Crowd Sunday at State Farm Stadium could rival Super Bowl
Last Sunday, 70,081 fans filled Mercedes Benz Stadium in Atlanta, Georgia, for Super Bowl LIII. Fans watched as the New England Patriot’s Tom Brady became the oldest quarterback, at 41 years of age, to win a Super Bowl. This Sunday at State Farm Stadium in Arizona, a capacity crowd that could rival Atlanta, is expected to watch a spry and energetic 94-year-old take the field. Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, along with friends and community members, are set to show up for a real “Super” Sunday at the stadium. There they will listen to the church’s prophet and president Russell M. Nelson speak at a devotional that will also be broadcast to church buildings throughout Arizona.
President Nelson won’t be running a 4.4 second 40-yard dash, throwing a deep route or catching a sideline pass on the field Sunday. (Though having watched him bound up steep steps while at almost 14,000 feet above sea-level in Bolivia, I believe he still could give Brady a run for his money.) President Nelson is keeping a pace that would exhaust any athlete. He has traveled the globe at break-neck speed during his first year since being introduced as the faith’s 17th president in January of 2018. He logged an incredible 55,000 flight miles, including stops to five continents, 16 nations and territories and 24 cities.
From the determined souls who live in the mountain heights of Bolivia to those in the emotional depths of despair in fire-ravaged parts of Paradise, California; from church faithful in Zimbabwe, Kenya and Israel to those striving for self-reliance and upward mobility in India and Thailand — Russell M. Nelson is racing around the world. He seeks to minister to the church’s 16 million members while also striving to lift and influence countless others, not of his faith, through the church’s vast humanitarian and educational outreach services.
As a young medical student, President Nelson was told that any doctor who touched the human heart would be run out of the profession. Rather than accepting the plodding pace of the prevailing thinking about the human heart, he became part of a research team that ultimately helped pioneer modern heart surgery. Throughout his medical career, he literally touched hundreds of hearts. This included being flown to China by the Chinese government to perform surgery on one of the nation’s beloved opera singers.
In 1984 President Nelson was named to the church’s Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. He hung up his scalpel and scrubs and took to healing hearts through his ministry as an ordained Apostle of Jesus Christ. For more than three decades, President Nelson’s personal ministry has spanned the globe, but ever focused on the needs of individuals.
Now as the president of the church, his fast-paced sprint isn’t limited to just his global travel. He also is encouraging people everywhere to accelerate their personal journey to finding faith and enjoying the happiness it brings. Under his leadership members are simplifying their lives while strengthening their families, friends and communities. A home-centered, church-supported faith focused on learning and ministering to those in need is already helping members and the communities they live in.
President Nelson also is a man in a hurry to find allies and build alliances with all who want to do good and make a difference. He has met with leaders of nations as well heads of business, civic, religious and philanthropic organizations to forge friendships and find opportunities to work together.
Last year, President Nelson hosted the leadership of the NAACP at the church’s headquarters in Salt Lake City, Utah. The NAACP has been striving to bring social justice and promote civil rights for more than a half a century. The church has done significant work to lift members in the black community in the U.S. and around the world through education, humanitarian efforts and self-reliance programs. A new partnership has been formed between these two institutions to create opportunity and upward mobility for many. In facing significant issues like poverty, addiction, depression, abuse, illiteracy and other ills in society, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s question seems to resonate with President Nelson, “Where do we go from here, chaos or community?” Lasting, sustainable solutions come from family, from neighborhood and from community.
Church members, including the 263,000 in the metro Phoenix area and approximately 428,000 around the state of Arizona, continue to attempt to keep pace with the 94-year-old — physically and spiritually. After a 10-day sprint across South America, President Nelson was asked if he intended to slow down any in 2019. He quipped that he was just warming up and added that church members hoping to keep up should take their vitamins if they want to stay on pace.
Those in attendance Sunday should watch close and listen closer as the sprinting president dashes onto the field and through his talk. He will cover more ground in a short period than a Larry Fitzgerald deep route. There won’t be any confetti falling from the rafters, but souls will soar, touched by Russell M. Nelson’s gentle and energetic approach to healing human hearts.
Boyd Matheson is the opinion editor of the Deseret News in Salt Lake City, Utah.