Area organization advisers: Women leaders in international areas to provide instruction, mentoring

With the growth of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints throughout the world, the Relief Society, Young Women and Primary organizations are “thrilled” to have women leaders in international areas to help provide instruction and mentoring, said Relief Society General President Jean B. Bingham.

“Because they are familiar with the language, culture and environment, these sisters can be on-the-ground help for many leaders who may be ‘young’ in the Church and yet anxious to fulfill their responsibilities well,” she said. 

The First Presidency has recently approved the calling of area organization advisers in areas outside the United States and Canada at the discretion of area presidencies.

Several women have been called as area organization advisers in the Europe, Philippines and Caribbean areas. Additional area presidencies are expected to also call women to serve in this capacity. 

“Each of these women has served in many capacities in the Church and comes with a background that will be a strength to the area presidency as well as the local leaders,” President Bingham said. “The area presidencies who have called and set apart these women are also excited to have them provide needed insights and perspective in councils in their area.”

Primary General President Joy D. Jones said the area organization advisers will teach “with a unified perspective” as they orient newly called stake and district Relief Society, Young Women and Primary presidencies. “We have already felt the strength of their testimonies and their desire to serve.” 

“We know this is the Lord’s timing and have felt His Spirit guiding the process to make this additional leadership instruction possible,” President Jones said. “He has prepared these sisters in their service and experience to serve as area organization advisers. It is humbling to feel His love for all of His children around the world. These sisters will provide a needed connection in their areas.”

From left, Sister Jean B. Bingham, Relief Society general president, Sister Joy D. Jones, Primary general president, and Sister Bonnie H. Cordon, Young Women general president meet in the Relief Society Building in Salt Lake City on Sept 4, 2018.
From left, Sister Jean B. Bingham, Relief Society general president, Sister Joy D. Jones, Primary general president, and Sister Bonnie H. Cordon, Young Women general president meet in the Relief Society Building in Salt Lake City on Sept 4, 2018. Credit: Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Young Women General President Bonnie H. Cordon also spoke of the strength of area organizational advisers, describing them as “a mighty resource for local women leaders throughout the world.”

“They will be a mentor and guide, sitting knee-to-knee to answer questions and provide insight into our Primary, Young Women and Relief Society programs. It truly feels like the missing piece of the puzzle,” she said.

“We are grateful for the hours, even years of counseling together that brought us to today — and we are excited to see how the Lord will shape and mold this new leadership opportunity into what He needs it to be to move His work forward.”

What are area organization advisers?

Elder Taniela B. Wakolo, a General Authority Seventy serving as president of the Philippines Area, described the three-fold purpose of area organization advisers: to provide leadership instruction to sister leaders in support of rapid Church growth in the area; provide a model that effective progress occurs when women and men work together in unity; and include women’s perspective at all levels of councils. 

Area organization advisers report directly to the area presidency, he said. “This direct reporting line will enable the vision of the area presidency to strengthen and expand the stakes of Zion to be taught in a consistent, seamless fashion.”

Since each area organization adviser generally represents the Primary, Young Women and Relief Society organizations, “they bring a wonderfully well-rounded perspective to their training and to the counsel they provide in the council setting,” Elder Wakolo said. 

Young women in the Caribbean participate in a prerecorded musical number as part of a virtual FSY conference held June 22-26, 2020.
Young women in the Caribbean participate in a prerecorded musical number as part of a virtual FSY conference held June 22-26, 2020. Credit: Intellectual Reserve, Inc.

In a developing area like the Caribbean with much cultural diversity, instruction and counsel from area organization advisers is “greatly needed, valuable and meaningful,” said Elder Jose L. Alonso, a General Authority Seventy serving as president of the Caribbean Area. 

“As we work together, aligned with the prophetic direction, the rate of growth in the area will be amazing,” he said. 

A newly called area organization adviser in the Caribbean Area, Sister Nadine L. Brown said her responsibilities include mentoring newly called stake and district Relief Society, Young Women and Primary presidencies, as well as participating in area councils and supporting the area presidency.

“For me, this calling is an opportunity to support and strengthen the growth of the Church in the Caribbean and to keep pace with the hastening of this great work,” said Sister Brown, who lives in Kingston, Jamaica. 

Many Latter-day Saints in the Caribbean are first-generation members, she said. “I hope that as we continue to work arm in arm with priesthood leaders — counseling together on how we can invite others to come unto Christ, ministering to those that have come and help them make and keep their covenants — we can realize the blessings of a multi-generation Church here.”

Like the Caribbean Area, the Europe Area is culturally diverse with many languages. “Having experienced sister leaders who understand the local issues is invaluable,” said Elder Gary B. Sabin, a General Authority Seventy and president of the Europe Area. 

Unique challenges in Europe include the “secular tidal wave” of making a living which often necessitates two-income households, he said. The area presidency is also concerned for the rising generation and single members in an environment of competing voices. 

Sister Julia Wondra, left, a newly called area organization adviser in the Europe Area, is pictured with her husband, Elder Helmut Wondra, an Area Seventy, in front of the Frankfurt Germany Temple.
Sister Julia Wondra, left, a newly called area organization adviser in the Europe Area, is pictured with her husband, Elder Helmut Wondra, an Area Seventy, in front of the Frankfurt Germany Temple. Credit: Courtesy Helmut Wondra

“Each one of these sisters has a wealth of experience and is well suited to uniquely respond to local needs and counsel together with the area presidency so these needs can be addressed more effectively,” Elder Sabin said. 

Sister Julia Wondra, an area organization adviser in the Europe Area, expressed gratitude for her new calling in a March 11 news release from the Church’s United Kingdom Newsroom. “I am delighted with all my heart to be able to serve our Lord Jesus Christ together with the sisters of Europe,” said Wondra, who lives in Vienna, Austria.

A historical perspective

Former Relief Society General President Linda K. Burton said she sees the new calling of area organization adviser as a “great unifier” for the Relief Society, Young Women and Primary organizations. It will also “give greater vision” for leaders on the local, area and general levels.

“It is the link that has been missing,” said Sister Burton, who served as president from 2012 to 2017. As the advisers meet with the general officers, they will glean instruction and insights to take back to their areas, and also help the general officers understand local concerns, she said.  

This new calling reminded Sister Ardeth G. Kapp, who served as Young Women general president from 1984 to 1992, of a statement from President Gordon B. Hinckley repeated by then-Elder Russell M. Nelson in 1986: “Your influence and that of all young women of the Church, like a sleeping giant, will awaken, arise and inspire the inhabitants of the earth as a mighty force for righteousness.”

The Young Women general presidency photographed after a session of the April 1987 general conference, are, from left, Sister Jayne B. Malan, first counselor; Sister Ardeth G. Kapp, Young Women general president; and Sister Elaine L. Jack, second counselor.
The Young Women general presidency photographed after a session of the April 1987 general conference, are, from left, Sister Jayne B. Malan, first counselor; Sister Ardeth G. Kapp, Young Women general president; and Sister Elaine L. Jack, second counselor. Credit: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Sister Kapp recalled that in meetings with Elder Nelson, he used to say, “sometimes the idea is right, but the timing may not be.” When she learned of the new area organization advisers, she thought, “the idea was right … and now the timing is right. Our local leaders are prepared.”

While traveling the globe as a Relief Society general president from 2007 to 2012, Sister Julie B. Beck said she often spent a few weeks in an area, helped instruct and mentor local leaders, and then returned home, “switched out my suitcase and went somewhere else.”

“Now those leaders can have an ongoing resource,” Sister Beck told the Church News. “The mentoring and instruction can continue.”

With the growth of the Church over the last several decades, “we have a very gifted and experienced international Church, and we’re deep in resources and experience. Why not tap into that? It’s time to tap into it.”

Sister Linda K. Burton, left, hugs Sister Julie B. Beck after the 182nd Annual General Conference for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at the Conference Center in Salt Lake City on Saturday, March 31, 2012.
Sister Linda K. Burton, left, hugs Sister Julie B. Beck after the 182nd Annual General Conference for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at the Conference Center in Salt Lake City on Saturday, March 31, 2012. Credit: Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

The new calling of area organization advisers is about making the Lord’s work more effective, Sister Beck said. “It’s not separating out the work of women and men. It’s making the Lord’s work smoother, and it’s helping the Prophet, through his keys, reach down into the areas in a more effective way.”