varied experiences leading an area of the Church?

3:06  

Elder Kevin W. Pearson: Well, thank you. It’s a good question. My service in the Europe East Area was relatively short compared to the other two, so far, and that would have been going back to 2009 and 2010. And it became obvious right away that the only way the Church was going to survive in Russia was: One, if we consolidated some of these units and got a critical mass, but also that we had to get young men and young women on missions, and as you started to see them coming back from missions, it was revitalization of the Church. 

And the second thing that was remarkable to me was the power and strength of women. It was evident that the women had really held that culture together through those, what, roughly 70 years of the Soviet Union. But in the Church, women somehow had a greater, deeper sense of not just emotional resilience, but spiritual resilience, and I was really taken aback by the power of women, spiritually and emotionally, compared to the men. 

Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and his wife, Sister Susan Bednar, Presid

Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and his wife, Sister Susan Bednar, President Dallin H. Oaks, first counselor in the First Presidency, and his wife, Sister Kristen Oaks, center, and Elder Kevin W. Pearson, a General Authority Seventy and president of the California Area, and his wife, Sister June Pearson outside the Oakland California Temple on Saturday, June 15, 2019.

Steve Griffin, Deseret News, Deseret News

And contrasting that, maybe, with my experience in the Pacific: The Pacific kind of had three different churches — still does — had a number of these islands that were emerging churches, places like Vanuatu, Papua New Guinea — who, incidentally, have just had announcements that temples are coming — and a lot of, the Solomon Islands, and even to some extent, other far-flung places like the Marshall Islands and so forth. The Church was very much in its sort of an infant stage, and once again, as we were getting younger men and women out on missions and they had different experiences in different places, you could just see how that provided a foundation of leadership strength, stability, just sort of anchoring the Church there. 

Then there was also this growing, what I referred to as a growing church: Samoa, Tonga, Fiji, Tahiti, where the percentage of the members of these islands are remarkable: 55-plus percent in Tonga, 35-plus percent in Samoa, 10-plus percent in Tahiti. And the Church was still growing, and maturing, and it was the youth of the Church that were strengthening the Church. Contrasted with what I refer to as the mature Church in the Pacific Islands: New Zealand, Australia, those kinds of things. But again, throughout all of that, was just the power and strength of women. There was a depth of spirituality, there was a commitment to covenants, there was a focus, and you could see clearly that the Savior was at the center of their lives, and they were deeply committed to keeping their covenants. 

So how does that compare with Utah? Well, Utah is not an emerging Church. It’s not a growing Church, in that sense; it is the mature Church. This is the center place for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This is the place that we send most of the missionaries out from, still, and that’s going to be true for the foreseeable future. Utah has multigenerational families. And what has kept those multigenerational families intact? It’s women. And women have it kind of tough: They’re trying to balance between desires to be mothers and wives and to develop and take advantage of all of their talents and their abilities in a world where there’s ample opportunity or growing opportunity for that. But that’s still the strength of the Church in Utah; it has been in my own family, it has been in every observation I can make. It’s the strength and power of women. And that’s kind of a common thread through a very diverse set of experiences and opportunities for me.

‘Everyone belongs and we are all different’: Relief Society celebrates 180th anniversary of women ministering, serving

Sheri Dew: It’s interesting, you focus on that, Elder Pearson. I’ve been thinking about several things as you’ve been talking. When we were on the media team that was covering President and Sister Nelson, as they were doing some of their travels early in his presidency, we were in Tonga. I’ll never forget walking through the lobby of the hotel, and there were half a dozen gorgeous, just — I mean, brightness in their faces, Tongan women all ready. They’re all dressed up. They’ve got their finery on. And so they came over, we started talking ,and I said, “Would you like to send a message to Sister Nelson?” And so I whipped out my iPhone, and so, tears immediately, and they started to tell what they had done to prepare for the Prophet to come. They had been fasting, they had been praying, they were thanking the Prophet for remembering, quote, unquote, "the isles of the sea." And I still just remember how deeply moved I was by their deep desire to be prepared to hear whatever the Prophet had to say. 

Now, then, I’m thinking about my very first audience when I was in the Relief Society general presidency that I spoke to in St. Petersburg; it was the first experience speaking to an audience in Eastern Europe. And this, of course, this time in Russia, and the audience was different. Meaning there was very little audience reaction, not at all like a South American audience or even an Asian audience or certainly not a Polynesian audience. But afterwards, the women came up in throngs to just express their deep feelings about the gospel. 

So let’s transition now to say, picturing all those people you have seen firsthand, and you’ve shaken their hands, you’ve taught them, you’ve led them. When we think about what’s happening in Eastern Europe today: What has come to your heart and mind as you think about those women, those children. We’ve seen them evacuating from Ukraine. Anything you would like to say about the current situation?

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People fleeing Ukraine arrive at the Slovakian border.

Photo courtesy of UNHCR

9:06  

Elder Kevin W. Pearson: Yes. My heart aches for both sides of that conflict. You know, we're hearing remarkable stories of faith. I mean, these are — the refugees are the women and the children. 

Sheri Dew: Right, because the men have to stay, right?

Elder Kevin W. Pearson: The men have to stay, they’re mandatory conscription into the military. But these women are going into a very uncertain situation, but their stories of faith and relying on the Lord and their covenants, the promises of the gospel of Jesus Christ. They are having some remarkable experiences, and they’re communicating firsthand the power of having developed an ability to receive personal revelation. President Nelson’s message has gotten through to a lot of people, and a lot of these Saints are reflecting back on how grateful they are, that over the last couple of years they’ve really developed that spiritual capacity to listen for and to recognize spiritual impressions and spiritual direction. 

And we haven’t lost any members of the Church, as of a day or two ago. Now, maybe that will change, but they are being protected. They’re being guided and directed. I’m sure they’re suffering, there’s no doubt about it. But they have remarkable, remarkable faith and trust in the Lord. And even though their expression of faith might be a little different than other cultures, it runs very, very deep. 

And on the other side of that conflict, you have the poor Saints in Russia, who are just as faithful or doing just as much to keep their covenants and to rely on the Lord. Having met individuals both in Ukraine and in Russia, my heart goes out to them, they’re in a very difficult spot. But isn’t it extraordinary what’s happening as they leave some of these cities that are particularly at risk? They’re being taken in by members of the Church everywhere. The strength of the Church is evident in how they’re being ministered to and assisted, as they get over borders to Poland, with outstretched arms. You’ve got members of the Church who have very little themselves who are inviting these people in their homes and doing whatever they can to sustain them and support them and love them. And so I think we’re going to see some unbelievably powerful, profound stories of faith and miraculous intervention, by the Spirit of the Lord in the lives of these people, as their stories are subsequently told later on.

What the Church is doing to help in Eastern Europe

Sheri Dew: I think we are, too. In your reference to President Nelson’s message that has gotten through about learning to receive revelation. He said, I can’t quote it perfectly, but he pled with us, right? To increase our capacity to receive revelation. And he said, short of that, you’re gonna have trouble in the days ahead. So there are a lot of different ways to cause suffering. What were you thinking when you heard about an undersea volcano that erupts in a most — if you didn’t have to deal with the aftermath — an absolutely spectacular way. But what, 40 miles from Tonga? Is that about right?

Elder Kevin W. Pearson: Yeah.

Sheri Dew: What were your thoughts? 

12:15  

Elder Kevin W. Pearson: When I first heard that I was worried sick. Tonga is flat. Again, there is no high spot on that island. Water can run right across Tonga from one end to the other without any trouble at all. Even the temple is maybe a meter higher than another spot. There’s just no high ground there. And knowing that many people there live off of the land. I immediately could visualize their crops being completely wiped out and having no way to sustain themselves. When we’ve had terrible problems in Samoa, it’s the Tongans who bag up all of their vegetables, and they send them over to Samoans to take care of them. I’m just hoping that there’s some reciprocal mercy and love that flows back to them, because they certainly deserve it. But they are people of such faith, they just pick up and move forward. So I think the initial devastation that hits the news is over, but there’s some real long-term issues and challenges they’re going to face that we’re probably not going to hear about on the news, but are going to be, nonetheless, just real challenges for them.

Sorting clothing to ship from New Zealand to Tonga

Members of the Auckland New Zealand Penrose Stake gather and sort clothing donations for Tonga in Auckland, New Zealand, February 2022.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Sheri Dew: Before we leave that part of the world — are there any big takeaways, big lessons that when you left the South Pacific living there for several years, what did you know at the end of that, that you maybe didn't realize when you arrived?

13:41  

Elder Kevin W. Pearson: One of the things that surprised me the most, and I think it came in my first initial visits to Tonga and Samoa and Tahiti. You get there and they just give you these gifts, they give you beads, they give you these leis, and you’re like, “Stop, you don’t have the money for this.” And I remember one sweet, I think it was a Samoan sister, who just, I mentioned this a couple times and said, “You know, you really need to stop doing this, giving us gifts when we come here.” And she kind of grabbed me by my collar, my tie, just a little bit, pulled me close. It was a little, it was kind of an older woman, and she said: “Elder Pearson. This isn’t about you. This is a sign that we love the Lord, and we know that you’ve been sent as servants of the Lord by the Prophet, and this is our way of honoring him. So can you just be patient and just deal with it?” I mean, that’s essentially what she said, in a very loving way. But she caught me just a little bit short. They have such enormous love and respect for the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve [Apostle] and anybody that’s sent by them. I just wish that there was maybe a little bit more of that on this side of the Pacific Ocean.

Sheri Dew: So let's transition. Here we are in Utah, you're now the president of the Utah Area. Certainly the most visible area. You're right here under the shadow of the everlasting hills, as we sometimes say,

15:22  

Elder Kevin W. Pearson: And under the adult supervision of the 15 Apostles, seers and revelators.

Sheri Dew: Yes. I was trying to think of a delicate way to say that, so thank you for just saying it. Here we are; The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is absolutely a global Church. What are we, in 200-plus countries, and increasingly globalized? There’s no question about that. And yet, this is where the headquarters are. This is where the senior brethren operate. It’s where our forebears were brought to establish a place where we could worship and set down roots, and it’s still crucially important to the Church. Let’s just talk about that for a minute, about why is Utah the face of a global organization? Why is Utah still very significant, just to the operations, let alone, to, as you say, this is the mature Church. I mean, that scares me sometimes when I think about how immature some of us are, with myself at the top of the list, but this is the mature Church. So talk a little bit about why is Utah still so important?

16:31  

Elder Kevin W. Pearson: Well, I think that’s true on several levels. On just one level it’s roughly 13% of the membership of the Church, but nearly 20% of the stakes, which ought to suggest something about faithfulness. We send out about 30% of the young full-time missionaries; we send out over 52% of the senior couples. So, just in terms of what we export, in terms of sheer volume of resources to help from a leadership perspective. Probably, I don’t know, about 30% of the general leadership of the Church comes from this area. About, almost an equivalent, maybe 25%-27% of all the mission presidents and temple presidents. So it is an extremely important exporter or creator of leadership, talent and ability in the Church. 

It’s not that there aren’t faithful people everywhere, but when you just talk about senior couple missionaries, there’s a lot of people around the world in some of these countries we’ve just mentioned who would love to go on missions, but they don’t have retirement systems, they don’t have a Social Security safety net that allows them to do that. And so people here have that capacity and desire and make an extraordinary difference around the world. 

I don’t have, nor would I talk about it if I did, but you have got to believe that, from a financial point of view, that this is still the breadbasket of the Church. I mean, just look at the last 30 years. I was born and raised in Salt Lake. So I’ve lived here much of my life, although worked in other places. This state has been enormously prosperous in the last 20 or 30 years, just incredibly so. And with that many members having that kind of level of prosperity, why are people so surprised that all sudden the Church is enjoying a level of prosperity that it didn’t 30 years ago? It’s a reflection of the faithfulness of the members of the Church here who are being blessed for their faithfulness, and in turn, that strengthens the entire Church. So just from a financial point, from a resource point of view, it is and will continue to be at the very center of the Church and its capability. 

But I think there’s another level beyond that, and that is: This is the headquarters of the Church, and you would expect at the headquarters of the Church, that the Saints around the Church would be as faithful and as strong as anywhere in the Church. And people all around the world look to Utah, they hope and pray their children might get accepted to BYU. Why? Because they’ve spent their years growing up in areas where there’s not very many members of the Church, and they look to that for someone that they can have social experiences, and spiritual experiences, and maybe even find a companion, I don’t know. But they look, wanting their children to have that kind of experience that they perceive and still hope exists in Utah with the young people that are growing up here. So it becomes an example to the rest of the Church; but also, the rest of the world looks to the headquarters of the Church to say, “This ought to represent what the Church of Jesus Christ is all about.” So having a strong, faithful, energetic Church in Utah is very important to the perception of the Church, but also to the capacity of the Church to continue to grow in every other part of the world.

Sheri Dew: It’s an interesting thing: when I was a little girl growing up in a little branch in the Midwest, we came to Logan, Utah, twice a year to visit Grandma. Where the church was, we went to the good ol’ 11th Ward, and it was a big ward, and I had come from such a small thing. As the only Latter-day Saint in my high school, I would often think, “I wish we lived in Utah, it’s so hard out here.” And yet there are unique challenges here. There are both great advantages to being in a place where there are lots of members, and there are some challenges that are different from places where there’s only one little girl in the high school. Let’s talk about some of the challenges that might be uniquely Utah, for members in Utah, as opposed to a place — we had plenty in Kansas, believe me, we had our own challenges. But I think they’re different than here.

21:02  

Elder Kevin W. Pearson: I think that’s true. I mentioned earlier how much members of the Church look to the leaders of the Church in other areas. I worry sometimes that members of the Church here take for granted the fact that the living Prophet of God is here, that the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, they’re all right here. It’s like, “Oh yeah, I’m sure they’re here.” And I think too many people take them for granted. I think many — and I don’t want to over characterize, because there’s some of the most faithful, wonderful members of the Church in the world are here — but I worry that not only are we casual about the Prophet, but that leads to being casual about our membership in the Savior’s Church. 

In other areas, people will do whatever it takes to make sure they hear conference, and I don’t know, but I oftentimes wonder, “OK, now, in a few weeks, we’ve got conference, there’s going to be 10 hours of conference, what percentage of the Church is really going to be prayerfully, looking forward to, fasting and praying, and anticipating hearing of the Prophet of God?” Many people are gonna say, “Oh, you know, we got soccer games, we got this going on.” And I understand that. My wife and I raised boys, we had Saturdays where we had to listen to it on the radio. But the point is, I worry that there’ll be too many people that won’t pay very much attention to what’s going on at conference, and maybe they’ll catch a session, maybe they’ll catch two. But it won’t be a primary event in their life that they’re looking forward to, anticipating that the Savior is going to give revelation to His beloved Saints through His prophets, seers and revelators. And I think we’re casual about that here. 

I think the other thing that’s going on, maybe it’s part of this materialism we talked about, how prosperous — there’s a lot of money and Utah in ways that there didn’t used to be —

Sheri Dew: And increasingly so. 

Elder Kevin W. Pearson: — Increasingly so. People are doing very, very well in here, and we know, through the patterns of the Book of Mormon, when people become a little too prosperous, they get a little too caught up in themselves, in their lives, and they get distracted by it, and a little bit deceived by where it came from, and how they got it, and whether or not it’s going to stay. And when you’ve got more, all of a sudden, you want to buy more of what the world has to offer. And I just worry about that with some of our younger families. I worry about it with young couples, young single adults, I worry about it with the youth, that it’s too easy to focus on what you can buy, what you can do and where you can go, and that can distract you from the things that are most important in life. And I think that’s easy to do anywhere. That’s not just a Utah problem. But I think it’s easy to take for granted your membership in the Church here, because it’s sort of part of the culture, it’s all around you, so it becomes more of a social thing than a deeply personal spiritual thing in your life when you’re in a large group of members of the Church, as opposed to when you’re out on your own, and you’ve got to stand on your own two feet spiritually.

Sheri Dew: So I compare my experience being raised in Kansas, quote, unquote, "the mission field," with my experience living my adult life in Utah. And one of the things that I have asked myself a lot, because — Now, again, I was raised a long time ago. It’s getting older than I care to admit.

Elder Kevin W. Pearson: Well, we both were, and the world is a different place.

Sheri Dew: It is a different place, right? I mean, it’s changing so much. But clearly when I was raised, again, in the Midwest, if you were a member of the Church, you were either really in, or you weren’t at all active; there wasn’t really much gray. When you get into a place where there’s just a bigger populace, you’re gonna see gray, and I think the times are bringing that as well. So one of the things I’ve asked myself many times, whether it’s when I was in the old days as a Laurel adviser, or working with the youth in some capacity to say, “OK, what do we do then when we have the strength of numbers, but maybe the competing challenge of a little more apathy at times or a little more gray?” What do you think parents, aunts and uncles, leaders, teachers can do to help the youth right here recognize their potential, and recognize the tremendous gifts that they have by being all in? Is there anything we need to do different here than in other places in helping raise our youth?

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Members of the Westminster YSA Ward remove weeds from a playground in Modesto Park in South Salt Lake, Utah, as part of a JustServe and 9/11 Day service project, on Sept. 11, 2021.

Royce Bair

25:58  

Elder Kevin W. Pearson: That question sort of evokes sort of two different thoughts for me. The first is: One of the challenges of living in a highly concentrated population of members of the Church or any other kind of affiliation is that it’s easy for your perspective about what the Church is and what the Church does to be narrowed down to the four blocks that constitute your ward. So your ward is your world when it comes to the Church. There isn’t a ward in the world, much less in Utah, that represents what the Church is on a global basis. I think members of the Church would be shocked, and just speechlessly dumbfounded, if they could see the scope of the goodness of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on the world. As a general authority, it’s been an eye-opening experience for me as I’ve gone from place to place. But the work that the Church does, the scope of what the restored gospel of Jesus Christ is, and its influence on the world, is almost incomprehensible, even though we’re still a relatively small organization in the world. And too many people living in a ward don’t have that perspective. So I think the first thing I would say is, we’ve got to help all members of the Church have a different, more realistic perspective of what the Church is and what it’s doing in the world. Many of the critics of the Church now, instead of poking at little doctrine, or leaders or little policies, they’re sort of migrating to these mega-narratives that the Church is bad, it’s doing bad, it’s not an influence. That is so incredibly untrue, but a lot of people are buying into that because their perspective is their neighborhood or their ward, and they just can’t see the forest for the trees that they’re stuck in. So that’s one issue, I think just perspective — the whole Church needs to scope up a little bit and get a clue about really what’s going on in the world and the role that the Church is playing in it. It’s extraordinary. 

On a more microlevel, to the last part of your question — and I suppose they’re related in some ways, but I don’t — I worry that people don’t fully appreciate the spiritual danger of the times, and I worry, we’re worried as an area presidency, that too many parents are being casual about their own covenants, and they’re not being very intentional about the way they raise children, with the intent that they want to raise faithful, righteous children and grandchildren. I mean, if you had any concern at all about your grandchildren and their spiritual future, you would do whatever it takes to get your children on full-time missions. Not that it solves every problem. It’s not a magic bullet, and there are plenty who go and don’t stay faithful. But the linkage between those things is extraordinary, and the data, but I worry that we’re a little bit too casual, and maybe we’re casual because we’re a little too distracted. And maybe we’re a little too distracted because we’re a little bit too focused on our prosperity and how much we now have, and what we can do, and places we can go and things we can acquire. But our hope and prayer is that parents are going to be listening to President Nelson when he says, “You will not survive spiritually, unless you’ve got the constant healing, comforting influence of the Holy Ghost.” And we need to be more intentional about living in a way and being focused in what we do so that we’ll have access to that ability, and time will tell the story, but I think a lot of people are going to look back and wished they had been listening to President Nelson. Now, is that a Utah-specific thing? No, but it is definitely a concern of ours in the Utah Area, where we have so many members of the Church. If you’re casual as parents, that sort of half-life impact on your children and your grandchildren is mind-bogglingly powerful.

Sheri Dew: Tell everybody who’s in your area presidency at present, and then, are there specific priorities you’d like to just articulate that you’re focused on or thinking about?

30:29  

Elder Kevin W. Pearson: Thank you. Elder Evan A. Schmutz, a wonderful general authority, is first counselor; Elder Walter F. Gonzalez is the second counselor; and we currently have Vai Sikahema, Elder Vai Sikahema, who’s a newly called general authority, who’s associated with the area presidency for this year. Wonderful group of men that I’m honored to work with. What is our focus? A message that we have been doing all we can to communicate, is the importance of helping individuals and families center their lives on the Savior, puts the Savior and their sacred covenants at the center of their lives. Not just somewhere in the background, but intentionally put them at the very center of their lives. And then once you do that, you really focus on making and keeping sacred covenants, you become more intentional about truly becoming a disciple of Jesus Christ, someone who studies His life, who’s following Him, who’s trying to learn more about Him whose teachings are important in your life. And when you do that, the natural thing is to look to the rising generation, to the strength in the rising generation. So those four things tied to that vision are really the focus of the area presidency right now.

Sheri Dew: What else would you like us to know about the Utah Area?

31:48  

Elder Kevin W. Pearson: Oh, it’s extraordinary, but it’s not homogeneous. That was a little bit of an eye-opener for me, even though I grew up here, when I came back and started my assignment here last August. It’s just how diverse the Utah Area is. The Church in Salt Lake City is vastly different than the Church in Alpine and Lehi and Orem, and north of here in Bountiful, in Centerville and some of these areas. We’ve got people flocking from the West Coast and other areas to Utah, and they’re going south, and they’re going north, and they’re going to pockets where the Church is especially strong, and their children are going to have the kind of experience that we were reflecting on a little bit ago. So it’s very diverse as you go from one end to the other, rural areas vs. growing urban areas. But there are faithful people everywhere in Utah. Weekend after weekend, I am really just overwhelmed with how capable, how faithful, how devoted people are. It is just — I think I’ve got the best job in the Church. I mean, I spend all of my time with some of the very best people living on planet Earth.

Sheri Dew: Give us some of the basic statistics that show how large and how significant the Church is here in Utah.

33:07  

Elder Kevin W. Pearson: Well, I mentioned earlier that it’s about 13% of the total Church membership, but that’s 2.1-plus million members. There’s over 630 stakes in this area, there’s a lot of wards, a lot of units, a lot of things to watch over. There’s a lot of moving pieces in Utah, but fortunately, there are 31 Area Seventies that serve in this area, but there’s only really eight proselyting missions. There’s some other missions that have different purposes here. You mentioned earlier, living in the mission field. Well, this is the mission field, and the missions here are as successful or more successful than almost any other missions in the world. 

Sheri Dew: Really?

Elder Kevin W. Pearson: So I think that’s another thing that people just don’t think about because they live in a ward, and they say, “Well, there aren’t any nonmembers in our ward, or there’s only a half a dozen or something like that,” which is not true of everywhere, but it might be some, but there are people that clearly have been coming to Utah for a long time, who don’t all know why they’re here, but they’re coming here. They’re finding the gospel of Jesus Christ, they’re joining the Church. That is true of a number of Latino individuals and families from nations all over South America, but it really is becoming a gathering place for a lot of different ethnic groups, and it’s just remarkable to see how the gospel finds them or they find the gospel. But it’s it’s a rich, rich area to live in and to serve in. What other area has 630 stakes? It eclipses any other geographic area by two- or threefold.

Photos: See 10 temples in Utah under construction or renovation

Sheri Dew: Not to mention, I think it’s 16 temples.

35:04  

Elder Kevin W. Pearson: Soon to be 28. When all the temples that are announced are up and running, we’ll have 28 temples. Just in our lifetime. 

Sheri Dew: Think of it.

Elder Kevin W. Pearson: Yeah, it’s just amazing, and guess what? You can bet your lunch money tomorrow that President Nelson is going to announce a substantial list of temples. I don’t know that, but I’ll be shellshocked if it doesn’t happen. So we’ve got a Prophet who, when he became President of the Church, looked around and said, “I think we’ve got about 156 operating temples.” In the vision he sees of the world, there are 10 times that many operating temples in the world, and they are everywhere. And truly the restored gospel of Jesus Christ fills the earth. We’ll need all those temples. People look at the Church and say, “Well, maybe you’re not growing as much as it looked like the Church was in the 1980s.” Well, maybe, maybe not. But, if you understand our doctrine: OK, the gathering on the other side of the veil has been enormous. Every mission president knows how many people are on date for baptism. I would suggest to people that there are hundreds of millions, maybe billions of people that are on date for baptism on the other side of the veil, and that’s why we’re going to need 10 times as many temples. And if you could just see the vision that President Nelson has for this work, you’d realize the Church is growing at a breathtaking, phenomenal rate when you combine both sides of the veil.

Sheri Dew: I live just minutes away from the Bountiful Temple, and one of my favorite things is early in the morning, which is when I tend to go, charging into the temple, and they’re coming in from the underground parking, you walk right into where youth are waiting for the baptistry and sometimes sitting on each other, there are so many of them. Too many to count, as I’m charging up the stairs to go on to a session. I hadn’t done the math to realize that there will be 28 operating temples, with no doubt more to be announced, right? We just have to assume, and just say a word about what that can do for our youth, for our families, for couples, for individuals, the layer of protection that provides right here in Utah.

37:27  

Elder Kevin W. Pearson: The visual I had of you going to the temple brought to mind what President Nelson has said, that this generation has — how did he say it? — has the capacity to be smarter than and to be more impactful than any previous generation, and it’s sort of this dichotomy. You’ve got — these youth are both more faithful than any generation that’s ever come to the earth, in all likelihood; and yet, we still worry about those that are maybe a little bit too caught up in things that don’t matter. But yeah, I try to visualize these young men and young women, and what they go on to do and become, it’s an exciting, exciting thing to think about. There’s never been a better time to live, for all the problems we have for all of the issues that we’re grappling with, and for all the divisiveness that exists in the world, there’s never been a better time to live in a world, where there’s never been greater opportunity. There’s never been greater protection and safety. For all of the issues that we hear day in and day out, these are the very, very best times to live. And what have I learned after all of this? I am more convinced than ever before, if people will just simply follow the living prophet, they’ll be blessed, they’ll be protected, they’ll find more joy and happiness and success in their life than by any other path that they could follow. I know that that’s true, and we’re just doing everything we can to try to help people see that and encourage them in their own journey through life and making that a reality.

Sheri Dew: Elder Pearson, just to conclude, you’ve been a general authority now for a decade and a half, or roughly speaking. I’m wondering if you would share with us how your testimony has grown during that period of time.

39:23  

Elder Kevin W. Pearson: Well, I was serving as a mission president at the time we were called, and we were in our third year, and that was such a powerful experience. Just revelation really became a reality for me, and it just has to be for the sake of those missionaries. But since that time as a general authority, I probably — I don’t know I haven’t counted but — I’ll bet I’ve been involved in the reorganization of 60 or 70 stakes in different parts of the world. I wish every member of the Church could be a fly on the wall in the stake president’s office when two members of the Seventy kneel down and seek confirmation and revelation about who to call as the stake president. That kind of revelation is so real, it is so clear, it is so powerful. I don’t know if, in a different life, I would have ever experienced that or thought about that in the same way. But I know that revelation is real, and it’s powerful, and I know where it comes from, and I’ve had enough experiences over this period of time that it’s been unmistakably embedded in my heart and my mind and my soul. I’ve been around the members of the First Presidency and the Quorum of Twelve enough. I don’t want to suggest that I’m with them every day, but I’m with probably three or four members of the Twelve every day, and I know them on a personal level, and I know a little bit about their style and about how they approach things, and how they’re different in the way they do certain kinds of things. But I have seen the spirit of revelation come upon them, and I’ve seen them in those moments where you know them, and you know that the Spirit of the Lord is speaking through them. 

So what do I know after all this? I know that God lives, and I know that Jesus is the Christ. And I know that Jesus stands at the head of this Church, and that He's willing to pour out revelation on simple people like me just because of my calling, as well as members of the Church all over the world. And if people could grasp that reality, it would be life-changingly transformational, but it's real and it's true, and I know it independent now of any other source or human being. This is all true, every bit of it is true, and that is knowledge and experience that is mine, and it's come about over this period of time, and I'm just so so grateful for it and what it's done for me, and my life and my family. I am so absolutely all into this. I'm grateful for it. I oftentimes wonder what would my life have been like if I hadn't been called to do what I've been asked to do, and while it's been a sacrifice for my family, especially for my children, and some of them have paid a real price for it. I'll be forever grateful that that opportunity has come to me.

Sheri Dew: Elder Pearson, thank you. Thank you for your time today. Thank you for these words of insight, but also inspiration. You make me want to do better, and be better. We're so grateful to you. Thank you so much.

42:58  

Elder Kevin W. Pearson: Thank you for inviting me, Sheri. It was nice to be with you.

Sarah Jane Weaver: You have been listening to the Church News podcast. I’m your host, Church News Editor Sarah Jane Weaver. I hope you have learned something today about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints by peering with me through the Church News window. Please remember to subscribe to this podcast. And if you enjoyed the messages we shared today, please make sure you share the podcast with others. Thanks to our guests, to my producer, KellieAnn Halvorsen, and others who make this podcast possible. Join us every week for a new episode. Find us on your favorite podcasting channel or with other news and updates about the Church on TheChurchNews.com.

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