Why President Nelson traveled 7,526 miles to address hundreds of Vietnamese Latter-day Saints

HANOI, VIETNAM — Even though members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints here are small in number, they are having a significant impact on this vibrant Asian nation, said President Russell M. Nelson.

Addressing Church members in Hanoi, Vietnam, on the first stop of his four-country, seven-day Southeast Asia Ministry, President Nelson traveled 7,526 miles across the globe to speak to 432 Latter-day Saints on Sunday evening, Nov. 17.

The meeting stood in stark contrast to the stadiums and convention centers filled with tens of thousands of Latter-day Saints in large-scale gatherings that have previously defined President Nelson’s worldwide ministry.

“It is an investment,” said President Nelson. “You start with a small amount and nurture it.”

Looking into congregation of young single adults and a few young families, Elder D. Todd Christofferson, who accompanied President Nelson to Southeast Asia, said he felt a “sense of the future.”

“The Church is young,” said Elder Christofferson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. “But it is vibrant….

“The Lord really is mindful of the members of the Church here. They are critical to the future. They are pioneers.”

Sister Wendy Nelson hugs Nguyet Minh Nguyen as she and President Russell M. Nelson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, meet with youth in Hanoi, Vietnam on Sunday, Nov. 17, 2019.
Sister Wendy Nelson hugs Nguyet Minh Nguyen as she and President Russell M. Nelson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, meet with youth in Hanoi, Vietnam on Sunday, Nov. 17, 2019. Credit: Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

President Nelson will address a second Vietnamese devotional on Monday, Nov. 18, in South Vietnam, in Ho Chi Minh City — which stands with Hanoi as one of two areas of strength in this nation.

Elder Christofferson said it sends a “significant message” that the President of the Church came to see a relatively small group of Latter-day Saints in Vietnam, “and by his presence said, ‘You matter. You are in our hearts and our minds and our prayers. The Lord is mindful of you. We are mindful of you.’”

This is “a tender time, a beginning for the Church here,” he said. “But it will happen. It will grow. It will be strong.”

First trip to Vietnam

The visit marks President Nelson’s first trip to Vietnam, a “special land” where President Gordon B. Hinckley offered “a significant prayer” in 1966. Asking the Lord then to “pour out (His) spirit” on the land, President Hinckley returned to Vietnam in 1996 and offered an addendum to the original prayer. The Vietnamese government and Latter-day Saint Charities have worked together since 2003 — distributing thousands of wheelchairs and sponsoring vision and clean water projects, newborn resuscitation training and emergency response in the country.

A man fishes with a net in Hanoi, Vietnam on Saturday, Nov. 16, 2019.
A man fishes with a net in Hanoi, Vietnam on Saturday, Nov. 16, 2019. Credit: Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

President Nelson met in Salt Lake City this past summer with a delegation headed by Vietnam’s Committee for Religious Affairs.

“We extended to them a very warm welcome. They offered an invitation to come visit. So here we are,” he  said. “I express to the leaders of the government and to all the leaders of Vietnam our heartfelt gratitude for the opportunity for our members of the Church to worship here in dignity.”

Sunday evening, President Nelson and Elder Christofferson wore small pins — symbols of the city of Hanoi — presented to them by Hanoi Mayor Chung Duc Nguyen.

President Nelson said that during the evening, he felt the influence of President Hinckley — who “had such an affinity for this place.”

“He could foresee what we are seeing tonight,” he said.

‘We feel your joy’

A small choir performed during the evening dressed in matching red audais for the women and red ties for the men.

A choir sing during a devotional in Hanoi, Vietnam on Sunday, Nov. 17, 2019.
A choir sing during a devotional in Hanoi, Vietnam on Sunday, Nov. 17, 2019. Credit: Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Accompanied by his wife, Sister Wendy Nelson, President Nelson called it a great joy to look across the congregation.

In this nation, old and new blend, representing a storied past and a thriving modern economy.

Acknowledging that some may have had hard things in their past, including abuse, Sister Nelson said, “We feel your joy — even in the midst of really tough situations in your life. … We are humbled to be in your presence. You make us want to be better and do more.”

Elder Christofferson and his wife, Sister Kathy Christofferson; Elder David F. Evans, a General Authority Seventy and Asia Area president, and his wife, Sister Mary S. Evans; and Elder David P. Homer, an General authority Seventy and counselor in the Asia Area presidency; and his wife, Sister Nancy D. Homer; also participated in the devotional.

During his remarks, Elder Christofferson thanked the congregation for their service, love and sacrifice. “We are grateful for the joy you bring to others,” he said. “You represent us so well.”

President Russell M. Nelson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and Elder D. Todd Christofferson, of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, sit together in Hanoi, Vietnam on Sunday, Nov. 17, 2019.
President Russell M. Nelson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and Elder D. Todd Christofferson, of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, sit together in Hanoi, Vietnam on Sunday, Nov. 17, 2019. Credit: Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Sister Christofferson reminded the congregation that last year President Nelson invited all the youth in the Church to join “in the greatest challenge, the greatest cause, and the greatest work” on earth today, that of gathering Israel. 

“You young people can be such a source for good in the lives of those around you,” she said. “You know the great truths of the gospel that bring such peace, joy and happiness into our lives.”

Elder Evans also praised the young Vietnamese Latter-day Saints. “I have never been around a group of young people who put their trust in God as you do,” he said.

Sister Evans recalled glimpsing President David O. McKay as a young child when he dedicated a new meetinghouse near her childhood home.  

“Tonight we are here with President Nelson and Elder Christofferson,” she said. “We are in the presence of prophets.”

Elder Homer told the legend of Emperor Hung-Vuong, who had many sons. The emperor told his sons that whomever brought him the most special and unusual food would be made the new emperor. One son was rewarded when he brought “the most basic and pure” rice cakes.

“Sometimes simple, basic things are best,” he said.

Sister Homer said that while reading the Book of Mormon recently, one word stood out — willing. “To be willing is an attitude,” she said. “It is describing someone who is eager and ready to do something. … Being willing comes at a sacrifice, but it is always worth it.”

The Church ‘changed my life’

Giang Truong Le, 22, of the Haiba Trung Branch in Hanoi, joined the Church two years ago after attending English classes taught by a senior missionary couple. Le could not shake the feeling that they knew each other from a long time ago. He entered the waters of baptism June 17, 2017, arising from the water enveloped in a feeling of peace. “It has changed my life,” he said.

The Church is also impacting the lives of others in this country of 97 million. “Sacrament meeting attendance just keeps growing,” he said. “We have a lot of young single adults who are faithful and active in the Church.”

Quang Cao joined the Church seven years ago. He married Nhung Phan; they are raising their 3-month-old daughter, Han, in the Church .

Quang Cao, his wife Nhung Pham and their baby Han speak about their conversion in Hanoi, Vietnam on Sunday, Nov. 17, 2019.
Quang Cao, his wife Nhung Pham and their baby Han speak about their conversion in Hanoi, Vietnam on Sunday, Nov. 17, 2019. Credit: Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

“The meeting with President Nelson is very important for us so we can listen to the prophet,” he said. “We start here. His speaking to us is a motivation.”

In this nation where the Church is in its infancy, it is difficult, he added.

President Nelson brought with him “important revelation for us to build the Church here, for us to keep trying.”

Elder Christofferson compared Giang Le and families like Quang Cao and Nhung Phan in Vietnam to the leavening of bread. It takes only a small amount to make a big difference.

“We are the leaven in the loaf, as opposed to the loaf,” he said.

“You can feel it, can’t you — what’s coming because of their leaven in this society, this nation.”

Speaking of the Church in Vietnam, President Nelson added, “The work is eternal. It will be fascinating to watch the Church’s progression from infancy to old age in this nation.”