Written by: Jason Swensen
Updated: 04 September 2018
SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic — President Russell M. Nelson is just days away from his 94th birthday. But his colt-like enthusiasm for inviting others to Christ doubles as his spiritual alarm clock.
“I can hardly wait to jump out of bed every morning to see what will happen in this gathering process,” he told a crowded audience of missionaries on Sept. 1 during his recent Caribbean visit.
The Church president and the thousands of Caribbean Area missionaries that he spoke to — either in person or via live broadcast — are partners in a sacred gathering that has been prophesied of for thousands of years.
Inviting others to Christ and gathering scattered Israel, he said, “is your great opportunity, and it won’t stop when you get off your missions. It won’t stop when you get to be 93 years old. This is going to keep going until the Great Jehovah says, ‘The work is done.’”
The two-hour meeting provided the young elders and sisters with a veritable mission’s-worth of wise counsel. Each likely returned to their apartments with their notebooks stuffed with advice and encouragement. In all, four General Authorities and five former or current mission presidents addressed the missionaries, along with several of their wives.
Following the meeting, Elder Logan Hess from Cheyenne, Wyoming, marveled at his good fortune. He’s just days into his missionary service and found himself in the company of the Church’s 17th president and several other leaders.
“It was awesome to be able to listen to the prophet in the first week of my mission,” said Elder Hess, who will serve in the Dominican Republic Santo Domingo East Mission after completing training at the local MTC.
"I was reminded today that I needed to lose myself and put my full effort and full heart into the work. I need to give my all and not worry about myself.”
President Nelson clearly relishes being with missionaries. He and Elder Dale G. Renlund of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles made time to shake hands with every missionary attending the event at the Santo Domingo meetinghouse. Joining the visiting Brethren was Sister Ruth Renlund, along with Elder Walter F. Gonzalez and Elder Jose L. Alonso, and their wives, Sister Zulma Gonzalez and Sister Rebecca Alonso.
President Nelson said he was awakened at 2 a.m. just days ago with an unmistakable impression: Go to the Dominican Republic.
The Dominican people, he told the missionaries, are naturally drawn to matters of the spirit. “There is something very special here. … The people love the Lord Jesus Christ, yet they don’t (truly understand Him). That’s why you’re here — to make that connection, so the Lord they love can become real to them.”
The Savior is anxious for Dominicans and others in the Caribbean to become His covenant people, he added. The missionaries here play essential roles in gathering Israel in this corner of the world.
President Nelson asked the missionaries to look ahead to a future time when they will be choosing a husband or wife.
To the sister missionaries: When your “Prince Charming” comes and asks for your hand, he said, say no “unless he proves to you he loves the Lord first.”
And to the elders: “Make sure the girl you want to be sealed to loves the Lord first.”
The missions across the Dominican Republic and the Caribbean Area include elders and sisters from many lands and cultures. Each missionary has a duty to serve and better his companion.
President Nelson encouraged the English-speaking missionaries to teach their Spanish-speaking companions their native language. He issued the Spanish-speaking missionaries a similar charge to teach their companions who speak English as their first language.
“Help one another — teach, teach, teach,” he said.
Sharing the gospel and inviting people to come to Christ remains one of the central purposes of the Church. Thousands of years ago, the Lord scattered His people because of their disobedience. But the prophets, both ancient and modern, have revealed God’s covenant to gather Abraham’s lineage in the latter days.
Now, in the year 2018, “you and I get to participate in (this gathering). We’re not spectators. … It’s so exciting.”
With the gentleness of a loving grandfather, President Nelson acknowledged that many of the missionaries were likely battling a bout of homesickness. They miss and sometimes worry about their families living far away.
“The best thing you can do for your families is to serve your mission well,” he said. “As you do that, the Lord will care for your families. He will do a better job then you would.”
He concluded his remarks by invoking an apostolic blessing on the “beloved missionaries” that they would be cared for as they “feast on the words” of the Lord and apply His teachings in their own lives.
Elder Renlund referenced the experience, almost nine months ago, when he and his fellow apostles placed their hands upon the head of Russell M. Nelson and set him apart as the president of the Church.
“I knew President Nelson was God’s prophet on earth. I know it with all my heart and mind. … Every time I look at President Nelson my heart leaps for joy.”
The missionaries serving in the Dominican Republic and in other Caribbean lands live in an era “of unprecedented revelation,” he said. And every missionary has the right to claim revelation for himself or herself.
The Lord loves to mend all those in need of healing. “He is the only One that can make anyone whole and complete.”
But many do not know that they are in need of the relief offered only by Christ’s gospel. “They need to know the joy of the gospel. They need to experience the joy of redemption.”
They also need to know they are sons and daughters of God.
God’s love for His children is perfect and ever-present. “If you don’t feel it, or if the people you teach don’t feel it, it doesn’t mean there is a problem with God’s love. His love is perfect."
Instead, the problem is with one’s individual spiritual “receptors.”
Fortunately, there are proven methods to remedy muted receptors and feel God’s love, said Elder Renlund: “Pray for the Spirit; purify your heart; keep the commandments; diligently treasure up God’s work; and teach so that others understand your message and are edified.”
Teaching the gospel allows missionaries to improve their own spiritual receptors. “When we have fixed our receptors, we have a desire to do God’s will,” he said.
When missionaries trust God and feel His love, “we learn our missions are not about us. They are about the Savior and Heavenly Father’s children.”
Other brief remarks and testimonies were offered at the Saturday morning gathering by Sister Renlund, Elder and Sister Alonso, Elder and Sister Gonzalez, Dominican Republic Santo Domingo East Mission President Bret Smith and Sister Jeanette Smith, Dominican Republic Santo Domingo West Mission President Jose Santos and Sister Madeline Santos, and Dominican Republic Missionary Training Center President Richard M. Gulbrandsen and Sister Karen Gulbrandsen.
Former mission presidents Don H. Staheli and Mark B. Woodruff also shared personal insights and testimonies.