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‘A century of living’: In celebration of his 99th birthday, President Nelson reflects on innovation, growth, political breakthroughs

Church News shares an excerpt from the intro of President Russell M. Nelson’s new book, ‘Heart of the Matter’

President Russell Marion Nelson was born Sept. 9, 1924, in Salt Lake City, the son of Marion C. and Edna Anderson Nelson. On Sept. 9, 2023, President Nelson turned 99 years old.

President Nelson was set apart as the 17th President of the Church on Jan. 14, 2018, after serving 34 years in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. In addition to his service as an Apostle, President Nelson is known for his long and esteemed medical career.

In celebration of his birthday, the Church News is printing an excerpt from his new book, “Heart of the Matter, What 100 Years of Living Have Taught Me.” Published by Deseret Book, the book will be released later this year.

As the Church celebrates President Nelson’s landmark birthday, the Church News offers a glimpse of the personal reflections he prepared while looking back on his lifetime.

Now that I am in my hundredth year, I have the rare opportunity of reflecting on a century of living.

I was born during the Roaring Twenties, when the world was still emerging from the devastating effects of World War I. I have lived to see far too many other wars, the Great Depression, the rise of terrorism and even a worldwide pandemic. Thankfully, I have also witnessed remarkable strides forward for humanity. I marvel at the countless innovations that have transformed the world around me.

President Russell M. Nelson and Sister Wendy Nelson wave to attendees after an online devotional in Lethbridge, Alberta.
President Russell M. Nelson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and his wife, Sister Wendy Nelson, and other participants wave to attendees after an online devotional in Lethbridge, Alberta, on Sunday, Oct. 16, 2022. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

I remember witnessing the first television broadcasts that were little more than a grainy picture in black and white and then the awe of antibiotics such as penicillin that revolutionized medicine. I have seen everything from the advent of jet engines, radar and nuclear power to the transformational nature of the transistor and integrated circuits that laid the foundation for the digital age.

In recent years, I have experienced the explosive growth of the internet and the rise of social media platforms that have fundamentally changed how people communicate and share information. I have seen the world become more interconnected and globalized while also grappling with the challenges these advancements bring. During my life I’ve seen the automobile industry go from producing Ford’s Model T Touring Car to electric vehicles of almost every brand. And now we are becoming acquainted with artificial intelligence and the dramatic leap this innovation represents. These advances are fascinating.

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I have witnessed numerous political breakthroughs in my lifetime. I well remember the end of World War II in 1945 and the establishment of the United Nations. I was stirred as the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s and 1960s brought about much-needed progress toward racial equality in the United States. I traveled frequently throughout Eastern Europe in the 1980s and, like the rest of the world, celebrated the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the major advancements throughout Eastern Europe that followed. I have seen the rise and fall of apartheid in South Africa and the subsequent election of Nelson Mandela as that country’s first Black president. These breakthroughs, along with countless others, have shown me that even in the midst of adversity and conflict, humanity has the capacity for growth, understanding, compassion and progress.

The year I was born, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints had a membership just shy of 598,000. There were six operating temples, 90 stakes, 25 missions and 867 missionaries. President Heber J. Grant was President of the Church. Elder David O. McKay was superintendent of the Sunday School, and Elder George Albert Smith was superintendent of the Young Men’s Mutual Improvement Association, both serving in those capacities as Apostles. Clarissa Smith Williams was general president of the Relief Society, Martha Horne Tingey was general president of the Young Women Mutual Improvement Association, and Louie Bouton Felt was general president of the Primary.

The October 1924 general conference, held just three weeks after I was born, was the first to be broadcast by radio. President Grant opened the conference proceedings with the following remarks: “The exercises of today and throughout the conference are to be broadcasted; and it is estimated that in the neighborhood of a million people will be able to hear all that is said, provided they are listening in during the conference sessions. The radio is one of the most marvelous inventions man knows anything about. To have the voice carried for thousands of miles seems almost beyond comprehension.”

General conference is now broadcast to tens of millions of people around the globe. It goes without saying that the Lord’s Church, along with transmission of general conference to the world, has changed dramatically during my lifetime. ...

President Russell M. Nelson speaks during the Sunday morning session of April 2023 general conference.
President Russell M. Nelson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints speaks during the Sunday morning session of the 193rd Annual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the Conference Center in Salt Lake City on Sunday, April 2, 2023. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

As I indulge in reflections about my centennial journey, I am grateful to have witnessed a century of unprecedented innovation, and I am optimistic about what the future holds for humanity. ...

In January 2018, at age 93, I was called by the Lord to serve as President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This privilege and responsibility has underscored one of the profound learnings that 100 years of living have taught me — that divine laws and truths govern our lives, whether we realize it or not. ...

I have come to depend on these essential laws and principles to improve each day as a man and as a husband; nurture meaningful connections with my children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren; become a heart surgeon; build bridges of understanding with people the world over; teach the restored gospel of Jesus Christ throughout the world; lead a religion whose members are found in more than 200 countries and whose head is Jesus Christ; and serve the Lord, His people and the world in more ways than I ever thought possible.

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