During his time as the 17th President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, President Russell M. Nelson has traveled 115,000 miles to 35 nations on six continents. He has met with members in large and small settings — often addressing them in their own languages — and with world leaders.
During the past 18 months, President Nelson has led the Church through the COVID-19 pandemic. President Nelson will turn 97 years old on Thursday, Sept. 9, 2021. Michael Colemere, managing director of Church Communications, and Sheri Dew, executive vice president of Deseret Management Corp., join this episode of the Church News podcast to share what they have learned from President Nelson.
Sarah Jane Weaver: 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 with leaders, members and others on the Church News team. We end each Church News podcast by giving our guests the last word and the opportunity to answer the very important question, “What do you know now?” We hope each of you will also be able to answer the same question and say, “I have just been listening to the Church News podcast and this is what I know now.”
On Sept. 9, 2021, President Russell M. Nelson, the 17th President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will turn 97. During his time as president of the Church, President Nelson has traveled 115,000 miles to 35 nations on six continents. He has met with members in large and small settings — often addressing them in their own language — and with world leaders. During the past 18 months, President Nelson has led the Church through a worldwide pandemic, accomplishing it all in his 10th decade. President Nelson calls jet lag a “luxury he cannot afford.” Today, Brother Michael Colemere and Sister Sheri Dew join the Church News podcast to talk about President Nelson on his birthday. Michael Colemere, managing director of Church Communications, and Sheri Dew, the executive vice-president of Deseret Management Corp. and a former member of the Relief Society general presidency, have worked with President Nelson and traveled with him as part of his media team. Welcome today to the Church News podcast.
Brother Michael Colemere: Thank you.
Sister Sheri Dew: Nice to be here, Sarah. Thanks for the invite.
Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, I’m so pleased that both of you would join us. As we were talking about before we started the podcast, all three of us have seen President Nelson on numerous continents and in several different kinds of settings, as we have covered his global ministry. Today, let’s just start and have you each identify one quality of President Nelson that you think define his leadership and his ministry.
Sister Sheri Dew: I’ll jump in. First of all, Sarah, we should say — you’ve been everywhere with him that we’ve been, so as you were giving that intro, I thought, “Oh, yeah. No wonder I’m so tired.” There have been more than one trip that we got home from trying to follow President Nelson and cover him and I thought, “Wow, I’m exhausted. How is a man that’s nearly three decades older than I am possibly doing this?”
So, anyway, we’ve all experienced this. There are a lot of qualities we could talk about. I think the first one that I might mention — not that it’s the most important, but just, it’s really interesting to me — is how attentive he is to individuals. Whether they’re little children, and we can talk about that later. Oh my goodness, the little children: They resonate with him, and he goes for them. I’m picturing sitting in a large ballroom at a meeting in Paraguay, and there were some dignitaries that were late, and they had kind of slipped in late and slipped over to the side. He’s up on an elevated stand platform thing. He should never have seen them, but he doesn’t miss anything in terms of, “Oh, I need to go greet those people.” So, the minute the meeting was over he is bolting — much to the chagrin of his security detail — down front into the audience and going over to greet these individuals. So, his attention to individuals has been really inspiring to watch.
Brother Michael Colemere: And their attention to him, these children. In Singapore, Sheri and I were with a family that met the Nelsons before the devotional that night, and they had little children, two beautiful little girls and a little — you could just see it in his eye, this little mischievous little boy who was, what, three years old?
Sister Sheri Dew: Probably.
Brother Michael Colemere: And he watched President Nelson at the beginning and just kind of looked at him, and he would take a step towards him a little bit, a little bit more, and he just hugged him and stayed on his lap pretty much for that 15-minute interview before the devotional starts. Then, the funniest thing ever: During the devotional, this boy darts out of the seats and is running up to the stage to see President Nelson. Children love this man.
Sister Sheri Dew: Again, to tag on to what Michael just said — and it was in Paraguay again, as he comes down off the stand to go greet these other dignitaries, there were maybe half a dozen children and they were little boys — I’m going to say they’re eight year olds, six year olds, eight year olds — they practically gang tackle him. In fact, it’s like they kind of took him down to his knees. Later, I teased a couple of the security guys. I said, “So, geez — security kind of collapses when the children mob the Prophet.” But they were just drawn to him and he’s drawn to them.
Sarah Jane Weaver: We can include both those pictures in the text of this podcast, because it shows President Nelson with that little boy in Singapore, and then there is this picture with President Nelson down on his knees in Paraguay surrounded by the kids. I remember that moment. I was standing by Sister Nelson. I said, “I think they’re gonna knock him over,” and she said, “I know — he’s out of control.” There was no concern on her part that her husband, in his 10th decade, was down on his knees with these kids.
Later, [Elder] Gary E. Stevenson, who was also there that moment, said those children were drawn to what they felt in President Nelson. He said they were probably drawn to his reflection of the Savior in his life, and he said, “Their parents didn’t send him and President Nelson didn’t call them to him. They just came.”
Sister Sheri Dew: Yeah, they just ran, they just — “boom.”
Sarah Jane Weaver: So, in less than a year, President Nelson will become the oldest general authority in the history of the Church. We have had other general authorities that have lived long, including President Gordon B. Hinckley and Elder David B. Haight, but I do remember Sister Nelson once saying that she was “suspicious of President Nelson’s birth certificate.” Since we’re talking about him on his knees with kids — what have you learned about President Nelson’s age and health?
Brother Michael Colemere: Besides the fact he doesn’t age, and he is in perfect health. He’s always eaten well, he exercises — the man skied up until two years ago.
Sister Sheri Dew: Until he became President of the Church, and that’s when they said, “No más.”
Brother Michael Colemere: And I love talking to the security staff — when they would ski with him, trying to prevent any people bombing down the hill that could possibly hit him, so they’re here and they’re having a hard time staying up with him. And his grandkids are challenging to beat him down the hill, and he beats them most of the time.
Sister Sheri Dew: One of my favorite stories in that regard is — and he did ski until he became President of the Church — so once he became President of the Quorum, whenever he went skiing, he had security with him. And he comes home one day, and Sister Nelson asked him how skiing was and he said, “Well, it was a beautiful day.” And he said, and then he refers to the security agent that was with him, you know, 40, 50 years younger than he is, and he said, “It was a great day, but so and so kind of slowed us down.” And this is probably four years ago, so there you have it. He’s probably blessed with great genes, but he sure has taken care of himself, and that probably is a reflection of someone who stood over an operating table umpteen times and seen the effects of ill health. And he’s very much taken care of himself.
Sarah Jane Weaver: And I’m so glad you mentioned his career. We did a podcast a few weeks ago with Rick Turley, who mentioned that at this time when the world is facing a global pandemic, President Nelson is leading the Church as a former medical doctor. How do you think his career prepared him for this time in history?
Sister Sheri Dew: For one thing, I’d say that when people start talking about a pandemic, and a virus, and immunologists and in reading studies about what this new COVID-19 or the coronavirus, what they really are and where they came from, and when you start talking about all of the science behind it, none of that would faze him in the least. He would also have an instant understanding of the nature of what happens with an uncontrolled virus. So, it seems like he’s been just remarkably suited to understand both the spiritual aspects of “How do we lead a people and what’s really necessary?” and also being respectful of the science, not afraid of the science, trying to understand the science. That would all be somewhat second nature to him, I would think.
Brother Michael Colemere: You know, I love how the Lord directs his Church. Think about this: When he and President Oaks were called, during a time when President Kimball was, frankly, in a coma and comes out, and he’s directed by the Lord to call these two way back — and think about what we have in these two men and in President Nelson right now, in his ability to see things. And I love the fact that he is knowledgeable, not only in this time with COVID-19 and understanding medicine, but he also allows us our free will. Even in his message, he didn’t command people to get vaccinated. He says, “Think about it.” I mean, look at it and see if it’s right if it works for you, and he’s asking people. He’s not dictating it, and that’s just his style. I love it.
Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, he is a prophet of invitations.
Sister Sheri Dew: He’s a prophet of invitations. And just another thing about the pandemic: When you think about it, some might say and maybe some even feel that the Church took some fairly stringent or extreme measures in the beginning of the pandemic by stopping sacrament meeting and closing the temples and bringing missionaries home and all kinds of things, but again, we do believe — and I do believe —that we are led by prophets, seers and revelators, and they happen to also be extremely bright men.
But then when you add on this extra layer of understanding, just an understanding worldview, imagine this little thing: So there’s all the conversation about where this virus originated, and I don’t know if we know all the real story about that — and I’m certainly not going to get into that — but that part of the world is a part of the world that President Nelson is really comfortable with, has been to, understands, has done a lot of medical service there. And so, again, none of this comes as a big mystery. So when you layer that on to his ordination as a prophet, seer and revelator, sitting next to other prophets, seers and revelators who have also keen intellect, and then just kind of world knowledge that adds to all of that — yeah, I can’t think of anybody I’d rather take the advice from.
Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, and as the pandemic is accelerating, President Nelson, the first thing he does in January of 2020, before a lot of us were thinking about that, is send masks to China, and so he was thinking about it. His attention was directed there, and to what they were going through, and then almost a year later, he directs all of us to be grateful. Let’s talk about that.
Sister Sheri Dew: We had an amazing experience with that. Michael, do you want to say what happened?
Brother Michael Colemere: It’s extraordinary. So think about this for a second: Sheri and I have the opportunity to meet with him on a weekly basis, talk to him about communications and the direction things are going and things that he would like to do. We mentioned, “With Thanksgiving and Christmas coming up, is there something you’d like to do?” and just give us some type of message or thank you or something like that. He then says, “It’s not a bad idea. Let me think about that.” Now, this is Thursday afternoon.
Friday morning, we get this early email: “I need to meet with you both right away, and Elder [Ronald A.] Rasband.” He tells us that he’s been instructed to do a video about giving thanks, and how the world can give thanks. And he said, “And this video needs to be 11 minutes long.” Now, Sheri and my jaws are dropping to the floor. “President — 11 minute videos on YouTube or anything don’t work,” but, you know, we’re just biting our tongues on this, thinking, how’s this ever going to work? And he’s telling us every little detail about this. It was extraordinary —
Sister Sheri Dew: What day it should be released, what time of day.
Read more: The story behind President Nelson’s global prayer of gratitude and invitation to #GiveThanks
Brother Michael Colemere: Sheri and I afterwards go, “Wow, do we tell the Prophet this is going to be a tall order?” OK, fast forward: This 11 minute video was done, and we have over 65 million people around the world hearing this message, listening to his message.
Sister Sheri Dew: I would add just one little thing about that, because what Michael says is exactly what happened. If I’m remembering this correctly, when we talked to him about — “President, it might be time to do another message” — and I think we even dished up an idea, in the most general terms, and I remember him saying, “Well, sprinkle a little fertilizer on that,” was his phrase, and, “Let’s talk about that next week when we meet next week.”
So then, to get the message the next day: “President Nelson needs to talk to you again. Elder Rasband needs to be there.” OK, here we go. And, he said to us, basically, “Your idea is not a bad idea. It just wasn’t the right idea, and here’s what the Lord has told me.” I go, “OK.” I think — Mike will know if this is true or not — but I think that never before that moment had as many people actually heard a prophet’s voice.
Brother Michael Colemere: Yeah, that’s the most amount of people, outside of our Church, that has ever listened to a prophet of the Lord at the time.
Sister Sheri Dew: Was with that #GiveThanks video.
Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, each of you in that role that you’re talking about, working with Elder Ronald A. Rasband, who is chairman of the Church’s Communications Executive Council, have a job to amplify a prophet’s voice. You work on that every week. What does that mean to you?
Brother Michael Colemere: I’ll tell you: For me, it’s a little nerve-wracking, the respect that we need to take what he’s saying, but there’s a lot of times he’s not saying it on video or on audio. We have to take it and deliver it in a way that we don’t put our own biases or our own feelings. It is the Prophet’s words, and it’s daunting at times. It’s scary, and you have to look at it and ask yourself a lot of questions, make sure it’s done correctly.
Sister Sheri Dew: It’s kind of overwhelming. I think what we tried to do is get impressions about things that we could suggest to him. But mostly what we’re doing is listening and picking up cues from him, and then trying to look at all the various forms of media that the Church has — which are many — and Michael’s role as the managing director of Church Communications is a pivotal role at the Church in trying to harness all of the capacity we have to reach people, members and those not of our faith, and try to have them hear truth.
And here’s a great irony. In fact, I think we’ve done the math on this, and I can say this definitively. So think about it: He becomes President of the Church in 2018, starts with this ‘round the world trip, and then starts to do other trips at an amazing clip. He travels a ton in 2018, a ton in 2019, and then wham: the pandemic. So, all of 2020, he never got on an airplane for the first time, that’s got to be in decades for him. And I’m pretty sure more people heard his voice in 2020 because of all of the things that were able to be broadcast and digitally distributed than have ever heard the Prophet’s voice in the history of the earth. Well, that’s kind of interesting, when you think about the facilities we have now to try to make that possible.
Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, and let’s talk about his travel. We have each observed President Nelson on numerous continents, in so many cities, meeting so many leaders and Church members and others. People often ask me what it’s like to travel with a Prophet after receiving the assignment to cover his ministry. And I always tell them, “We don’t travel with him, we follow him.” And it is hard to keep up.
Brother Michael Colemere: It’s, frankly, delightful to watch him, and he strengthens — Sheri and I have mentioned this in numerous of the trips — he strengthens during the course of the trip. He gets stronger and stronger, and he loves meeting with the people, loves seeing their eyes, and his eyes light up when he sees the people. It’s a wonderful opportunity to see it. I love the faces of the people. Here’s a beautiful example: Sheri knows this so well. We’re sitting in Guatemala, and this outdoor arena, it’s a soccer field, then he says in perfect Spanish, “Would you mind if I speak to you in Spanish?” First of all, dead silence in this arena that’s full, and then this cheering, and people start clapping. They are just — the Spirit just drops and you feel, it just drops on everybody, and you see goosebumps popping out and people just smiling and so happy. And he delivers a 20, 25-minute talk in perfect Spanish, and the people are just thrilled — smiles ear-to-ear.
Sister Sheri Dew: So think, again, of his desire to try to speak their language, and he’s known for having a talent for language. But none of those languages are his first tongue, and so it’s amazing to watch that. I think we just marveled at that.
And I would add one other thing to what Michael is saying: So, here we are in this outdoor stadium, and I’m picturing when we were in Brazil, that huge audience — I can’t remember how many, but there were just, it was a huge audience. Remember, Sarah? — So, we’ve seen him in everything from enormous audiences and stadiums, to Vietnam, where there’s a few hundred people sitting in a hotel ballroom. But the Church is young but it’s growing, and it’s starting to thrive. And I think, “Wow, he flew halfway around the world to meet with a few hundred Saints, and he flew halfway around the world to meet with tens of thousands.” It doesn’t seem to faze him, which it is.
Brother Michael Colemere: This is such a great point. He doesn’t mind if it’s 100,000 in a stadium, or it’s eight hundred or three hundred. It’s unbelievable. He’s thrilled either way.
Sister Sheri Dew: Well, then we’re always saying things like, “Now, President, before — OK, now we’re going to be in Guatemala, and then we’re going to be in Colombia, and then we’re going to go to Argentina, and then to Brazil — and OK, before the devotional …”. So here he is, think of all the taxing nature of the travel. He’s going to go speak to these large groups, and he’s going to meet with dignitaries there — “But would you also talk to a dozen teenagers? Would you also talk to a dozen young adults beforehand, and just talk to them and hear their questions?” “Sure.” Every time.
Sarah Jane Weaver: Yeah, there is something about him that he takes to these nations. And think about a prophet going to the people and then addressing them in their own language, and doing it in a way that elevates nations. So, I was thinking this week about being in Peru, and we’re outside the presidential palace in Peru, and President Nelson pauses before he goes in and there’s a tour group not too far away, and the director of that tour group, who is not a Latter-day Saint —
Sister Sheri Dew: A tour group, I think, of Americans. They were speaking English, right?
Sarah Jane Weaver: Yeah. And the woman had obviously not had any contact with the Church or its leaders, because she immediately looked at President Nelson and said, “Who was that man?” And one of you said, “He’s a prophet,” and do you remember — she spun on the spot and yelled, “Will you bless Peru?” She had so much confidence in what she was feeling from him, that it was like this plea: “Please help our country,” and I remember at the end of the devotional that night, he did that. He actually left a blessing on the land and the people of Peru.
Sister Sheri Dew: I think we’ve watched that kind of thing. I’m glad you told that, because I’d forgotten that interchange, and that was an amazing moment with that tour guide. But I think we’ve seen that over and over and over again, where you watch the people watching the president.
Another place that happened is after he had met with the Pope. Watching President Nelson, President [M. Russell] Ballard, Elder [Massimo] De Feo and Elder [Alessandro] Dini Ciacci — now they’re walking down the street in front of St. Peter’s, so that’s a picture that’s just fantastic, iconic, and we’re there waiting for him so that we can interview them about the experience they’ve just had with the Pope. But then watching the people gathering, as we talked to these men that they wouldn’t have possibly known. That was also interesting. I was kind of walking around the outside, and I was fascinated by the people who were fascinated, watching this interview that was taking place with men they didn’t know. So right in the heart of Roma.
Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, and I loved the fact that President Nelson goes to Italy — all of the Quorum of the Twelve and the First Presidency are in Italy and would later take that iconic picture at the Rome Italy Temple — and yet, when President Nelson goes to meet with the Pope, he took local leaders. He took Elder De Feo, who has roots in Italy, and he took Elder Dini Ciacci, who is the local Area Seventy in that country, and I thought that was so sweet that he would acknowledge and give someone the opportunity from that nation.
Brother Michael Colemere: That trip is so extraordinary in so many ways — we could spend a podcast just on that trip alone — because of just how many special and important things that happened on that trip.
I love how this Prophet decided to bring all of the Brethren, all 15 of them, and that’s never happened in the Church, where they’ve all traveled together internationally, and to watch the faces of them and just see the happiness. One of the greatest videos is done by — Sarah, I think you did it — the “Band of Brothers” one where the Brethren were walking out in their whites to take the pictures — it’s one of my favorite videos. But President Nelson didn’t even hesitate to say, “No, my Brethren are coming with me on this trip,” because it was significant.
When he met with the Pope too — this is a great story — so Elder De Feo and Elder Dini Ciacci talked to us about when they go into the Pope’s office and he comes in, they’re standing there, the pope comes up to greet them. President Nelson walks right up to him, grabs his arms, and the Brethren are thinking, “Can he do that?” And he walks up, and he looks in the Pope’s face, and says, “Thank you for coming. We’re so grateful.” And they sat and just studied one another and talked, and in the end, they embraced. I remember President Nelson saying to Sheri, “I feel like we became fast friends, and we could see in each other’s eyes.” I mean, the burden both of them have with trying to lead bodies of members in their church, and it was a beautiful expression of him gaining the confidence of world leaders, whether it’s children, others but world leaders, when government leaders constantly are looking to him and are grateful for his counsel.
Sister Sheri Dew: Another moment that was like that occurred when we were in New Zealand. Sarah, you’ll remember this, that some of the imams from the mosques in Christchurch that had been recently bombed, the Church invited them to come up to New Zealand and President Nelson met with them, gave a gift to those different mosques to help rebuild them. But again — watching the instant affection, and it’s almost exactly what Michael just described, that one of those individuals had been really hurt, had been in the hospital all this time and had just gotten out of the hospital in time to come to this meeting, fly up from Christchurch up to Auckland. And President Nelson walks right over to him and takes him by both arms. You can kind of picture it — not in a real embrace, but just in a brotherly, arm-to-arm sort of thing — and just says, “OK, I want to know your full name. I want to pray for you. I want to pray for you to make sure that you get completely well.”
So there is just that — there’s an inclusivity — I mean, I think what Michael was just describing with him inviting all the Brethren to Rome, it’s one of the qualities that’s so fascinating about him. So historically, think about it: usually temples have been dedicated by a member of the First Presidency, often the President of the Church or counselors — not always, but usually. But instead, if you go back to 2018, 2019, President Nelson dedicated some temples, a couple — I’m only thinking of two: Rome and Concepcion — but all the others, he assigned his counselors in the First Presidency or members of the Twelve, said, “my Brethren need to have the opportunity to dedicate temples.” So, instead of saying, “I’m going to do all these,” no, “I want each of my Brethren to have the chance to be the presiding officer and to take the lead in dedicating a temple.” There’s an inclusivity about that, that I think is absolutely beautiful. And I think it also says he doesn’t think it’s all about him.
Brother Michael Colemere: One of his key themes is all about unity. He will do nothing until everybody is completely unified.
Sister Sheri Dew: Yeah, amen.
Brother Michael Colemere: And by the way, that’s an extraordinary thing. One of the opportunities that we have in getting to work so closely with the Brethren is — everybody thinks that things are just smooth and easy, but these are 15 very different, very opinionated, very smart, very smart individuals. And when items come forward, there’s not always an agreement, and there are times when there’s actual pretty heavy disagreement. And I love how they’ll say, “Let’s put this on ice for a month maybe,” or something, “and let’s just think about it for a while and we’ll come back to it.” Unity is so critical for him: among the Church, among his Brethren, all of us.
Sister Sheri Dew: In fact, he teaches a really great principle. I’m glad you said that, Michael, because I heard him teach a principle one day and I thought, “Oh, that is such a wise principle.” He said, “When we can’t agree, it usually means we need more information. So, we don’t need to just keep talking about this endlessly.” How many of us have been in meetings that go on endlessly discussing something we can’t resolve? He said, “Yeah, there’s a point where you don’t need to talk about anymore. There’s more information needed to come back to the group so you can talk about it again.” And I think there’s a fundamental leadership principle there that is really, really helpful. I’ve thought about that umpteen times when Sarah, you and I’ve been sitting around the table debating whatever issue. There’s no need to talk about this any longer. We haven’t done all of our homework.
Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, he has unified all of us. I’m glad we talked about New Zealand. Before we even started the meetings that day in New Zealand, he walked into a room, most of us were standing there, and he told all of us, “I prayed for you this morning by name.” And I have never forgot feeling like, “Wow, I’m on his team. I will do anything for him because he knows me and he petitioned the Lord for me this morning.” And he did that later, you mentioned, where he’s reached out to this victim of crime in the country. He says, “I want to pray for you, tell me your name.” But the next thing he did was say, “Tell me your doctor’s name. I’d like to pray for your doctor.” And we’ve seen that in his ministry a lot, because he’s not just a prophet of faith, but he also is a prophet of science.
And in Brasilia, he did this really wonderful interview with us, and he talked about Scrabble. I don’t know if you remember that —
Sister Sheri Dew: Yeah, I remember that. Over at the side of that building.
Sarah Jane Weaver: He and his wife, Sister Wendy Nelson, are talking, and Sister Nelson says —
Sister Sheri Dew: They’re crazy Scrabble players, we should say. They play all the time. OK, so let’s just say that.
Sarah Jane Weaver: She actually says, “I’m going to talk about something,” and he says, “I know what you’re going to bring up. You’re going to bring up Scrabble.” And she’s saying, “Well, once you know the law, once you understand the law, then you can always win.” And then they compare it to Scrabble, of course, that we can always win once we understand the laws that govern Scrabble, and then he talks about the laws that govern gravity and lift and make planes fly, and he talks about the laws that govern the heart. And then he immediately turns to God’s laws, and promises all of us that if we keep the commandments, we can be happy, that that is also a very clear formula.
Sister Sheri Dew: When he’s talking about that, too, he always goes back to the experience — in fact, I really believe this is where he learned it, was in medical school, and then is he starting to specialize in the heart — that he’s reading some verses in the Doctrine and Covenants that talk about, “There is a law irrevocably decreed,” right? There’s laws that govern everything, and that just resonated with him as a young medical student. And now, look how that one principle has mushroomed throughout his life.
Sarah Jane Weaver: Yeah, and we heard it again as he’s asking all of us to fast and pray during the pandemic. He says, “I’m a man of faith and of science,” and everything else. He turns to the laws that govern things.
One of the other themes of his ministry has been temple work. As the leader of our Church, he’s announced 70 temples. We’ve heard him talk about temples. We’ve heard him talk about the covenant path. Certainly, the first thing he does when he becomes President of the Church is address members worldwide from the Salt Lake Temple Annex, so let’s address why this is such an important theme to him.
Brother Michael Colemere: It’s gathering Israel. It comes back to that. Isn’t it interesting when he became Prophet, one of his first major talks was to the youth of the Church in the Conference Center, inviting them to gather Israel. Now, you think, “OK,” but all of a sudden, we saw on ChurchofJesusChrist.org — or LDS.org, the thing of the time — that people started studying more about it. What did it mean? What does it mean to me? And the youth were the ones who started engaging. We started to see a different audience, a younger audience coming to the site.
Then we experience the most marvelous thing in Rome. President Nelson, the day before the dedication, decides to do a devotional for all the youth that can make it from Italy, to come to Rome.
Sister Sheri Dew: So, it was a stake center full of youth.
Brother Michael Colemere: A stake center full of youth. We were expecting, if I’m not mistaken, 300 to 350 youth. There were over 700 youth from Italy, and half of them were standing. There was no room. Where kids were sitting, they had someone in front of them in the bench seat kneeling for them.
Sister Sheri Dew: And, sometimes girls sitting on their friends’ laps.
Brother Michael Colemere: So then, Italy does this great thing. They decide to allow the youth to take his exact invitation to gather Israel. And so, they do a video for President Nelson at the start — after the musical number, prayer, whatnot — they do a video, and there’s these two delightful Italian youth that say, “President Nelson, we took seriously you’re asking us to gather Israel. So we decided, in the country of Italy, to talk to all of our youth,” and these are young men and young women speaking, “and we decided to see how we could do this. So we started to find names that we could take to this temple once it’s dedicated.” And it shows then a montage of photos and videos of all these kids doing family history work on the video. Then, the most magical event I’ve seen in all of these trips, truly: these two on the video say, “Now, will you stand up and show President Nelson what we accomplished?” At that point, the video stops. Every youth in the congregation: 700 stand up, and there is a sea of white cards —
Sister Sheri Dew: Temple cards, name cards —
Brother Michael Colemere: Being waved above their heads. It was like a white wave, and President Nelson and all the general authorities that were on the stand literally started crying.
Sister Sheri Dew: Sister Nelson, all the Brethren, all the wives of the general authorities, we’re all — I can get a chill right now as you’re describing it. It was magical. It was magical, and it was — boy, the Spirit just “wooshed” through that building.
Sarah Jane Weaver: Yeah. And if you’ll remember, we have yet to have a good picture of that moment, and we’ve looked and looked, and I think it’s because the Spirit was so strong, and everyone was — no surprise that everyone stopped. There was just this moment of total awe. You know, these are the future leaders of the Church, and they had done something so sweet.
Sister Sheri Dew: Yeah, it was absolutely unforgettable.
Brother Michael Colemere: Unforgettable. You hear about in 3 Nephi 17 — my wife’s favorite chapter in the Book of Mormon — how the angels come down and surround the children and everything like that. We literally saw the youth and the angels come down as they were waving these cards, and I wouldn’t be surprised if so many people that those cards were done for, they’re just so grateful.
Sarah Jane Weaver: And you mentioned the impact that had particularly on Sister Nelson. Let’s talk about the role Sister Nelson plays in supporting President Nelson.
Brother Michael Colemere: So I want to tell a quick story if it’s OK. One of the most spiritual stories in all of our travels around the world happened in Vietnam. Before the devotional in the hotel, we had some YSA, I think, Sheri, it was a dozen or so
Sister Sheri Dew: Probably a dozen and they were young adults, yep.
Brother Michael Colemere: Young adults, and they were from all around Vietnam. There’s a young woman that wanted to ask a question, and she was a little bit shy. She stands up —
Sister Sheri Dew: Beautiful girl —
Brother Michael Colemere: And she says, “President Nelson,” I think she said, “I’m 23 years old. I’m a YSA. I have a strong testimony of this Church, but can you tell me how I can have greater faith after the fact I have been sexually abused my entire life?”
The room went dead silent. Sister Nelson stands, walks over to this woman, and just embraces her and loves her. President Nelson starts giving her words of comfort, and then in the conference, that devotional just after, President Nelson changes his talk and starts to speak to the women in that congregation, because our translator told us this is a common, unfortunate thing that has happened in this country that’s surging, coming alive again, and he changes his talk and comforts every woman in that congregation who have had similar experiences. And the magic of seeing those two work together was a wonderful thing.
Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, Sister Nelson is a therapist and a counselor by profession, and I remember when she hugged that young woman, she said to her, “It wasn’t your fault.” And to have her weep like that, to know that. And then Sister Nelson also changed her talk. As someone who was trying to cover those talks, that’s hard. That’s hard when someone on the spot changes what they’re going to say, and yet it’s beautiful and it’s powerful, and the Nelsons do that a lot. They actually speak to the members that they are in front of right then — it’s this ministering in the moment that we have witnessed so much.
Sister Sheri Dew: I don’t think there’s much I can add to that, only to say that this experience you just described, Michael, it so epitomizes the way they work together and the way they complement each other. She’s — her whole job is doing everything she can for him, she adores him, but wow, it’s amazing to see them work together.
And maybe I would just add one more thing if I could, about a principle that is an outgrowth of this, perhaps. One of the things we’ve seen, as they’ve been in however many, how many cities we’ve been in — have we ever counted? Do we know? Of course we know, we can count them — but every single place, he would have, usually, the Area President who was there speak, or a member of the Area Presidency, and his wife, the member of the Twelve who was accompanying him speak, and his wife, Sister Nelson, speak, and then, of course, President Nelson would be the concluding speaker. And it’s interesting to me that no matter where we went, he wanted the sisters to testify and teach and be in front of the audiences, just as he wanted his Brethren to do the same. And I can’t think of an exception to that. I think that, almost everywhere, that he was very keen on making sure that the program — I thought about it, a lot of times, I’d be sitting there and thinking, “my goodness.” People from — you go to Jakarta and number one, that traffic is impossible, and so for anybody to get to the meeting, they have to really want to come to the meeting.
Brother Michael Colemere: And they’re only there a day in advance.
Sister Sheri Dew: And so you’re just thinking, “I wonder what they’re thinking.” Are they thinking, “I don’t really want to hear all these other people, I want to hear you, President Nelson.” But I don’t know what they’re thinking, but I’m wondering about that at every place. He wants the sisters to speak and his Brethren to speak and then he’ll be the concluding, and I think there’s a model that is really important for everybody.
Brother Michael Colemere: So inclusive of sisters, everywhere we go. He always focuses on making sure they’re comfortable and taken care of.
Sister Sheri Dew: This is a father of nine daughters — nine bright, intelligent, talented, really good, down-to-earth, just great, these are great women. And he’s got — I forget the number of granddaughters — and now the number of great-granddaughters is so big, and Sister Dantzel Nelson, his first wife, who, of course, passed away as we know, and then Wendy, Sister Wendy Nelson. These are two amazing women. So he’s had a deep indoctrination in the strengths of Latter-day women, that’s for sure.
Sarah Jane Weaver: And I’m so glad we’re talking about that, because I’ve always wanted to ask you, Sheri, about a moment that happened in Uruguay. President Nelson is in the middle of an interview with Sergio Rubin. He is the Pope’s biographer, he had flown from Argentina to do this interview. President Nelson had agreed that he could ask him any question he wanted, and at one point in the interview — and a few of us had been allowed to come in and observe that.
Sister Sheri Dew: But we were sort of on the periphery — We were standing back, quite a ways.
Sarah Jane Weaver: We weren’t standing close. Mr. Rubin asked President Nelson, “Well, so many churches are directed by men at the exclusion of women. What do you have to say about that?” And without hesitation, President Nelson — who has nine daughters, who’s given countless talks on women in the Church, and how much the Lord loves women — he could have said anything and I was sort of waiting to hear what he had to say, and instead he said, “Well, let’s hear from a woman about tha.” And he got you a chair, Sheri, and said, “Come on, come on in this interview.” And that moment where when the Prophet could have said anything, he allowed a woman to speak for herself, is something that’s sort of ingrained right in my mind and heart.
Sister Sheri Dew: Yeah, I think that just speaks to his inclusivity and to his respect. He respects women. He does, and he will listen. That’s another thing we should say about him is — he’s a remarkable listener, and we’ve heard others of his Brethren say, “We’ve learned from President Nelson how to listen.” But if you’re in the room with him — I mean, don’t you think this is true, Michael? — If you’re in the room with him, that means he expects you to contribute to whatever the conversation is.
Brother Michael Colemere: He does. He respects everybody. He is so caring, loving, he listens. Let me add one more story, because when you brought it up about his respect for women and how he listens and stuff — in Rome, the local media there wanted to speak with Sister Nelson and Sister Oaks, and Sister Eyring was unable to make the trip, of course.
Sister Sheri Dew: I think it was the biggest newspaper in Rome.
Brother Michael Colemere: In all of Italy, and they did an interview with the wives. What was interesting is when we start this interview, President Nelson, President Oaks, President Eyring come in, and they bring out folding chairs and they’re behind the cameras sitting there. But this is one of the most iconic pictures I have on my iPhone.
Sarah Jane Weaver: I have this picture. I will add it to this podcast.
Brother Michael Colemere: They are holding — President Nelson, President Oaks are holding their wives’ handbags, their purses, they’re sitting there on the chair holding these purses while they’re listening to their wives speak at this media interview. It is one of the most endearing pictures I have of these Brethren. We see these Brethren behind the pulpit, we see them speaking all these meetings and stuff, but to see a prophet of the Lord, his counselor, President Oaks, sitting there, listening to their wives intently, every word, holding their purses — in fact, they were hanging on their knees — it just shows you the type of leaders we have.
Sarah Jane Weaver: And I remember that moment because of the intensity with which they were listening to their wives. They weren’t having their own conversation. This was a moment where they stood in awe of what their wives were saying, and they weren’t trying to control it. They weren’t trying to weigh in and help them. They trusted them and said, “Have at it, and I’m going to learn from you in this moment.”
Sister Sheri Dew: They — and we ought to just say Sister Nelson and Sister Oaks — they nailed it. They did a fantastic job. I think, frankly, that the interviewer was surprised, because he went on longer than he said he would, and they were just fantastic. But watching their husbands, in that case, their husbands support them like a husband would support a wife, that was absolutely — it was endearing, and it was beautiful. It was absolutely beautiful. Post that picture.
Sarah Jane Weaver: I will post the picture.
Sister Sheri Dew: It’s a gem.
Sarah Jane Weaver: I wish we could talk about President Nelson forever. We will have both of you back on the Church News podcast for his 98th birthday. That is a promise. But, we have a tradition at the Church News podcast that we always end with the same question, and I hope that each of us can answer that and share something that we have learned from President Nelson, something that for us exemplifies what we know now after having the opportunity to observe his ministry.
And for me, it happened right back where we started at the beginning of this podcast, in Peru. He’d just been at the presidential palace, and he was headed into a huge arena where he’s going to speak to thousands in that country, and he was meeting with some youth before, and this young woman asked this sweet, sweet question. She said, “President Nelson, what do I do if my family’s not active in the Church?” And at that moment, he did something that I have thought about over and over again, because he looked her right in the eyes and said, “You and I are just alike.” This is a prophet who has just met with the president of her country, and she’s 14 and he’s saying, “You and I are just alike.” And then he shared with her that he also came from a home where his parents had not been active in the Church, and he gave her a promise that I think can direct all of our lives — he said, “This is what you should do.” He said, “Go forward, keep the commandments, and your family and your friends will see the light of the gospel. They will see the light of the Savior reflected in you.” And so, so many mornings when I get up and things are hard, I think, “OK, well, if the best I can do today is try and and help others see that I’m trying to have the light of the gospel reflected in my life and my actions, then that is the lesson I’ve learned from President Nelson.” And so, I hope each of you will also share what you know now after serving with and working with and following President Nelson.
Brother Michael Colemere: For me, it’s the principle of unity, of all of us working together in harmony. And if it isn’t in harmony, let’s take a little break, think about it, come back. But the importance for all of us to be together as Saints, as family, as a couples unit, or whatever it is — it’s the importance of loving one another, respecting one another and being unified.
Sister Sheri Dew: I love both of what you both said, and I would just add that I think we see, in President Nelson, the fruits of someone who really believes, and what the gospel is done to forge a life of sheer goodness. Yes, he holds all the keys. Yes, he’s been ordained with those special priesthood keys. We’re also seeing that — many times, I’ll watch him behind the scenes and I’ll think, “OK, he’s exactly who you hope he is.” This isn’t just a persona behind the pulpit. The man inside is exactly who you hope he is, and I knew it before, and I think we all knew it before, but these precious privileges of being associated with a prophet of God just leaves you knowing even more: “Yep, he’s a prophet,” and he fits the bill. He’s everything you hope he is.
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 have learned something today about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints by peering with me through the Church News window. Please remember to subscribe to this podcast. And if you enjoyed the messages we shared today, please make sure you share the podcast with others. 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.