The number of Primary children in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints continues to grow around the world.
That means the travels and influence of the Primary General Presidency also continues to expand.
The Daily Herald invited Sister Cheryl Esplin, first counselor in the Primary General Presidency, to answer a few questions on the influence of Primary in children’s lives.
A Provo resident, Esplin was born and raised in Lovell, Wyoming. She graduated from Brigham Young University with a degree in elementary education. She and her husband, Max Esplin, are the parents of five children and have 21 grandchildren, most of whom are in Primary.
She has served in Relief Society, Young Women and Primary. Esplin served with her husband when he was mission president of the North Carolina Raleigh Mission.
DH: Over the past few years there have been many changes both good and bad in the world affecting children. The Primary leadership has made exceptional moves to reach out on a worldwide scope to children. Would you speak to your experiences as you have met children on your worldwide travels and how that impacts LDS children locally?
Esplin: Children and families worldwide are diverse, and their situations and challenges are individual and unique. Wherever they live and whatever their circumstances, the gospel of Jesus Christ fills their lives with peace and hope.
I met a young mother in Russia who had been a member of the church for just a few months when she was called to be the Primary president. She said before she had the gospel in her life she didn’t feel like she was a very good mother, but because of the gospel and her calling she was learning what to teach her children and is growing in confidence as a mother.
I also think of the family I met in Cambodia whose home had burned down two weeks earlier and they lost everything. The mother and father were young, they had three small children, the youngest just a baby. They had made a small shelter under a tree out of pieces of wood and plastic and anything they could find. As we sat and talked at the opening of that little shelter, I didn’t hear one word of hopelessness or complaint about how hard life was, but as we sang together “I Am a Child of God,” I knew they really believed it.
Our work worldwide is to help all children know that they are children of a Heavenly Father who loves them and He has a plan for their happiness.
DH: Since its inception, Primary has been somewhat relegated to the women to be the teachers, music coordinators, etc. Of late there seems to be a call for more men to serve in some of these capacities. What is the influence of men/priesthood in Primary, and what role can they play?
Esplin: Children are blessed by the righteous, positive influence of both women and men who love the Lord and live the gospel. When anyone — male or female — is given a call to serve in Primary, they have the opportunity to love, teach and act as a righteous example.
DH: Over the past two or three years LDS Church members have seen a great focus on women and children. Primary girls are now invited to the women’s session of General Conference, female leaders participate in the three top councils of the church, etc. In what ways have these changes strengthened or changed Primary as it represents the children of the church?
Esplin: In all levels of the church, a woman’s voice, impressions, insights and experience are needed and valued. As President [Russell M.] Nelson shared in general conference, “We [the church] need your strength, your conversion, your conviction, your ability to lead, your wisdom and your voices.”
Through women’s session, we’ve seen that gathering as women and girls of all ages and stages of life creates a sense of belonging and strengthens the bonds of sisterhood. We need each other and can learn so much from each other.
DH: As the world gets harder, more confusing and complex it seems LDS youth need to have a stronger, more solid testimony at an earlier age than ever before. How is Primary preparing these younger children to be strong as they enter junior high, puberty, high school and a changing world?
Esplin: The lessons that will stay in children’s hearts the longest are the simple lessons learned in the home, especially lessons taught by example. Parents have a divinely appointed responsibility for the spiritual and physical welfare of their children, and in Primary we do everything we can to support and assist them.
For example, we reinforce the patterns taught in the home of prayer, scripture study, following the prophet, listening to the promptings of the Spirit, attending church, preparing to enter the temple and keeping the commandments.
Music is a powerful way to teach children the gospel. The melodies, words and messages of the Primary songs can teach children the doctrines of the gospel in a way that will stay in their hearts throughout their lives. These simple behaviors will help children to feel the Spirit and come to know their Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ and to want to be more like them throughout their lives.
DH: As a resident of Provo, you have seen the excitement surrounding the Provo City Center Temple and the children wanting to see it and be a part of the open house. As a parting comment I would like you to give your feelings about the children, families, the temple, the Savior and the scriptures.
Esplin: I cherish the blessing of living close to two temples here in Provo. One of the favorite songs Primary children love to sing is “I Love to See the Temple.” The words teach us that the temple is a house of God, a place of love and beauty.
To me, the temple is a place of refuge from the hustle and bustle and distractions of the world. It is a place where we can feel close to our Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ. It’s a place of introspection, of revelation, a place to regain and maintain a spiritual perspective and remember what’s most important in life.
Prophets have encouraged us to hang pictures of temples in our homes and to help our children understand the blessings of the temple and plant in them a desire to prepare so they can receive these blessings. And as more and more temples are being built throughout the world, there are increased opportunities for families to attend open houses and for children to see and feel for themselves the sacred nature of a temple.
I wish we all understood what a gift Heavenly Father gave us when He sent us to earth to live in families. The family is the ideal place for us to grow and learn and help each other stay on God’s path together. I don’t know of a doctrine that brings more comfort and joy than “families can be together forever.” Ordinances performed in the holy temple make this possible.
Children can be taught that they have a responsibility to love and serve their family and help them live the gospel. In fact, it is often the children that remind us to have family prayer, to read the scriptures and have home evening. Children bring love, energy, and joy to a family. We would all do well if we did as the Savior taught: “Behold your little ones.” We need to look deeply at who they are and see them as our Heavenly Father and Savior see them.
The Savior is our perfect example. Our prophet, President Thomas S. Monson, has a painting of the Savior hanging in his office. Whenever he has a problem he is trying to solve he looks at the painting and asks himself, “What would the Savior do?” Then he tries to do what he thinks the Savior would do. What a valuable lesson for us all.
My wish for every child is that they could know how much their Heavenly Father loves them — and that one of His greatest desires is that they will return to live with Him one day. They can pray to Him and He will hear and answer their prayers.
There is a path that leads back to Heavenly Father and it is the gospel of Jesus Christ. If we are striving to be obedient to the principles and ordinances of the gospel, then we are on that path. It is important for children to see themselves on that path — both where are they now and what is ahead.