How virtual area visits have helped Church members and leaders continue to connect during the 2020 pandemic

For the General Authorities and General Officers of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who normally spend much of their time traveling from one place to another to meet with members around the world, the year 2020 brought their movements to an unexpected halt. Yet in the midst of quarantines and lockdowns, canceled trips and flights and restricted meetings and gatherings, their work of meeting with and supporting the membership of the Church has continued uninterrupted. 

Thanks to technology and the ability to meet with large groups of people from various places virtually, Church leaders are able to regularly conduct devotionals, focus groups, trainings, and even occasional home visits with specific families and members, much the same way they would if they were traveling from country to country and city to city.

Throughout November and December, general leaders — including President Joy D. Jones, Primary general president; President Bonnie H. Cordon, Young Women general president; Sister Sharon Eubank and Sister Reyna I. Aburto of the Relief Society general presidency; and Sister Michelle D. Craig and Sister Becky L. Craven of the Young Women general presidency — joined with area leaders in the Caribbean, Europe East and Philippines areas of the Church to meet with members and missionaries virtually. 

These virtual visits are “growing more important over time” as they provide the opportunities to connect with members during these difficult and unprecedented times, said Sister Eubank.

During virtual meetings with general Church leaders from Nov. 20-30, 2020, members in Russia shared photos of their service and sisterhood.
During virtual meetings with general Church leaders from Nov. 20-30, 2020, members in Russia shared photos of their service and sisterhood. Credit: Screenshot Europe East Area

In a Nov. 20 devotional with the Moscow Russia Stake, Sister Eubank shared a story about the coldest inhabited city on earth, Oymyakon in Eastern Siberia, which can reach temperatures as low as – 71º C.

Relating that unique geographical place to the gospel and the struggles of everyday life, Sister Eubank explained that there are times in one’s life when “decisions we make ourselves or choices of other people that affect us that put our precious unprotected souls into the arctic winter.” 

She said, “When we spiritually freeze, we feel limited, parts of our testimony freeze and fall off, nothing can grow. We might feel depressed. We may be angry that we have to live under such conditions. We may feel God has forgotten about us. We may go numb and not feel anything anymore. Often, the circumstances in our lives get colder and colder until they symbolically freeze us up like -71 C.”

But no matter how frozen and dark one’s life may seem, there is one truth that brings warmth and light, she continued. “There is a thermal spring. There is a source of life-giving water that has been warmed by forces far beyond the reach of that cold icy weather. It never freezes. It is there to give life. It is there to give us warmth. This is Jesus Christ.”

Europe East Area visit

During their 10-day visit with the Europe East Area in November, President Jones, President Cordon, Sister Eubank; Sister Craig and Sister Craven, joined members of the Europe East Area presidency in various virtual meetings with members throughout the area.

The virtual meetings were set up much like the normal in-person area visits would be, with scheduled devotionals and other meetings providing members the opportunity to engage with the visiting leaders. 

Following a Nov. 20 Russia-wide YSA devotional led by Elder Christoffel Golden, a General Authority Seventy, Sister Eubank said, “I looked at all the youth and young single adults and families who had joined the devotional. They spanned 11 time zones, and I could feel their great testimonies, love for their country, and for the Lord.”

Youth participants meet with general Church leaders over Zoom during a 10-day virtual visit of the Europe East Area in November 2020.
Youth participants meet with general Church leaders over Zoom during a 10-day virtual visit of the Europe East Area in November 2020. Credit: Screenshot Europe East Area

During the devotional, one young woman, Mariya Ventsova, raised her hand on the screen and shared the experience of how her family joined the Church in Russia. When her mother was 16 years old she met the missionaries on the street shortly after they were permitted into the country and joined the Church because of the light and peace she felt in what they taught. Her mother’s decision has blessed her life and allowed her too to serve a mission, she said. 

Reflecting on her own experience as a young missionary in Finland in the late 1980s when a newly called Apostle, then-Elder Russell M. Nelson, prophesied that the gospel would soon spread across Russia, and then witnessing that prophecy come to fruition over the years, Sister Eubank said she felt humbled and grateful for the vision of the prophets of the Lord.

Following the general leaders’ virtual visits, the recently released Moscow Russia Stake President Slava Baltovskiy wrote to Sister Eubank to share his personal conversion story following the opening of Russia to the Church in 1990. He shared his testimony of the power of prophecy and his gratitude for the announcement in April 2018 of a planned temple for Russia.

“I know that Our Lord is real and true, that the gospel is restored and everyone can obtain his warm and light place nearby Jesus Christ,” Baltovskiy wrote.

Another young member, Mavlianova Liubov Aleksandrovna, who is a performer at Russia’s famous Bolshoi Theater and Primary teacher in the Moscow Russia Stake, shared her testimony as she sang a new Primary song, “I Will Walk with Jesus,” in Russian.

Reflecting on how hard the members across the Europe East Area have worked to provide Primary classes for the youth during this difficult year, President Jones expressed her gratitude for the dedication of parents and Primary teachers. After watching a video of a virtual Primary class in Moscow, President Jones said, “The president told me that one of the girls giving the opening prayer in Zoom Primary prayed for a sturdy internet connection. They have worked so hard to provide Zoom Primary classes to keep unity among the children.” 

After meeting with a focus group of mid-single women from Kyiv, Ukraine, Sister Eubank said she was impressed by the well-grounded faith of the women and their ability to articulate the ways the gospel has helped them.

“We spoke together about our experiences as single members of the Church and ways we could still include friends who don’t participate now for various reasons,” she said. “As they shared their experiences, I could see the difference the gospel made as they faced challenges and the mighty power of their covenants.” 

Philippines Area visit

After visiting virtually with members in the Philippines Area on Nov. 18, Sister Aburto described her joy of getting to spend time with the Filipino Saints. 

“Seeing their faces on the screen, feeling of their strong faith in Jesus Christ, and hearing how they are looking and acting on revelation was certainly a delight,” she said. “Despite their hardships, like recent typhoons and earthquakes, on top of the pandemic, they are joyfully following the Savior’s example by ministering to each other in unity and love, sharing the gospel with family and friends, and finding ways to unite their families for eternity.”

General church leaders participate in a virtual meeting with members in the Philippines Area in November 2020.
General church leaders participate in a virtual meeting with members in the Philippines Area in November 2020. Credit: Screenshot Philippines Area

Sister Aburto said her faith and testimony of the gospel of Jesus Christ and “the miracles that the Lord brings about when we have enduring faith in Him and act on divine revelation” was greatly strengthened through the examples of the members who are finding strength and joy through their faith in Christ during these difficult times. 

Caribbean Area visit

Following a Dec. 3-4 Caribbean Area visit with President Jones, President Cordon and Sister Aburto, members from the area shared their gratitude for the opportunity to meet with the general leaders. 

Renée Ramdhanie-Francis, a member from Trinidad in the Caribbean Area, said, “I am so grateful that the Church leaders are ministering to us. I think that at this time, when we’re not able to physically meet everyone, and it’s difficult for all. These meetings, these trainings and these sessions, they help us to know that the leaders are still thinking about us and that we’re not forgotten.”

Ramdhanie-Francis said that meeting with the leaders face to face over the computer felt like a one-of-a-kind experience. “We were involved, we were together as a presidency, as a sisterhood …” she said. “It felt very special because we were able to participate one on one in essence.” 

General church leaders participate in a virtual meeting with members in the Caribbean Area in December 2020.
General church leaders participate in a virtual meeting with members in the Caribbean Area in December 2020. Credit: Screenshot Caribbean Area

Stacy-Ann Patel, another member from Trinidad expressed her gratitude for the ways the trainings with the general leaders emphasized the important roles of Relief Society leaders and how they can counsel together to meet members’ needs, especially when dealing with the challenges of the current pandemic.  

“I’m really grateful that we had the opportunity to meet with some of the general presidency, and with other Church leaders,” she said. “I feel really grateful that they are able to share what they know with us. I know whenever we have these kinds of meetings I am always inspired. I always feel loved, and I am grateful for the things that they teach us.”