In a prerecorded message for the 2021 BYU Women’s Conference, Sister Wendy Nelson said, “Miracles happen, dreams come true, truly amazing things happen when women gather to give service.” The Church President’s wife spoke during the conference’s Evening of Service broadcast on Thursday, April 29.
A tradition born in 1999 and initiated by Sister Nelson, who was then the Women’s Conference chair, the Evening of Service has become a meaningful event each year as women gather to give thousands of collective hours of service.
“Instead of saying to women, ‘You’re really, really, really important; and really, really, really we need you,’ we gave them an experience where they made a difference,” Sister Nelson said during her message, a recorded interview with Sister Sheri Dew, executive vice president of Deseret Management Corp. and CEO of Deseret Book Co.
“The ripple effect was they left knowing they were needed and that they were important. We didn’t have to tell them; they had that experience.”
Longtime friends, Sister Nelson and Sister Dew reflected on that first Evening of Service in 1999, when Sister Dew was a member of the Relief Society general presidency.
Together with the other members of the presidency and the then-president of BYU, they set a goal of 1,999 hours of service during the Evening of Service.
Sister Nelson recalled: “5,000 women came through torrential rain, because they were on a mission. In three hours, 5,000 women gave 7,000 hours of service. … And in that time of three hours, they completed 100,000 kits, think of that. That is not possible.”
“The miracle happens when covenant women of God come together to make a difference,” she said.
In the 1999 women’s conference, not only did women have the opportunity to give service, but they also learned about “how to organize their own service project related to their ward or stake women’s conference,” Sister Nelson said.
Sister Mary Ellen Edmunds, another former women’s conference chair, also gave a prerecorded message reflecting on the ways service has impacted her throughout her life. Sister Edmunds completed four full-time missions and is a former member of the Relief Society general board.
While Sister Edmunds was serving in Indonesia, she observed the Relief Society sisters sacrificing for the good of those around them as they set aside a spoonful of their rice each morning, then brought the rice to Relief Society and prayed about who might need it.
“I’d like to be more like them,” Sister Edmunds said.
Sprinkled throughout the video broadcast were clips of General Authorities teaching about service in general conference talks, including President Russell M. Nelson, President Thomas S. Monson, Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, and former Relief Society General President Sister Linda K. Burton, who coined the phrase: “First observe, then serve.”
Prior to the broadcast, women were invited to identify needs in their communities and to serve in meaningful ways throughout April. Service opportunities that were submitted were shared as part of the video broadcast.
“Ever since my son Jake passed away about 16 years ago, my family has found joy in completing a service project every year on his death date,” said one woman. “I feel like that is the main thing that we’re supposed to learn here on Earth, just how to serve other people, because that’s how we are God’s hands. … We’re blessed by that.”
When Latter-day Saint women serve others, they are fulfilling the covenant “which they make with God that they will serve other people,” Sister Nelson taught. “So they immediately experience the joy of sisterhood.”
At the conclusion of the broadcast, Lorelie Sander, a BYU Women’s Conference committee member, expressed gratitude on behalf of the organization for all who participated in the event.
“We hope that as you’ve been listening to this broadcast, you have felt inspired to know that there are people around you, in your own circle, in your own sphere of influence, who need what you uniquely have to give,” Sander said. “No matter what your circumstances, no matter where you are in the world, you have something to offer that no one else can give.”