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'Sacred times' — Elders Gong, Soares speak of first months as new apostles

With nearly three full months of experience as the newest members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and the remainder of their lives still to serve, Elders Gerrit W. Gongand Ulisses Soares paused to share perspectives and the impacts of their new callings.

“There are very sacred times in discussion and moments, when we know and sense the feeling of the Lord and His direction to the leaders of the Church that I think have been very special and very humbling in these last few months,” said Elder Gong.

The two newest members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles — called at April 2018 general conference — spoke for two hours Thursday, June 28, in brief sessions with Utah and national media representatives.

Elder Ulisses Soares, left, and Elder Gerrit W. Gong answer questions during an interview in the North Visitors Center on Temple Square in Salt Lake City on Thursday, June 28, 2018.
Elder Ulisses Soares, left, and Elder Gerrit W. Gong answer questions during an interview in the North Visitors Center on Temple Square in Salt Lake City on Thursday, June 28, 2018. Photo: Steve Griffin, Deseret News

Both Elder Gong and Elder Soares were quick to mention their interactions with members worldwide as highlights.

“I think our members have a very great love for those who have been called to the office that we are privileged now in which to serve,” Elder Gong said. “I’ve met members in many different places who for the office have such a great love. We’re just so grateful to be able to interact with them.”

Elder Soares said the Apostles recognize the Lord’s hand in their responsibilities and efforts — especially when witnessing of Jesus Christ — as not only helping them but being beneficial with the Saints as well.

“When you testify about the Savior and His divine mission, you bring hope into the hearts of our members and they feel that,” he said. “They just embrace that faith, that desire to do better, so it’s amazing to see the mantle of the Apostleship extending in our responsibilities — it’s very humbling.”

Of their now-closer interactions and relationships with President Russell M. Nelson and the members of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, the pair spoke in tones of reverence and awe.

“It’s said that the Brethren are wonderful, but they’re even more when you see them in places where they’re not otherwise seen,” Elder Gong said. “I think if there’s anything I’ve felt, it’s been that — the kindness, the authenticity, the great faith and testimony that you see in private that goes perhaps even beyond what you see in public.”

He added: “President Nelson and the First Presidency and the other brethren are wonderful examples of our Savior, and you feel that first and foremost. The question always is, what will bless the people, what will bring the blessings of God into their lives, what will deepen their faith, what will strengthen their testimonies? That’s always the question — it’s always about what will be of benefit to the members and to the other children of God on both sides of the veil.”

Said Elder Soares of President Nelson: “He has that energy, he has that speed that we have to follow. But at the same time, he’s a man of great wisdom and power. When he speaks, you listen — and you will be able to fulfill your responsibilities, if you follow his direction.”

Coming into their Apostolic callings having served previously in the Presidency of the Seventy, they both acknowledged the change of going from working under the direction of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles to now being part of those councils and discussions.

Elder Soares said he appreciates his experience serving in his native Brazil, Africa and as a mission president in Europe, which he feels may contribute to his Church perspective in council settings.

“It has been very special to be part of these discussions, of the issues of the Church among the members of [the Quorum of] the Twelve Apostles and First Presidency and add my little contribution as I bring some experience and background from different parts of the world,” he said.

Elder Ulisses Soares, left, and Elder Gerrit W. Gong answer questions during an interview in the North Visitors Center on Temple Square in Salt Lake City on Thursday, June 28, 2018.
Elder Ulisses Soares, left, and Elder Gerrit W. Gong answer questions during an interview in the North Visitors Center on Temple Square in Salt Lake City on Thursday, June 28, 2018. Photo: Steve Griffin, Deseret News

And he explained how, as the most junior member of the quorum, he is frequently called on first to share his thoughts on specific issues and matters, as counseling together often follows a reverse pattern of seniority.

“It’s very humbling to be the first one to be called, as a junior member of the Twelve,” he said. “It has been very humbling and a spiritual experience to be part of a council to discuss these matters."

The two detailed their new assignments. Elder Soares oversees the Church’s Africa West and Central America areas and is on the Missionary Executive Council and the Human Resources Committee. Elder Gong chairs the Scripture Committee while also sitting on the Priesthood and Family Executive Council, the Leadership and Training Committee and the Outreach Committee and oversees the Asia and Asia North areas.

They spoke with appreciation and admiration of their assigned quorum mentors — Elder D. Todd Christofferson for Elder Gong and Elder Neil L. Andersen for Elder Soares — and how they are learning procedures, processes and protocols as well as gospel doctrines and principles for their new calls.

In the brief, 15-minute session with the Church News, the two new Apostles concluded with expressions regarding each other.

“Elder Soares is a man of great experience and great compassion. He is loved wherever he goes, and that’s in part because he loves people wherever he goes,” said Elder Gong, also complimenting the relationship Elder Soares has with his wife. “Wherever they are in the world, the people understand that he represents the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Elder Soares listed the love, help and support Elder Gong is quick to offer others. “But what really affects me is his wisdom and his worldwide experience that brings a lot of background, a lot of wisdom in the way he expresses himself,” he added. “He’s always right in what he says.”