In a time defined by isolation, divisiveness and racial tensions, Elder Gerrit W. Gong invited young Latter-day Saints to help create a safe place for all to live the gospel.
“Please come as you are,” he told his young global audience. “We need you. As we become compassionate and inclusive, and invite others to do the same, our gospel community becomes more open, vulnerable and inviting. In a sense, we all become new converts, returning members, new move-ins, each seeking our way.”
In speaking to the Church’s 2.3 million young adults ages 18-30 who live in some 180 countries across the globe, Elder Gong — participating with his wife, Sister Susan L. Gong — issued three invitations during the Worldwide Young Adult Devotional.
Those invitations, the member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said, have inspired him to deepen his relationship with God, change the future now and become a better version of himself.
“I pray, taken together, these invitations will strengthen your faith and draw you closer to God and those around you, as you find enduring joy on His covenant path,” the Apostle said during the live broadcast from Temple Square on Sunday, Jan. 10.
1. Be still
Elder Gong’s first invitation came from Psalms 46:10: “Be still and know that I am God.”
Elder Gong said he and his wife, Sister Gong, recently drove to a place so “dark and beautiful” they could see the Milky Way.
He then quoted Genesis 1:31: “In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth. … And God saw that it was good.”
He added: “God is knowing, powerful, and good. The purpose, elegance, and harmony of His creations witness His infinite love and His plan of happiness for each of us.”
To “be still” requires conscious effort, while knowing “that [God is] God” requires spiritual openness and humility, Elder Gong explained. “Sometimes slowing down in things that matter less helps us find the things that matter most.”
One important way to know God is God is to discern His signature in creations made to gladden the heart, he said. Another is to see goodness and meaning in divine relationships — “in tenderness, serendipity, reconciliation, forgiveness, sacrifice.”
Today’s noisy, cluttered world can make it hard to “be still” and “know that I am God,” Elder Gong continued. “We don’t remember how noisy the kitchen fan is until we turn it off. Superficiality, mirages, secular rabbit holes distract and confuse. Fear of missing out (FOMO) is old news, though we are still glued to our devices. Some think multitasking 24/7 increases our value or importance.”
Individuals sometimes try to frame life as “insta-perfect” for an Instagram post, “even though we know ’insta-perfect’ is neither ‘insta-’ nor ‘perfect.’”
Elder Gong said to be still is not to be lonely. “Slowing down declutters my head and heart,” the Apostle said. “Then, gratitude, and its twin virtue humility, can open my spiritual eyes and ears to the evidences of His generous abundance all around us.”
As individuals slow down and seek with faith, they can acquire an eternal perspective that will help anchor them even as “all things shall be in commotion” (Doctrine and Covenants 88:91).
“Please, dear brothers and sisters,” Elder Gong said, “be still, and know that [God is] God.”
2. Build relationships
Elder Gong introduced his second invitation — to build relationships that change the future now — by describing a woman named Melba Oakes.
When Melba was 21 years old she befriended a 17-year-old convert named Jean. In small and simple ways, Melba ministered to Jean. They remained friends after Jean met a wonderful man named Walter, who was baptized and became a faithful Church member and stake patriarch.
“As you have guessed, in marrying Walter Gong, Jean became Jean Gong — my dear mother,” Elder Gong said. “Today my mother is 94 years old. Melba Oakes is 98 years old. They have been friends in the gospel for 77 years.”
Sadly, Elder Gong continued, some of his mother’s friends are no longer in the Church. “I am eternally gratefully to Melba Oakes and everyone who helped my mother when she was new in the gospel.” He also expressed gratitude for his parents who succeeded despite societal prejudices and some Church members with racial prejudices.
There are Jean Gongs and Melba Oakes all around, Elder Gong said. All need a safe place to ask and seek, to learn and live gospel doctrine and Church culture. “We want to be seen as adults, and to be responsible and contribute as adults. We want church to be a place where we don’t judge each other and we repent if someone feels we are judging them in a hurtful way.”
Where there is spiritual famine in the land, disciples of Christ celebrate Him as the Living Water and the Bread of Life, he said.
To those who are the only member in his or her family, Elder Gong said, “You are valiant and faithful, but often it is hard. Please hold tightly to the iron rod — or, as a young adult in Manaus, Brazil, put it, ‘feel the steel.’ Determine you will be steadfast and immovable, a strong link in your generations. It will be worth it.”
It matters less if an individual is first or sixth generation than that he or she is valiant in a testimony of Jesus Christ, Elder Gong said. “Please be a Melba Oakes or a Jean Gong — build relationships today that change the future, for the coming one, five, or even 77 years.”
3. Become a better you
The third invitation Elder Gong shared was to “become a better you by working with and beside the Lord of the Harvest.”
Through the law of the harvest — “for whatsoever a man [or woman] soweth, that shall he also reap” (Galatians 6:7) — the Lord can bless individuals with joy in the fruits of their labors, Elder Gong said. “Put another way, we harvest what we plant — good is restored for good, as are righteousness, justice, and mercy.”
Sometimes life will feel unjust with hard, lonely moments, said Elder Gong, then encouraging his listeners to wait on the Lord with anticipation. “In His time and way, God will make right injustices, sorrows, disappointments. For the willing and humble, His is a gospel of second and third chances, to 70 times seven. Those who keep God’s commandments are and will be ‘blessed in all things.’”
The Apostle then cited a Church survey that lists the various ways young Latter-day Saints are addressing “pressing humanitarian needs” across the globe. Young adults and their friends are sewing masks, supporting women’s refuge centers, helping with natural disaster clean-up and relief, providing children nutrition, building local communities and other service projects.
“As disciples of Jesus Christ, our covenant belonging with God and each other invites us to be good and do good. … We feel Heaven’s blessings as we express our love of God in doing all possible for our brothers and sisters, His sons and daughters, everywhere, in every way we can.”
In conclusion, Elder Gong also encouraged young adults to worthily hold a current temple recommend, to serve in their local branch or ward, and to create a personal environment that nurtures faith and the keeping of God’s commandments.
“Live worthy so the Holy Ghost can be your companion and help you find what you most need and seek. Do not let the world pretend to offer you things it cannot deliver,” he said.
‘Jesus Christ our Savior’
In her remarks, Sister Gong spoke of individuals’ greatest hope: “Jesus Christ our Savior.”
No one can see the end from the beginning, she said. “Perhaps our lives are unfolding in ways different from what we had hoped for. We can still ‘press forward with steadfastness in Christ and a perfect brightness of hope’ (2 Nephi 31:20) because we know that our loving Heavenly Father has a plan for us.”
During the stay-at-home orders due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Sister Gong said she has been working on a new skill — paper piece quilting. The counterintuitive process requires the practitioner to turn scraps of fabric into intricate designs by sewing pieces of cloth together upside down and backwards.
“It’s hard to see how these bits of color will resolve into a coherent pattern. But gradually as you cut, patiently stitch, and press over and over again a beautiful design emerges.”
In a similar way, Sister Gong told young adults, they may feel the plan for their lives is not yet clear. “That does not mean that we are waiting for life to begin. These are invaluable years no matter where you are in your life,” she said.
Now is the season to develop talents, to seek out wise and righteous mentors, to create meaningful relationships and to be anxiously engaged in good causes. “Heaven is not waiting for the pandemic to end, for me to lose ten pounds, or for you to be married to the person of your dreams for us to become true disciples — to keep His commandments, especially to love the Lord and our neighbors,” Sister Gong said.