My dear brothers and sisters, one of the great blessings of my life is to be with you in your stakes almost every week. In every nation and culture, we as General Authorities have the privilege of feeling of your goodness and of your faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. We know of His love for you, and we rejoice in your willingness to follow Him and keep His commandments. We thank you as stake and ward councils for watching over the kingdom of God and for being instruments in His hands in ministering to His sons and daughters.
As we serve in our councils and presidencies, we all constantly remind ourselves that ours is a spiritual work. While we do sit together in council meetings, our work begins on our knees as we seek the Lord’s guidance. And while we do at times look at a calendar, it is when we leave our meetings, going on the Lord’s errand, that we often bring about His most important purposes. We work together in faith and unity–faith that the Lord will guide our steps and unity with each other and with the missionaries, always motivated by our love for Him, our love for one another, and our love for those we serve.
These spiritual principles have forever been a part of the Lord’s work. I am sure that they are very evident in your ward council as you serve together.
Let me share with you three true stories from an assignment I had a few weeks ago in Tampa, Florida. As you watch, think of the positive things happening in your ward council.
Our first story begins in the Brooksville, Florida, ward council.
When we looked at our rolls, we noticed there was a name on there that we didn’t recognize. It was Sister Kane. In our ward councils we give out specific assignments to visit different families, and the members—I’ve seen a change where they’ve jumped in and actually volunteered—“Bishop, I’ll go.”
This is at the very heart of our sacred work—to feel a spiritual impression and be willing to follow it. In the Brooksville Ward, it was Sister James who stepped forward.
I got a visit from Sister James and some missionaries that came by. And she invited me to some activities and things that made me have a friend in the Church, really. And, you know, it just kind of made the difference, like, made me feel welcome again.
As we prayerfully approach our ward council, revelation comes. Sister James was willing, an assignment was made, and miracles followed. Soon, Sister Kane’s husband, who was not a member of the Church, also began to feel the Lord’s influence.
One Sunday, out of the blue—he hadn't been to church for weeks and weeks with us—he said, “I think I’m going to go to church with you guys today.”
Brother Kane attended, and shortly after sacrament meeting he took off. I saw Sister Kane and asked her where her husband was. She said, “He’s out in the parking lot. He’s ready to go.” And I asked if she would mind if I would introduce myself to him. So I did.
The ward council, the missionaries, Sister James, the bishop—can you see the unity they share? The bishop was then inspired to invite Brother and Sister Kane to meet with the stake president.
He said, “You know, I want you to come and join the Church. What do you think about that?” And I just thought, “Wow, that’s really nice to have someone believe in me and really want me.” It’s nice to be wanted, you know?
What Brother Kane felt with the stake president was the same thing he had been feeling all along. He felt the Lord’s love for him as that love flowed from the leaders, members, and missionaries working as one.
From there, we started inviting him to sacrament meetings. The welcoming he received from the ward and then the Spirit that he felt through our love is really where he started to change.
As I visited with the ward council in Brooksville, Bishop Aaron Ciccarello spoke what was in everyone’s heart.
There’s been a big change in how much we love these people. We’re all in it together, and we’re a whole bunch of imperfect leaders. And the biggest difference is that we know it’s His work; He won’t let us fail if we do the best we can.
This is very important: as we do our best, He will not let us fail. We all feel inadequate. But as President Monson has said, “When we are on the Lord’s errand, we are entitled to the Lord’s help.” We wait upon the Lord, knowing that miracles will follow our faith.
Nephi said that he was “led by the Spirit, not knowing beforehand the things which [he] should do” (1 Nephi 4:6). This is the way of a disciple. We don’t always know what is ahead, but the Lord does, and as we trust in Him, He leads us by the hand, and His miracles follow. I love the Lord’s declaration, “I am a God of miracles; … and I work not among the children of men save it be according to their faith” (2 Nephi 27:23).
This principle is true in every nation, every culture, and every language. Just a month ago in Hong Kong, I used a small video camera I took with me to capture the brief thoughts and feelings of some local Church leaders.
Bishop Chek, have you ever identified three or four families that the missionaries could help you with in trying to bring back into activity?
Yes, actually we have a successful story. The Wong family was inactive for 5–6 years. The missionaries came and visited the family. And we fasted and prayed for the family. And when they were ready, we brought them back.
Help is always there when we have faith.
As we act in faith, we often find that the blessings from the Lord are different than we expected but much better than we imagined. Our second story illustrates this principle. It begins with President Victor Patrick of the Tampa Florida Stake. He and his family sought the Lord’s guidance and were inspired to invite their friends and neighbors to a daughter’s upcoming baptism.
A number of people came, none of whom then expressed any interest in the Church. And so in a stake meeting I explained, “Here was the Patrick plan, here’s what we did, and it was good. We had a lot of people at the baptism, but so far nothing’s happened.” Sister Palmer was in that meeting.
Last year I heard President Patrick give a talk, and he just mentioned in passing that his wife had put an invitation in each of her daughter’s birthday invitations, also inviting them to the baptism. So I also put a little handwritten note and invited them all to the baptism. But unfortunately …
Nobody came. [Laughs]
And we had no idea at the time, but one of our neighbors was being prepared.
The Lord had inspired both President Patrick and Sister Palmer, but for a miracle they didn’t expect. We cannot always see the end from the beginning. We trust in the Lord and wait upon Him, knowing that in His own time and His own way, He will bring about His miracles. While the Lord was inspiring President Patrick and Sister Palmer, He was also preparing Sister Valerie Adams, a less-active member who hadn’t been back to the Church in more than a decade. Sister Adams’s son Braden and Rhett Palmer were already friends from school.
Tell us a little about how this started with your family.
First, I had had these dreams about the Church. And they weren’t anything special. About two weeks later, I get a knock at the door and it’s this cute little boy who comes to the door, and he has a little birthday invitation and he hands it to me. And inside that invitation was another invitation. And I actually brought that invitation.
Oh, I want to see that.
Yes, I saved it because this is really special.
So when I read this I kind of was like looking around like, “Oh, my gosh.”
Because somebody was watching over you.
Exactly, this is a sign. So I went to the birthday party. I walked in and I basically said, “Hi, I’m Valerie and I was baptized in the Church.”
Immediately Valerie and her family were encircled in the love and friendship of a wonderful group of members and missionaries. The missionaries became the teachers. Soon, Valerie returned to the Church. Derek, her husband, was baptized, and he baptized Braden.
Can you see how the Lord accomplishes His work? Our Heavenly Father knows His children. He is listening to their prayers. He knows who is seeking Him, and He will lead us to them. As Ammon says in the Book of Mormon: “They are in the hands of the Lord of the harvest, and they are his” (Alma 26:7).
There is an important principle of faith that has guided the life of our prophet, President Thomas S. Monson. He has said: “Wishing will not make it so. The Lord expects … our action.” Our third story emphasizes this teaching very well. It begins with Bishop Rodney Kelly, who felt a need to help his ward take action.
We were having a terrible time having baptisms in our ward. They were very low, and we realized that the Lord would not bless us with new converts until we took care of the people in our ward that we already had.
The bishop and the ward council were recognizing that talking about people wasn’t enough. They needed to act.
So we as a bishopric started first, and we would go out and take some names that we never recognized and look for them. We invited the PEC to join us, and then later on we expanded that to the entire elders quorum and to the high priests group. And we asked them to commit to one Tuesday or Thursday night a month.
As ward leaders and missionaries began to reach out and bless others, a great change took place in the ward. The Spirit of the Lord blossomed. The full-time missionaries noticed a difference.
We had the ward mission leader who was calling us every single day, but not only that, the bishop was calling us nonstop and then members—all the members that we were working with were also calling us almost every single day or texting us or just trying to be involved in any way that they could.
The leaders and missionaries from the Tampa Fourth Ward shared their experiences with me as I visited their ward council meeting.
I know that when I first came, and I started talking about doing these weekly visits, I’m like, “That’s a lot of time.” But I found that as I was going out and visiting the people and following the direction of the bishop and the guidance that he was giving, it was amazing.
RELIEF SOCIETY PRESIDENT
I've seen a change in the sisters with this, where they’re much more willing to go the extra mile and do the things they need to do and to make everyone feel loved and welcome.
As these spiritual moments took place, it was the place to be. The people in the ward who are active wanted to have those spiritual moments.
My first night coming out, they were doing ward splits. And that was so inspiring to me, to realize that I’m out here to teach people and bring them back into the fold and help the ward.
On my trip to Asia four weeks ago, I visited India. The leaders there understand these same spiritual truths. They shared their insights on that little camera I took with me.
We go to their homes. Yes, we go to their homes. And we try to share our testimonies and love them and try to bring them back.
When we bear our testimony, we certainly invite the Spirit into the room, and the investigator or the less-active members, they can feel the Spirit. And they decide to come back because they know this is an important thing which they are really missing in their lives.
To help us all, there is a new section on LDS.org called “Hastening the Work of Salvation.” There you will find useful resources, including additional stories and examples from leaders, members, and missionaries around the world who, like you, are working together in faith and love to hasten the Lord’s work.
As we do our very best, the Lord will be with us. The scripture reads, “[As] the servants did go and labor with their [might]; … the Lord … labored also with them” (Jacob 5:72).
As I sat on the stand in the Tampa Florida Stake conference a few weeks ago, I was amazed to see 32 brethren sustained to receive the Melchizedek Priesthood. They came from wards and branches very much like the ones where you live and serve.
As each man stood, I thought of the miracle that had taken place in his life and in the lives of the women and children around him. I thought of the leaders, the members, and the missionaries who had worked in unity and of their Christlike love and service. I thought of the Lord’s divine guidance as they acted in faith. I thought of Moroni’s words: “Have miracles ceased? … Or have angels ceased to appear unto the children of men? Or has he withheld the power of the Holy Ghost from them?” (Moroni 7:27, 36).
“Behold I say unto you, Nay; for it is by faith that miracles are wrought” (Moroni 7:37).
I share with you my certain witness. Jesus is the Christ. He is our Savior and Redeemer. This is His holy work. I promise you that He will guide you and be with you as you humbly seek His help in faith. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.