“Orlando can claim to be the site of many happy memories for countless individuals. But lasting happiness, even joy, comes to those who keep the commandments of God,” said President Russell M. Nelson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. President Nelson addressed thousands in a gathering in Florida on Sunday evening, a destination known around the world for its theme parks and sunny beaches.
“I love children,” said President Nelson, the father of 10 children and 57 grandchildren, as he shared a picture of his new great grandchild with an estimated 15,500 Latter-day Saints and invited guests gathered in the Amway Center in downtown Orlando. The meeting was also broadcast to Church meetinghouses in the area.
The prophet of the global faith and his wife, Wendy, traveled to Florida on June 9, 2019, following his recently completed Pacific ministry.
President Nelson was also joined by Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and his wife, Harriet, and Elder Shane M. Bowen of the Seventy and his wife, Lynette, who also shared inspirational messages.
Prior to the devotional, President Nelson met with Latter-day Saint youth and invited guests, including government, interfaith and business leaders.
President Nelson met with the mayors of Orlando and Orange County, a school board member and the owner of a local business, where 49 people lost their lives in a mass shooting three years ago this week.
“I was moved that [President Nelson] knew what we were doing,” said Barbara Poma, executive director of the onePULSE Foundation, a nonprofit organization established to create a sanctuary of hope following the tragedy. “He was so kind to me and that meant a lot.”
Poma continued, “It's really been an interesting time emotionally for everyone here. Everyone is affected. We come together on June 12th to really stand together in solidarity to comfort one another to help us move through a healing process."
“I just happened to have been the sheriff here in Orange County at the time and spent quite a bit of time as first responders dealing with the tragedy,” said Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings. “We learned … that love does conquer hate.”
Mayor Demings was excited to have President Nelson visit Orlando. “I came here because of the relationship that we enjoy between our local government, as well as the Church here in the area as it plays a significant role in our overall sustainability issues.”
"It's really an honor to have the highest ranking official in any religion," said Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer, who acknowledged the large presence of the Church in central Florida. Mayor Dyer recalled visiting Church-owned Deseret Ranch on many occasions while growing up in Kissimmee.
"It's a real honor to be able to welcome a global faith leader," said Florida Congresswoman Stephanie Murphy, who attended the reception. "I think given the times that we live in, [faith leaders] play an incredibly important role in making communities feel closer together."
President Nelson began his address by inviting the children in the audience to join him in singing one verse of “I Am a Child of God,” as he did at some locations during his recent visit to the South Pacific.
“The most profound truth is that God is our Father,” said the prophet, who also shared other truths that he said have the power to changes lives. “May we pray to Him at any time, any place. This beats anything your smart phone or Google can offer.”
“The Lord is just as eager to give revelation to you for your life as He is to give revelation to His prophet for the Church,” added Sister Nelson. “Our Heavenly Father awaits our prayers. And the great news is that the heavens are open 24-7.”
President Nelson also taught that Jesus is our Savior, we are children of God, the Book of Mormon is the word of God and the gathering of Israel is well underway.
“Today we extend a special welcome to those who are not members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,” said Elder Uchtdorf, who first visited Florida as a young Air Force fighter pilot. “Our Church members here in Florida are some of the finest in the world — people of good heart — kind and loving.”
He extended an invitation to audience members to come and experience what the Church has to offer, including opportunities to “heal, serve and lift others.”
“Of course, we are not perfect,” stressed Elder Uchtdorf. “But those who come to see will feel in our congregations the love and unity we have among us and for all of God’s children, regardless of language, nationality, socioeconomic background or situation in life.”
Sister Uchtdorf told the story of how she joined the Church as a young girl in Germany, following the passing of her father. “My testimony to you is that the restored gospel of Jesus Christ has a message of wonder and hope.”
Elder and Sister Bowen discussed the importance of following the living prophets.
“Each person is entitled to personal inspiration and revelation as it pertains to his or her personal life callings,” said Elder Bowen, a counselor in the North America Southeast Area Presidency. “However, when it comes to receiving revelation for the entire Church, only one is authorized — the president of the Church.”
“The happiest place on earth? It could be Orlando, or Osaka or Odessa. It is wherever the Spirit of the Lord dwells in the hearts of the people,” President Nelson concluded.
Florida is home to nearly 159,000 Latter-day Saints in 270 congregations and two temples, including the Orlando Florida Temple and the Fort Lauderdale Temple.