On March 17, the 179th birthday of the Relief Society, the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints took a bold step forward in including female leaders in areas outside of the United States and Canada.
The First Presidency has approved a new position — international area organization adviser — to help provide training and mentorship for local leaders outside the United States and Canada.
In the areas where these women are called, the volunteer advisers also will participate in councils within the area as they work together in unity with the men and women of the church in their respective areas.
They will serve under the direction of the Area Presidencies for three to five years.
In announcing the new calling, the Church News, owned by the church, interviewed Elder Taniela B. Wakolo on the purpose of the calls.
“Elder Taniela B. Wakolo, a General Authority Seventy serving as president of the Philippines Area, described the three-fold purpose of area organization advisers: to provide leadership instruction to sister leaders in support of rapid Church growth in the area; provide a model that effective progress occurs when women and men work together in unity; and include women’s perspective at all levels of councils,” the Church News reported.
In a developing area like the Caribbean with much cultural diversity, instruction and counsel from area organization advisers is “greatly needed, valuable and meaningful,” said Elder Jose L. Alonso, a General Authority Seventy serving as president of the Caribbean Area, according to the Church News.
“As we work together, aligned with the prophetic direction, the rate of growth in the area will be amazing,” he said.
Area organization advisers report directly to the area presidency, according to the Church News.
By March 31, the first meeting for the new international area organization advisers had taken place, using technology to strengthen the global church. All 50 of the women leaders met virtually with general women officers before the Annual General Conference.
“It was so thrilling to have each of these sisters wave after hearing their name called and say, ‘Hello from Argentina,’ ‘Good morning to you from Ghana,’ ‘Hello and I love you from Spain,’ ‘Hi from Mongolia,’ ‘Konnichiwa from Japan,’ ‘Hello from your sister in the Philippines’ and ‘Bonjour, mes amis from Barbados.’ And so on from around the world,” said Sister Jean B. Bingham, General Relief Society president.
“It was truly a historic day,” said Young Women General President Bonnie H. Cordon, who shared her excitement this week on social media.
“I can’t stop smiling! What a glorious spiritual feast we enjoyed this Easter weekend. So many personal prayers and questions were answered.
“I should have expected it with the way last week began – we as general presidencies met over 50 new sisters who have been called to serve as international Area Organization Advisers – a brand new calling in the Church.
“Sitting in my chair, watching each cherished face appear on screen as we gathered for a worldwide meeting – from Japan to Johannesburg, from Spain to Sao Paulo, and me right here in the United States – I couldn’t help but think back to the very first Relief Society meeting held by Emma Smith, Eliza R. Snow, and their small group of faithful sisters. Look how far we’ve come,” Cordon said on her Instagram account.
Over the past decade the church has made subtle changes in bringing women into councils on all levels of the church organization.
It was the 2010 handbook that announced women’s auxiliary leaders would join in ward councils where decisions were typically made by priesthood leadership.
“These women of God will be part of an effort to better support the members of the Church in their region. As general officers, we’ll meet with them regularly to provide training and resources as they support stake Primary, Young Women, and Relief Society leaders in their area. I believe that we will soon recognize these area advisers as a vital voice for women, young women, and children at all levels. They are part of the Lord’s work of gathering Israel,” Cordon said.
“Maybe last year felt like the world held still. Maybe it has seemed like we’re stuck in place. But not in the work of the Lord. His work continues to roll forward,” Cordon noted.
Women have been called to serve as advisers in the following areas:
- Africa Central — Cameroon, DR Congo (Kinshasa), DR Congo (Lubumbashi), Ethiopia, Kenya/Tanzania, Republic of Congo and Uganda.
- Africa South — Mozambique, Zimbabwe and South Africa.
- Asia North — Japan (2), Korea and Mongolia.
- Brazil — São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Joinville and Olinda.
- Caribbean — Puerto Rico, West Indies/Jamaica, Haiti and Dominican Republic.
- Europe — Nordic Countries (Denmark), Germany, Portugal/Spain, France/Italy, Eastern/Southeastern countries (Austria) and UK/Ireland.
- Mexico — Oaxaca, Celaya and Ciudad Juárez.
- Philippines — Cagayan de Oro, Cebu and Bulacan.
- South America Northwest — Peru (3), Ecuador, Venezuela, Colombia and Bolivia.
- South America South — Argentina (3), Chile (3), Paraguay and Uruguay.
“Some of them are already participating in the area council,” Bingham said.
The Relief Society of the church is one of the oldest and largest women’s organizations in the world.
The need for the area advisers will be determined by members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, the Presidency of the Seventy and the Area Presidency.
The general presidencies of the Relief Society, Young Women and Primary, who are based in Salt Lake City, will provide instruction and support to the new international area organization advisers.
Virtual meetings will be held two to four times a year. The area organization advisers also will attend the women’s session of the church’s general conference in Salt Lake City in person at least once during their tenure, according to church information.