Apostles Praise “Sisters of Zion” during Europe Area Visit
Contributed By Gerry Avant, Church News editor; Jason Swensen, Church News staff writer
“We cannot meet our destiny of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints of preparing this world for the Second Coming of the Savior of the world without the support, the faith, and the strength of the women of this Church.” —Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve
In a history-making event, LDS women, young women, and Primary girls ages 8-11 gathered throughout 31 European nations to receive words of inspiration and counsel, strengthen testimonies of the gospel of Jesus Christ, and to be reminded of their important role in helping build the kingdom of God on Earth.
Elder M. Russell Ballard and Elder David A. Bednar, both of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, and Elder Donald L. Hallstrom of the Presidency of the Seventy traveled to the Europe Area to conduct an area review, priesthood leadership meetings, special stake conferences, and meetings with missionaries and young single adults, and to address the first area-wide “sisters' meeting.” They were joined by members of the Seventy who serve as the Europe Area Presidency: Elder José A. Teixeira, Elder Patrick Kearon, and Elder Timothy J. Dyches. Each of the Brethren was accompanied by his wife: Barbara Ballard, Susan Bednar, Diane Hallstrom, Filomena Texeira, Jennifer Kearon, and Jill Dyches.
Meetings for female members have been held on a Churchwide level for many years. However, the sisters' meeting, which originated from Frankfurt, Germany, and transmitted via satellite to meetinghouses throughout Europe on September 9, was the first held for a specific geographical region. More than 52,000 women and girls attended the meeting in chapels or watched it via the Internet.
In addressing the meeting, Elder Ballard spoke about the strength of the “sisters of Zion” and their essential contributions to the Church and the world at large.
He spoke of women in his family, one of whom was Mary Fielding Smith, his great-great-grandmother who was widowed as her husband, Hyrum, and his brother, the Prophet Joseph Smith, were martyred. Mary Fielding Smith is known in Church history as a strong, stalwart woman of faith and endurance, and as a pioneer. She was the mother of Joseph F. Smith, the 6th president of the Church, and grandmother of Joseph Fielding Smith, the 10th Church president.
“[There are] Mary Fielding Smiths sitting in this congregation, in your various stakes, wards, districts, and branches of the Church here in Europe,” Elder Ballard said. “Some of you are women of that kind of faith. If there is any one of you here tonight whose faith is wavering just a little then pick it up, take hold of your handcart, and pull it forward, building the kingdom of God in your little branches or your wards within this wonderful area, the Europe Area.
“Be great missionaries, sisters. Your voices are needed. You have great work to perform. Your work today is as great as the work of those early mothers, even going back to the beginning of time when we think of Mother Eve. Your work is the very same work as has always been the case when the Church of Jesus Christ has been upon the face of the earth. God bless you to reach and declare with enthusiasm, with excitement, witness, and testimony what you know to be true.”
Elder Ballard expressed to the women and girls of the Europe area the love and admiration the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles have for them.
“The blessing I would ask Heavenly Father to grant to you individually and collectively would be that you would never take lightly what you know, that you will become pioneers, as the first pioneers, women of great faith, of great power and courage, that you will let your voices be heard. We cannot meet our destiny of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints of preparing this world for the Second Coming of the Savior of the world without the support, the faith, and the strength of the women of this Church. We need you. We need your voices. They need to be heard. They need to be heard in your community, in your neighborhoods, in the ward council, or the branch council. Don’t talk too much in those council meetings—just straighten the brethren out,” he said with a touch of humor.
In comments to the Church News, Elder Bednar said he was uplifted by the examples of the “remarkable” European sisters. “They are swimming upstream in a lot of ways—going against the worldliness exhibited by many of the cultures of Europe,” he said. “To be God-fearing, family-oriented, and devoted Latter-day Saints certainly makes [us] a peculiar people.”
“I was grateful for the opportunity during the women’s meeting to express my love and appreciation for the European sisters, and to exercise the keys of the apostleship to bless them with strength, protection, and guidance in the things that they are striving to accomplish,” Elder Bednar remarked. “The highlight of the women’s meeting,” he said, “was listening to Elder and Sister Ballard share wise family counsel and speak of their own children and grandchildren.”
Sister Bednar thought the women’s meeting provided many spiritual rewards for the sisters. “There was such a sweet spirit in the chapel. Knowing that the sisters throughout the area were connected and meeting together to hear the word of the Lord was indeed memorable,” she said.
In what he described as perhaps the largest gathering of LDS women and girls in the history of the Europe Area, Elder Hallstrom expressed gratitude for the European sisters being “women in Christ, women of strength, women of power, women who understand who they are and are seeking each day to live consistently with that understanding.”
Further, Elder Hallstrom said, “You are an essential part of everything that we do. You’re not just adjunct; you’re not secondary in any way. [This] work of the Lord here upon the earth cannot be done without you. Of course, doctrinally we understand the correctness of men and women and their complementary roles. We understand the priesthood of God and the relationship that the women have to the great priesthood and power of God. We respect your roles to nurture and bless the lives of children and of all that you come in contact with. Within the Church you are deeply needed. We need your voices, we need your strength, we need your counsel, we need to understand how this Church might better accomplish its sacred and holy work. You are deeply and profoundly needed.”
Elder Texieria said, “We feel very privileged to serve alongside the sisters of the Church. We feel strength when we are working together with the sisters. We feel that strength here today in this great congregation of sisters of Zion.”
He spoke of lessons he learned from his mother, particularly of gaining confirmation from the Lord if something is right, and from his wife, an oil painter who made an analogy of each partner in a marriage bringing his or her own color, blue and yellow, to blend together to create green. The yellow and the blue are still there, but “you can’t see [them] anymore. What you see now is this wonderful green.”
He told the sisters that they have great power to teach, to instill learning into the lives of those around them. “You also have great power to influence those around you at church, at work, or whatever responsibilities you might have. … I encourage you … that you take upon you that responsibility to teach and help us learn the principles of the gospel. The world is in desperate need of better people, and you can make a great contribution to make that happen.”
The sisters' meeting was conducted by Sister Silke Langner, the Relief Society president of the Frankfurt Germany Stake, who offered remarks and bore her testimony.
“I know that God lives and that the Savior is at the head of this Church with President Thomas S. Monson as His prophet,” she said. “I’m especially grateful that the prophecy he has made was fulfilled 16 years later, the prophecy about the temple in East Germany, which at the time seemed impossible. All of us who believed his words and did not doubt and stayed true to the commandments, even if it seemed impossible, were all blessed and able receive temple ordinances. This was such a huge blessing for me and for all the others. This shaped my testimony early in my life. I know that Heavenly Father knows me and you by name, that He answers my prayers and yours. He knows exactly how we feel and what we need.”
“I am grateful that I can be part of this worldwide sisterhood, that we can learn from each other, strengthen each other, and serve each other.”
Sister Hallstrom quoted from a Jewish prayer: “Entrances to Holiness are everywhere.”
She said, “There are many kinds of hearts, and the scriptures are filled with references to hearts. This is because our heart is the spiritual center of our strength, our affections, our faith, our power, our desires. When the heart is engaged, we can accomplish things that ordinarily would cause us to procrastinate or give up. … When the Lord knows our heart we have secured an entrance to holiness.”
She spoke of various kinds of hearts that are entrances to holiness: a faithful heart and broken heart that yearns to be humble, to be taught, to know the things of God and to be obedient to the Lord; and a cheerful heart.
“As sisters in Zion, let us remember that the work of the kingdom is accomplished by hearts bound by covenant. Let us be women after the Lord’s own heart.”
Addressing young women and Primary girls, Sister Kearon used the analogy of making up a bed. She said for many years she placed the fitted sheet on the nearest, or easiest, corner but eventually learned that leaving the hardest corner for last wasn’t a smart way to make up a bed. This, she said, reinforced an important principle: do the hardest things first.
Nephi, she said, was willing to do a hard thing in returning to Jerusalem for the plates held by Laban.
She spoke of five specifics in the For the Strength of Youth booklet: dress and appearance, entertainment and media, language, music, and dating.
“Girls, you are stronger than you think,” Sister Kearon said. “You are stronger than you feel. Remember who you were before you came to this earth. You were among the noble and great ones who chose Jesus Christ. You chose Heavenly Father’s plan and you stood with the Savior. Don’t ever forget that. That is who you are. …
“So girls, from Bristol to Belgrade, from Helsinki to London to Lisbon, do the hardest corner first. Don’t look for the easy way out. Don’t look for a way to excuse yourself. Tackle the hardest corner head on, with faith like Nephi. You each know what your hardest corner is, what you consider to be just too hard. As you prayerfully and faithfully seek His help, your Father in Heaven will delight in preparing the way for you to keep His commandments, even the hardest ones, and you will discover through the power of the Savior’s Atonement nothing is too hard for the Lord.”
While in Europe September 4–15, the visiting General Authorities held four priesthood leadership meetings, with Elder Ballard presiding in Geneva, Switzerland, and Frankfurt, Germany; and Elder Bednar in Copenhagen, Denmark, and Berlin, Germany.
They, along with Elder Hallstrom and members of the Area Presidency, also held special stake conferences, three young adult devotionals, and meetings with missionaries.
The visiting Brethren each served their “young missions” in the Europe Area, Elder Ballard and Elder Hallstrom in England and Elder Bednar in Germany. Each spoke of the growth and strength of the Church in the area.
“Sacrament meeting attendance is up and growth is steady,” Elder Ballard said. “Missionaries and members are working together better than they have done in all the time I’ve known Europe, and they’re finding and bringing into the Church more people and they’re activating some of those who have lost their way. All in all, I think you would have to say Europe is moving in the right direction.”