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New apostle Elder Gerrit W. Gong and his wife, Sister Susan L. Gong, speak during Women's Conference

PROVO, Utah — The Church’s new focus on ministering is enhanced through “covenant belonging” — never giving up on oneself, on others or on God, Elder Gerrit W. Gong of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles taught in his first public address — outside of general conference — as an apostle.

“Our covenants connect us to God and to each other,” he said. “Meant to be eternal, our covenants include God our eternal Father and His Son Jesus Christ. Eternal covenants can bring the power of God’s love — to give hope and increase love; to lift and transform; to edify and sanctify; to redeem and exalt.”

Just a month after his call to the Quorum of the Twelve, Elder Gong spoke of the motivations of “covenant belonging” as he addressed thousands of women during the concluding keynote address of the annual BYU Women’s Conference. Speaking in the Marriott Center on the Brigham Young University campus, Elder Gong spoke with his wife, Sister Susan Gong.

Recognizing the large congregation in front of him — in addition to those tuning in via broadcast on LDS.org — Elder Gong said, “This feels a little like speaking at general conference. You feel the love and prayers of those sitting in front of you — and the love and prayers of those sitting behind you.”

The apostle said “covenant belonging” creates a connection to others and to God and Jesus Christ.

“In the revelation of our true, divine selves through our covenants with God, we learn to recognize and love our brothers and sisters as He does,” he said. “This deepening love and knowledge invites, empowers, and sanctifies us to know and, in our own way, to become more like Him.”

It is through the Atonement of Jesus Christ that a person finds faith, strength and trust to come unto Christ, understanding that perfection is in Him.

“Such offers an escape from the otherwise always-anxious treadmill of perfectionism,” he said. “There may be some truth in the children’s song ‘Let It Go’ — if ‘let it go’ means ‘let go’ of self-imposed worldly expectations that can never satisfy, and if it also means ‘hold on’ to the God-given heavenly hopes and promises the Lord offers.”

In covenant belonging, “we strengthen each other in His love, thereby coming more to love God and each other,” he said.

“Covenant belonging is to keep the faith,” he said. “It is not to give up on ourselves, on each other, or on God.”

Speaking about the covenant of eternal marriage, Elder Gong said, “While eternal marriage is our ideal, infidelities, abuse of any kind, insurmountable incompatibilities may necessitate immediate, protective action, also separation and possibly divorce. We know covenants are binding and eternal only by mutual consent of the parties affected, and when confirmed by a merciful Heaven’s manifestation of the Holy Ghost which the scriptures describe as the Holy Spirit of promise. There is comfort, peace, and hope in the Lord’s assurance that worthy individuals will receive all promised blessings.”

“Covenant belonging” fits well with the call to minster announced by President Russell M. Nelson in the last general conference, as “covenant belonging” means to help others by “strengthening one another in His love.”

“Each day, in myriad ways, we each need and can offer ministering love and support in small, simple, powerful, life-changing ways,” he said.

In her address, Sister Gong said, “Wonderful things happen when righteous, faithful, open-to-the-Spirit women gather. Because of what we’ve learned here we will be different, better.”

In light of the changes from “visiting teaching” to “ministering in a higher and holier way,” Sister Gong shared three observations about “what it might mean to love as Jesus loves.”

First, Jesus knows the heart of every daughter or son of God.

When she was living in Hong Kong with Elder Gong, the couple’s apartment was located on one of the busiest streets in one of the world’s busiest cities. Unless the couple stood face to face, it was hard for Sister Gong to hear her husband talk.

“One day in frustration Gerrit said, ‘Sweetheart, when we’re next in Salt Lake City will you please have your hearing checked?’ ”

Upon their return she visited an audiologist, who tested her hearing and then told her both good and bad news.

The good news was that her hearing was perfect. The bad news: He said, “You may have a listening problem, and there’s not much I can do about that.”

Sister Gong realized she needed to learn to listen — to put down her electronic devices, shut out distractions, turn off the little voice in her head constantly reminding her of all of the things she has left to do on her “to do” list.

Instead, she needed to listen with her heart, understanding “not just what someone is saying but who it is that I’m talking to: a child of God.”

“I’m discovering this means not just listening to the person but listening to the Holy Ghost as well.”

It is with the help of the Holy Ghost that a person is able to ask inspired questions that lead to greater understanding.

Second, compassion always accompanies Christ’s understanding of hearts.

“Compassion is at the heart of Christ’s parables: the parable of the debtor, the Good Samaritan, the father of the prodigal son,” she said. “For most of us, compassion requires imagination and intention.”

As a person strives to feel how it might feel to be in another person’s circumstance they are more able to minister.

Third, He knows how to succor us.

“Having felt our fear, our want, our loneliness, our hunger, our hurt, He responds to our specific need. He comforts, supplies, feeds, heals, nurtures, teaches and blesses us,” she said.

But where does a person get the patience, insight, imagination, courage and strength to love like this?

“Because He loves us, we can learn to love and minister to one another. The Holy Ghost will help us know how.”