LDS Church President Russell M. Nelson says a quick scan of today’s headlines shows a world awash in acrimony, anger and conflict, and a planet in need of Christ’s peace more than ever.
“We’re bringing the love of the Lord to the people, and they will learn to love each other,” the leader of the 16 million-member Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints said Thursday evening in London during his first stop on an 11-day, eight-nation tour. “You read the paper and see how angry people are with one another. The Lord’s way is the way of peace. He said love one another as I have loved you.”
London was the first destination on Nelson’s inaugural official trip outside the United States since succeeding the late LDS Church President Thomas S. Monson in January. He is accompanied by his wife, Wendy, and apostle Jeffrey R. Holland and his spouse, Patricia, on a tour that also will take him to meet Mormon missionaries and members in Africa, Asia and Hawaii.
“This is a global, international trip around the world,” Nelson said, according to a news release from the Utah-based faith. “We just realized we will meet all the world’s population right here in London. We don’t need to go anywhere else. We have people in London from all countries of the world.”
The visit to the United Kingdom brought Nelson back to his ancestral homeland. His great-grandparents first heard the Mormon gospel and were baptized in Somerset, England.
His trip also included visits with leaders and missionaries of the England London Mission, as well as several local Mormon families.
“When he looks you in the eye and you feel his love, he is so warm,” Latter-day Saint Sacha Winters said of the 93-year-old former heart surgeon whom Mormons revere as a prophet. “He just spoke to the children and asked them about school and church and life.”
Added 12-year-old daughter Elizabeth Winters: “Wow, I just feel like it’s already changed me tons. … To actually meet him and shake hands with him — it’s changed my life forever.”
Speaking at a Thursday night devotional from the church’s historic Hyde Park Chapel, Nelson assured the faithful that “no matter what it is, the gospel of Jesus Christ has within it the power to lift and to love, to serve.”
“Our doctrine is not complicated or convoluted or complex,” he said in an address broadcast to tens of thousands of Mormons in LDS meetinghouses throughout the U.K. and Ireland. “It’s so simple: Love God and love your neighbor. … We want people to have a better way of life.”
Independent demographer Matt Martinich told The Salt Lake Tribune’s “Mormon Land” podcast this week that the U.K., like the rest of “secular” Western Europe, has been a challenge for LDS recruitment.
“In 1999, there were about 174,000 members in the church in the U.K., and in 2016, there were 185,000 … just really slow growth overall.”
Will Nelson’s visit boost conversions? Martinich was skeptical, noting that, unlike in its early years, Mormonism has traditionally found infertile ground among the British, Irish, Welsh and Scottish peoples. Indeed, many converts there often are those from other nations who then return to their homelands.
The next stop on the LDS leadership tour is Jerusalem.