In his first visit to Vietnam and only the second by an LDS Church president, Russell M. Nelson met Sunday with members in a Hanoi hotel ballroom in an assembly made possible by the Communist government’s official recognition of the Utah-based faith in 2016 and a more recent declaration ensuring the church’s continued ability to conduct religious activities in the Southeast Asian nation.
“I express to the leaders of the government and to all the leaders of Vietnam our heartfelt gratitude for the opportunity for our members of the church to worship here in dignity,” the 95-year-old leader of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints said in a news release.
Just last week, Madam Thieu Thi Huong of Vietnam’s Committee for Religious Affairs presented Latter-day Saint officials with a certificate deeming the church in compliance with a new religious law established in 2018.
The historic ceremony, attended by Vietnamese and U.S. officials along with civic and interfaith leaders, took place at the JW Marriott Hotel in Hanoi, the same place where Nelson spoke Sunday to a gathering of members.
“We were thrilled with the announcement,” he said. “We are [also] very grateful to the [church] leadership of this country. … I have great feelings of thanksgiving for you. You are very special.”
In his speech, Nelson, considered a “prophet, seer and revelator” by the faith’s 16.3 million members around the world, urged Vietnamese Latter-day Saints to love God and their neighbors, build their belief in Christ, tend to their families and learn more about their religion.
“Just as we’re responsible for our own education in our profession or our jobs, we’re responsible for our own education about the gospel,” he said. “Take it upon yourselves to see where you are low in your gospel understanding and add strength to where you are weak.”
The globe-trotting Nelson, who has journeyed to six continents since taking the faith’s reins in January 2018, is on the first leg a four-nation tour of Southeast Asia. He is joined by his wife, Wendy, and apostle D. Todd Christofferson and his wife, Kathy.
In his remarks, Christofferson praised the progress Vietnamese members are making in their fledgling faith.
“We’re grateful for your examples. We’re grateful for the sacrifices you make. We’re grateful for the joy you bring to others,” he said. “You represent us so very well. Most importantly, you represent the Lord Jesus Christ so very well. Thank you.”
On Monday, the four travel south to Ho Chi Minh City before departing for Cambodia, with later stops in Singapore and Indonesia.