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President Nelson Turns 97: Senior Church Leaders Share Lessons Learned From the Prophet

President Russell M. Nelson2020 by Intellectual Reserve, Inc. All rights reserved.
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By Sarah Jane Weaver, Church News

President Russell M. Nelson, the 17th President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, celebrates his 97th birthday today. To mark this special day, senior leaders of the Church share some of the lessons they have learned from President Nelson.

Born on September 9, 1924, President Nelson worked as a world-renowned heart surgeon before accepting a call to serve in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in April 1984. In the three-and-a-half years he has served as President of the Church, he has traveled 115,000 miles to 35 nations on six continents — meeting with government and religious leaders and Latter-day Saints in large and small settings — and led the Church through the COVID-19 pandemic. Asking Latter-day Saints to gather Israel on both sides of the veil, President Nelson has also announced 70 temples, including 20 at the April 2021 general conference.

President Russell M. Nelson and his two counselors in the First Presidency, President Dallin H. Oaks and President Henry B. Eyring, address members of the media during a news conference on January 16, 2018. 2021 by Intellectual Reserve, Inc. All rights reserved.
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President Dallin H. Oaks, first counselor in the First Presidency

It has been a thrill to serve beside Russell M. Nelson for more than 37 years in the Quorum of the Twelve and now in the First Presidency. I have loved learning from him. He is an exemplary follower and servant of the Lord Jesus Christ. He is a great role model for Church leaders. He is unfailingly kind and compassionate. He is always very open and easy to approach. He is a visionary leader, who helps all to see the end from the beginning and to work for our ultimate destination.

I have also been benefited by his example of decision-making. He has a clear vision of when a subject requires patience and more discussion, but when the time is right, he makes decisions promptly and decisively.

Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf, Quorum of the Twelve Apostles

In 1984, Elder Russell M. Nelson together with Apostle Thomas S. Monson came to Germany to teach the stake and mission presidents of the area. I was a brand-new stake president, and Elder Nelson had just been called as an Apostle of the Lord. His instructions were plain, clear and pure doctrine, his testimony powerful. I still have the notes from those meetings. They are a cherished treasure to me.

President Nelson Orlando
President Nelson Orlando
President Russell M. Nelson and his wife, Wendy, are joined by Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and his wife, Harriet, at a devotional in Orlando, Florida, Sunday, June 9, 2019. 2019 by Intellectual Reserve, Inc. All rights reserved.
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Whenever Harriet and I found the time to come to general conference in Salt Lake City, he invited us together with many other Church leaders he was supervising to a joyful get-together at the Nelson home. The daughters sang to us in the living room; spiritual and temporal food was offered in abundance; friendships were created and renewed. Harriet and I will never forget these joyful hours.

Back then and into the present day, we learned from Russell Marion Nelson that a profound spiritual depth, and a deep loving interest for the lives of others, is a hallmark of this servant of the Lord, now our President of the Church and the Prophet of God.

Elder David A. Bednar, Quorum of the Twelve Apostles

I have observed President Nelson many times as he masterfully helps the people he leads reflect more completely the mind, will and timing of the Lord in council discussions, in the decisions they make and in their daily walk and talk.

I believe President Nelson has been blessed with this spiritual gift because Heavenly Father’s plan of happiness and the Atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ are the focus and foundation for everything he does: the thoughts he thinks, the instructions he gives, the blessings he promises, the priorities he emphasizes and the perspective with which he approaches all situations and challenges.

To me, President Nelson is the ultimate example of the truth that we are to “Look unto [the Savior] in every thought: doubt not, fear not” (Doctrine and Covenant 6:36).

Sister Sharon Eubank, first counselor, Relief Society general presidency

I have been asked: What does your modern prophet tell you in the 21st century? In some ways, what we hear from President Nelson is very basic, but in other ways it is the most profound message of the age. The era we live in is preparing for the coming of Jesus Christ, and President Nelson has given us the foundation we need most:

  • Love God and love each other.
  • The healing power of gratitude.
  • Gather Israel on both sides of the veil.
  • Hear Him.
  • Repent and keep the commandments for joy.
  • Revere the name of Jesus Christ.

These aren’t slogans or sound bites for President Nelson. He has spent 97 years working on them himself and bringing along so many people with him by his example and love.


Elder Quentin L. Cook, Quorum of the Twelve Apostles

I admired Russell M. Nelson long before I personally met him. His call to be an Apostle in 1984 was received with universal approbation. The leading heart surgeon in San Francisco, not a member of our faith, shared his deep admiration and respect for Elder Nelson.

nelson ecuador
nelson ecuador
President Russell M. Nelson and his wife, Wendy, along with Elder Quentin L. Cook and his wife, Mary, bid farewell to Ecuadorian Latter-day Saints at an evening devotional at the General Rumiñahui Coliseum in Quito on August 26, 2019.2019 by Intellectual Reserve, Inc. All rights reserved.
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My first personal assignment with him was to reorganize a stake in June 1995. I had expected him to be unusually capable and an excellent teacher, and he was. I was impressed at his remarkable kindness, sensitivity and humility and marveled at how decisive he was.

In our day I have observed President Russell M. Nelson utilize this unique combination of capability, decisiveness and humility to bless the entire Church. When he receives guidance from heaven, he acts decisively. I am grateful for both his leadership and commitment to follow our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Elder Gary E. Stevenson, Quorum of the Twelve Apostles

“We are witnesses to the process of restoration. If you think the Church is fully restored, you’re just seeing the beginning. There’s much more to come. Wait until next year, and then the next year. Eat your vitamins, get your rest. It’s going to be exciting!”

President Nelson in Peru
President Nelson in Peru
Elder Gary E. Stevenson, President Russell M. Nelson and Elder Enrique R. Falabella of the Seventy leave the government palace in Peru, October 20, 2018, where they were the guests of Martin Vizcarra, the president of Peru.2018 by Intellectual Reserve, Inc. All rights reserved.
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Latter-day Saints worldwide have been inspired by the video recording of these inspired words of President Nelson, few people, however, know the circumstances leading up to the moment. I was by his side.

The Concepcion Chile Temple dedication was the capstone of an exhausting five countries in six days whirlwind tour. As President and Sister Nelson walked out the door of the temple for transport to the airport, someone said, “President, I am sorry, the press are gathered hoping for one final press conference.” Without hesitation, he said, “OK, let’s go.” We sat down, and with his characteristic vision and energy, he taught us, pointed us to the future and put us on notice to eat our vitamins and get our rest, and as promised, it has truly been exciting.

Elder D. Todd Christofferson, Quorum of the Twelve Apostles

Among the many things I have learned from President Russell M. Nelson is the importance of being present in the moment. I have observed that in his work and interactions, President Nelson focuses his full attention on the matter or the person in front of him. He is careful, unhurried and fully present. Even in a simple handshake, he looks intently into the eyes of the person he is greeting, and for the two or three seconds of that contact, it is the only thing happening in his world.

Nelson Christofferson
Nelson Christofferson
Elder D. Todd Christofferson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and President Russell M. Nelson participate in a media interview in Vietnam in 2019.© 2021 by Intellectual Reserve, Inc. All rights reserved.

President Nelson’s exclusive focus on each person or thing in its turn stimulates deeper understanding and, in the end, better decisions and direction. As I follow President Nelson’s example, being fully present in each moment as he is, I am more calm and less distracted, and I find that I more readily hear the whisperings of the Spirit.

President Jean B. Bingham, Relief Society general president

Being with President Russell M. Nelson is unfailingly inspiring. His love absolutely radiates; his warm smile of welcome immediately draws one into his circle. As I’ve had the privilege to individually counsel with him, he leans forward and his clear eyes intensely focus, his mind completely engaged in our conversation. I never leave his presence without being reassured about the outcome of our work in the Lord’s behalf, as well as feeling better about myself. He is as interested in ministering to the one as he is in strengthening the many.

I deeply appreciate the prophetic instruction and inspiration President Nelson provides. As I follow the Prophet’s insightful and incisive counsel, I am absolutely assured of greater happiness, health and peace in my life, and I have seen that happen in the lives of many others. What a blessing he is to me, to the Church and to the world!

President Russell M. Nelson greets Sister Jean B. Bingham
President Russell M. Nelson greets Sister Jean B. Bingham
President Russell M. Nelson shakes hands with Jean B. Bingham, Relief Society General President, after the general women’s session of the 188th Semiannual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, held in the Conference Center in downtown Salt Lake City, Utah, on Saturday, October 6, 2018. Photo by Laura Seitz, courtesy of Church News.Copyright 2020 Deseret News Publishing Company.

Elder Neil L. Andersen, Quorum of the Twelve Apostles

In the spring of 1993, only weeks after my being sustained as a member of the First Quorum of the Seventy, I traveled with Elder Russell M. Nelson to Pocatello, Idaho, where our assignment was the call of a new stake president. We interviewed approximately 30 brethren on Saturday morning and received a marvelous answer to our prayers on who should serve as the new stake president.

On Saturday night, as we mingled with the members of the stake, I was amazed that he had in his memory the names of each of those we had interviewed. And as we met them and their families, he referred to them by name. I personally could remember only one or two of their names. I asked him later as we returned to Salt Lake City how was it that he could remember the names of those 30 we interviewed and connect them all with their faces following the interviews. He smiled at my question and answered, “Neil, I remember their names because I want to know them. There is no special technique. When you love them, you remember them.” He cares about individuals personally. It has helped me to be much more attentive to the wonderful Latter-day Saints I meet each week.

Sister Reyna I. Aburto, second counselor, Relief Society general presidency

President Nelson has a remarkable ability to minister to the one, just like the Savior does. As I have participated in councils President Nelson presides at, I love to watch how intensely he listens to each participant and how much he values each person’s contributions. He does what I imagine our Lord Jesus Christ would do: listen with love and with the desire to receive divine revelation in each council setting.

Our Relief Society general presidency has had the privilege to meet with the First Presidency to discuss topics pertaining to the kingdom of God on the earth, particularly to the women of the Church and of the world. As we have met with them, we have seen in a tangible way the love and concern that our dear Prophet has for all the children of God and in a special way for the daughters of “our glorious Mother Eve.”

President Russell M. Nelson visits with a woman in Malaysia, in November of 2019.2020 by Intellectual Reserve, Inc. All rights reserved.
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Elder Dale G. Renlund, Quorum of the Twelve Apostles

When I was called to the Twelve and was the junior member, President Nelson was the president of the Quorum of the Twelve. I was sitting in the circle with all these incredible Brethren and feeling very intimidated all the time. In our meetings, when I had the courage to say “Peep,” President Nelson would come up to me after the meeting and say, “Dale, you said ‘Peep’ really well. Keep doing it.” He invited, welcomed and encouraged me at a time when I was very overwhelmed.

I realize thinking back when I said “Peep,” it wasn’t all that helpful, but he went out of his way to teach me and encourage me. He helped me to have confidence in my apostolic call, and for him I will always be grateful.

Elder Renlund Bio
Elder Renlund Bio
President Russell M. Nelson and Elder Dale G. Renlund with their wives at the dedication of Malawi.2020 by Intellectual Reserve, Inc. All rights reserved.
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President Bonnie H. Cordon, Young Women general president

A while back, after a meeting with the First Presidency was over, I stood to go and without noticing, the pen from my lap dropped to the floor. When I got back to my office I realized I had lost my pen!

Not more than 10 minutes later one of President Nelson’s assistants came waltzing in with my pen. It wasn’t even an important pen; it was the inexpensive kind of pen that comes in packages where 25% of them don’t work. But still, it was returned to me whole. She said, “President Nelson noticed that you had dropped your pen and didn’t want you to go without it.”

President Nelson is kind, but what makes him more than kind is that he is aware of little details that bless the lives of others.

Women’s Session
Women’s Session
President Russell M. Nelson greets Sister Bonnie H. Cordon, Young Women general president, as they enter the Conference Center to begin the Women’s Session of the 189th Semiannual General Conference October 5, 2019.2019 by Intellectual Reserve, Inc. All rights reserved.
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Elder Ulisses Soares, Quorum of the Twelve Apostles

I have never met someone so kind and with such tender feelings as President Nelson. He is one of the most patient and positive people who I have ever met in my life. My wife and I always feel loved and embraced by our Savior Jesus Christ when we are close to him. His countenance always reflects gratitude, happiness and love, and we feel close to God and Jesus Christ through our association with him. His loving attitude is reflected in his inspired decisions and counsel.

Sister Michelle D. Craig, first counselor, Young Women general presidency

In one of my first meetings with President Nelson, he stood in the doorway of the room, shook my hand when I entered and said, “Hello Michelle.” I was humbled and amazed that he knew my name. When the meeting started, he asked each member of our presidency about our husbands, by name. This seemingly small interaction has made a lasting impression on my heart. People are a priority to our Prophet. His eyes are full of light and love and the effort to remember and use first names is one of the ways I have seen his love made manifest.

President Camille N. Johnson, Primary general president

I have learned from President Nelson that “one” can be ministered to — not only in a small personal setting, but amongst a large group, and even via technology. President Nelson has a sincerity of purpose reflective of the Savior. I feel the love of the Savior in President Nelson’s gracious demeanor, sincere interest, the sweet tone of his voice and his kind eyes. His prophetic direction is always delivered in love. President Nelson’s singular purpose — to love God and to love all of God’s children — is reflected in his countenance and everything he says and does. I feel the ministering love of the Savior from our dear Prophet every time I see him, hear him and read his words.

President Russell M. Nelson shakes the hand of a young girl during a gathering in Bangkok, Thailand, Friday, April 20, 2018.2020 by Intellectual Reserve, Inc. All rights reserved.
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Sister Amy A. Wright, second counselor, Primary general presidency

One defining attribute that I believe beautifully represents not only the character of Russell M. Nelson but also his ministry, is the way in which he personifies through word and deed the first two commandments: love God, love people.

His love for God is manifest in the virtue of His consecrated, faith-filled life. And therefore, as a natural consequence of His devoted discipleship, he seeks out the marginalized, the grief-stricken, the lonely, the downtrodden, the misunderstood, the spiritually weak and the persecuted.

When President Nelson sees a need, he doesn’t hesitate to act. It is my prayer that I will continually strive to follow in his footsteps, for I know he follows in the footsteps of our beloved Savior, and “Go, and do thou likewise” (Luke 10:37).

Nelson Paraguay
Nelson Paraguay
President Russell M. Nelson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints hugs children after a devotional in Asunción, Paraguay, on Monday, October 22, 2018. Photo by Jeffrey D. Allred, courtesy of Church News.© 2021 by Intellectual Reserve, Inc. All rights reserved.
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President Henry B. Eyring, second counselor in the First Presidency

President Russell M. Nelson has taught me three life-changing lessons by his example. The first is that he is always ready to receive revelation and to involve all with whom he associates to share in the process.

The second is that his love for people leads him to learn and to remember their names. He remembers when he met them and even the names of their spouse and children! As he speaks their names, the sound in his voice seems to convey his love.

The third is that he sees Jesus Christ at the heart of all that matters in the Church and in our lives. That example has changed my service in the Lord’s kingdom for the better. It has also had a positive influence on how I serve in my life and in my family.

Eyring Nelson
Eyring Nelson
President Henry B. Eyring, second counselor in the First Presidency, laughs while sitting with President Russell M. Nelson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at the Langley Events Center in Langley, British Columbia, on Sunday, September 16, 2018. Photo by Kristin Murphy, courtesy of Church News.Copyright 2021 Deseret News Publishing Company.

President M. Russell Ballard, Acting President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles

President Russell M. Nelson is four years my senior. I have admired him ever since I was a student at East High School in Salt Lake City — even though he had graduated by the time I attended. He was known for his good example and lofty goals which consistently guided his life.

I marveled that President Nelson, as a student at the University of Utah, finished a four-year medical school course in just three years and received a medical doctorate degree at the age of 22. Goals were set, and it seemed to me he easily attained them.

Presidents Nelson and Ballard meets with the Pope
Presidents Nelson and Ballard meets with the Pope
President Russell M. Nelson and President M. Russell Ballard visited with Pope Francis in the Vatican on Saturday, March 9, 2019. They discussed mutual concerns – religious freedom, helping people in need and the family.2019 by Intellectual Reserve, Inc. All rights reserved.
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Years ago, when Barbara and I were serving our mission, he attended a medical meeting in Toronto. He took the time to visit Barbara and me at the Canada Toronto Mission home. He made that extra effort to travel to Brampton, which is some distance from Toronto, to greet us, encourage us, wish us well and express his love and support. Barbara and I treasure the memory of his interest in the well-being of our family.

His achievements in medicine are well known, but his role as father of nine daughters and one son is his greatest accomplishment. He loves and supports his many grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

President Nelson is a very good listener. He is a clear and direct teacher, and he always leads with the spirit of kindness and love.

My admiration and love for President Nelson knows no bounds. I am honored to serve in the Church side by side with him for over 36 years as members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.

COVID Leaders Message 5
COVID Leaders Message 5
President Russell M. Nelson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (right) and President M. Russell Ballard, acting president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles (left), pose near the Vatican in Rome, Italy, on March 9, 2019 after meeting with Pope Francis. Photo by Jeffrey D. Allred, courtesy of Church News. All rights reserved.

Sister Susan H. Porter, first counselor, Primary general presidency

One of the many qualities that President Russell M. Nelson has in abundance is deep compassion. Whenever I have had the blessing of speaking with him, I feel his love and complete attention. It is as though he is trying to not only hear what I have to say but to understand me in a complete sense. In his presence I feel valued. His prophet heart, trained as a physician, senses needs and quietly offers help. My late husband, Elder Bruce D. Porter, and I will always be grateful for President Nelson’s compassion during Bruce’s health challenges.

I will never forget when then-Elder Nelson quietly walked to the podium in general conference and stood behind a fellow Apostle who was struggling to stand while he spoke. I sense that President Nelson’s compassion extends to all of God’s children.

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, Quorum of the Twelve Apostles

One of the virtues I have seen President Nelson portray unfailingly is his genuine, heartfelt kindness. I think he must be the kindest man I have ever been associated with — and I have worked with a lot of good people!

Nelson Holland Jerusalem
Nelson Holland Jerusalem
President Russell M. Nelson and Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles look out at Jerusalem from the BYU Jerusalem Center, April 14, 2018. The visit is the second stop on their global ministry tour.2018 by Intellectual Reserve, Inc. All rights reserved.
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In my current calling, I see him virtually every day for one reason or another. In the more than 40 years I have known him, I cannot think of a time that he was unkind, abrupt, rude or insensitive. It just isn’t in his nature. In all honesty, I have never seen him be unkind. He seems never to “lose his cool” or be overwhelmed by a situation. He never raises his voice or speaks ill of anyone, regardless of the problem he is working with.

As I have said in print before: Russell M. Nelson may be the man for whom the word “gentleman” was created.

Elder Ronald A. Rasband, Quorum of the Twelve Apostles

Through my assignments in Church Communication and Government Affairs, I have observed President Russell M. Nelson’s outreach to kings and queens, presidents and prime ministers, ambassadors and ministers, business leaders and educators, and religious leaders of many faiths.An embossed copy of the Book of Mormon like those President Russell M. Nelson gives away.

President Nelson presents these dignitaries with an embossed copy of the Book of Mormon; he shares specific scriptures he has marked and his powerful testimony.

As we see President Nelson encouraging the members of the Church to read the Book of Mormon and to gather Israel on both sides of the veil, my witness is our 97-year-old Prophet is doing his part to fulfill promises found in Doctrine and Covenants 1:30: “And also those to whom these commandments were given, might have power to lay the foundation of this church, and to bring it forth out of obscurity and out of darkness, the only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth.”

Elder Gerrit W. Gong, Quorum of the Twelve Apostles

President Nelson’s gentle humor and genuine joy in every day moments are a part of his warmth and testimony. When President Nelson reviews council minutes, he’ll sometimes quip with a smile, “thanks to my ‘minute man.’” When he steps off the elevator in the Church Administration Building, President Nelson is sometimes whistling — just because he is happy. In the lunchroom, President Nelson will take a minute to say hello to each person with a smile and personal greeting — just who he is and who he represents each day.

President Nelson Fiji
President Nelson Fiji
President Russell M. Nelson and his wife, Wendy (left), Elder Gerrit W. Gong (middle) and his wife, Susan (right), bid farewell to Latter-day Saints in Fiji following a devotional May 22, 2019.2019 by Intellectual Reserve, Inc. All rights reserved.
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Sister Rebecca L. Craven, second counselor, Young Women general presidency

President Nelson taught me that the only labels or titles that matter are those associated with family — daughter, son, brother, sister, mother, father, etc. When we put other labels on ourselves, we put our identity in a box that limits our divine potential. Regardless of our interests or passions, our most important label is daughter or son of God.

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