Spiritual foundation set early in life

Many people speak of a single turning point in their lives - when an event or person changed the course of their lives.

For Elder Jay E. Jensen, 50, several turning points in his youth laid in him a spiritual foundation that should serve him well as a new member of the Second Quorum of the Seventy. Elder Jensen's call to the Seventy was announced June 6, and he has been called as second counselor in the Central America Area presidency, effective Aug. 15.His spiritual awakening - so to speak - began as a small boy of about 6 years old growing up in Mapleton, Utah. Elder Jensen's parents, Ruel W. and Ethel Otte Jensen, held family night long before it became a Church program.

"There were 10 children in the family," Elder Jensen recalled. "There were never 10 at home at one time. By the time the youngest was born, the oldest had married. But there was a houseful of children in a very small four-room home.

"We would gather together around the old wood-burning stove in the winter time - we didn't have central heating - and Dad would read to us from a book called A Voice from the Dust," a now out-of-print publication of the Book of Mormon, said Elder Jensen.

During the Church News interview, Elder Jensen displayed the black, hardback book, worn from years of use. His eyes filled with tears as he related: "I can remember settling into my father's lap, and Dad would read to us from this book. That was very memorable to me and it had a tremendous impact."

His mother's "deep love for books" also had an impact on her son, who recalled that one of the first things he read on his own was Joseph Smith's account of the First Vision. Some years later as a boy, he attended a stake general priesthood meeting with his father. He related: "I can remember standing and singing `Praise to the Man,' and coupled with having read the Joseph Smith story, believing the Joseph Smith story is true."

Elder Jensen credits his parents for his spiritual growth during those early years. "Father and Mother were always active in the Church," he remarked, and explained that his parents emphasized to their children the need to always:

Pay tithing.

Support Church leaders. Never talk negatively about them.

Accept callings.

Attend Church meetings.

Not only did Elder Jensen's parents teach these principles, but also lived them. "So I just grew up believing that's what we do."

As a young boy, he had many friends, including his future wife, Lona Lee Child, the daughter of Verl E. and Theda Warren Child. Sister Jensen recalled that during their seventh-grade year, they met by their school's water fountain. Her first impression: "He was a whole head shorter than I was. He was really a cute kid."

The two were friends throughout junior high school, and then became high school sweethearts. By this time a teenage Jay Jensen was 6-foot 3-inches tall. After graduation from high school, the young couple came to what they now describe as one of the hardest decisions they ever had to make. The course of their lives might have been different had they stayed with their original decision. On New Year's Eve in 1960, they decided to get married and not wait for him to serve a mission.

"It nearly broke my father's heart," Elder Jensen related. "Mother told me later that Dad just wept."

Then two weeks into 1961, Jay and Lona attended a sacrament meeting where a returned missionary reported his mission. The Spirit touched their hearts. "Not a lot was said between us at the end of the meeting. This much we said, `We've made a mistake. I've got to go on a mission,' " Elder Jensen remembered. "I marched right out of my seat into the bishop's office, and we began filling out my mission papers."

He was called to the Spanish-American Mission, in which he served for 30 months, from 1961-63. While he was gone, his wife-to-be moved to California. There she served a stake mission, which she said gave her a better understanding of what Jay was doing. "I was a little more patient with the time."

One month and three days after Elder Jensen returned home, he and his bride were married on Nov. 1, 1963, in the Manti Temple. Elder Jensen's father lived long enough to see his son serve an honorable mission and marry in the temple. He died in 1966.

Sister Jensen said, with great emotion, that sending her husband-to-be on a mission was the hardest thing she ever did, but it was the most rewarding. "I would never do it differently. We could never have been as happy otherwise."

Elder Jensen related how their mission experiences solidified their desire to make their home "a Christ-centered home, a gospel-centered home," adding, "We've maintained this ever since."

Four sons and two daughters have benefited from this gospel-centered home. Elder and Sister Jensen also have three grandchildren.

Sister Jensen said the consequences of her husband's mission are incalculable, but several results are obvious. Elder Jensen wanted to emulate his mission president, who was a seminary teacher, so he became a seminary teacher. Through the years, he has worked for the Church Educational System and the Missionary Department. He also served in many Church callings, including presiding over the Colombia Cali Mission from 1975-78. At the time of his call to the Seventy, Elder Jensen was director of scriptures coordination for the Curriculum Department.

His mission as a young man and as a mission president among Spanish-speaking people also developed in Elder Jensen a great love for the Lamanite people. He expressed excitement for his first assignment as a General Authority to "go back to Latin America, where we have deep feelings and deep roots and where we can work with the children of Israel, Father Lehi's children, and serve them."

In all these accomplishments, there has been a real teamwork between Elder and Sister Jensen. During the Church News interview, Elder Jensen pointed to a Relief Society statue in their home of the Woman in Prayer. "I bought that for Lona because I think that's her - a woman of deep faith. She is very Christ-centered and has a deep love and conviction for prayer."

He also described his wife as a supportive wife and mother, which is not surprising considering she grew up in a home with supportive parents, who he called "kind and generous." Sister Jensen's parents live in Springville, Utah, and Elder Jensen's mother lives in Provo, Utah.

Elder and Sister Jensen will soon make their home in Guatemala, where they will begin their new Church service. Sister Jensen said her husband's greatest traits are his obedience, a love of the gospel, a love for the scriptures and a gift to teach from the scriptures by the Spirit - another result of his full-time mission as a young man.

"I made a decision as a missionary that I would never let a day go by - not one single day - without studying the scriptures, and I've never missed a day," Elder Jensen noted. "Now I get to help others try the virtue of the word that I've tried all my life."

(Additional information)

Elder Jay E. Jensen

Family: Born in Payson, Utah, on Feb. 5, 1942, to Ruel W. Jensen, who died in 1966, and Ethel Otte Jensen. Married Lona Lee Child, daughter of Verl E. and Theda Warren Child, Nov. 1, 1963, in the Manti Temple. Parents of four sons and two daughters: Nathan Jay, 27; Laura, 26; Andrea, 24; Jason Craig, 23; Jared Edwin, 20, serving in the Portugal Porto Mission; and Jacob Edward, 17. They have three grandchildren.

Education: Bachelor's degree in Spanish and history, master's degree in Church history and doctrine, doctorate in education, all from BYU.

Employment: Director of scriptures coordination for the Church's Curriculum Department; former director of missionary training for the Missionary Department; director of curriculum for the Church Educational System.

Church service: President of Colombia Cali Mission, counselor in the Missionary Training Center presidency, counselor in stake presidency, high councilor, bishop, counselor in bishopric, branch president at Missionary Training Center; served in Spanish-American Mission from 1961-63.

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