How messages from afar and an international list of speakers underscored a global general conference

The many international participants, the messages coming from afar and the increased availability of television and radio broadcasting worldwide made the Easter Sunday session of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ April 2021 general conference a truly global event.

President Dallin H. Oaks, the first counselor in the First Presidency who conducted the session, acknowledged that President Russell M. Nelson had directed that the Sunday morning session feature speakers from throughout the world preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Said President Nelson: “This morning, we have heard from Church leaders who come from every populated continent on Earth. Truly, the blessings of the gospel are for every race, language and people. The Church of Jesus Christ is a global Church. Jesus Christ is our Leader.”

It coincided with the Church’s emphasis and efforts to extend a global invitation to all to listen to the messages of the gospel of Jesus Christ, His Atonement and His Resurrection on Christianity’s sacred day.

President Russell M. Nelson speaks during the Sunday morning session of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' 191st Annual General Conference in Salt Lake City on April 4, 2021.
President Russell M. Nelson speaks during the Sunday morning session of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ 191st Annual General Conference in Salt Lake City on April 4, 2021. Credit: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Pandemic-caused opportunities

For the Church’s third consecutive general conference, the COVID-19 pandemic’s restrictions and protocols precluded public gatherings at the Conference Center in Salt Lake City and the travel of General Authority Seventies to Church headquarters from assigned locations of service across the globe. 

Also, members worldwide were mostly unable to gather at Church meetinghouses to view or listen to sessions when unable to personally access conference messages through digital technology such as the internet or smartphones.

However, those same pandemic restrictions resulted in some noteworthy moments and increases for the April 2021 general conference — messages and music prerecorded from around the world and an ever-growing number of national and regional television and radio stations broadcasting conference sessions.

Read more: Musical selections during Easter morning conference session represent the global Church, its members

International participants

The Sunday morning session — replete with Easter-themed messages of God’s love for His children and the Atonement and Resurrection of Jesus Christ — provided a list of speakers with heritage, languages and current Church assignments that represented a spanning of the globe.

  • Elder Ulisses Soares, born in São Paulo, Brazil, who as a member of Quorum of the Twelve Apostles helps take the gospel to the four corners of the Earth.
  • Sister Reyna Isabel Aburto, second counselor in the Relief Society general presidency and a native of Managua, Nicaragua.
  • Elder S. Mark Palmer, a General Authority Seventy born in Te Puke, New Zealand, and currently in Johannesburg, South Africa, presiding over the Africa South Area.
  • Elder Edward Dube, a General Authority Seventy and second counselor in the same Africa South Area presidency, born in Chiramanzu, Zimbabwe. 
  • Elder José A. Teixeira of the Presidency of the Seventy, a native of Vila Real, Portugal.
  • Elder Taniela B. Wakolo, a General Authority Seventy born in Lomaloma, Fiji, who serves in Manila, Philippines, as president of the Philippines Area.
  • Elder Chi Hong (Sam) Wong, born in Hong Kong and serving as first counselor in the North America Central Area presidency out of Church headquarters.
  • Elder Michael John U. Teh, a General Authority Seventy serving in Salt Lake CIty, born in Davao City, Philippines.
  • President Nelson, the 96-year-old born and raised in Salt Lake City who presides over a worldwide Church of nearly 17 million members.

Find summaries of each of their general conference messages

The international flavor continued with the session’s prayers and music. Offering the prayers for the session were Elder Terence M. Vinson of the Presidency of the Seventy, a native of Sydney, Australia, and Elder Arnulfo Valenzuela, a General Authority Seventy who was born in Chihuahua, Mexico.

And prerecorded music selections came from Mexico, Korea and other parts of the world.

The birthplaces and current areas of service for the aforementioned leaders represent the earth’s six inhabitable continents and a myriad of international languages — but still don’t include locations where the nine have resided for any professional, ecclesiastical or personal purposes.

Jhon Faber Sánchez, Yeini Maritza Torres, Gabriel Stevan Sánchez Torres and Xiomara Alexandra Sánchez watch the Sunday morning session of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ 191st Annual General Conference on April 4, 2021.
Jhon Faber Sánchez, Yeini Maritza Torres, Gabriel Stevan Sánchez Torres and Xiomara Alexandra Sánchez watch the Sunday morning session of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ 191st Annual General Conference on April 4, 2021. Credit: Jhon Faber Sánchez

President Nelson may be the “most international” of the group, having visited 133 countries as an Apostle even prior to becoming Church President. He dedicated 31 of those nations for the preaching of the gospel and has been instrumental in opening doors for the Church in areas such as Eastern Europe and China.

Since becoming President of the Church, President Nelson has ministered in nearly three dozen nations across six continents, with his more than 115,000 miles traveled the equivalent of 4.5 trips around the globe. And all of that came in the first two years of his tenure, as the third and past year saw all travel and nearly all public gatherings of size scrapped because of the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting restrictions and protocols.

Conference messages shared from afar

Adding to the international flavor of the session — and the April 2021 conference in general — was the fact that a half-dozen of the conference messages by General Authority Seventies were prerecorded remotely in international locations:

  • Elder Jorge T. Becerra, whose remarks were part of the Saturday afternoon session. He is serving as second counselor in the South America Northwest Area presidency, based in Lima, Peru, nearly 4,300 miles from Church headquarters in Salt Lake City.
  • Elder Thierry K. Mutombo, who also spoke Saturday afternoon. He is serving as second counselor in Africa Central Area, with headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya, more than 9,000 from Salt Lake City.
  • Elder Palmer and Elder Dube, who spoke consecutively in the Sunday morning session and are in the Africa South Area presidency based in Johannesburg, nearly 10,000 miles from Salt Lake City.
  • Elder Wakolo, another Sunday morning speaker, presiding over the Philippines Area from Manila, more than 7,300 miles from Church headquarters.
  • Elder Alan R. Walker, who spoke in the Sunday afternoon session, is second counselor in the Central America Area presidency in Guatemala City, Guatemala, some 2,900 miles from Salt Lake City.

Those weren’t the first remotely shared messages of a Utah-based general conference. President Spencer W. Kimball conducted part of the April 1980 general conference from the Peter Whitmer farmhouse in Fayette, New York. His presiding and speaking from there on April 6, 1980 —  the first satellite-linked broadcast of a conference address — commemorated the 150th anniversary of the organization of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

A family in Munich, Germany, participates in a session of the 191st Annual General Conference, broadcast April 3-4, 2021.
A family in Munich, Germany, participates in a session of the 191st Annual General Conference, broadcast April 3-4, 2021. Credit: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Forty years later, the April 2020 general conference — and another remote message — celebrated another pivotal moment in Church history, the 200th year since Joseph Smith’s vision of God the Father and the Son. President Nelson’s reading of the bicentennial proclamation was not a live-transmitted event but had been recorded earlier at the Sacred Grove in Palmyra, New York.

While the six remote messages from the April 2021 general conference were also videotaped in advance, they were the first remote conference talks given outside of New York, Utah or any of the United States — coming from Peru, Kenya, South Africa, the Philippines and Guatemala.

Increased international media exposure

The total audience for the April 2021 general conference is expected to be the Church’s largest ever. In addition to the Church’s own online streaming of conference, national and regional television and radio stations in more than 70 countries will broadcast at least one conference session. A number of these countries — including Argentina, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay — will receive by television or radio for the first time.

That’s a 40% increase from October 2020 general conference, carried by some 200 public broadcasting channels in 50 countries, reaching Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, Central America, Mexico, the Pacific and South America.

The Pacific island nation of Kiribati was included among the 50. Latter-day Saints there not only were treated to the public media broadcasts for the first time, but at the end of the Sunday afternoon session, they heard President Nelson say their capital city of Tarawa as one location for the six new temples he announced.

For the April 2020 general conference and the Church’s first in the COVID-19 pandemic, 31 countries received general conference through national or regional television or radio broadcasts, including Jamaica, New Zealand, Philippines, Ghana, Nigeria, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Togo.