President Russell M. Nelson’s fast-paced global ministry

Launching his global ministry as the leader of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, President Russell M. Nelson stood before reporters in London, England, and proclaimed his desire to circle the globe.

“Whenever I’m comfortably situated in my home, I’m in the wrong place,” he said in April 2018. “I need to be where the people are.”

During the next 20 months, President Nelson traveled 115,000 miles to 35 nations on six continents. He met with members in large and small settings — often addressing them in their own language — and with world leaders. He has also reached out to victims of crime, comforted those grieving and acknowledged dozens of children. Accomplishing it all in his 10th decade, President Nelson called jet lag “a luxury we can’t afford.”

Although the COVID-19 pandemic halted President Nelson’s ambitious travel schedule in 2020, he continued to deliver his central message — “that God lives, that Jesus is the Christ, that this is His church restored in its fullness.”  

President Russell M. Nelson, left, and Elder Jeffrey R. Holland look over the view at the BYU Jerusalem Center in Jerusalem on April 14, 2018. Elder Holland spoke of the miracles that made the BYU Jerusalem Center possible during the 30th anniversary of the dedication of the center on Oct. 11 on the BYU campus in Provo, Utah.
President Russell M. Nelson, left, and Elder Jeffrey R. Holland look over the view at the BYU Jerusalem Center in Jerusalem on April 14, 2018. Elder Holland spoke of the miracles that made the BYU Jerusalem Center possible during the 30th anniversary of the dedication of the center on Oct. 11 on the BYU campus in Provo, Utah. Credit: Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

It is the message he has maintained since the beginning first leg of his global ministry — which included a historic stop in the Holy Land.

President Nelson “decisively and instantly” determined that his first major gesture beyond Church headquarters would be a visit to Jerusalem, explained Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.

“He wanted to walk where the Savior walked and stand where prophets have stood and feel what we all feel here,” said Elder Holland, who accompanied President Nelson on his first ministry tour.

President Nelson said he had symbolic reasons for planning the global trip as he did. “We wanted to start in Jerusalem to fortify ourselves with the message of the Lord Jesus Christ right from its very inception, here where he was born, where he lived, where he ministered and where he was crucified,” President Nelson said. “His message is for all of God’s children.”

‘Something magnificent’

Six months later, Elder Gary E. Stevenson, the member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles who accompanied President Nelson through South America, called the love of Latter-day Saints for President Nelson “palpable.”

President Nelson, who addressed Latter-day Saints in Spanish during the trip, said that is why he speaks to members in their native language.

“It’s been just remarkable,” said Elder Stevenson. “I never imagined that I would come and have to wear a headset, through translation, to listen to the words of President Nelson. That was a surprise to me.”

President Russell M. Nelson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and Elder Gary E. Stevenson, of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, wave to attendees at a devotional in Lima, Peru, on Oct. 20, 2018.
President Russell M. Nelson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and Elder Gary E. Stevenson, of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, wave to attendees at a devotional in Lima, Peru, on Oct. 20, 2018. Credit: Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News, Deseret News

He said that as President Nelson speaks in Spanish, “it just touches your heart. There’s a reverence. There’s a silence, and then everyone’s wiping their eyes. Tears are flowing, and it’s just a remarkable thing. It’s an indication that the Latter‑day Saints love their prophet, and the prophet loves the Latter‑day Saints.”

After Elder Gerrit W. Gong, who accompanied President Nelson to the Pacific in May 2019, he also spoke of  witnessing “something magnificent.”

“This has been called a ‘Pacific Ministry Tour.’ I have been so deeply touched by how the prophet of God ministers to 10,000 people and a single family that is grieving over the loss of their mother. There is a sense of connection, and of covenant belonging together, that makes each one feel as though this is for them individually, for their family, and for large groups — countries — at the same time. That is a remarkable thing to feel and see.”

President Nelson came here to “be with the people in a way that brings the Lord’s love, that brings the Lord’s doctrine, that brings the Lord’s commandments.”

Observing President Nelson is a reminder that Heavenly Father loves all of His children in all the far-flung parts of the earth and in all their circumstances — even though “they are not far flung [to the members] and they are not far flung to our Father in Heaven either.”

At the end of a trip to Central and South America in August 2019, President Nelson lamented that he could not go more places.

“For each country we are going in, there are 199 that we are not in,” said President Nelson. “And they are wishing we could come to them. But little by little, we will do the best we can.”

President Russell M. Nelson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and his wife, Sister Wendy Nelson, with Elder Quentin L. Cook, Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, and his wife, Sister Mary Cook, wave to attendees after a devotional in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on Wednesday, Aug. 28, 2019.
President Russell M. Nelson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and his wife, Sister Wendy Nelson, with Elder Quentin L. Cook, Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, and his wife, Sister Mary Cook, wave to attendees after a devotional in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on Wednesday, Aug. 28, 2019. Credit: Jeffrey D. Allred

Elder Quentin L. Cook said something happens when Latter-day Saints see the prophet in person. “They get a sense that this is the Lord’s prophet,” said the member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. “And what could be more precious than that?”

Added President Nelson: “It is not about us. The adulation is not for us. It’s for the Lord. And in the process, you learn to love the people.”

A few months later, in stark contrast to huge gatherings of thousands in Central and South America, President Nelson would address hundreds in Southeast Asia in November 2019.

‘Much more to come’

Watching the prophet travel so far to minister to just a few “is a testimony that every soul is precious. They are remembered,” said Elder D. Todd Christofferson, who accompanied President Nelson on the trip.

President Nelson called the trip a time “to look forward with excitement to the future.”

It was reminiscent of other times, that traveling and meeting Latter-day Saints across the world  energized the leader.

In Concepción, Chile, in October 2018, President Nelson said there is much more to come.

“Wait till next year, and then the next year,” President Nelson says. “Eat your vitamin pills. Get some rest. It’s going to be exciting.”

And at the beginning of 2019, President Nelson called the dedication of the Rome Italy Temple “a hinge point in the history of the Church.”

“Things are going to move forward at an accelerated pace,” he said. “The Church is going to have an unprecedented future, unparalleled. We’re just building up to what’s ahead now.”

And as 2020 drew to a close, President Nelson spoke of the unprecedented year, when virtually every person in the world has suffered the effects of a global pandemic. His sentiment was reflective of every talk he has given during his historic three-year global ministry.

He said there is nothing more important Latter-day Saints can do “than to rivet our focus on the Savior and on the gift of what His life really means to each of us.”