Faith, study help guide Church leader in his service

A knack for applying gospel doctrine to life's situations characterizes Elder Rulon G. Craven, who began his service Jan. 1 in the Second Quorum of the Seventy.

The new General Authority, 66, is already steeped in Church service on a general level, having most recently completed 131/2 years as secretary to the Council of the Twelve. Before that, he was director of Aaronic Priesthood and a member of the Sunday School general board.Elder Craven's great strength, according to his wife, is his talent for organization. "He can make decisions and organize things while I'm wallowing around in indecision or frustration or lack of faith."

His leadership in the home, she added, is never by compulsion, but by direct application of guidance from the scriptures and prophets to the challenges of routine family life.

"All of his leadership comes because of his preparation in gospel study and his love and faith in the prophets," she explained.

Sister Craven admitted to some annoyance with her husband early in their married life. Because of his penchant for organization and preparation he paid $80 for a self-improvement course, a frivolous waste of funds, she thought.

"But he promised me that he'd earn it back 10-fold," she said, adding that he made good on the promise by speaking about leadership on the BYU lecture circuit.

As a child, Rulon Craven already showed a talent for leadership and organization.

Born in Murray, Utah, he was the son of a pharmaceutical salesman, who had joined the Church with his family in England, immigrated to Salt Lake City and married.

Young Rulon moved with his family to Logan, Utah, and from there to Boise, Idaho, where he attended junior high and high school.

In Boise, he supplemented the family income with jobs at a photo studio and grocery store. He also ran a popcorn stand at a theater, and during special events, would recruit other young people to work for him selling popcorn.

"Boise is where as a deacon and a teacher I really began to grow in the gospel," Elder Craven noted. "In high school there were just a few of us who were Latter-day Saints, and we all hung around together and had some tremendous experiences in M-Men and Gleaners and teacher and priest quorum activities."

Later, in his two years with the merchant marine during World War II in the South Pacific and Europe, he managed to maintain his association with the Church.

One Saturday night in a town near Shanghai, China, he overheard a group of American sailors talking about going to a movie. One said he could not go because he had to prepare a 2 1/2-minute talk for the next day.

"I pricked up my ears, and I walked over and asked them, Are you Mormons?' " he recalled. "They said,Yes, we're Mormons. How did you know?' And I said, `I heard you say 2 1/2-minute talk."

They invited him to branch meetings and arranged to have someone pick him up. The next day, Brother Craven was surprised when a large limousine with American flags flying from each front fender drove up to where his ship was docked. A naval lieutenant commander got out, met the ship's captain at the bottom of the gangplank and asked if he had a Craven aboard. The captain called out for Craven.

"The lieutenant commander introduced himself and said, `Brother Craven, I've come to pick you up to go to Church this morning.' So we got in the big limousine and drove off, and I was quite a hero on the ship after that."

After his merchant marine service, he was among the first group of LDS missionaries to enter New Zealand after the war. His experiences teaching the Maori people, he said, had a great impact on his life.

"Their humility, their submissiveness, their great faith, and the kindnesses they share, their love for people and love for each other - from those kinds of experiences I learned to love the Maori," he said. "And I learned a lot about people."

Through his mission, Elder Craven became acquainted with Elder Matthew Cowley of the Council of the Twelve, who ministered among and loved the Maori people. Sister Craven said her first encounter with an apostle was when she and her husband were students at BYU after Elder Craven's mission. They attended the devotional at which Elder Cowley gave his famous address on miracles. Afterward, Brother Craven introduced her to Elder Cowley. Jokingly, the apostle whispered in her ear: "I need to talk to you alone. There are a few things I should tell you about this guy!"

Brother Craven had enrolled at BYU in response to advice from his second mission president, Gordon Young. There, he met Donna Lunt from Duncan, Ariz., during his senior year.

"I lived with some really sharp girls he wanted to date, and so while he was trying to get in with them, he dated me," she recalled. She, in turn, wanted to be seen with him because he was "a big name on campus" as the YMMIA superintendent in BYU's only ward at the time.

She was a 19-year-old sophomore at the time. They met on Temple Square during general conference, and by the next conference six months later, were married in the Arizona Temple.

It proved a good match.

"I feel very comfortable when Donna is with me," Elder Craven said. "She is a very gregarious person, she meets people well, and people can only be in her presence a short time and they fall in love with her. She has great depth of compassion. She just has an extra sense of knowing how to live with, work with and love people."

After their marriage, Brother Craven had one more quarter before graduation, with just enough money to finish school. But driving back from Arizona, their 1947 car broke down, and they had to use his school money to have it repaired. As he was selling life insurance to pay for schooling, the couple decided it would be best to live in Boise, where they could be with his mother. His father had died of a heart attack three months after Rulon and Donna were married.

While in Boise, the Cravens had an experience that would test their faith but ultimately give spiritual strength to their family. Their first child, Terri Lee, was born with a congenital heart defect. Doctors in Boise said the best care for her was available at the University of Utah hospital. On their way to Salt Lake City, their infant daughter died.

"Having a temple marriage was the solace," Sister Craven reflected. "To know she was ours forever - I don't know how people get by without having that knowledge."

Moreover, the experience caused the parents to teach their other children in a natural way about the plan of salvation.

"It was always our tradition to go to the cemetery on Easter and stand around her grave," Sister Craven said. "She's been as much a part of the family as any of our children. We just taught them in such a natural way that we should always live so we can one day be with Terry Lee."

With enough money saved, Brother Craven finished his schooling while working in the housing office. After graduation he was asked to stay on and direct the new off-campus housing program. He worked for 20 years at BYU, eventually becoming administrative assistant for business.

During that time, he returned to the land he had come to love as a missionary, this time with his family and as president of the New Zealand North Mission. The growth that had occurred was striking, with several stakes and many people who had progressed to the point they were filling leadership positions.

"It was really a thrill to see what had happened over that period of time," he said. "It was a thrill for me to labor as a young man among the Maoris, and then 20 years later take my wife and our five children back and preside over that mission. It was exciting for us. The children just loved missionary work. And they were a great asset to us."

It was during his term as mission president in 1967-70 that his book, The Effective Missionary, was conceived.

"It came about from missionaries asking him questions and him doctrinally helping them through their crises," explained Sister Craven.

"And then, when our four sons were missionaries, they would write home asking, Dad, how can you best get along with your companion?' orDad, what can you do if you're in a slump?' And he would answer their questions based on the scriptures and Church doctrine."

Elder Craven really did not set out in the beginning to publish the book, Sister Craven noted. "It came about just because he wanted to put his philosophy down for our posterity."

His other books, Called to the Work, Pursuit of Perfection and the soon to be published Faith to a Better Life came about similarly, through his desire to formulate organized solutions to life's challenges, based on Church doctrine.

From 1972-73, he served on the Sunday School general board, a calling that involved extensive travel.

In 1974, the Cravens got a call from the Presiding Bishopric that Sister Craven said changed their life. They asked him to direct the Aaronic Priesthood programs of the Church. For the next three years, he worked under the direction of Bishops Victor L. Brown, H. Burke Peterson and Vaughn J. Featherstone. His work took him to Asia and Europe, and he helped develop a new handbook and guidebook for the Aaronic Priesthood.

Through his service on a general level - and through such callings as a regional representative, stake president's counselor and bishop - he gained experience in leadership, speaking, lecturing, and administration that prepared him for the time when he was asked to become secretary of the Council of the Twelve in 1977.

In that position, his responsibility has been to assist the Twelve in their work, preparing meeting agendas and helping to implement their decisions.

"In the 13 1/2 years I have served, I have listened to their discussions, heard them talk about the miracles that are happening in the Church, sensed and felt the revelation, the divine guidance that comes to these living prophets," he reflected. "The kinds of experience that I've had are of a deep spiritual depth of feeling, and knowing that prophets really do walk the earth today. Having that experience has had a profound effect on my life and developed my spirituality, and my testimony concerning the Savior, and a desire to be a part of the kingdom and serve wherever I can."


Elder Rulon G. Craven

  • Family: Born Nov. 11, 1924, in Murray, Utah, to Gerald and Susie Craven. Married Donna Lunt Craven March 23, 1953, in the Arizona Temple. Parents of six children: Terri Lee (deceased); Gerald, 35; Ronald, 32; Brent, 31; Dallen, 29; RaDawn (Meher), 25; 14 grandchildren.
  • Education/military: Served in the merchant marine in 1945-46 during World War II. Received bachelor's degree in sociology from BYU in 1954.
  • Employment: Director of off-campus housing and later administrative assistant for business at BYU from 1954-74; director of Aaronic Priesthood from 1974-77; secretary to the Council of the Twelve from 1974 until his call as a General Authority.
  • Previous Church service: In addition to his Church employment, he has been president of the New Zealand North Mission, 1967-70; regional representative; member of the Sunday School General Board; stake president's counselor, high councilor; bishop and stake and ward YMMIA superintendent.
  • Other service and hobbies: member of the national training committee of the Boy Scouts of America, national chairman of the Personnel Training Association of College and University Housing Officers, and president of the Utah chapter of Training and Development; author of four books on missionary work, leadership and gospel topics.

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