"I've been baptized, Jesus was baptized, and all of you are going to be baptized . . . I hope."
More than 40 years ago, 8-year-old Frederick G. Williams, son of mission president Frederick S. Williams, gave many talks in the mission field. He delivered the talks in fluent Spanish to investigators in the newly opened Uruguay Mission.The namesake and descendant of an early Church leader, he was born in Argentina while his father was president of the Argentine Mission.
The father was a pioneer missionary in Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay and Peru from the 1920s to the 1950s. He was among the first few missionaries to Argentina in the 1920s, and returned as mission president in 1938. He later was called as the first mission president in the new Uruguay Mission in 1947, where he opened the work. He also opened the work in Paraguay in 1950, and helped open the work in Peru in 1956.
His son is following his footsteps. He, too, was a pioneer for the Church in Uruguay in his own right. As young missionaries there, Freddy and other family members gave frequent talks because of their ability in the Spanish language. He was the first person baptized in Uruguay and a busy member-missionary in those formative years.
And his little-boy talk with its wishful but direct message is typical of the goal of mission presidents around the world.
Now, Frederick G. Williams, 51, is representative of the 81 new mission presidents called this year. He will return to South America in July as president of the new Brazil Sao Paulo Interlagos Mission.
The 81 new presidents will direct the work in 69 existing missions and 12 new ones. The new leaders come from 15 states of the United States and nine other countries of the world.
This year the presidents are younger, with an average age of 52, as compared with last year's mission presidents' average age of 60. Some 42 of the 81 new presidents have served in a stake presidency, while 22 have been high councilors. (See chart on this page for other information on the new presidents.)
From June 18-23 they will take part in a new mission president's seminar at the Missionary Training Center in Provo, Utah. They will be addressed by members of the First Presidency, the Council of the Twelve, and other General Authorities. Their terms of service begin about July 1.
Service in another country and in another language may not be as much a change for Pres. Williams and his wife, Carol, as for other new mission leaders. Pres. Williams is fluent in three languages, having learned Spanish and English as a child, and Portuguese while on a mission to Brazil.
Sister Williams has studied Portuguese for some time - since 1976, in fact. In 1975, they received a tentative call from Church headquarters to lead a mission. Brother Williams was asked if, when he returned, he could return to his job as a professor of Portuguese and Brazilian literature at the University of California at Santa Barbara. He said he did not have tenure and would not have a job upon returning. Still, he accepted the call, but the First Presidency considered the situation and postponed the call.
The same call - and same question - were repeated three years later with the same answer and a second post-ponement.
After the second call was postponed, he and family were very tentative with their long-term plans. A year or so later, Brother Williams gained tenure - but the call didn't come. As the years passed, they went on with life, keeping in mind that a mission interlude could be just a telephone call away.
Sister Williams, an accomplished soprano and opera singer in Santa Barbara productions, began taking language classes in Portuguese at the university. Brother Williams continued close associations with fellow educators in Sao Paulo, Brazil.
This year, when the call came, they were ready.
Pres. Williams said missionary work was a very important part of his early life. His father endeavored to raise the Church profile through proselyting, and through sporting activities and musical performances.
Missionaries would start a branch and soon up to 100 investigators would attend. "Our family was quite divided because," he said, "each of us belonged to a different branch to lend support. I'd go to Primary in one branch, and Sunday School in another branch. I used to travel with my dad to outlying branches as well. He'd go from meeting to meeting without stopping to eat; I thought I would starve.
"My father was very busy - he thought he could get away with using the same talk at different branches, but he couldn't - the members followed him from branch to branch."
The Williams family also formed a musical group and performed at cities around the country. They'd perform, and sing on a local radio station on Saturday, and invite listeners to a Sunday service. "The music made a very nice impression," he said.
Young Fred was also trained as a pianist and was the accompanist in Primary. He also played the piano and spoke at large firesides.
Occasionally, when he and his sister Nancy were the only ones at the mission home, people would come asking questions about the Church.
"We'd often invite people inside and give them a discussion," he recalled. "We were about 10 and 8 years of age then."
Pres. Frederick S. Williams was released as president of the Uruguay Mission in 1951. In four years, the mission had grown to 23 branches in Uruguay and two in Paraguay. Some 515 converts had been baptized in four years.
In 1956, the Williams family moved to Lima, Peru, where again they took part in the opening of missionary work. In Peru, Fred, now a teenager, helped convert a girlfriend. A boyfriend of his sister Nancy's was later converted as well.
Fred was later called as a missionary to Brazil where he served from 1960-63 under then Pres. Wm. Grant Bangerter, now emeritus member of the Seventy.
At the time of his call as a mission president, Brother Williams was chairman of the Department of Spanish and Portuguese at the University of California at Santa Barbara, and was serving as bishop for the second. He is considered an expert in Portuguese and Brazilian literature and has many ties to Brazil as well as to Uruguay.
The Williams will take four of their seven children with them where they will experience a first-hand mission experience in South America, as did their father and grandfather before them.