In a year marked by difficulties and heightened polarities among many communities, there is a need to heal at the most basic level the rifts that have divided people throughout the world, explained Primary General President Joy D. Jones and Sister Sharon Eubank, first counselor in the Relief Society general presidency, during a recent interview with the Church News.
The best way to heal the ailments of society and promote unity is to share the light and love of the Savior, President Jones said.
“And the best way we can think of to do that is to try to teach our youngest members how they can help and be like Jesus,” added Sister Eubank.
Beginning in January, the Church magazine for children, the Friend, will be made available as a global publication in 148 countries and in 48 different languages. And in the magazine throughout the new year, the Primary general presidency will issue a series of challenges to children around the world in an effort to help them draw closer to the Savior by following His example.
Through the example of Christ, people learn to love and serve one another better, President Jones explained, noting that each monthly challenge for the year 2021 is connected to a specific example from the Savior’s life.
In each monthly edition throughout the new year, examples of children who are serving others in their communities and families will be accompanied by scripture stories of how Christ helped and served others. There will also be an invitation or challenge from the Primary general presidency encouraging children to take practical actions to follow His example.
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President Jones explained that the idea for the series of challenges came during a UNICEF conference two years ago, where she and Sister Eubank were representing the Church in discussions of how to best address the needs of children around the world.
Starting with the basic principle of helping children learn to follow Christ, then pulling in key learning principles from UNICEF’s list of sustainable goals and the Church’s Welfare Department, the series became a collaboration between the Primary general presidency, Latter-day Saint Charities and the Friend, explained Jan Pinborough, editor of the Friend magazine.
“Weaving these different themes together has been an interesting challenge,” Pinborough said, but the hand of the Lord has been visible throughout the entire process.
Sister Eubank added that pairing the goals of the Primary to match the goals of important Charitable partners of the Church like UNICEF is a wonderful way to build bridges of collaboration.
The conditions of the pandemic and how it has affected people differently throughout the world were also taken into consideration while forming the series, President Jones said. “We thought, wouldn’t it be wonderful to invite children all over the world to find simple ways to help people?”
With Primary children having been away from Church and Primary classes for most of the year, President Jones shared her joy that so many children have been able to continue to flourish in the gospel at home. “They follow the Savior so naturally,” she said.
But not everyone has the blessing of having the gospel taught in their homes, she noted.
The hope is that the magazines, now available more broadly for children around the world, and the challenges issued to them in the series, will offer the opportunities for children to continue to grow spiritually while also increasing their practical skills like reading, writing and learning to serve others in their communities.
“What a blessing it is for a child to learn to look outwardly instead of inwardly,” President Jones said.
By following the example of the Savior and turning their focus to others, individuals invite the Spirit into their lives, she said. “In a selfie society, it is a wonderful thing for a child to begin at an early stage to think of others.”
Children are capable, she said, and whether they know it or not, they have a powerful influence in their families and communities. “We need to look at children a little differently and realize they have so much to offer. They want to be included, they want to serve,” she said.
Another wonderful aspect of the new series is the way it will provide opportunities for children around the world to connect with one another, Pinborough added.
“It is a regular joy to read the mail that comes to the Friend and to see the creativity and resilience of children,” she said. With thousands of children around the world participating in Primary and attending Church on their own or with limited support from family, the examples shared in the Friend each month will show them how other children are living the gospel and following Christ in their own ways.
“I’m so excited to see the responses of children and what they are doing as they participate in these challenges,” she said, adding that she encourages individuals and families to write in and share their experiences throughout the year.
Starting in January, the Friend will act as a megaphone inviting children to learn how Jesus serves and give them opportunities to do the same, President Jones said.
Then in February, a special Face to Face event called Friend to Friend will provide the opportunity to focus in on how children are contributing to the gospel and how they are acting as examples of exemplifying the Savior’s love.
“We’re very excited for this coming year and what it will mean for our children,” President Jones said. “They will amaze us.”