In November 2007, I traveled to Tonga to cover the rededication of the Nuka’alofa Tonga Temple. While in the country, I also visited ’Uiha, a small island in the Ha’apai island group. The island had no stores and no hotels — only homes and two Latter-day Saint meetinghouses. Because it was not an option to stay with the members and because there were no hotels on the island, the mission president gave me permission to sleep in a meetinghouse.
When I arrived, the Relief Society sisters in the ward brought mats and bedding to the Church and made me a place to sleep. Two women from the ward spent the night at the meetinghouse in case I needed anything.
I didn’t speak Tongan and the women did not speak English, but we were connected by something far greater than language — a belief in Jesus Christ and His Church.
I will never forget the welcome I received in ’Uiha. That day, a sweet message settled in my heart: Wherever any of us go in the world — even on the smallest island in the middle of the Pacific — Relief Society will be there. Relief Society sisters will not only make us feel at home but also safe and protected.
President Boyd K. Packer, the late president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, called Relief Society a great circle of sisters. “Your every need shall be fulfilled now, and in the eternities; every neglect will be erased, every abuse will be corrected,” he promised. “All of this can come to you and come quickly when you devote yourself to Relief Society” (“Daughters in My Kingdom,” p. 99).
I remember having a greater understanding of what President Packer meant by “great circle of sisters” in 2012, while in Manaus, Brazil, to cover the dedication of a new temple in that city. There I met a wonderful Relief Society sister who helped me with translation.
One afternoon when we had a few spare minutes between appointments, we walked along the shore of the Rio Negro River — which merges to become the Amazon River just outside of Manaus. Our lives were divided by geography, culture and language. But — just as the women in Tonga had taught me years earlier — we were united by a force much greater: Relief Society.
There, in the middle of the Amazon River Basin, we talked about our hopes as women in the Church and our desire to fulfill our family responsibilities.
We also spoke about the remarkable work of Relief Society, which ripples through the generations as women see and meet needs.
In 2007, Relief Society sisters — the majority of whom lost their homes in a terrible earthquake in Pisco, Peru — gathered at a Latter-day Saint meetinghouse and chopped up chicken and vegetables to be used in a communal soup. Despite their own dire circumstances, they were eager to share their food and prayers to help one another.
In 2014, I met a woman on the grounds of the Cebu Philippines Temple. Due to a difficult family situation, she was not endowed but wanted to give temple service anyway. As a result, she spent many Saturdays watching other women’s children while they served in the temple.
And this summer, more than 57,500 volunteers sewed nearly 6 million masks in Utah. The project, organized to protect medical workers amid the COVID-19 pandemic and promoted by Relief Society general leaders, included some 800,000 hours of service.
Near the end of her nearly three decades of service in 1966, Relief Society General President Belle Spafford expressed her feelings about Relief Society. Back then, the organization — now 7 million strong — had 300,000 members.
With remarkable vision, President Spafford said: “Relief Society will stand increasingly firm and strong, a beacon light and guiding star for women of all nations.
“It will continue to rise until it becomes a mighty bulwark against the forces of evil that would engulf women and threaten their homes and loved ones. It will bring peace to the soul and love into the hearts and lives of endless numbers of our Father’s daughters. … May the women of today and tomorrow cherish Relief Society, advance its work and love one another” (“History of Relief Society 1842–1966” , p.140).
I glimpsed a small portion of that future in 2007 as I left ’Uiha, Tonga. The women who had stayed with me at the meetinghouse came to the dock to say goodbye. We had never shared one conversation. Still, in the short time we had been together, I had grown to love them; we had become one link in the great circle of sisters stretching across the globe.