President Nelson calls New Zealand’s prime minister ‘courageous,’ promises Church will donate to mosques

WELLINGTON, New Zealand — Just outside of the New Zealand Parliament Buildings here, President Russell M. Nelson lauded Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern as “a peacemaker, a policymaker, a consensus-giver” on Monday.

Serving as the 40th prime minister of New Zealand since October 2017, Ardern is ranked No. 2 on Fortune’s list of the world’s greatest leaders.

President Nelson and his wife, Sister Wendy Nelson — accompanied by Elder Gerrit W. Gong of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and his wife, Sister Susan Gong — met the prime minister on May 20, during their Pacific Ministry Tour.

“She’s courageous,” President Nelson said of Prime Minister Ardern.

“The world will discover they’ve got a real leader here. It’s an unlikely scenario, a young mother leading a great nation. … We’re very impressed with her, she will have a great future.”

President Russell M. Nelson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints meets with New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in Wellington, New Zealand, on Monday, May 20, 2019.
President Russell M. Nelson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints meets with New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in Wellington, New Zealand, on Monday, May 20, 2019. Credit: Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News, Deseret News

Prime Minister Ardern is the niece of Elder Ian S. Ardern, a General Authority Seventy and member of the Pacific Area presidency.

Meeting with President Nelson just two months after the worst terror attack in New Zealand’s history, Prime Minister Ardern has been recognized globally for her leadership following the March 15 attack in Christchurch — including donning a hijab to grieve with New Zealand’s Muslim populations.

President Nelson expressed condolences and promised the prime minister that the Church will donate to the two mosques targeted in the attack. “We will be making contributions to those mosques to help them repair from their damages,” President Nelson explained.

“We are clearly sensitive to what has happened there,” said Elder O. Vincent Haleck, a General Authority Seventy and president of the Church’s Pacific Area, who also attended the meeting. “Our hearts were broken when we heard about the tragedy that had taken place and the loss of life. So the Church is reaching out, as it does in these kinds of situations in other places in the world, to lend a hand, to be there for our brothers and sisters.”

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President Nelson and the prime minister also spoke about New Zealand’s diverse, multicultural populations. People can “have differing points of view and yet learn to live with and love one another,” he said.

“President Nelson is a natural diplomat,” Elder Gong said. “He’s a prophet for the Church, and he’s also a prophet for the world.”

Elder Ardern said that President and Sister Nelson presented the prime minister with a leather-bound copy of the Book of Mormon, embossed with her name.

The visit marked President Nelson’s second visit to the prime minister’s office in New Zealand. The first time was in 1976 while he was traveling with President Spencer W. Kimball as his physician.

Part of the warmth of the meeting was the prime minister describing her rich family heritage, Elder Gong said. After she took office, Church leaders presented Prime Minister Ardern with a copy of a her family history.

One issue discussed was the proper use of social media, Elder Gong added. “There needs to be a balance between religious freedom, the ability to speak out, but also to use it in a way that is responsible, particularly when it involves what children might see. That is something the prime minister was concerned about. She and President Nelson had a very important dialogue on that topic.”