When conversing about his recent call to the First Quorum of the Seventy, Elder Ian S. Ardern is apt to make an allusion to the prophet Nephi.
Assigned by his father Lehi to return with his brothers to Jerusalem to obtain the brass plates, Nephi responded, "I will go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded" (1 Nephi 3:7).
That, in effect, has been Elder Ardern's response when asked to serve in the Lord's kingdom in any respect, such as when called at age 19 to serve in the France Belgium Mission.
From age 13, he had been attending the LDS boarding school in his homeland, the Church College of New Zealand, where he had received the positive influence of teachers and friends.
Even before that, his goodness of character had been nurtured by his father and mother, Harry and Gwladys Ardern, whom he described as "goodly parents," like those of Nephi, though they themselves didn't join the Church until after his sister, brothers and he did.
The missionaries who found the Ardern family while tracting were also a good influence. And missionaries were at the home often. "My mother always had the cake pans full, and the missionaries all seemed to come around," Elder Ardern remembered.
In fact, Mike Taysom, the missionary who baptized an 8-year-old Ian and who today lives in Idaho, sent him an e-mail upon hearing of his recent call as a General Authority at the recently concluded general conference. "He said my mother would be pleased," Elder Ardern said.
"I had a good bishop, Les Rose, who encouraged me to go and serve a mission as well," he said. Also giving encouragement to him was the member of his stake presidency over missionary work, Bruce Judd.
President Judd was the father of Paula Judd, Elder Ardern's classmate at the Church College of New Zealand. They got to know each other in their last year at school. After his return from France, they would be married in the Hamilton New Zealand Temple.
"It has been my blessing to have married my best friend," Elder Ardern said.
She, too, encouraged his missionary service.
“So, I went and did,” he said, alluding to the passage in 1 Nephi. “It is important that our young women encourage our young men to be the missionaries God intends them to be.”
It was never their understanding that they would wait for each other while he served a mission, though they did exchange letters.
“When I came home, I had grown spiritually, and Paula had grown spiritually,” he reflected. “We’d kept pace with each other, and we just carried on from where we had left off.”
A couple of experiences while on his mission would have a lasting impact on Elder Ardern.
One was meeting President Spencer W. Kimball, then serving as the president of the Quorum of the Twelve. It was in 1973, at the time of the Church's Area Conference in Munich, Germany. Visiting Brussels, Belgium, President Kimball was greeting missionaries individually.
"We were to say our name, where we were from and how long we had been serving," Elder Ardern recalled. "He got to me and shook my hand. I said, 'I'm Elder Ardern from Te Aroha, New Zealand.' He pulled me back and asked, 'Where did you say you were from?' I thought he must have been struggling with the name, so I said the nearest big city, which was Hamilton. And then he asked, 'Elder, do you know why you are here?'
"With a bit of anxiety, I said, 'To serve a mission.' But here's the important part of the story. He pulled me down [President Kimball was short in stature], and he whispered in my ear, 'Elder, you're here because the Lord wanted you here.'"
He has found that to be true repeatedly. "The Lord puts us where he needs us," he said. "Sister Ardern and I have been asked to do a lot of different callings in the Church. As Sunday School teacher, institute director, family history specialist, mission president, whatever the calling is, I've come to understand you're there because the Lord wants you there. And so we've tried not to say no, because we know where the call comes from."
It helps, he said, to have a supportive family. "We've been blessed in our lives that no matter what we've been called to do, we have a family that says, 'Go and do.' "
The other influential mission experience Elder Ardern had would set the pattern for his life’s work. He and his companion were at a self-service dry cleaners. “I’d never seen such a thing in New Zealand,” he said. “I was somewhat taken by it, and I stood back and watched what happened.”
Customers would come in and be given a sheet of instructions on how to find their cleaned clothes and bring them to the front counter to pay for the service. His voice choking with emotion he recalled, "I watched a man come in. This French lady said to him, 'Monsieur, go get your clothes; it's written on the form how to do it.' He said, 'Madame, je ne sais pas lire' ('I don't know how to read').
"I think that was a motivating moment for me to be a teacher. I wanted to be a teacher of English. And I wanted to be sure no student of mine would ever say, 'I don't know how to read.'"
Sister Ardern recalls a defining moment when she came to her husband's classroom one day to obtain some car keys. There, she saw the students gazing at him enthralled as he read to them from Shakespeare.
But Elder Ardern's intent was to teach more than just subjects. "I've tried to always approach teaching with that as my philosophy," he said. "The scriptures speak of Christ as a teacher sent of God. I think that teachers can be a significant influence for good in the lives of others, and though I've not always been successful, I've tried to be that sort of teacher."
As he begins service as a General Authority, Elder Ardern perhaps has a wider scope than ever to influence others for good and to be “a teacher sent of God.”
Elder Ian S. Ardern
Family: Born in Te Aroha (near Hamilton), New Zealand, to Harry Wiltshire and Gwladys Marjorie Ardern. Married Paula Ann Judd on Jan. 17, 1976 in the Hamilton New Zealand Temple. Four children: Wade Ross (Jessica Marie), Lian (Jonathan Warwick), Crystal (Samuel Mann), Paul (Nakita); six grandchildren.
Education: bachelor’s and master’s degrees in education, both from University of Waikato in Hamilton, New Zealand.
Career: Pacific Area director for Church Educational System; institute director and seminary coordinator in Hamilton, New Zealand; principal at Church College of New Zealand; English teacher at Church College of New Zealand; teacher in government schools in New Zealand.
Church service: full-time missionary in France Belgium Mission, 1973-75; bishop; high councilor; member of a stake presidency; stake Young Men presidency; president of Fiji Suva Mission, 2005-2008; Area Seventy.