How to view discouragement during COVID-19 through the lens of faith, Elder Stevenson says

Editor’s note: This is part ten in a series of counsel from members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles during the COVID-19 outbreak. Read counsel from President M. Russell BallardElder Jeffrey R. HollandElder Dieter F. UchtdorfElder David A. BednarElder Quentin L. CookElder D. Todd Christofferson, Elder Neil L. Andersen, Elder Dale G. Renlund and Elder Gerrit W. Gong.

As the COVID-19 pandemic has intensified across the globe the past four months, Elder Gary E. Stevenson has contemplated the very first sentence on the first page of the Book of Mormon, written by the ancient prophet Nephi.

“I, Nephi, having been born of goodly parents … and having seen many afflictions in the course of my days, nevertheless, having been highly favored of the Lord in all my days.” (1 Nephi 1:1, italics added).

Nephi begins his own sacred record with the clear understanding that hardship has always been part of the human experience. He also confirms that being highly favored of the Lord in the journey through mortality does not make one exempt from life’s struggles and challenges.

Adding to Nephi’s words, Elder Stevenson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said: “In the midst of affliction and disappointment, the Lord also allows us to be highly favored by Him.” 

Speaking to the Church News as part of a series highlighting counsel and direction from Latter-day Apostles during the coronavirus crisis, Elder Stevenson emphasized the need for Latter-day Saints, as did Nephi, to view disappointment and discouragement through the lens of faith.

‘Good global citizens’

In early March, as the pandemic accelerated, leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints pledged to always be “good global citizens” and in all cases “exercise an abundance of caution.” Thus, they suspended all Church gatherings worldwide, returned more than half the Church’s missionary force to their home nations and closed all temples Churchwide

Elder D. Todd Christofferson, Elder Quentin L. Cook and Elder Gary E. Stevenson, members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, smile during an interview in Rome, Italy, on Tuesday, March 12, 2019.
Elder D. Todd Christofferson, Elder Quentin L. Cook and Elder Gary E. Stevenson, members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, smile during an interview in Rome, Italy, on Tuesday, March 12, 2019. Credit: Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

At the same time, government and educational leaders closed schools — a move that altered graduations, suspended academic testing and required the cancelation of sporting events, dances and other activities.

As a result, in addition to death and illness and devastating economic implications of the pandemic, many are dealing with very real disappointment and discouragement, said Elder Stevenson.

Amid this altered landscape, the Apostle has thought of Latter-day Saints preparing to enter the temple for living ordinances — including temple sealings — but could not and also of the thousands of missionaries who completed their service early, who were temporary released and reassigned or who have spent days in quarantine. In addition, he has thought about the youth who prepared for athletic seasons that did not happen or performances that were canceled, and families who could not hold funerals or other special gatherings to honor loved ones.

Nephi teaches, however, that blessings often do accompany hardship and disappointment.

A living prophet

Elder Stevenson said Latter-day Saints have been highly favored of the Lord during this time of pandemic as they have received words and counsel from a living prophet.

As the ripple effect of the pandemic continued to spread in early March, President Russell M. Nelson shared a message of hope on his social media channels.

“We are living in a remarkable age, where we constantly see the hand of the Lord in the lives of His children,” said President Nelson. “Our Heavenly Father and His Son Jesus Christ know us, love us, and are watching over us. Of that we can be certain.”

At the same time, President Nelson spoke of the “unique challenge” facing the global Church. “These unique challenges will pass in due time,” said the Church president. “I remain optimistic for the future. I know the great and marvelous blessings that God has in store for those who love Him and serve Him. I see evidence of His hand in this holy work in so many ways.”

Millions viewed this message and other inspired words from President Nelson, said Elder Stevenson, who added: “Knowing the calamities that would come upon the world, the Lord called upon President Russell M. Nelson to guide us and help us manage these unique and perilous times.”

“In the midst of affliction and disappointment, the Lord also allows us to be highly favored by Him.” 

Elder Stevenson said that as Latter-day Saints build on the sure foundation of the gospel of Jesus Christ and look to the prophet, they will be able to see all the ways they have been “highly favored of the Lord.”

‘Sorest of afflictions’

As a young man, Elder Stevenson served in the Japan Fukuoka Mission. Since then, he has returned to Asia often — as a businessman, as president of the Japan Nagoya Mission, as a General Authority serving in the Asia North Area, and as presiding bishop and now an Apostle.

Bishop David H. Burton, then Presiding Bishop of the Church, and Elder Gary E. Stevenson, then president of the Church Asia North Area, look at the destruction caused by a 9.0-magnitude earthquake and powerful tsunami left more than 20,000 people dead, displaced thousands and destroyed more than 551,000 homes throughout Japan on March 11, 2011.
Bishop David H. Burton, then Presiding Bishop of the Church, and Elder Gary E. Stevenson, then president of the Church Asia North Area, look at the destruction caused by a 9.0-magnitude earthquake and powerful tsunami left more than 20,000 people dead, displaced thousands and destroyed more than 551,000 homes throughout Japan on March 11, 2011. Credit: Sarah Jane Weaver

On March 11, 2011, Elder Stevenson witnessed the “sorest of afflictions” facing Japan while serving as area president there. A 9.0-magnitude earthquake and powerful tsunami in Sendai left more than 20,000 people dead, displaced thousands and destroyed more than 551,000 homes throughout the Asian nation.

Charged with ministering to the members in Northern Japan and administering humanitarian aid after the crisis, Elder Stevenson traveled often into the destruction zone, watching and learning from resilient Latter-day Saints who overcame disappointment, severe personal loss and other afflictions — but were highly favored of the Lord, he said.

“Great pain, that many continued to bear, was contrasted with the blessings that came,” he said.

‘A long, patient journey’

One of those great blessings was the Sapporo Japan Temple. Elder Stevenson broke ground for the temple on a rainy and windy day only six months after the 2011 earthquake and tsunami. The Saints of Sapporo were highly favored of the Lord as construction on a promised House of the Lord began. “We bow before Thee at this beautiful site chosen by Thee and thank Thee for the faithfulness and sacrifice of the members and converts in all of Japan,“ said Elder Stevenson in the dedicatory prayer. 

On Aug. 21, 2016, five years later, Elder Stevenson sat in the celestial room as President Nelson dedicated the Sapporo Japan Temple.

During a cornerstone ceremony for the Sapporo Japan Temple, President Russell M. Nelson and his wife, Sister Wendy Nelson, stand with children invited to participate, from left, Kuhi Kikuchi, 10; Ryuto Miyamoto, 8; Hina Iwamoto, 7; Kaito Miyamoto, 6; and Miku Nigita, 4, who is helped by her father, Haruhiko Nigita. Elder Elder Larry Y. Wilson of the Seventy looks on from behind.
During a cornerstone ceremony for the Sapporo Japan Temple, President Russell M. Nelson and his wife, Sister Wendy Nelson, stand with children invited to participate, from left, Kuhi Kikuchi, 10; Ryuto Miyamoto, 8; Hina Iwamoto, 7; Kaito Miyamoto, 6; and Miku Nigita, 4, who is helped by her father, Haruhiko Nigita. Elder Elder Larry Y. Wilson of the Seventy looks on from behind. Credit: Sarah Jane Weaver

The temple dedication represented “the end of a long, patient journey,” said Elder Stevenson. “The period of construction to completion of the magnificent temple and grounds served as a symbol of the recovery and reconstruction of hundreds of miles of coastal Japan.”

From this dichotomy of tragedy brought by the tsunami and the triumph that is symbolized by the temple, members of the Church in Japan could sayhaving seen many afflictions in the course of my days, nevertheless, having been highly favored of the Lord in all my days,” said Elder Stevenson.

Latter-day Saints experiencing the COVID-19 pandemic will also express the same sentiment, he added. “These disappointments will pass over us, and one day we will be able to look back and see the great blessings, amid the afflictions, we have had in the course of our days.

“That is going to happen for all of us. We will see that in spite of many afflictions, we are highly favored of the Lord.”