As the progression of COVID-19 pandemic marched across the globe, President M. Russell Ballard spoke of times of turmoil in world history, the lessons learned and why he can look to the future with calm resolve.
The acting president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said history articulates the resiliency of humankind.
The world coronavirus pandemic will not be different, he said during an interview March 24. “From the beginning of history there have been circumstances similar to this one. Somehow they got through them, and we are going to get through this one.”
In 1941, President Ballard, then 13, returned home from Sunday School and learned from his mother that Pearl Harbor had been bombed, drawing the United States into World War II. He remembered the feeling of panic and the fear of losing everything. “But that’s not what happened,” he said. “The people of the free world rallied and freedom prevailed and things resolved themselves.”
The world will win this “war on the coronavirus,” said the 91-year-old Church leader.
However, President Ballard acknowledged that as the spread of COVID-19 ripples, many people are worried not only about the disease but also its economic impact on families.
He spoke to the Church News almost two weeks after Church leaders suspended all Church gatherings worldwide — including public worship services and sacrament meetings, stake conferences, leadership conferences, and stake, branch or ward activities — on March 12. More than half the Church’s missionary force has returned or are returning to their home nations to be released or reassigned. And the First Presidency suspended all temple activity Churchwide at the end of the day on March 25.
Under unique and difficult circumstances, he and the other leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints continue to oversee the work of the kingdom. President Ballard articulated with clarity and certainty why Latter-day Saints can have confidence in the future.
“Whether you are able to go to the temple or not, your home is a place you can kneel and pray,” President Ballard said. “You can feel Heavenly Father’s Spirit and you can feel the hand of the Lord in your life on your knees in your bedroom or wherever you find peace to say your prayers. It doesn’t require you to be in the temple to ‘be still and know that I am God’ (Psalm 46:10). That can happen every day of your life.”
With encouragement from those on the other side of the veil awaiting temple work, “it won’t be long before the temples are up and operating,” he added.
Concern for others
As a result of the coronavirus, people around the world seem to be more concerned about one another, President Ballard said.
They should also pray for divine guidance and offer gratitude for “the gospel to guide their lives,” he said. “We are coming to realize how precious our families are, how precious our neighbors are, how precious our fellow Church members are. … There are lessons we are learning now that will make us better people.”
“Let’s be happy and keep going forward and do the best we can, and these circumstances will change.”
Until then, the Lord has blessed the world with digital tools “that keep us moving forward,” he said.
Church members are prepared to navigate these circumstances with home-centered, Church-supported instruction and ministering, he said.
“There has been some wonderful, wise, careful ministering being done through social media, through phone calls, through notes of concern.”
Members should also pray for divine guidance and offer gratitude that they have “the gospel to guide their lives,” he said.
President Ballard recalled addressing 12,000 Latter-day Saints in Boston, Massachusetts, on Oct. 20 — a gathering that would now be restricted by the coronavirus. He spoke of a nation “founded on prayer” and “preserved by prayer” and called on Latter-day Saints and all people to pray again for their government leaders and their families.
The invitation was not just for Latter-day Saints in the United States, he said, but for everyone across the world. “I think this is a great opportunity for us to exercise our faith and our prayers and to watch out for each other, and we will get through it.”
“Revelation is alive and well and operating in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,” he said.
Revelation is also guiding the Church’s response to direct missionary work worldwide.
Latter-day Saint leaders are doing “what we have to do to protect the missionaries,” he said. “I have never seen anything like it in my years as a General Authority. The steps that are being taken are wise and temporary. We are asking every day, ‘What are we going to do and when are we going to do it and how are we going to do it?’ We are being led by revelation a step at a time. We have not been in this situation before, at least not in my ministry.
“Do we see light at the end of the tunnel? Absolutely!”
Missionaries, wherever they are, have been encouraged and taught how to keep their work up and to teach their friends and neighbors the gospel through technology. “Most of them have a smart phone and … they are really smart.
“Some may be quarantined or in a holding pattern. They can still progress in their gospel understanding.”
President Ballard encouraged those who feel discouraged to pick up the scriptures and study them; use technology to watch a Church video or to contact their family, friends or ward members; and keep smiling.
“Let’s be happy and keep going forward and do the best we can, and these circumstances will change,” he said.
Church members also have the opportunity to hear words from the First Presidency, members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and other Church leaders next week during general conference.
The coming weeks will usher in a spiritual season with general conference, Palm Sunday and Easter, said President Ballard. “The Lord Jesus Christ loves us with a love beyond our ability to comprehend,” he said. “The kingdom of God will continue to roll forth.”
Then he added, “Everything is going to be just fine as we turn our hearts to our Father in Heaven and look to Him and to the Savior as the Redeemer of all mankind.”