Heart disease has caused great physical suffering and even death for countless Australians and heartache for their families and loved ones. On Sunday a crowd of more than 8,000 is expected to gather at the Sydney Convention Center to hear a nearly 95-year-old, world renown heart surgeon speak. However, those who attend won’t be taking notes on clogged arteries, controlling cholesterol or lifestyle changes to live longer. Instead, the audience will be listening for a cure to a different kind of heart disease from the former surgeon, Russell M. Nelson, who comes to Sydney in his capacity as president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
When it comes to matters of the heart, few people on earth have the depth or breadth of experience of Nelson. As a young medical student he was told that any doctor who touched the human heart would be disgraced and run out of the profession. Rather than accepting the plodding pace of the prevailing thinking about the human heart, Nelson 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 traveling to China, at the request of the Chinese government, in order to perform surgery on one of the nation’s beloved opera singers.
While medicine and science have fostered significant strides in treating the physical heart, more and more people around the world seem to be suffering from other diseases of the heart — including anxiety, depression, loneliness, hate, bitterness and contempt. Nelson happens to know a thing or two about this kind of heart disease as well.
In 1984 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 is forever focused on the needs of each individual heart.
The church’s humanitarian programs to alleviate human suffering are known around the world. The church partners with a wide range of religious, government and philanthropic organizations to lift those in need. The refugee, the downtrodden, the victim of natural or manmade disaster along with other survivors, are physically provided for and spiritually ministered to. Giver and receiver are blessed and amazingly their hearts become stronger, more compassionate and ultimately knit together in love.
Less visible but equally in need of heart diagnosis and treatment are the affluent of the world where commercialism and narcissism are hardening hearts, breaking homes and fracturing communities. As the president of the church, Nelson is a man on a mission to eradicate the kind of spiritual heart disease spreading through an increasingly secular world. He has traveled the globe at break-neck speed since being introduced as the faith’s 17th president in January of 2018. He has tested the hearts of his younger colleagues by logging an incredible 62,000 flight miles, including stops to five continents, 17 nations and territories and 27 cities. Over the next 10 days he will visit Samoa, Australia, New Zealand, Tonga, Fiji and Tahiti speaking to thousands of members of the faith, along with government and business leaders and representatives of other religious groups.
He recently spoke to more than 65,000 at a football stadium in Phoenix, Arizona, in the United States. The crowd gathered to hear the nonagenarian was equal to the attendance at the American Super Bowl held the week before.
His invitation to the people of the world, and his prescription for the people of the South Pacific specifically, is heart-centered:
“If there is anything I’ve learned in my 94 ½ years of living, it is that a life with God is far better than one without Him. Faith in God is, and has always been, the preeminent force for good in this world. And that is, in part, because a sincere love of God, whatever one’s concept of Deity, naturally leads to a desire to help others. We are all connected, and we have a God-given responsibility to help make life better for those around us. We don’t have to agree with people to love them. Most importantly, I invite you to gain a personal connection with God. These pursuits will fill your life with meaning while furthering the arduous task of replacing hate with love wherever you live.”
Nelson’s time in each country will be short. What he shares in his address on Sunday in Sydney from his vast knowledge, deep understanding and rigorous research on the human heart will not make it into next month’s medical journals. His diagnosis and his prescription for dealing with every type of heartache and heart disease, however, will show exactly what individuals can do to experience for themselves the healing so many hearts need today. It is worth setting aside cynicism and skepticism while actually opening up your heart and mind to the possibility that Nelson does know the true heart of the matter when it comes to healing every aspect of the human heart.