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What the Global Ministry Tour Taught Me about Ministering in the Moment

President Nelson shaking hands with two children

“I hope you have a testimony,” she had said. “You are going to need it.”

The words from my college journalism adviser stung. Less than a year after graduating and completing a national journalism fellowship, I had accepted a new job as a reporter for the Church News.

Her assumption was clear. She was certain that viewing the Church—and, more important, its leaders—through the unique window of access offered by the Church News would cause me a crisis of faith.

She was right about one thing.

In more than two decades since that conversation, I have had the opportunity to observe the senior leadership of the Church—in Utah and other locations across the globe—in unique moments, sometimes when they are tired or dealing with difficult things.

She was wrong about everything else. In that time I have never—not once—seen or heard anything that would cause me to question my faith. 

Never was that more apparent than last month—23 years after our conversation—as I watched President Russell M. Nelson navigate the globe as part of his global ministry tour.

The task of documenting President Nelson’s trip to eight cities on three continents in 11 days was serendipitous—it was filled with the repeated discovery of unexpected treasure.

I started my job as a Church News reporter in 1995—just months after President Gordon B. Hinckley was sustained as prophet. Covering President Hinckley taught me to be early and nimble. He completed tasks and, with an eye single to moving the work of the Lord forward, moved to another task. If a reporter was late or inattentive, he or she missed President Hinckley’s quick-witted and fast-paced ministry. 

The inverse was true for the years I spent documenting the leadership of President Thomas S. Monson. Never in a hurry, his greatest gift was a gift of time, most often offered to the one—to the lonely, the sad, the disabled, the aged. On any given day, a reporter knew he or she would have to wait for an interview or meeting to start so President Monson, willing to answer any call from the Lord, could minister to the one.

Preserved by the Lord for this day, President Nelson ministers with a different style—one of in-the-moment deliberateness. With a surgeon’s eye single to the task directly in front of him, President Nelson zones in on the smallest details and the smallest members.  

During his global ministry tour, I came to anticipate that President Nelson would engage with a congregation or an individual member, call Church employees by name, respond to reporters’ questions in brief moments of his tightly scheduled days, and powerfully testify of Jesus Christ.

I never saw him look tired, although I was. Sister Wendy Nelson said being with the members energized her husband.

Most important, I watched the 93-year-old leader reach down and pick up a child who had brushed against his leg. I watched him kneel down to another child’s level. I saw him respond to the hugs of others. The scenes became so commonplace during the tour that I almost forgot to be awed by them.

Then Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles—who with his wife, Sister Patricia Holland, was traveling with President Nelson—gave me understanding: “We are sometimes so close to history, so close to miracles … that we don’t realize we are experiencing a miracle,” he said.

My first real glimpse into President Nelson’s ministry came in November of 2007, as I watched him and Sister Nelson greet students from Liahona High School lining the streets of Nuku’alofa, Tonga. The students had fashioned a huge banner for the occasion: “Welcome Home, Eld. and Sis. Russell M. Nelson.”

President Nelson’s response tothe students and thebanner was immediate: “How could they capture our feelings and their feelings with such few words, ‘Welcome home,’” he had said then.

I observed President Nelson again in August of 2016, as he was in Sapporo, Japan, to dedicate a new temple on Hokkaido, Japan’s second-largest island.

Sandwiched between two tropical storms, President Nelson’s visit and the temple dedication occurred days after Typhoon Chanthu made landfall on Hokkaido and one day before Tropical Storm Mindulle would rip through Japan.

I arose early on the day before the dedication, hoping to photograph the new temple at sunrise. But when I reached the temple grounds I found President Nelson already up, inspecting the temple and the grounds. He looked at the gardens and landscaping with a deliberateness I would see again a few hours later when he greeted the people. Each greeting carried a sweet sentiment that communicated “Thank you for welcoming me home.”

It was a sentiment I observed over and over again during the global ministry tour. Nothing was more clear: among the members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, President Nelson is home.

Today, one of my greatest regrets is that I did not return to my college journalism adviser, who died several years ago, and share with her what I have learned from the Lord’s latter-day prophets and others who lead His Church. From President Hinckley I gained a desire to quicken my pace, from President Monson a desire to slow it down. Watching President Nelson through the Church News window gives me the desire to minister in the moment, with the deliberateness of feeling at home with all of God’s children.

Each time I observe those who lead the Church, I want to listen more closely during general conference, to pray with real and growing intent, and to approach my Church callings and scripture study with increased sincerity. I have thought of the example of President Nelson and others when airline personnel tell me my flight is canceled or when unannounced visitors stop by my home. I have thought about them when I ponder my ministering assignments, when I respond to or encourage my teenage daughters, or when my aging family members need my attention. Sometimes those thoughts come in retrospect, when I wish I had done better.

If I could see my adviser today, my message would be one inspired by President Nelson; I would tell her that observing the small and simple actions of those who lead our Church has had a large impact. Sometimes, I would say, we are “so close to history, so close to miracles … that we don’t realize we are experiencing a miracle.”

Sarah Jane Weaver is the editor of the Church News. Her favorite assignments include reporting on LDS Church temple dedications and writing about Latter-day Saints around the world. She lives in Sandy, Utah, with her husband and daughters.