Recently I met with a wonderful sister in our area who is full of faith but described how difficult it is being a single adult in the Church today. She experienced the loss of a husband some years ago and expressed how sometimes in this very family-centered Church she feels shunned and even forgotten about. I was so touched as she then described how every Sunday she will look for anyone who might be sitting alone and invite them to sit with her. She also shared how thankful she was for a faithful Church leader who every month spends meaningful time with her son. While we visited, I thought of the definition of pure religion given by James:
Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction . . . ( James 1:27).
The sisters of this Church are quite remarkable. As I have visited wards and branches in Africa over the past few months, I have been deeply impressed by the beautiful testimonies of sisters as they have taught pure doctrine from well-worn scriptures both at the pulpit and in the classroom.
Sadly, sometimes our sisters feel less important or valued than their brethren, but we simply need to look at the example of the Saviour to know that is not true. How He loved Mary and Martha and took comfort from His visits with them. And in an act of great symbolic importance, the resurrected Lord appeared first, not to His Apostles, but to Mary Magdalene and also (according to the Gospel of Matthew) to Mary, the mother of James (see Matthew 28:1–9). When He appeared to the Nephites, He invited all—sisters, brothers, and children — to come to Him so He could minister to them one by one (see 3 Nephi 11:14–15).
As I marvel at the faithful sisters in this Church, I think of my 89-year-old mother living in New Zealand, who has been a widow for nearly 30 years. When I was called to be a General Authority Seventy last year, I visited her with the unexpected news of our assignment to Africa and nervously shared that I did not know when I would be able to see her again. With tears in her eyes she simply said, “Mark, the Lord needs you more than I do . . . and it would be selfish of me to want it any other way.” Such is the faith of a righteous woman who has been a great example all my life. I am deeply thankful for home teachers, visiting teachers, ward members, and other loving Saints who regularly visit my mother and in so doing demonstrate pure religion.
I pay tribute to the wonderful sisters in this area of the Church. Thank you, dear mothers of our missionaries and future missionaries, for how you are teaching and raising your children. Because of you, they will be as the Sons of Helaman, who “had been taught by their mothers that if they did not doubt, God would deliver them” (see Alma 56:47). Thank you dear single mothers and widows, for your great faith and commitment as you come to church each Sunday, even while feeling exhausted or alone. You bless us all by your examples and testimonies. Thank you, dear single adults and young single adult sisters, who stay strong and true to the standards of the gospel and serve so faithfully in many important callings in your wards and stakes. Thank you, dear sisters who support your husbands in their priesthood callings and encourage them even when they may doubt themselves and even when it means you spend many Sundays sitting alone in the pews taking care of the children.
Last year my wife and I were blessed to participate in a YSA fireside in Luanda, Angola. The branch president who conducted that fireside was an outstanding returned missionary, recently married in the temple, who afterwards introduced me to his mother, Sister Paulina Lassalete Gonçalves. Since that time, I have learned more of this remarkable sister who is a loved pioneer in the Church in Angola and who raised five children by herself from when they were very young. So far three of these children have served or are serving missions. President Maer de Carvalho writes:
“My brother and I enjoyed listening to Book of Mormon stories which my mother shared with us when we were little. She used to put Book of Mormon pictures on the walls of our room and we loved them. We had a little box where we put our money for our missions when we grow up.
We had family prayers every day, and my mother read the scriptures to us.
. . . We prayed, sang, and listened to stories that Mom read to us.”
Such is the influence of a righteous and faithful sister in the gospel. We invite all, and especially those called as shepherds in Israel, to visit the fatherless and the widows and to pay special attention to our single mothers and single sisters, that we can help ease their burdens. We also invite priesthood leaders to listen well and heed the inspired counsel of your wife at home, as well as the sisters in your councils. Speaking to the sisters, President Russell M. Nelson said: “My dear sisters, whatever your calling, whatever your circumstances, we need your impressions, your insights, and your inspiration. We need you to speak up and speak out in ward and stake councils. We need each married sister to speak as ‘a contributing and full partner’ as you unite with your husband in governing your family.
Married or single, you sisters possess distinctive capabilities and special intuition you have received as gifts from God. We brethren cannot duplicate your unique influence. . . .
“In 1979 President Spencer W. Kimball made a profound prophecy about the impact that covenant-keeping women would have on the future of the Lord’s Church. He prophesied: ‘Much of the major growth that is coming to the Church in the last days will come because many of the good women of the world . . . will be drawn to the Church in large numbers. This will happen to the degree that the women of the Church reflect righteousness . . . in their lives and to the degree that the women of the Church are seen as distinct and different—in happy ways—from the women of the world.’” We are now seeing this prophecy fulfilled here in Africa in a profound way. Finally, to any of our sisters who may feel neglected or unloved, I testify that Heavenly Father knows and loves you. After all, you are His precious daughter. We too, who have been called as special witnesses of the Lord Jesus Christ, declare His love for you and our abiding love and gratitude for your righteous influence.