2 years of COVID-19: President Ballard’s message of optimism as cases surge

Nearly two years after President M. Russell Ballard declared the world will win the war on COVID-19, the 93-year-old Church leader spoke from his office in Salt Lake City about the ongoing pandemic with identical optimism. 

“Just keep smiling,” said the Acting President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. “The pandemic will wear itself out, but don’t let it wear you out. Just keep getting up in the morning and keep raising your families. Things will be OK.”

President Ballard spoke to the Church News on Wednesday, Jan. 5, as a record-breaking number of new COVID-19 cases were reported in Utah. The sweeping omicron variant is reported to be responsible for a worldwide surge in cases.

Though the pandemic has raged on longer than hoped, “we’ve been dealing with it wisely,” he noted, referring to the Church. 

A few hundred invited attendees sing a congregational hymn during the 191st Semiannual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at the Conference Center in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Oct. 2, 2021.
A few hundred invited attendees sing a congregational hymn during the 191st Semiannual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at the Conference Center in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Oct. 2, 2021. Credit: Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

“The Church has not stopped; the Church has gone forward. We’ve used wisdom and good judgment. Where advisable, we have used masks. We have encouraged members of the Church to be vaccinated. Where the members of the Church have gathered, they have gathered with the spirit of watchcare for one another.”

Timeline: How the Church has responded to the COVID-19 pandemic

As the Church approaches the two-year anniversary of suspending gatherings worldwide, returning more than half the Church’s missionary force to their home nations, and closing all temples, President Ballard reflected on lessons learned from the pandemic and the Church’s ongoing response. 

Care for one another

President Ballard acknowledged the anxiety many across the world are feeling as the pandemic continues. As a 14-year-old boy, he witnessed widespread worry and fear at the onset of World War II. 

“But the world didn’t end. The world went on. And afterward, it was rebuilt with remarkable blessings to the human family,” President Ballard said. 

He cited the example of the interstate highway system created from the inspiration of United States President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who observed firsthand as the supreme Allied commander the advanced highway system built by the Germans.

One result of the COVID-19 pandemic is what President Ballard described as “a sense of caring for another.”

“I think people are concerned about the welfare and well-being of their family, of their neighbors, of God’s children,” he said. “Sometimes these events — whether it’s war or a pandemic — bring about a sense of concern for others that doesn’t happen without something that would cause us to want to worry about our neighbor.”

This sense of concern “is evidenced by the fact that people are willing to get vaccinated, willing to wear masks and willing to be more cautious where they are going,” he added. 

President M. Russell Ballard, Acting President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, receives the first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2021, in Salt Lake City.
President M. Russell Ballard, Acting President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, receives the first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2021, in Salt Lake City. Credit: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

President Ballard pointed to state and national statistics that indicate vaccines are helping to quell the spread of the virus.

“Following the guidelines of the federal and state medical advisers has proven to be a wise thing for members of the Church to do,” he said. “The Church invites its members to be wise and prudent and do the wise thing for their families.”

All of the Church’s general authorities and their wives have chosen to be vaccinated, President Ballard said, “not only to protect themselves but to protect others.”

‘The Church hasn’t stopped’

The longest serving general authority in the Church — having served for more than 46 years — President Ballard characterized himself as “a great advocate of missionary work.”

“To me, one of the major responsibilities every member of this Church has is to help others come unto Christ and to receive the saving ordinances,” he said. 

During the pandemic, missionaries have found creative ways to share the message of the Restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ. “Because it wasn’t wise for them to be out on the streets knocking on doors, they started to knock on people’s computers. They are using technology. They are using ways the Lord has provided.”

Kimber Young teaches training missionaries Mandarin Chinese via videoconferencing at the Provo Missionary Training Center on Wednesday, March 25, 2020.
Kimber Young teaches training missionaries Mandarin Chinese via videoconferencing at the Provo Missionary Training Center on Wednesday, March 25, 2020. Credit: Laura Seitz, Deseret News

“Nothing has stopped it,” President Ballard said of the work of the Church. In the history of the world, pandemics, wars and other catastrophes have never halted the Lord’s work. 

“The precious gift of having the restored gospel of Jesus Christ in one’s life, the opportunity to live it and share it, continues. … Finding, seeking, teaching, testifying, baptizing, fellowshipping, ministering — all of this is ongoing. It’s never stopped. 

“The pandemic did not stop and has not stopped the Church from continuing to find Father in Heaven’s children who want to know about the Restoration of the fulness of the everlasting gospel of Jesus Christ and receive the blessings of the restoration of the priesthood,” President Ballard said.

He again emphasized: “The Restoration has not stopped. Missionary service has not stopped. The Church hasn’t stopped. We’re moving forward — all in preparation for the Second Coming of the Lord Jesus Christ.”