In my office, above my desk, hangs one of my favorite photographs.
The photograph, taken March 31, 2018, shows Church members gathered at the conference center — joined by millions of virtual attendees around the world — raising their hands in support of President Russell M. Nelson as the 17th president of the Church of Jesus Christ of the last days. Saints in a sacred solemn assembly.
I was seated in the press room that day, but slipped away to stand in the back of the conference center auditorium and participate in the sacred support. The Tabernacle Choir sang “We thank you, O God, for a prophet.”
I was at a loss for words to describe how I felt until Elder Neil L. Andersen of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles explained that support and follow a prophet in a troubled world is like being wrapped in “a warm, soothing blanket on a freezing day.”
“A prophet does not stand between you and the Savior. Rather, he stands beside you and points the way to the Savior,” Elder Andersen said.
A few weeks later, President Nelson embarked on a worldwide ministry tour. As President of the Church, he traveled 185,000 miles in 35 nations and territories on six continents, meeting with government and religious leaders and Latter-day Saints in settings large and small.
I received the mission to write on this subject.
People still ask me what it was like to travel with the Prophet.
“We didn’t travel with him,” I always say. “We followed him – or at least we tried.”
Along the way, we saw things we will never forget.
In October 2018, outside the stately government palace in the Peruvian capital, Lima, President Nelson paused before meeting Peruvian President Martín Vizcarra, catching the attention of a local tour guide.
“Who is that man?” she asked.
Then, trusting what she sensed about President Nelson – a man she obviously didn’t know – she shouted at him, “Do you want to bless Peru?
That evening, after speaking to nearly 6,000 Church members at the Coliseo Mariscal Cáceres de Lima, an indoor sports arena, President Nelson offered a blessing on the land and people of Peru.
Another day in Australia in May 2019, I was standing with others assigned to cover President Nelson’s ministry, when I looked up to see him in the room. I was surprised and delighted when he called us all by name and was touched by what followed. “I prayed for each of you by name this morning,” he said.
It was then that I understood what it means to sustain a prophet. What it means to follow him. I understood why the Peruvian called him so quickly.
The support of a prophet is not only for him, but also to support us. The warmth and protection Elder Andersen spoke of was for me. And the Peruvian tourist guide. And all the children of God.
I didn’t ask, although I would have liked to. But I suspect his kind and thoughtful prayer for a few members of the media team was not unique. I believe that President Nelson prays every day for 17 million members of the Church of Jesus Christ, as well as for the peoples and lands of the earth.
On the day President Nelson was sustained as President of the Church, Elder Andersen spoke of his example. In 1982, before President Nelson became an Apostle, President Nelson said he never asked when the President of the Church spoke as a man or a prophet.
“My interest has been,” President Nelson said then, “’How can I be more like him? … My philosophy is to stop putting question marks behind the prophet’s statements and put exclamation marks instead.
Years before we sustained President Nelson as a leader of the Church, he spoke in general conference on October 5, 2014, about “Sustaining the Prophets.”
“How do we really support a prophet?” Elder Nelson then asked.
“Often we sing ‘We thank you, O God, for a prophet,'” he said. “Do you and I really understand what this means? Imagine the privilege the Lord has given us to sustain His prophet, whose counsel will be spotless, unvarnished, unmotivated by any personal aspiration, and utterly true!
The prophets, he said, testify of Jesus Christ—of his divinity and of his earthly mission and ministry. Members support the prophet by personally committing to do all they can to maintain prophetic priorities. They also do it with their prayers.
This weekend, at the 192nd Biannual General Conference of the Church, we will all have the opportunity to once again sustain President Nelson, along with other prophets and apostles.
I hope I have the chance to come out of the conference center media room – or stand wherever I am – and raise my hand to show my support for our prophet during this special time.
The support that comes from following a prophet is personal.
In a world filled with strife and strife, we all crave the feeling of being wrapped in “a warm, soothing blanket on a freezing day.”