There’s been a lot of rejoicing in China with the recent visit of Elder Russell M. Nelson and his wife, Wendy, along with Elder Gerrit W. Gong and his wife, Susan. They were all in Beijing last week and then in Shanghai on Saturday and Sunday. On Saturday afternoon, the attended a devotional where we meet in Shanghai, where about 450 expats (foreign passport holders) gathered. Friends of mine in the Chinese community report that they also met with local Chinese members, which is wonderful.
Elder Nelson, the senior Apostle in the Quorum of the Twelve, was even more impressive than I expected. He spoke with energy, vitality, and humor, expressing love for China and hope for its future, and inspiring us with his witness for Christ and for the Restoration of the Gospel. He observed that the Chinese government had been not just polite but extremely generous and kind in receiving them. In his remarks, it was clear that he loves China and yearns for the happiness of the people here. He is uniquely prepared to help strengthen relationships with China and usher in increased opportunities for the Gospel to bless more lives in this majestic land.
As we learned from Elder Gong’s remarks, way back in 1979, President Nelson listened when he heard President Spencer W. Kimball say that the Spirit of the Lord seemed to be brooding over China, and that members would be wise to prepare by learning Chinese. Elder Nelson and his wife responded by studying Mandarin Chinese. Then in 1980, as one of the leading heart surgeons in the world, he brought open heart surgery to China and trained many surgeons here. While he was here, he operated on a famous Chinese opera singer. This week when he came to China, the grandson and son of the opera singer met him in a tear-filled reunion and said, “Thank you for saving our father.” Incidentally, that kind of tear-filled moment is straight out of what I often see on Chinese television and is the kind of thing that really resonates with the people here, in my opinion, though it naturally resonates with people in any land. But this is prime-time drama in China, and I just have to say thanks to the thoughtful officials who arranged that cool moment. Wish I had been there!
Russell M. Nelson spoke of the time when Ezra Taft Benson had just become President of the Church in 1985 and gave the Apostles their new assignments. Elder Nelson, as a junior Apostle, was assigned to Europe and Africa, and was given the task to open up Russia and the countries in eastern Europe to missionary work. Elder Nelson initially thought this was impossible. In 1985 at the peak of the Cold War, this did seem like an absurd impossibility. But then came a series of miracles and sweeping changes, allowing Elder Nelson to report back to President Benson, before he passed away, that the assignment had been completed.
We can easily see some of the big changes that made this possible, such as the Berlin Wall coming down. But there were a host of small miracles also that we may not know. One of them involved a Russian sister, a young mother named Svetlanain living in Leningrad (now St.
Petersburg), who would be part of the required initial group of at least 20 members that was needed for the Church to apply for recognition in Russia. In about 1987 or 1988, Svetlana felt a need to get a Russian Bible. She said to her husband, “I want a Bible in Russian” and
asked her husband if she could go to Helsinki to buy one. He agreed, and off she went. It seems that finding a Russian Bible was not as easy as just showing up and walking into a bookstore, for the way she found it involved something of a miracle. While in Helsinki with her son, she walked through a
park where the ground was covered with leaves. She stumbled on an object under the leaves.
She stopped to pick it up, and found–can you guess?–a Bible in Russian. She was
so excited that she ran to a nearby woman and exclaimed in Russian, “I
found a Bible in Russian!” The other woman happened to speak Russian also, and she said, “Wonderful! Would you like another
book about Jesus Christ in Russian?” The woman was the wife of the
Mission President, whose college major had been Russian. “What are the
odds of that?”
Svetlana was baptized in 1991, and I think some of her family members also joined and were part of the initial group in 1991 that allowed the Church to meet the requirements to successfully apply for recognition in Russia in 1991.
In telling this story and in making other remarks about the opening of doors in Europe and Russia, we naturally thought of China and our yearning for doors here to be opened even wider (they are not closed, just not open as wide as we wish).
Regarding the completion of the assignment to open doors for the Church in Eastern Europe and Russia, Elder Nelson said, “You may ask, ‘How did you do it?’ I will tell you, I just watched the Lord do it.” Here in China, we are watching.
Elder Nelson was remarkably inspiring. So was Wendy Nelson. What an intelligent, interesting, faithful woman. She spoke of the reality of angels, among other things, and reminded us to exercise faith in seeking the blessings of heaven to fulfill our work here, and that includes having the faith to receive the help of angels and other miracles. This is a day of miracles.
One of the little miracles associated with this visit was the Relief Society President of the Shanghai District months ago felt strongly drawn to the date of October 24 to schedule a women’s conference for the District. Because of her efforts, this day was already on the calendar for women around the District, and travel plans were already in place for many, when the surprise announcement of Elder Nelson’s visit came only about two weeks before the October 24 date. Her inspiration made this day more successful. The Women’s Conference was a lot of fun. I was there for part of it, giving a presentation with my wife on travel tips in China and where to eat and what to do in Shanghai. In fact, we were the last presentation before the devotional began at 4 PM. An unusual warm-up act.
Prepare for more miracles from China!