Latter-day Saint Life

Elder Gong walked unannounced into our ward council, and he’ll never know the good he did

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It was just a typical ward council meeting—until it wasn’t.

My young single adult ward is about a month in to our meeting at the new Social Hall Avenue building in downtown Salt Lake City. This building feels like the Ritz Carlton of church buildings. Honestly, everything is so beautiful here that I think you could have your wedding reception in the chapel overflow and none of your guests would even realize where they were—there isn’t even a basketball hoop to try to cover up. The flooring is beautiful light wood, and the walls have long paneled windows streaked with pink, purple, blue, and orange glass. If you live in Utah, come pay us a visit; it's definitely worth it.

Apparently Elder Gerrit W. Gong and his wife, Susan, thought it was worth it, too, because last Sunday, they walked unannounced into our ward council meeting. (It was the same day as President and Sister Nelson’s devotional for young adults, so we had quite a few visitors that day.) Elder Gong poked his head into the classroom and then walked in at our bishop’s eager encouragement.

▶ You may also like: What I learned from being shut out of President Nelson’s worldwide devotional on Sunday

We all sat there for a moment, unsure of what to do with an Apostle in the room. But Elder Gong knew his first step: he walked around the room and shook everyone’s hand and asked us our names. When my friend Katherine said her name, Elder Gong asked her if she spelled it with a “C” or a “K.” When she confirmed the latter, Elder Gong repeated it to himself: “Katherine with a K,” as if he were working on committing it to memory.

After everyone had been greeted, Elder Gong deferred to the direction of our bishop, who asked if Elder Gong had any wisdom for us on how to have an effective ward council. Elder Gong considered this for a moment and then asked us if we knew the difference between the words counsel and council. He spoke for a few moments on the importance of seeing this routine Sunday meeting as a time to really listen to each other and let all voices be heard as we “counsel” together, rather than seeing it as only meeting called a “council.”

I loved the thought Elder Gong was sharing but couldn’t help myself from sneaking glances at the sister sitting near me. I wanted to know if she was hearing the love in his voice, if she was sensing his urgency and commitment to this cause. This was her first time in our ward council meeting. Perhaps her first time in any ward council meeting. At 19 years old, she is new to the YSA scene and has only been in our ward for a short time. As her Relief Society president, I’ve kept a careful eye on her and watched how she nervously hugs the walls during church and quietly keeps to herself in the back of class—hesitant, unsure, and someone who I know, with a little encouragement, could bless our ward family. Before ward council we’d called her to serve with the Relief Society, and the bishop—in a stroke of inspired genius—invited her to come ward council that day as well.

Through my sideways glances, I watched this sister begin to sit up a little straighter as Elder Gong talked. I saw her nodding and smiling. I may not have caught everything Elder Gong said, but I did see a change come over her.

When the meeting was over and Elder Gong had left, this sister turned to me and with more excitement than I’d ever heard in her voice said, “I actually have some ideas for a Relief Society activity,” and then more shyly added, “And I’m good with budgets.” My heart melted, and I eagerly listened to her ideas and expressed my excitement over them.

I can’t speak to exactly what made a change in this sweet friend of mine, but I have a confident guess: Elder Gong helped her truly feel how important she is as an individual and as a member of the ward council—even if there are other, louder personalities in the room. He also provided the reassurance that we want her voice. And even more importantly, the Lord wants her voice.

A moment later, Elder Gong came back into the room and asked for a picture. We gathered our smiling faces around him and posed for the shot. As soon as she’d been sent the picture, this young sister immediately forwarded it to her family. “They are going to be so jealous!” she said excitedly.

I hope my friend now has a greater sense of how we are all needed in this work. As Sister Aburto taught us last conference, the Relief Society offers the world “relief of poverty, relief of illness; relief of doubt, relief of ignorance—relief of all that hinders … joy and progress.” And that is a responsibility and a work that needs all hands and hearts on deck.

Elder Gong will likely never know the difference he made to that young sister’s heart, but I saw it. And I am so grateful for it.

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