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Episode 148: New Young Women General President Emily Belle Freeman hopes to create a community of young women who feel connected to the Savior

President Freeman joins the Church News podcast to talk about her life, experiences, writing, testimony and feelings for Latter-day Saint youth

Many members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints already know of Emily Belle Freeman, a popular speaker, author, podcaster and teacher. Now they will get to know her in another way — as a general officer of the Church.

President Freeman — with her counselors, Sister Tamara W. Runia and Sister Andrea Muñoz Spannausbegan her service as the Church’s Young Women general president on Aug. 1. President Freeman, who was sustained during April 2023 general conference, said she has spent many hours pondering her new role since receiving the calling from President Russell M. Nelson.

She joins this episode of the Church News podcast to talk about her life, experiences, writing, testimony and feelings for Latter-day Saint youth.

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Transcript:

President Emily Belle Freeman: If at the end of five years, every girl I could touch had a witness of three things, it would be these three things: First, you are a beloved child of Heavenly Father. Second, Jesus Christ will be your greatest strength in your lifetime. And third, the Holy Ghost will never fail you, and learn to listen to His words. If every young woman could leave the program knowing those three truths, then I just imagine the remarkable force for good she will be in the building up of the kingdom of God.

0:54

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. 

1:13 

Sarah Jane Weaver: Many members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints already know Emily Belle Freeman, a popular speaker, author, podcaster and teacher. Now, they will get to know her in another way: as a general officer of the Church. President Freeman began her service as Young Women general president on August 1. She joins this episode of the Church News podcast to talk about her life and experience, her writing, her testimony, and her feelings for Latter-day Saint youth, especially young women. President Freeman, welcome today.

President Emily Belle Freeman: Oh, I’m so excited to be here with you.

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1:48

Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, I am thrilled to have you here as well. We’ve all been anticipating the time that your service would start. I think everyone was excited to hear your name in general conference. And many of us have one question. We want to know how you’re going to transition from being Emily Belle Freeman, social media influencer/podcaster, to being President Freeman.

President Emily Belle Freeman: Oh, that is such a good question. And that’s been the question since the day I was called, is “How do you move from one role into another role?” Many years ago, I was at a dinner where I heard one of the Apostles speak. And in his talk, he said, “There is room for everyone’s witness.” And it was a life-changing moment for me to think about what that looks like and making room for everyone’s witness and to live in that abundance mentality of everyone being able to share. And it’s been a real gift for me, over the past several years, to be able to share my witness or my testimony on social media and in speaking engagements with lots of different groups and through writing books. And that has been the arena that I consecrated to sharing my witness. And now, all of that will take a little bit of a pause. And I get to move into sharing that same witness just in a different venue, which I’m actually really excited about.

3:17

Sarah Jane Weaver: Now, some things you’ll get to keep doing right?

President President Emily Belle Freeman: Yes, some things I’ll get to keep doing. And some things, just because of time and because of the way things will work, won’t be possible for me. So, you’re going to hear my witness every so often on some of those places that you’re used to hearing me, but you’ll mostly hear me teaching from this new position as the Young Women general president of the Church. That’s where I’ll be spending most of my time.

3:45

Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, and I’m interested in knowing how Emily Belle Freeman became Emily Belle Freeman. Tell us about your youth. Tell us how you got comfortable sharing feelings about the Church and about other things.

President Emily Belle Freeman: Oh, that’s such a fun topic. So, I don’t know when I began believing in Jesus Christ. I just know I did; my whole life. And I think the first time it became really clear to me that I might be a little bit unique in how I approach life with Jesus Christ was in first grade. Our teacher had everybody draw on an Easter egg something about Easter that they loved. And then on the back — remember, in first grade, you’re just learning how to write things — and so, we had to write out what we had drawn on the egg. And when we were all done — we kind of all did it with our crayons, and we had that construction paper and all different colors — and we all went and handed in our eggs, and I started looking at everybody’s eggs.

And you know when your mind is like, “Oh, I think I might have done this wrong,” because everyone had, like, polka dots and those squiggly lines, and they decorated all different colors, and it kind of looked like they had dyed their Easter eggs. And I had drawn Jesus on a cross on my egg. But I just took it up there, and I handed it in, and my cute teacher called my mom later that week and said, “I’m so interested why Emily would have chosen this. What are you, like, talking about at home? Or what are you teaching her? Why was this her inclination?” And my cute mom was like, “We don’t really know. She just came like that.” And I have — since I was very, very young — had a deep and abiding love of Jesus Christ and an ability to believe in His reality within the workings of my own life.

The new Young Women general presidency, from left, Sister Tamara W. Runia, first counselor, President Emily Belle Freeman and Sister Andrea Muñoz Spannaus, second counselor, pose for photos at the Church Office building in Salt Lake City on Monday, April 3, 2023. | Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

5:43 

Sarah Jane Weaver: Well now, there had to be a point in your life when you realized you could communicate this. You know, I always wanted to be a journalist, from the time I was the littlest girl. And my mom said I used to come home and report to her about all the doings of all the neighbors. And she liked that a lot more until she realized that I was probably reporting about all the doings from our house to all of them as well. But there is a point where you had to be able to say, “Hey, I can communicate.”

President Emily Belle Freeman: So, I have always loved writing, also from a very young age. In fact, in high school, when you got to choose the elective you wanted to take, I signed up for creative writing every time. I had no idea that I was a writer at heart; I just enjoyed the class. And it wasn’t until, like, probably my sophomore or junior year — I won an award for my writing in high school — that was the first time that I was like, “Oh, maybe I’m actually, like, a good writer.” But I had never thought that I might be, or it wasn’t something I had set out to do. It’s just something that I actually really enjoy.

6:50

Sarah Jane Weaver: And then you went to college. Tell us about that.

President Emily Belle Freeman: Yeah, so I went to college, and I attended almost every college in Utah. So, I attended BYU, I attended the University of Utah and I attended what is now Ensign College. So each of those colleges were places that I went to school and ran around and learned different things while I was there. And I did study English and loved that study of just the English language and books and words — I love words — and all of those things were things that I just enjoyed. I remember being in a creative writing class at the University of Utah and walked into a very liberal classroom setting at the time. And I tend to kind of have a soft, sweet personality by nature; that’s just how I was born. And the teacher right off the bat was like, “I don’t know if this is going to be a good fit for you.” 

And you could feel that, like, tension right at the get-go. And then, when we wrote our papers, you would just put your number at the top of the paper — you didn’t put your name; that’s how that class worked. And it would go through a set of revisions. And then she would pick the top three to highlight at the end of every week’s writing. And the first three weeks, my paper got picked every time. And from that point on, we both had a really good, like, working respect for each other and what we both brought to the table, which was one of my favorite writing experiences ever.

8:25

Sarah Jane Weaver: Wow. Well, and as we talk about you as a communicator, it’s probably also important to talk about another role that you’ve had in life, which is being a mother and a wife. Let’s not leave that part out.

President Emily Belle Freeman: Which is my favorite role of my entire life. And I say all the time, the most important work I have ever done has been within the four walls of my home and with my own children, and there’s nothing more powerful in my life or that brings me greater joy in my life. There is no accomplishment that I’ve ever received that has had greater fulfillment than what has happened in my own home with my own kids, and the conversations that take place there.

9:09 

Sarah Jane Weaver: How did you meet your husband?

President Emily Belle Freeman: Oh, this is a fun story. My dad was Greg’s mission president. So, Greg married the mission president’s daughter. That’s how we met, and I was actually at BYU. He was serving as an assistant to my parents. So when he came home, they were like, “You should look up our daughter when you get home.” And then, here we are.

9:34

Sarah Jane Weaver: Wow. Well, it has been an incredible journey. After you were sustained, I called my sister, and she said, “Oh, I love President Freeman. We prepare my Sunday School lesson together every single week.” 

President Emily Belle Freeman: Oh, that makes me so happy.

Sarah Jane Weaver: So, you have been able to influence and touch people in a way that’s very personal to them. How did you decide to focus so many of your efforts on the Church?

President Emily Belle Freeman: I think part of the reason why is because of that deep and abiding love for Jesus Christ. And it’s something that I’ve always had and I’ve always relied on, so much so that He really is a part of all of my conversations all of the time. My kids will tell you I have friends that are religious and friends who are not religious. And everybody just knows Jesus is a part of my life, my day-to-day life. So, if I was going to teach or talk about anything, that would be something that I would choose to teach or talk about, because it’s such an important part of my life and who I am.

Sister Tamara W. Runia, President Emily Belle Freeman, and Sister Andrea Muñoz Spannaus, after being called as the Young Women general presidency during April 2023 general conference.
The new Young Women general presidency are Sister Tamara W. Runia, first counselor, President Emily Belle Freeman, and Sister Andrea Muñoz Spannaus, second counselor, during the 193rd Annual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Salt Lake City on Saturday, April 1, 2023. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

10:41 

Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, and for those of our listeners who can’t see what’s going on, you brought your pink scriptures today.

President Emily Belle Freeman: Yeah, I love my pink scriptures. All my kids and my husband know if the house goes up in flames, go for the pink scriptures first, then you can get out anything else you want. Except for live people. Live people first, pink scriptures second. And that’s a fun story behind those scriptures, because many years ago — I was teaching seminary — I started getting this terrible pain in my elbow that lasted for nine months, to the point that I couldn’t even roll over at night in bed. So, I finally went to my doctor, and I was like, “Something is wrong with me.” And he was like, “Oh, I know how to fix this. It’s tennis elbow, and you get it when you’re making this motion of lifting something up from your wrist up. What are you doing several times a day that looks like that?” And I was like, “Getting my scriptures out of my scripture case.”

And he seriously sat down on his little, round doctor stool and, like, had a belly laugh for two minutes. And then he was like, “I’ve been a doctor for 15 years. I see hundreds of people in my office with this condition. No one has ever said it’s from getting their scriptures out of their scripture bag.” And he said, “I normally tell people, ‘Whatever it is you’re doing, just don’t do for six weeks.’” But he said, “I don’t dare to tell you, ‘Don’t read your scriptures for six weeks.’ So, maybe go get a smaller set of scriptures.” And I did. I went out that very day. And then — mine are so marked up; if you look at them, you’ll see, and I’ve got flowers in them from places that I’ve visited. And there’s so many memories here. I was like, “I can’t give these up.”

And I found this darling man in Alpine, Utah, who welcomed me into his little home and sat with me and let me talk to him about these books that I have come to love so much. And next thing you knew, four weeks later, I had these pink scriptures that were broken up into tiny books. Actually, I have three, where most of us have two. But he made them so small for me. And within, like, six weeks, I was healed from my tennis elbow. It was fixed. So, if you see me with pink scriptures, they’re just the normal scriptures we all get from the distribution center, but mine are just cut in smaller pieces so I can actually lift them.

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13:04

Sarah Jane Weaver: Well — and I’m embarrassed to admit — I’ve also had a little bout with tennis elbow, but it was from picking up my phone repeatedly with my left hand. I regret that I couldn’t tell my doctor that it was from picking up my scriptures. You are going to be spending a lot of time with young women. Have you been to camp?

President Emily Belle Freeman: Yes, I’ve been to camp so many times, like more than we could even count. I love to get called as the camp cook. So that’s what I usually go to camp as, is the camp cook. And we love to Dutch oven. And I’m all about s’mores. And I love those sitting around in the quiet moments up in the mountains, when your phone usually doesn’t work, and you can just have those conversations about real life, just genuine and intimate conversations about what life looks like and what does religious life look like, and how do you bring Jesus into your story, and where do you invite in the sacred? I feel like those are the beautiful conversations that come from girls camp.

14:14

Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, do you have a favorite Dutch oven meal?

President Emily Belle Freeman: OK, well, we love Dutch oven cobbler at our house. That’s our favorite, and we’re really great at Dutch oven potatoes, too. So whenever I go to camp, the girls always say they want my Dutch oven potatoes one night, that I got from my Uncle Pete, then cobbler. We love doing a cobbler. We’ll do a cobbler several times a year.

14:35

Sarah Jane Weaver: So, you’re very comfortable in a pair of jeans in the mountains in the dirt.

President Emily Belle Freeman: Yes, that’s where I love to be, and I think some of my best memories — which is probably true for a lot of us — are from girls camp. When I think about Church life growing up, some of my best memories are from those moments where you are in jeans and in nature and doing those things with a group of girls and building that community that becomes so important for the rest of your life.

BYU students watch the sunset at the BYU Jerusalem Center in Jerusalem, Israel, on Saturday, April 22, 2023.
BYU students watch the sunset at the BYU Jerusalem Center in Jerusalem, Israel, on Saturday, April 22, 2023. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

15:06

Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, and as we talk about things that matter most to you, especially thinking about and studying the life of the Savior, you spent some time this summer in Jerusalem, probably for the last summer for a few years. Tell us what that is like, being able to teach people about the Savior in the places where He walked and lived.

President Emily Belle Freeman: Oh, it is such an amazing experience, and Israel is home to me. I love being over there. In fact, when I left, I just sobbed when we were flying out of Israel this last time because there is just such a sweetness about that land and those people, and partly it’s because the story of Jesus took place in that land. But the other thing that I love about Israel is what is most important in that Holy Land is religion. And people are not quiet about living out their religious beliefs. And it doesn’t matter what your religion is — it doesn’t matter if you’re Muslim, it doesn’t matter if you’re Jewish, it doesn’t matter what your religion is — people respect your ability to live that out.

One of the things I love the most is when you go there and everything shuts down on the Sabbath. Instead of apologizing for that, they welcome you in. They say, “This is how we celebrate Sabbath. Be a part of it. Join us in this celebration.” Or, the way they eat is different than the way we eat. They have their own Word of Wisdom, right? Their own code of eating. And as I watch them live that and welcome us into that and not apologize for it, it just makes me think, “Oh, I love the beauty of a people who understand that holy rhythms are good and that they make a difference in a life.”

And there’s something about celebrating those rhythms and that sacred, spiritual way of living that is so beautiful to me. But I also love being in those places where Jesus was — in the places where He stood and where He walked and where He would have taught — and just remembering how individual His ministry was, and how He didn’t wait for people to come to Him, but how He walked into their stories, how He met them where they were, as they were, and then began to lift. And what a beautiful story that is, in and of itself.

17:43

Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, that is a beautiful, beautiful message. How lucky everyone who got to be in one of your tours was. What message do you have for people who have to follow the Savior and never get to walk where He walked?

President Emily Belle Freeman: I will tell you this would be my hope, would be that your scriptures will become your Holy Land. And I think for me, it has been sweet to go over there and to actually dip my toes in the Jordan River, to be able to walk through where Abraham would have been and see the mountain where the promise was given. But those experiences are the same richness as getting into Genesis 15 and reading that journal account from Abraham talking about that moment. They’re just as rich as thinking about that woman who touched Christ’s robes. And there’s something about opening the pages of scripture and allowing our minds to visualize what that might have been like that can become a Holy Land for us.

18:51

Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, and I want to talk to you about young women specifically, because that’s a beautiful message for them, to get in the scriptures. I’m the mother of three daughters. At different times in my mothering journey, I’ve had more success with helping them love the scriptures than at other times. What is your message for Latter-day Saint young women?

President Emily Belle Freeman: Oh, it’s been so interesting, because, you know, I’ve just been praying and praying and praying about this since December. I have two daughters of my own. But then I also have three daughters-in-law. So, I’ve got five girls — they’re my five girls, I call them — and the thought of raising up holy women unto the Lord, whatever age they are, is something that really resonates in my soul, just helping us to know who we are as women in God’s plan. And the role that we play is remarkable.

It is remarkable, and you look through those pages of scripture, and you look at the women who are highlighted there, and these are not quiet women. They are not women who stand back or are in the shadows. These are women who lead out, who exhort the Church, and they expound scripture, and they are making a difference, wherever they are. Every time you read about one, you just see these powerhouse women, some of them revolutionary for their time, who are building the kingdom of God. And if that is true in the pages of scripture, then that is true in our time, also. We are those women. We have that right to expound and exhort and to just testify boldly and build this kingdom as we await for the arrival of Jesus Christ, who will come again. And I think it’s important for us to recognize our capacity and our role and who He sees in us.

Young Women General President Emily Belle Freeman and her husband, Brother Greg Freeman
Young Women General President Emily Belle Freeman and her husband, Brother Greg Freeman, pose for photos at the Church Office building in Salt Lake City on Monday, April 3, 2023. | Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

20:58

Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, and I’m so glad you brought this up, because so many Latter-day Saint women who we are hearing from in somewhat greater numbers are questioning what their place is in the Church.

President Emily Belle Freeman: And I would change that question from “What is my place in this Church?” to “What is my place in God’s plan?” And let’s just think about that for a minute, because you start with a belief that is very important to a Latter-day Saint; when we start with Adam and Eve, and you think about the choice Eve made in the Garden of Eden, that was what allowed the whole plan to begin. It set in motion this great plan that we talked about in the preexistence. And then it’s not too long later that an angel appears — not to a man, but to a woman, named Mary — to talk about how the Father’s Son would come into the world. Isn’t that interesting that He came to Mary first?

And once Jesus gets here, there is a moment where He stops at a well in John, Chapter 4. And He speaks to the woman who is there. And it is the first recorded witness that He gives verbally or vocally that He is the Messiah who would come; to a woman who is unnamed, sitting at a well. And then you think about Mary Magdalene, the first to see the risen Lord. Now, I want you to think about — those are some critical moments in God’s plan. Crucial, right? Name me moments that would be more crucial than, you know, some of those. And they would be in the top 10 or, you know, whatever list you are making of these critical moments.

And women were there at a time when women didn’t necessarily witness out loud in society, but that’s who God chose to send His message through. And I think sometimes I just want to say to women, “Don’t ask what is your role in the Church. Begin by asking what is your role in God’s plan. And look at the precedents. And then ask, ‘OK, then what is my role now? Where can I expound scripture? Where can I exhort the Church? Where can I add my witness right now? How can I build the kingdom?’” The women of the Lord’s Church have never been held back. And I love the message that we learn about that in scripture, through all of scripture, and it’s our job to rise up and accept our privilege in His work.

24:00

Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, and in recent years, the Lord has shown great trust in the young women of the Church. You know, they’re allowed to be witnesses in temples now. They’re participating in ministering. We have Children and Youth, where they take a greater role in what they want to do to grow closer to the Lord. The Strength of Youth new pamphlet shows His ultimate trust in their ability to come to know the Savior and then make choices in their life that will draw them closer to the Savior. Can you just comment on this trust that the Lord has in this next generation of youth?

President Emily Belle Freeman: Oh, I love that so much. And you do really see that trust. My daughter a year ago was speaking at an event, and the question she was asked is “How do we help the youth or the young women of today rise up to their potential?” And she said the most interesting thing that I have not forgotten. She said, “Your generation is so quick to tell my generation what is wrong with us. We’re on our phones too much. We don’t know how to communicate in person. We’re not good at living the Church the way you all lived the Church in your generation.” And then she said two words that were so profound for me. She said, “Trust us. Trust that we love Jesus Christ. Trust that we want to embrace religion. Trust us to do things in the way we do things, and have faith in us, and build us, and let us learn.”

And I thought that’s such a beautiful way to approach this younger generation, is to say, “You look at this generation, and they are a generation that understands inclusion. And they understand gathering. And they are very gifted at it innately.” It’s as if they came with this ability to include and to gather in really unique and intimate ways. And then I think of the call from President Russell M. Nelson, when he said this is the youth battalion, and your job is to gather Israel. And I think to myself, “Wow, isn’t it amazing that they came born with that gift already?” And part of the reason why we’re telling youth to lead today, to lead out in presidency meetings, to lead out in planning activities, to lead out in planning camp is because they’re actually gifted with gathering. They’re gifted with it. They know how to do it better than we do.

So of course we should say to them, “How do you think we can get the most people here? How do you think we could be more welcoming or inclusive? How do you think we should approach this week at girls camp?” And then listen. It’s their gift. And then say, “OK, how can we help? How can we help create the vision you have just laid out for us?” And that’s what I want the youth program to look like, is this army of young women and women who are arm in arm, gathering Israel and remembering what are the gifts we each bring to the table and how one of their gifts is perhaps divinely appointed.

President Russell M. Nelson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and President M. Russell Ballard, acting president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, meet with youth in the Rome Temple Visitors’ Center prior to a youth devotional in Rome, Italy, on Saturday, March 9, 2019. | Vatican, Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

27:38

Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, and I am so glad we’re talking about gathering Israel. It is such an important thing when you think about President Nelson’s youth battalion. And in addition to encouraging family history work and temple work, he has also asked all young men in the Church to serve missions and talked to young women about that being an important opportunity for them as well. In your position, you will be able to sit on the Missionary Executive Council. Share some of your feelings with us about missionary work.

President Emily Belle Freeman: Oh, I love missionary work. It’s something I’m passionate about. I actually wear a bracelet on my wrist every single day that has jewels of the twelve tribes of Israel on it as a reminder of the importance of that great gathering that is taking place. And it’s happening with missionaries in the mission field, but it’s also happening in hallways of high schools, and it’s happening everywhere that they are. And missionary work might be something that comes in a call to you, but it’s also something we’re doing every single day. And I love the thought of teaching our youth that missionary work — or gathering; gathering people into the cause of Christ — is something they will do their entire life.

And some of them will choose to go away from home to do that. In our family, we have three boys and two girls. Both of my two girls got to Young Women age and started praying about serving a mission. And one of the things that I think is most important for our youth today is to help them realize at a very young age that they can receive personal revelation, that they can learn how to pray and to read scripture and to hear the Spirit of the Lord speak to them. The Spirit of the Lord will not fail them. It will not fail them. And so, if we can give them the courage to learn how to listen in their own language, remarkable things will happen, and it did for my girls.

My oldest daughter, Megan, received the answer that she was not to serve a mission and then continued asking the Lord, “Then, what does my path look like? What will I do next after high school?” and allowed the Lord to be part of that conversation and part of that learning and that increase and that progression. And she went to school, and she became a special ed teacher, and she changed life in a classroom, and that was her mission. And I love that.

My youngest daughter, Grace, at the age of 12, at a girls camp where we were studying Doctrine and Covenants 11, and we gave each of the girls a morning opportunity to go and receive revelation for one question that they wanted to ask. And I’ll never forget: After that one hour, when she came back, she said, “I got my answer.” And I said, “Well, what was it?” And she said, “I’m going to serve a mission.” And I thought it was remarkable that at 12, that was the one question she thought was important to take into scripture. And she worked the next six years of her life to prepare for that call in her life and to go to Sacramento, California, and to serve that mission there.

And I think it’s important for us, when we look at how many different ways we can build the kingdom — and we can serve, and we can gather — to remember that it’s going to look different for each of us. For some, it might be a call that sends them to a different country or a different state. For some, it might be a service mission, which will be a remarkable opportunity. My parents have been working for the past two years as mission leaders for the service missionaries. And we have had such sweet experiences and miracles as we’ve watched that process. But then also, my daughter Meg will tell you that her mission was in that classroom, in the work that she was doing there in bringing good. And sometimes our mission includes talking about Jesus Christ. And sometimes our mission includes standing as a witness of Jesus Christ, showing up the way He would show up in situations like those. And it’s important for us to make sure we’re communicating all of that.

32:05

Sarah Jane Weaver: So, as you think about Grace and her receiving personal revelation at age 12 to accomplish something that wouldn’t come for at least six years, but all through her teenage years, what did both of you do to prepare for a mission? And how did that witness that she should serve a mission change those critical years for her?

President Emily Belle Freeman: I love that question so much. And I think one of the most important lessons for me, as a mother, was to recognize that my children could receive their own revelation at the age of 12 — or sooner, right, at whatever age they did — and to empower them in their ability to hear and respond to promptings of the Spirit. A lot of times, as we would go through those high school years, and as Grace was preparing for a mission, my response to her would be, “What is the Spirit telling you? And I am going to trust that.”

And it was interesting because Grace went through several years of a lot of anxiety and some health problems, and things that would have made you question, “What’s this actually going to look like — the reality of this happening?” And our answer always was, “What is the Spirit telling you right now?” And watching each of those little, tiny answers that happened along the way come to fulfillment on the day she received that mission call, but then also in the days and weeks that followed, were remarkable as a mother. But also, when she got to the MTC in Mexico, and when she had the struggles that she had that every missionary has, I loved that as her mom, I could ask the same question I had been asking for the last six years: “What is the Spirit telling you? And I trust your ability to receive revelation for this.”

Missionaries sing during a missionary conference in Antananarivo, Madagascar.
Missionaries sing during a missionary conference in Antananarivo, Madagascar on Monday, Feb. 20, 2023. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

34:09

Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, and I’m glad you brought up personal revelation. President Julie B. Beck, who served as Relief Society general president several years ago, often said that the greatest skill any Latter-day Saint woman has is to be able to know how to receive and then act on personal revelation. I’m also so interested right now at the 2023 Seminar for New Mission Leaders. Elder Quentin L. Cook talked about the growing number of youth who are choosing to serve missions. He said that at a time when there are actually fewer youth in this demographic, just because of changing population trends, that we have more missionaries than ever before. By the end of the year, we should have 72,000 young people serving, and Elder Cooks’ explanation was so beautiful; he said, “They’re answering “the clarion call of a Prophet.”

Now, this generation loves the Prophet. How can we help youth connect to our Prophet?

President Emily Belle Freeman: Oh, that’s such a good question. And I think one of the things that my parents did really well when they raised me was to help our family understand the importance of general conference. And that became a real celebration for our family. It was a time that was set apart. It was a time where we gathered together, and obviously there was good food, and there were games in between, and there were all those conference things. But I will never forget, from a very young age, the call that would go through our entire house: “The Prophet is speaking. The Prophet is speaking.”

And at different ages, we listened to different amounts of conference. So the littles, obviously, when they were 3, didn’t really listen to any; they just came and went as they wanted to. But as we got older, our parents would help us know, “You’re going to do this many sessions,” or “You’re going to do this,” and we just grew into what it looked like to celebrate conference. But the thing that was a constant is anytime the Prophet stood up. And what I remember most is feet running from all over the house as soon as the Prophet was announced. And I also remember watching my parents’ faces as they listened to a Prophet of God speak, and how important that was to them.

And in the months that followed, my mom would talk about general conference as just part of the regular walk and talk of our life. That is what we did, and I think how we help the younger generation learn to love and respect and honor a Prophet is to do it ourselves — that’s how they will learn — and to make his words important in the way we are living out our life.

36:59

Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, and you recently received a life-changing call from a Prophet. Tell us the circumstances and what it was like to be called as Young Women general president.

President Emily Belle Freeman: It was such a sweet experience for me. And on that day, Greg and I were called in to meet with President Nelson. And we sat there, and it was a sweet conversation. He had known my grandparents — he was their stake president many, many years ago — and told me stories about my grandparents I had not heard before. So, that was so sweet. And I did get tricked a little bit to thinking, “Oh, maybe he just wanted to make sure I knew these stories, you know, before he died.” And then he just scooted forward on the edge of the couch — and so he was scooted right up next to where I was sitting — and he looked me right in my eyes.

And I will never forget this, because I think sometimes you wonder, “What would a conversation like that look like? What are the questions you maybe would be asked? And what would an interview like that entail?” And it actually did not go the way I would have assumed it would. It was very simple. It went like this: He leaned forward, looked right in my eyes and said, “You really believe in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, don’t you?” And I said back to him, “I really do.” And then he extended me the calling. And I think, “What a great question to ask ourselves every morning: ‘You really believe in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, don’t you?’” I just love the thought of that, because if that is true, then imagine what else is true.

Leaders watch as President Russell M. Nelson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints walks into the Conference Center for the Sunday morning session of the 193rd Annual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Salt Lake City on Sunday, April 2, 2023. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

38:47

Sarah Jane Weaver: That is really, really beautiful. And I think that’s a great place to sort of wind up this interview. We have a tradition at the Church News podcast: We always ask our guests the same question, and we always give them the last word. So, we’ll just turn the microphone over to you and have you tell us what you know now, after being called as general Young Women president.

President Emily Belle Freeman: Oh, that’s such a good question. And such a sweet answer, because when I was called, it was very daunting, very overwhelming and unexpected for me. And so, the first several nights, I spent a lot of time just lying in bed, wide awake, thinking, “What was this going to look like in my life?” And quickly in moments like those, you begin to pray, and I began praying for the young women of the Church, and I have learned in my life that if you will allow Him room, the Spirit can help you know what to pray for.

And those first several prayers, I just was really open to “What do I need to be praying for right now?” and “What do you need me to know right now?” And one of the questions that I asked a lot is, “What is the most important work I can do?” And it’s been interesting, because over the months, from December until now, the same answer has come over and over and over again. And sometimes the words are different, but the theme is the same every time. And it’s three things that I think to myself.

If at the end of five years, every girl I could touch had a witness of three things, it would be these three things: First, you are a beloved child of Heavenly Father. Second, Jesus Christ will be your greatest strength in your lifetime. And third, the Holy Ghost will never fail you, and learn to listen to His words. If every young woman could leave the program knowing those three truths, then I just imagine the remarkable force for good she will be in the building up of the kingdom of God.

I have a really strong witness of the reality of Jesus Christ. I know He lives. And I know because He has shown up in my own story so many times. I know The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the place where I find the greatest truth, His living gospel here on earth today. And I know that the Prophet who leads this Church, President Russell M. Nelson, is God’s Prophet, who helps God’s children to know the best way to get home safely and to bring as many with us as we can along the way.

42:03

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, rate and review this podcast so it can be accessible to more people. And if you enjoyed the messages we shared today, please make sure you share the podcast with others. Thanks to our guests; 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 channels or with other news and updates of the Church on TheChurchNews.com.

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