Sarah Jane Weaver: What President and Sister Nelson did to help one young woman feel the Lord’s peace

HANOI, Vietnam — In a country of 97 million and in a hotel filled with thousands, 432 members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints gathered to be taught by two disciples — President Russell M. Nelson and Elder D. Todd Christofferson.  

But before the devotional on Nov. 17, a young woman anxiously anticipated her opportunity to ask the president of the Church one question.

Gathered in a backstage room with a handful of other young adults in the JW Marriott Hotel, the young woman greeted President Nelson and his wife, Sister Wendy Nelson. When President Nelson asked the group for questions, she raised her hand with tentative resolve. She was not selected.

President Russell M. Nelson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and his wife, Sister Wendy Nelson, and Elder D. Todd Christofferson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and his wife, Sister Sister Katherine Christofferson, wave to attendees after a devotional in Hanoi, Vietnam, on Sunday, Nov. 17, 2019.
President Russell M. Nelson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and his wife, Sister Wendy Nelson, and Elder D. Todd Christofferson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and his wife, Sister Sister Katherine Christofferson, wave to attendees after a devotional in Hanoi, Vietnam, on Sunday, Nov. 17, 2019. Credit: Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

As the meeting was brought to a close, however, it was determined that one more question could be asked, and all eyes turned to her.

The room stilled as she spoke about her experience with emotional and sexual abuse.

“How can we know we are not to blame and worthy to follow God and that He will accept us when we do?” she questioned.

President Nelson looked the young woman in the eyes and spoke about the mortal experience. “We come to this earth for two purposes — to get a body and to be tested,” he said. “Everyone will have bad things happen to them. … What we become is how we handle very hard things in life. The main thing is to develop faith in God, faith in Jesus Christ and know you will be talking to Them one day.  …. With faith you can overcome. The Lord will say, ‘Well done.’”

With the questions complete, everyone stood and President and Sister Nelson prepared to participate in the devotional. But instead of leaving, they walked straight to the young woman. President Nelson offered private counsel. Sister Nelson, a mental health counselor by profession, embraced her.

“You were beautiful before the abuse,” she said. “You are beautiful after the abuse. It wasn’t your fault.”

A sweet spirit filled the room. The young woman wept.

President and Sister Nelson traveled 7,526 miles to speak to hundreds.

A man fishes with a net in Hanoi, Vietnam, on Saturday, Nov. 16, 2019.
A man fishes with a net in Hanoi, Vietnam, on Saturday, Nov. 16, 2019. Credit: Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

But at that moment, it felt they had come all that way to speak to one. The Lord relied on two people — a prophet and a counselor — to spread His peace that day.

It started when a faithful young woman bravely put her trust in God and sought direction.

A few minutes later, Elder David F. Evans, a General Authority Seventy and president of the Asia Area, praised all of Vietnam’s faithful Latter-day Saints. “I have never been with a group of young people who put their trust in God as you do,” he said.

Elder Christofferson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles echoed that resolve. “You are honest, and you work hard. You have joy in your hearts. We are grateful for your examples and for the sacrifices you make. We are grateful for the joy you bring to others. You represent us so well.”

And then Elder Christofferson offered the group a sweet promise. “God knows where you are. The Holy Ghost doesn’t require a visa to come here to testify to you. He will find you anywhere. … I say it again, your Heavenly Father is mindful of you. Because of your example and your faithfulness, He will bless this nation.”

During her remarks, Sister Nelson spoke directly to others in the congregation who may have suffered emotional, physical or sexual abuse. She encouraged them to pray — ask the Lord to “tell you how much you are of worth to Him” she said.

President Nelson promised the small congregation that they could change a nation. “There is much to be done,” he said. “Many great and wonderful things will happen here in Vietnam.”

A motorist travels across a bridge in Hanoi, Vietnam, on Saturday, Nov. 16, 2019.
A motorist travels across a bridge in Hanoi, Vietnam, on Saturday, Nov. 16, 2019. Credit: Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Elder Christofferson later spoke of the “sense of future” he felt that evening.

There in the smallest gathering and among the most faithful Latter-day Saints, the Lord had micromanaged His Church, said President Nelson.

One young woman asked one question. Dozens saw peace fill her heart. And hundreds were taught in a nation of millions.

“The beginnings are small,” said President Nelson.  “The work is eternal.”