It is a role of the apostles of Jesus Christ in latter days to strengthen the Church wherever it is found, and nowhere is that task more important than in the Northeast Area and Washington, D.C., the seat of government for the United States.
What happens in Washington has worldwide influence, and public-spirited Church members readily play their parts in many capacities in and around this global capital.
And so it was that on the weekend of Jan. 13-15, three General Authorities, who are assigned to the area, traveled to Washington, where they met with Church members in a number of settings.
Elder M. Russell Ballard and Elder Ronald A. Rasband, both of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, and Elder Gerrit W. Gong of the Presidency of the Seventy met with the Church’s area council in Washington, consisting of 10 Area Seventies. They also met with stake presidents, mission presidents and a member of the Washington D.C. Temple presidency, instructing and receiving feedback from them.
The Church leaders also conducted a number of meetings with Latter-day Saints, including the following:
• A conference of the Washington D.C. Young Single Adult Stake, where they addressed a congregation of some 1,300. The stake was created just a month ago. The members were encouraged to prepare for service in the Church through their lifetime.
• A meeting with 961 military personnel — both on active duty and retired. Some are deployed in Washington singly, while others live with their families as they serve at the Pentagon or any of several military bases. Attendees included midshipmen from the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis.
• A meeting with missionaries in the two missions in the area: Washington D.C. North and Washington D.C. South. The leaders shook hands with more than 400 missionaries.
• A meeting with some 200 Latter-day Saints who serve on the staffs of members of U. S. Congress, both the Senate and the House of Representatives, in the Kennedy Caucus Room of the Dirksen Senate Office Building, a location often used for congressional committee hearings.
• Individual meetings with Latter-day Saints who are members of Congress.
• A meeting with the Church’s Washington D.C. Public Affairs Advisory Committee, an arm of the Church Public Affairs Department in Salt Lake City, to learn the concerns of the present time.
“We went back to learn as much as we could about the challenges that our people face, but we also went back to teach and encourage,” Elder Ballard said in a conversation with the Church News about the leaders’ visit.
“They’re facing issues that are very challenging,” Elder Rasband said, “including the dark side of social media. There was a fair amount of conversation from stake presidents and leaders on the fact that our youth are being influenced heavily by the amount of time they spend on their mobile devices.”
Elder Rasband said that was one of the topics Elder Ballard addressed, both in meetings with leaders and in speaking to the Young Single Adults at the conference on Sunday; the need to take time to study the scriptures and the revelations and to ponder and pray.
“And I think equally we learned of the great faith, the diligence of our young single adults,” Elder Gong remarked. “They came away fortified. They came away with a strong sense that they’ve been taught the truth, that they can hold on to the truth, that it will guide them in their lives.”
Elder Gong said the military personnel face many challenges, including in many cases being deployed and thus having to be away from their families. “But I think they came with faith to be uplifted, and I think they were uplifted and inspired. I think they came away feeling that this was a wonderful recognition of their service to their country.”
One theme that pervaded the meetings, the leaders said, was the great heritage that has been bequeathed to Americans and how the great men who have led the nation, including President George Washington and President Abraham Lincoln, have been true to America as a land of covenant and promise.
“And those values and virtues are not just for us,” Elder Gong said. “They’re Heavenly Father’s gift, as we read in the Doctrine and Covenants, to all His children.”
Elder Rasband, referring to the partisan environment that characterizes Washington, D.C., said, “We also spoke of our gratitude that we all serve the King of kings, Lord of lords, Prince of Peace, Jesus Christ. We spoke about the importance of our being part of the Lord’s covenant people and that we can be grateful and worship our Lord who supersedes and oversees all.”
Elder Rasband said a recognition of that kinship helps one feel love for one another in the midst of political lines that may be drawn.
“All of our Father’s children are precious,” Elder Ballard said. “Regardless of what their circumstances may be today, they are very important to Him. Therefore, we all need to do what we can to share what we know to be true.”
Elder Ballard said the leaders learned it is challenging for Church members in the East, as it is in other parts of the country, to get people to be willing to listen to the gospel message.
“Society is somewhat secular nowadays, and it’s just hard for missionaries to get the attention of people to listen to the most glorious and most important message they could possibly have in their lives; slowing people down enough to get them to listen is very hard.”
Elder Ballard said one thing that was clear to him is the sacrifices that not only Latter-day Saints serving in the military, but all who are in military service, are sometimes unappreciated by the American people.
“They are real heroes,” he said of the military men and women.
Asked what draws Church members, particularly young single adults, to Washington, Elder Ballard replied it is employment opportunities, the climate of excitement and being a part of serving “our great country.”
“It’s a very happening place; they do love it, and there are a lot of them there, Elder Rasband agreed.
Patriotism and “a desire to bless this great country” are part of the motivation, said Elder Gong.