Episode 17: Primary general presidency counselors give a sneak peek of the Friend to Friend event for children

The conditions of the pandemic are impacting people in significant ways across the world. While Latter-day Saint children have been away from Primary classes for almost a year, they are continuing to flourish in the gospel at home as they follow the Savior’s example of love and service.

Leaders in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have invited children, parents and leaders to join a special virtual Face-to-Face event on Saturday, Feb. 20, appropriately being called a Friend to Friend broadcast. The event will include music, activities and messages from President Russell M. Nelson, Elder Ulisses Soares of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and members of the Primary general presidency

In this podcast host Sarah Jane Weaver is joined by Sister Lisa L. Harkness and Sister Cristina B. Franco, counselors in the Primary general presidency, to discuss the historic event and the challenges and opportunities children face as they are “Trying To Be Like Jesus” in these complicated times.

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Transcription

Sarah Jane Weaver: Hi. I’m Sarah Jane Weaver, editor of the Church News. Welcome to the Church News podcast. We are taking you on a journey of connection as we discuss news and events of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The conditions of the pandemic are impacting people in significant ways across the world. Work, worship, play, education, schedules, and life in general has shifted to allow for safer environments for ourselves and our families and our children. Children have been away from Primary classes for most of the year, but Primary General President Joy D. Jones has been delighted to see children around the globe continue to flourish in the gospel at home. “They follow the Savior so naturally,” she said in a recent interview, and following the Savior’s example of love and service is a global invitation the Primary presidency is highlighting for our youth in 2021. This message will be emphasized in a special virtual Face to Face event on Saturday, Feb. 20, appropriately being called a Friend to Friend broadcast. Children ages 3 -11, parents and Primary leaders and teachers are invited to participate in the event, which will include music, activities, and messages by members of the Primary general presidency, Elder Ulisses Soares of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, and President Russell M. Nelson. 

Today I am joined by Sister Lisa L. Harkness and Sister Cristina B. Franco, counselors in the Primary general presidency. We’re going to give you a sneak peek of the upcoming event and discuss the challenges and opportunities children face as they try to be like Jesus in these complicated times. Sister Franco and Sister Harkness, welcome to the Church News podcast. 

Sister Harkness and Sister Franco: Thank you. 

Sarah Jane Weaver: This is such a special opportunity for children. It’s something that President Joy D. Jones promised them when she invited them to participate in this Friend to Friend event. Let’s just listen to what she had to tell them. 

2:08

President Joy D. Jones: This is the first event we’ve ever had for children, and it’s going to be wonderful. It will be an opportunity for children all over the world to tune in and to feel Heavenly Father’s love for them, to remember that He is their Father, and they are His children, that the Savior loves them. And they are going to learn in this Friend to Friend event about the Savior and how they can follow Him. And it will be so much fun because they’re going to draw together, they’re going to sing songs together, they’re going to listen to special messages from our Prophet, President Russell M. Nelson, and Elder Soares is going to tell a wonderful story from his youth. We are so excited and we hope you’ll invite all your friends and neighbors. Come and join us for this event because you won’t forget it. It’s going to be a wonderful experience to connect with children all over the world. So please join us. We’ll see you soon. 

Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, the Church has been holding Face to Face events since 2014, but this is the first ever Friend to Friend event specifically for children. Sister Harkness, can you tell us what you’re most excited about? 

Read more: What the Primary general presidency hopes for the Friend to Friend for children — the first event of its kind

3:17

Sister Lisa L. Harkness: We are excited about this, because this is historic. This is the first time that the Church has ever done something like this for children, just designed, and scripted, and choreographed, you could say, just for children. So we’re very excited that they’ll get to have a program designed just for them, basically, we can say almost in their language, because there’ll be so many elements that will talk really specifically to children’s needs and understanding. We’re also super excited about the different languages that this will be offered in. In many ways, this is an historic offering, from the Church to children.

Sarah Jane Weaver: Sister Franco, what can children and parents expect? And how can they prepare for this event? 

4:03

Sister Cristina B. Franco: Well, I think preparation always starts in the home. They can prepare by listening with their hearts to a prophet, seer and revelator. They want to speak directly to children. And we’re really excited that this broadcast will be for everyone. 

Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, Sister Harkness, I was so happy that you mentioned the international nature of this Friend to Friend event. I understand that it was originally created in Spanish and Portuguese to communicate to a more global audience, and that you even learned a little Portuguese so that you could deliver your lines in that language. Can you talk to us about that experience and why we are so focused on this international audience? 

4:49

Sister Lisa L. Harkness: Well, sure. Why are we so focused on this international audience? It could be because there are so many of our Heavenly Father’s children all over the planet and we’re excited to speak to them in as many languages as we possibly can, we’re anxious and excited that they’ll hear this program originating in their own language. Historically, again, this is a first for the Church in recording a broadcast or filming a broadcast like this, where it is originating in three languages at the same time. So it’s really something, it’s really quite something. Our presidency is involved in each of the programs. Sister Jones is featured in the English speaking part. And Sister Franco, because she speaks Spanish natively, she will be featured in the program that originates in Spanish, and I will be featured in the one that is originating in Portuguese. And you’re right, I don’t speak Portuguese, but I think, now, it’s one of the most beautiful languages I’ve ever heard. The script that we had for us to learn, they wrote it in Portuguese, and I had to rewrite it in my own language with sounds that I knew I could pronounce. And so I did my very best in about six days to learn how to pronounce these beautiful words, and what a blessing it was for me to feel Heavenly Father’s love for these children, these beautiful children that speak Portuguese, and to try to communicate that love to them in this beautiful language. Now, I know my offering will not be perfect. I know that my Portuguese is very, very elementary at best. But through that meager offering, we surely hope that these children can feel their Heavenly Father’s love for them. 

Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, you know, we just finished, a few months ago, a home MTC experience where we had Portuguese streaming into our home for my daughter who may eventually serve in Brazil. And I agree with you, it is a beautiful language. 

6:58

Sister Lisa L. Harkness: It really is. And what’s fun (is) to have the same program filmed in three different languages, so it originates in those three different languages. And we’re hoping, in fact, we know the program will be translated into many more languages, and then broadcast, I think, within a week or two after the Feb. 20 launch of the whole thing. So it will come in more languages, more will be coming, but it originates in English, Spanish and Portuguese. 

Sister Cristina B. Franco: If I may add, it will also be in American Sign Language for all of our children who speak sign language. So we’re really excited about that too. 

Sarah Jane Weaver: And Sister Franco, you have to be thrilled with the opportunity to participate in an event that’s originating in Spanish as well. 

7:47

Sister Cristina B. Franco: Yes, we are super excited that children around the world, especially in South America, and Europe, and the Caribbean areas, that they’re waiting to listen in their own language, which will be Spanish, they will be so excited to have it for the first time. 

Sarah Jane Weaver: Sister Harkness, I loved your example that you shared with us about learning Portuguese. You said your offering wasn’t perfect, and that’s setting such a good example for children all around the world whose sincere offering is enough. 

8:22

Sister Lisa L. Harkness: I knew that my offering wouldn’t be perfect, that I wouldn’t speak perfect Portuguese. In fact, to tell you a fun story, I was trying to pronounce one of the words during one of my lines, and the cute little girl who was five years old, who’s one of our hosts, in the Portuguese speaking part, turned to me and helped me pronounce that word. And she had to say it several times. And I had to try to repeat after her in order to say it just the right way.

But that little simple act right there, that was an act of service to me. It wasn’t grand or grandiose, right, but she was helping me to pronounce her language in a way that children could understand it. I will never forget her voice or her face when she turned to me and helped me pronounce this one word. And it was a hard word for me to say, but what a sweet offering of service that she offered to me. And so it is with all of us, really. Because we know God loves us, because we know we are His children, we are willing to do things that He asks us to do that sometimes may be a little out of our comfort zone, or sometimes that may actually be hard. But it doesn’t matter so much that we do things perfectly. It does matter that we are willing to try, that we are willing to try to be obedient, that we are willing to follow His commandments. We are willing to follow the Prophet. That we are willing to try. He can do a lot with willing. He can make us more when we are just willing. In fact, there’s the quote that says that He can make the willing able. And I fully believe that. I’ve seen that come to pass in my own life. And we’re hoping that same thing resonates with children. But if they’re just willing, and of course, children’s hearts are always so willing to try, they want to try and they want to do new things. They’re not as hung up on trying hard things, sometimes as we as adults are. But that’s why I think God loves them so much, because their hearts and their dispositions, their minds, their spirits are so willing to do whatever it is that He asks of them. I hope that we can all be children, and be willing to do whatever the Lord asks. 

Sister Cristina B. Franco: Yeah, and it doesn’t need to be a big thing. Just the little simple things of every day will go a long way, and whatever we do, the Lord accepts our offerings. And as we focus on the same lines of what the Savior has done for others, I think that service will bring to their life, joy. They will experience for themselves that when we serve others, we are serving our Savior, and the joy that we feel in our heart is immense.

Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, the Friend to Friend event will be available on ChurchofJesusChrist.org, on YouTube, on BYUTV and on other media. The event can also be viewed anytime after the initial broadcast, and it will be archived on face2face.ChurchofJesusChrist.org, the Latter-day Saints Channel, Gospel Media and Gospel Library where it can be streamed or downloaded.

Just having this available for so long has to leave you with feelings of comfort and peace to know it’s going to have a long tail. Its influence will go far beyond the actual event. 

11:51

Sister Lisa L. Harkness: We certainly hope so, Sarah. We’re hoping that this becomes something that is a yearly event for children, and also something that they can talk about all through the year in their homes, and perhaps once again, in their Primary classes. We’re really hoping that this helps children focus on the example of the Savior and try to follow Him in their daily lives. And the way that the program is designed, it’s done so that it can be broken up into smaller segments, into even two or three, even four minute segments. And so they can be watched periodically, and then again, and again. You know how children are just so eager to watch something over and over again, and that’s what we hope this provides for children – something that they will enjoy watching over and over again with their families.

This event is hosted by children, they will be our hosts. So they direct the whole program, and so the children that are watching will watch other children hosting this program. And they will also watch the examples of other children all over the world that have served like the Savior, that have tried to follow His example in helping those around them feel better or do better. And what we’re hoping is that as children see other children’s examples from all over the world, they will realize that it’s the normal, natural, small things that they do that helps us follow the Savior. So we’re really hoping that these examples from all over the world help children know that they too can be like the Savior, and helping others even in small and simple ways. 

Sarah Jane Weaver: So we’re not just asking children to participate in an event, we’re asking them to lead out in being like the Savior in their everyday activities, right? 

13:44

Sister Lisa L. Harkness: That’s exactly right, and that’s what we’re hoping to do. That’s exactly right, and that’s hopefully what they will see through the messages and the activities and the testimonies from the Friend to Friend. They will see that they are capable and possible of doing much good in the world. 

Sarah Jane Weaver: Do you have some specific examples of kids who are trying to be like Jesus?

14:06

Sister Lisa L. Harkness: We have a weekly Zoom call with our whole family, and we sometimes talk about the scriptures from the week in “Come, Follow Me,” and sometimes we talk about what’s happened in each other’s lives during the week. But one of the most touching things for me, that buoys my spirit up the most is when I hear my grandchildren saying something so simple, something so pure, something so enlivening, really touches my spirit and gets me ready for another week. 

So I don’t know that my grandchildren will ever know what that does to their Grandma, to hear them sing. But sometimes it’s just this simple service that they do for me, to sing to me, or to sing as a family as they share whatever song it is that they want to sing. Usually it’s “Jesus Wants Me for A Sunbeam” to tell you the truth. They like that one. That is a great service to me. It’s nothing huge. It’s nothing big. But nevertheless, it is balm to my soul to hear children sing. 

Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, and Sister Franco, music’s going to be such an important part of this Friend to Friend event. It’s one way that we can all feel the Spirit. 

15:18

Sister Cristina B. Franco: I love music, I love the (Children’s) Songbook. I love what music brings to our heart and how we can feel the Savior’s love every time we listen to good music. I think in the hardest times of my life, one thing that has really helped me has been the music from Primary, just listening to it and going through the lyrics and knowing that Heavenly Father is there, and He listens to our prayers, has lifted me like no other songs. 

Sarah Jane Weaver: Thank you so much. Sister Harkness, how did you develop segments that would reach this very specific audience? You had to have done this with the children in mind.

16:05

Sister Lisa L. Harkness: Absolutely. Sister Franco and I would say first and foremost, there is the wonderful, wonderful staff that has helped us. Talented, talented people, that have helped us to create these segments. They understand children, they understand the way they learn and the way they receive and will engage with information. So we have not done this on our own. This has been a group effort from many wonderful people at Church headquarters. We just can’t tell you how humbled we are to see the Lord’s hand manifest in this way for the youngest members of His kingdom. It’s really something quite humbling to watch. And I’m sure when we all watch the Friend to Friend here in just a few short days coming up here, we’re going to feel the same way. 

Sarah Jane Weaver: And Primary leaders are really encouraging parents to engage in this with their children, correct? 

17:01

Sister Lisa L. Harkness: That’s right, we are hoping that parents do sit down and watch this with their children. One of the benefits of watching together as a family could be engendering great gospel-centered conversations, as there’s many of these segments that questions might arise. And parents then could have really great conversations with their children about these topics. One of the best ways to prepare would be to invite somebody to watch with you, invite a grandparent even or invite your neighbors, invite some friends over, invite others that maybe aren’t aware of the program. If they can’t come to your home because of restrictions on gathering, certainly help them know where they could tune in. So one of the best ways to prepare would be to invite others to watch with you. 

Sarah Jane Weaver: Both of you also are grandmothers. And I think it’s so beautiful that you could create content that your grandchildren will consume. How special is it for you to know that you might be having grandchildren watch this event? 

18:05

Sister Lisa L. Harkness: Well, Sarah, I think about that every day. So I’m glad you brought that up. I think about my grandchildren watching this program. I think about my grandchildren consuming some of the coloring books that have been released for children, or the children’s app that was just released in English just so far. So yes, this is something that I know I think about every day, and how it could bless their lives, but also, how it could help my children as parents to teach the gospel better in their home. They’re excellent parents and are doing such a great job, but any support that they could receive to teach the gospel in their homes I know would be very, very welcome. 

Sarah Jane Weaver: And Sister Franco? 

Sister Cristina B. Franco: Mine are exactly aligned with Sister Harkness. We are super excited to be releasing this new app for children and they are so thrilled that they can go there and color, especially the young ones. I’m thrilled that anything that we do for the children around the world, indirectly, we are also doing for our own families. So I’m just happy that I can contribute in any way. 

Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, I can certainly tell that you are both so excited about this event. Sister Franco, Is there something that you’re looking forward to or a segment or a theme that you hope children will take away from this?

19:42

Sister Cristina B. Franco: I hope that they will remember the words of our dear Prophet, especially for them. I hope that parents will remember the importance of teaching their children at home, the principles of the gospel. When a prophet speaks, it goes directly to your heart. I remember the first time that I heard a prophet of God speak to me directly. And I was just a teenager when that happened, and he was in South America in Argentina. And I had never forgotten that experience, I always hold it so close to my heart.

Sarah Jane Weaver: And Sister Harkness. I’m so glad that Sister Franco mentioned that this program will include messages from President Russell M. Nelson, and from Elder Ulisses Soares of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Tell me how important it is that they are participating in this event. 

20:37

Sister Lisa L. Harkness: Just their participation speaks volumes to the importance of children in the Church. We had the opportunity to preview Elder Soares’ segment with the two children that interviewed him in his office. And I think we will all agree when we watch it, that it is faith-promoting. It is filled with the Spirit and we will want to watch it over and over again. 

Because this program was conceived and then designed on such a tight timeframe, we have seen the hand of the Lord and the eagerness of everyone involved to do anything they could to make this program come to pass. Many have worked long, long hours, many have given up Saturdays to work on this program. From those that have done the music, those that have constructed the set and painted the things on the set to the children, our hosts that have rehearsed their lines over and over again, and to all those that filmed this whole program. So many have given many, many hours, including Elder Soares and President Nelson. It says so much to have so many produced something like this just for children.

Sister Cristina B. Franco: We could probably say that we’ve seen miracles, and they’re happening because of COVID and all the restrictions, certain things had to be done differently. And really, very spiritedly. 

Sister Lisa L. Harkness: Oh, absolutely. The restrictions on filming because of COVID were kind of intense, we could say. And yet, there was always a way for us to get a shot or two, to film a certain segment in a way that was sometimes unexpected, and yet it turned out just great. So we have really seen how the Lord is involved in the ordinary details of doing something so great as this. 

Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, do you have any specific stories you can share about that? This idea that the Lord really cares about this event, probably because He cares about Primary children across the globe.

22:42 

Sister Lisa L. Harkness: From the time we knew, basically, we could say, the approvals were given, to the time where the filming was done was only about two months. And we had Thanksgiving vacation and Christmas vacation time, as far as work time in that two months. And yet all the pieces that had to fall into place, did. We were able to find children that could be hosts in three different languages, music was able to be put together, sets were built, scripts were written and approved, all the different segments were put into place. And that doesn’t happen that fast. Normally, something like this takes months and months, even up to a year, to plan and produce. And this happened so fast. We attribute its filming and its success and its production, we attribute it to the hand and will of the Lord. 

Sarah Jane Weaver: Yeah. And certainly the participation of President Nelson and Elder Soares shows their love and concern for children worldwide, especially during this very challenging time where all of the children around the world are facing the same pandemic. Sister Franco, how are children doing during this unique time? 

23:57

Sister Cristina B. Franco: You know, I think they’re doing good. They’re holding up. We sometimes underestimate children, and they’re very resilient. I think that most children are being taught at home, even though we’re not gathering together in our buildings. But they’re really happy to have something new made just for them. I’ve heard so many children saying, Sister Franco, we can’t wait until we hear and see this new event, including my grandchildren. 

‘Primary has not gone away,’ says Primary general presidency amid COVID-19

Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, and Sister Harkness, you must have had in mind that these precious children have not been able to go to Primary for many, many months as you started planning this event.

24:42 

Sister Lisa L. Harkness: You know, we did, but someone else asked us the question, “Is the pandemic the reason that the Friend to Friend came to be?” And all of us would answer no, this idea came into our minds long before the pandemic, and yet isn’t it interesting how the Lord prepares everything we need for the particular time we’re in. And this is surely an example of that. This Friend to Friend will be able to reach children in their homes, right where they are with their families, where they are learning and living the gospel in a way that is unique and special for our particular time in Church History. 

Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, and I love that this event is coming just after the Friend magazine made a shift so that now it’s available to children across the globe in their own language, it sends a very special message that children are important to the Church and to the Lord.

25:37

Sister Lisa L. Harkness: Does it ever. Exactly. And now that the Friend is in 48 different languages, I don’t think this Friend to Friend will be quite in that many languages, but it will be produced eventually in many, many languages, so that most of the world’s children can be able to access it in their own language. 

Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, what do you hope that children will get out of this Friend to Friend event? I hope you’ll both answer that question. 

26:04 

Sister Cristina B. Franco: I’m kind of hoping that they will feel the Savior’s love for every one of them, that they will remember that each one is a child of God, and that they’re very important to our Heavenly Father, He sent Jesus Christ, that He is aware of them. 

Sarah Jane Weaver: Yeah, and Sister Harkness?

Sister Lisa L. Harkness: Oh, I would say something very, very similar. We would hope that these children that watch the Friend to Friend would know that they’re part of children all over the world trying to follow Jesus. We hope and expect that they will feel the Spirit when they watch and listen to the messages in the broadcast. And most of all, we hope that they will feel God’s love for each of them in their lives, and know that they matter to Him, and they also can make a difference in the world where they live. 

Sarah Jane Weaver: And we have a tradition at the Church News podcast, what we like to do is give our guests the final word. So let’s start with you, Sister Franco. As you have been adapting to the pandemic and planning this Friend to Friend event, is there anything that you know now that you learned along the way that you didn’t know before? 

27:13

Sister Cristina B. Franco: I think everybody learns, in different ways, going through it, it just teaches us to be patient. I’m not a very patient person. And so I think, I would say that I learned more patience, and to trust in the Lord, to put my hand in His hand more than ever, to know that He will be there regarding all the things that we need to go through. I know that we have a Heavenly Father, who knows us individually and by name, who knows our needs and who knows our wants, and He wants to bless us, That He wants us to return to Him. That’s why He sent Jesus Christ. I know that Jesus is the Christ, that He came to this earth to die for us to pay for our sins, our faults, our mistakes. And three days later, He resurrected. I know that He lives. I know that we have a true prophet who is President Russell M. Nelson, and he receives revelation for our day. I also know that Joseph Smith was a true prophet of God, that he indeed, saw the Father and saw the Son, and that he translated the Book of Mormon correctly, and that it contains the word of God for our days, for each one of us – children, adults, and older people. And I say these things in the name of Jesus Christ, amen. 

Sarah Jane Weaver: Sister Harkness, what do you know now? Will you share with us all that you’ve learned in this process of organizing and planning the Friend to Friend event, and as you’ve prayed for Primary children every day, and then also share with us what you want them to know about your testimony.

29:02

Sister Lisa L. Harkness: I have a dear friend that went through a very difficult trial, and she shared with me how she got through it. She said that she determined that she would never let someone else’s actions prevent her from living the gospel of Jesus Christ. That’s kind of become a little motto in my own heart, and with the things that are going around in the world today, with a pandemic and the different challenges and obstacles that prevents in our normal day to day living. I’ve learned through that, and hope that children know this as well, that nothing can stop us from living the gospel of Jesus Christ, not a pandemic and not restrictions on gathering. We can always live the gospel, keep our covenants, study the scriptures, follow the current counsel of the Prophet, and we can always pray. I’m hoping that children will always know that, That God hears their prayers. He loves them. He wants them to talk to Him. And He wants to talk back to them. He wants to share things with them. He wants to comfort them and strengthen them. We can pray to Him, always and about everything. I’m hoping that children always know that. There’s no pandemic that can ever interfere with our prayers, or us living true to the covenants that we have made. 

Like Sister Franco, my testimony is very similar. It’s simple. Because the older I get, the more simple my testimony becomes. I know that we are each children of a loving Heavenly Father. He sent us to Earth to learn how to be like Him, to gain a body and to learn how to choose the difference between right and wrong. He sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to be our Savior, our older brother, to bring us back home to Him. I know that happiness is found in making covenants and keeping those covenants and living true to what we know is right. I know that happiness is found when we follow the current Prophet, what he is telling us and counseling us to do. We can always know what God wants us to do when we listen to the Holy Ghost, that gift that we were given after baptism. What a great and precious gift that is. 

We are so happy as a presidency, to have children engage with their parents and teachers, primary teachers, and leaders in this Friend to Friend so that they can learn more about Heavenly Father’s love for them, and have a greater desire to follow His Son, Jesus Christ, in all things, and I say this in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

Sarah Jane Weaver: You have been listening to the Church News podcast. I’m your host, Church News editor, Sarah Jane Weaver. I hope you’ve learned something today about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints by peering with me through the Church News window. Thanks to our guests, to my producer KellieAnn Halvorsen and others who make this podcast possible. Join us every week for a new episode. Find us on your favorite podcasting channel or with other news and updates about the Church on TheChurchNews.com.