“As those who know me well are aware, my story is quite ordinary,” said Sister Jean B. Bingham, general president of the Relief Society of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Sister Bingham and her counselors, Sister Sharon Eubank and Sister I. Reyna Aburto, were together on the Brigham Young University campus in Provo, Utah, Friday, May 5, 2017, to address the BYU Women’s Conference. Sister Eubank also provided the keynote address Thursday morning.
Each sister shared her own stories and insights into Relief Society with the thousands of women in attendance at the annual event at the Marriott Center. This was their first public appearance to speak together since they were called to their positions in general conference in April. Their talks were also streamed live to a worldwide audience.
“Growing up, although I enjoyed learning, I was not the top student in any class. I cannot boast of any expert skills. … I was never asked to the prom, I wasn’t the president of anything, I was never one of the popular group,” said Sister Bingham.
“Even in my ‘ordinariness,’ Heavenly Father saw value, and has helped me begin to develop the gifts and graces He knows will help me become all that He has designed me to be. Know that your Heavenly Father will provide all that you need to become extraordinary as a daughter of God,” she added
Sister Eubank recalled, “When I was 13 years old, my Beehive teacher told the nine of us in the class that according to statistics at least one of us in the circle wouldn’t get married. I looked around the group and thought to myself, ‘Well, of course it won’t be me.’ … But surprisingly to me I haven’t ended up marrying in this life, and I don’t have my children with me right now. This was a physical grief I could hardly bear for many years.”
Sister Aburto told her story of being a single mother when she joined the Church. “My thoughts went back to the time when I was living in San Francisco, California, and I was at a crucial crossroad in my life. I had just made the painful decision to divorce my first husband after years of trying to help him get out of a horrible trap of alcohol and drug addiction. We had a three-year-old little boy by then, and my soul was full of questions, fears, and longings for me and my son.”
Sister Aburto and her mother were invited to attend church by a Mormon missionary couple. She said, “As I stepped into that Church meetinghouse, a warm feeling embraced me. I knew I was in a safe place; I knew that I could find peace in there and that ‘something extraordinary’ was going to happen in my life. I had found something that I did not know I had been missing.”
Sister Aburto also survived an earthquake that took the life of her older brother in Nicaragua when she was growing up, a story that Sister Eubank related in her Thursday address.
In her keynote talk, Sister Eubank, the first counselor and the director of LDS Charities, the humanitarian arm of the Church, shared her thoughts on serving in the general Relief Society presidency with Sister Bingham and Sister Aburto, the second counselor.
Sister Eubank said she felt “calm” when President Henry B. Eyring of the First Presidency told her that the general president would be Sister Bingham, then the first counselor in the Primary general presidency. Two days later, they left on a prescheduled LDS Charities refugee camp visit to Uganda, where she watched the soon-to-be Relief Society general president in action as they slept with flying ants and ate boiled eggs and bananas and drank ginger ale.
“Sister Bingham was spectacular,” she said. “Sanitation isn’t always great in the settlements, but she held little babies who had crusty noses and bent down at eye level to talk to hundreds of little dusty smiling kids. … In short, she did exactly what the Relief Society does. She loved and listened and ministered and learned.”
Speaking on Sister Aburto, Sister Eubank shared, “When she prays I believe the heavens split wide open. I sometimes open my eyes to see if there are angels in the room. I couldn’t believe how lucky I was to get to serve in a presidency with women like this.”
Reflections on Relief Society
Sister Bingham said, “Relief Society has changed over the years — and has changed me over the years! To paraphrase, ‘it’s not just your grandma’s Relief Society.’”
She counseled, “If you have had a less-than-comfortable experience at Relief Society, remember that we are all learning, so persist in loving your sisters.”
“God wants us to help each other with our problems. And Relief Society is the place where we are united to do it,” said Sister Eubank.
She continued, “I didn’t have to quote the handbook and memorize the presidents from Emma Smith to Linda Burton and dress up every day in pearls and make my voice sound reverent. My job in Relief Society is simply to lift and build others.”
“For me, Relief Society has been the relationships that I have made with faithful women, the love that I have felt from and for other sisters as we have worked together on ‘the errand of angels,’” said Sister Aburto. “Relief Society can be a safe haven for us.”
“As Emma Smith, the first Relief Society president, phrased it in 1842, ‘We are going to do extraordinary things!’ You may not realize it yet, but Relief Society can help you accomplish extraordinary things,” stated Sister Bingham.
“So, what ‘extraordinary thing’ will you choose to do?” Sister Bingham asked. She encouraged the women to “choose something according to your available time and resources.”