Reflecting on the young women in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, incoming Young Women General President Emily Belle Freeman said, “They need to know Jesus will meet them where they are.”
Many people may already be familiar with President Freeman as a speaker, author, podcaster and teacher. But for those who don’t know her — and for those who do — President Freeman hopes the first thing they understand is she has a deep and abiding belief in Jesus Christ.
“It is through personal experiences with Him that I have come to know Heavenly Father and I’ve come to experience revelation through the Spirit,” she said. “That has been the defining factor in my life — that lifelong companionship with Him.”
The foundation of this belief came in her youth. When she was a senior in high school, her parents — McKinley McVichie Oswald and Leslie James Oswald — were called to lead the California Ventura Mission. The first Sunday the family was there, the front door of the mission home opened, and teenagers they didn’t know started walking into the house.
“My dad finally called the assistant and said: ‘The weirdest thing is happening. All these kids we’ve never met before are walking in and sitting in the family room. Are we supposed to be doing something?’” President Freeman remembered.
The assistant had forgotten to tell them that on the fifth Sunday of each month, all the youth in the stake gathered for a testimony meeting in the mission home.
“So my mom shut the kitchen door and started baking brownies, and we went and sat with this group of kids we had never met before, who all by themselves pulled together a testimony meeting with no leaders in the whole entire room,” President Freeman said.
One of the teenage girls stood up and bore the most powerful testimony of Jesus Christ that President Freeman had ever heard from someone her own age.
“I can remember sitting on the floor and thinking, ‘I want a testimony like hers,’” President Freeman said. “And that’s what I envision — a community of girls who are learning for themselves —and then mentoring each other — how to come to know Jesus Christ.”
‘Choose the very best one’
Born in Boston, Massachusetts, on Dec. 31, 1969, while her father attended Harvard University, President Freeman was the oldest of six children, who were raised in Sandy, Utah. When the family moved to California for her parents’ mission leadership assignment, the youngest sibling was in kindergarten.
After President Thomas S. Monson, then second counselor in the First Presidency, set her father apart as mission president, President Monson stopped the 17-year-old Emily Belle Oswald for a moment and told her, “When you choose which missionary you are going to marry, make sure you choose the very best one.”
Gregory Garth Freeman was one of the missionaries in that mission. He was raised in Bountiful, Utah, in a family who did not actively attend Church while he grew up. But they had a neighbor who ministered to them faithfully over many years, visiting their home often even as he became busier as the bishop of their ward and then stake president.
Brother Freeman also had a good group of friends who invited him to attend seminary. They were all going on missions, and one of his friend’s mothers talked to him about preparing for a mission, too. Through these efforts, the Freemans began attending church again, and Brother Freeman was sealed to his parents and two sisters in the temple before he left for full-time missionary service.
He has a testimony of the Lord’s time frame and a deep appreciation for his family’s ministering brother. “The Lord’s hand guided my whole life, keeping me safe and keeping me worthy,” he said.
While on his mission, he remembered seeing the Oswald children at every mission conference. They would often sing, play music or speak at zone conferences and stake conferences as well.
After Emily Oswald graduated high school, she began accepting speaking engagements in Utah. Then, after Brother Freeman’s mission and his return to Utah, the Oswalds asked Brother Freeman to go watch a fireside where their daughter would be speaking. They hoped he could record some of it to send to them.
Shortly after that night, Greg Freeman and Emily Oswald began dating. They were married on Dec. 19, 1989, in the Los Angeles California Temple. President Monson sealed them.
Their wedding reception was held in the Lion House on Temple Square in Salt Lake City, which is where, in 1870, Brigham Young gathered his family to talk about a new program for the young women. The Freemans recently visited the same room and felt inspired by that connection to the past.
‘A lot of energy and a lot of love’
People ask President Freeman how she is able to do so much in her life, and whether she even has time to sleep. She said she comes from a long line of women “with a lot of energy and a lot of love.” Her mother, grandmothers and sisters had such gifts, so does she, and so do her daughters.
The Freemans have five children — four born to them and one who came to them from love, they explained. Pregnancy was hard for President Freeman, as she experienced complications and illness. That’s why they are grateful for Caleb, Josh, Megan, Grace and Garett.
“We love spending time together, we love family time,” President Freeman said.
The Freemans always want people to feel love in their home — anyone is welcome, Brother Freeman said. They have an open-door policy and have helped support and tutor many teens through high school, including Garett. He had been living in the area but was having some struggles; the Freemans invited him to live with them.
“The story of Garett coming into our family is a story of generous love from each of our kids who just welcomed him in with open arms,” President Freeman said. “They all tutored him and loved him — it’s amazing what love can do. It’s been a sweet story for our family.”
Now four of the five children are married, and the Freemans are enjoying having new in-laws and grandchildren to love.
But their family is not immune to challenges, including long-term health concerns and other trials. They have learned empathy toward others through their own experiences, and a wooden plaque hangs in their home saying, “Everybody is going through something.”
“Our family has learned to champion each other,” Brother Freeman said, and they rely a lot on the power of priesthood blessings and prayer — both individual and family prayer.
People also often ask President Freeman about her unique pink scriptures. They came about after she had incredible pain in her elbow — which her doctor determined came from repeatedly lifting her large, heavy quadruple combination in and out of her bag.
Rather than get a lighter or smaller set of scriptures and lose all her markings and pressed flowers inside, she found a man who binds books — and he separated her quadruple into separate books and bound them in pink covers, her favorite color.
A community of young women
When some people meet President Freeman, they tell her they feel like they are good friends. But she said that’s because people are drawn to Jesus Christ, “that’s what connects us.” When President Freeman began writing in 2003, she asked herself what she wanted her focus to be — and the answer was to testify of Jesus Christ and His Atonement.
President Freeman has written many books and spoken at a variety of conferences, workshops and gatherings. She taught for many years in the Church Educational System and has served as a Gospel Doctrine teacher, Young Women president and Relief Society president in her ward.
One of the very first things President Freeman envisioned after receiving the call to serve as Young Women general president is a community of young women.
“They need each other right now, and they need to know they have a place to belong to and a group of discipleship mentors that they can rely on as they go through whatever the world brings,” President Freeman said.
Social media will allow these relationships to be built with young women around the world.
“I’m hoping for a really close and connected group of girls that strengthen each other wherever they are,” she said.
When President Freeman served as a ward Young Women president in Draper, Utah, their theme from the beginning was to come to know Jesus Christ. For that first year, each leader took a month and taught about the one thing she knew about Jesus Christ.
“It’s been years, and I will see those girls now and that is their memory of that time in Young Women — it was the time they came to know Jesus,” she said.
That’s what she hopes for young women of the Church today, that they will come to know Jesus Christ personally. “He will meet them where they are and take them to places they could never get to on their own.”
About President Emily Belle Freeman
Family: Born Dec. 31, 1969, in Boston, Massachusetts, to McKinley McVichie Oswald and Leslie James Oswald. Raised in Sandy, Utah. Married Gregory Garth Freeman on Dec. 19, 1989, in the Los Angeles California Temple. They have five children.
Education: Attended Brigham Young University and the University of Utah.
Employment: Author, speaker, podcaster and teacher. Written more than a dozen books and taught for many years in the Church Educational System. She has also spoken at a variety of BYU programs and conferences, as well as the annual Deseret Book-sponsored Time Out for Women.
Church service: Seminary teacher, Gospel Doctrine teacher, ward Young Women president, ward Relief Society president.