PROVO, Utah — A new name. A shortened schedule. And all sorts of new looks, updates and extended involvement from the senior Brethren.
Such was the 2018 Mission Leadership Seminar, which ran Sunday through Tuesday, June 24-26, at the Provo Missionary Training Center. Previously known as seminars for new mission presidents and running several days longer, this year’s version was presented to the 112 couples of new presidents and wives.
The entire First Presidency — President Russell M. Nelson and his counselors, President Dallin H. Oaks and President Henry B. Eyring, who were accompanied by Sister Wendy Nelson and Sister Kristen Oaks — attended Sunday’s full morning schedule of messages and also joined seminar participants for Sunday lunch.
Speaking in the seminar-opening Sunday morning sacrament meeting, President Nelson acknowledged that mission leaders might hope that he say something helpful as they begin their new assignments — and he responded with his own hopes for them.
Much to the delight of participants, President Nelson asked if the First Presidency and wives could personally greet and shake the hands of the 112 couples in the break after the sacrament meeting.
“My heart almost stopped — it was an experience I will never forget,” said President Fernando Souza, who with his wife, Sister Miriam Souza, will serve in the Brazil Porto Alegre South Mission.
President Jimmy Carter Okot, who with his wife, Sister Lindiwe Amanda Okot, will preside over the Zimbabwe Bulawayo Mission, agreed. “It was the greatest feeling and blessing that we have had throughout our lives,” he told the Church News.
The First Presidency and wives returned the next two mornings as President Oaks and President Eyring spoke to lead off June 25 and 26, respectively.
The entire Quorum of the Twelve Apostles attended the seminar with the Apostles participating by offering addresses or leading break-out sessions. Also attending were the wives of the Twelve, other General Authorities and general auxiliary leaders and their spouses and Missionary Department staff.
Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles — who also chairs the Missionary Executive Council — spoke both on the opening and closing days, taking his aviation references in talks to a higher level as he described the countdown and lift off of a space shuttle.
“Can you imagine the experience of being on the space shuttle Discovery during its countdown and lift off?” he asked. “Of course, you can, because you are on the Missionary Training Center launch pad right now.
“The excitement has been increasing during this seminar, the countdown for your launch is almost over, and you will soon be on your way to a new adventure of discovery, wonder, awe, and missionary labors!”
Said President Michael A. Thompson, days away from starting his three-year service in Spokane, Washington: “We take it with great faith. We’ve been taught well — now we just go and execute. We follow the Spirit, and the Lord will bless us.”
Joining Elder Uchtdorf on the Missionary Executive Council are Elders D. Todd Christofferson, Neil L. Andersen and Ulisses Soares of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, along with Elder Brent H. Nielson, a General Authority Seventy who is the executive director of the Missionary Department; Bishop W. Christopher Waddell, second counselor in the Presiding Bishopric; Sister Bonnie H. Cordon, Young Women general president; and Sister Cristina B. Franco, second counselor in the Primary general presidency.
Addressing the new mission leaders just two days after the First Presidency announced an update for Preach My Gospel, Elder Nielson called the missionary guide amazing. All members and missionaries will gain “a greater testimony of its importance” as they use this “powerful tool,” he said, adding “this document has come from Heaven.”
Sister Cordon told the mission leaders that they have been individually prepared to do the Lord’s work. “We have been called to share a message of great joy — to gather Israel,” she said, adding “you will be an instrument in the Lord’s hand to bring families unto Christ.”