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Answered inner call: 'work with youth'

For just about every situation in life, John M. Madsen can recite an applicable scripture. That's because he is so thoroughly immersed in the scriptures that just about every event calls to mind an appropriate verse or passage.

Called in June to the Second Quorum of the Seventy, he moved his family on Aug. 20 to Monterrey, Mexico, where he is serving as second counselor in the Mexico North Area presidency. When he was called to the Seventy and learned he would be serving in Mexico, he said didn't know enough Spanish to order a meal at a Mexican restaurant. By mid-August, however, his conversation was peppered with Spanish phrases and sentences.Of moving his family to a new country and facing the challenges that come with his new calling, he said he, as any other faithful member of the Church, would " . . . go and do the thing which the Lord hath commanded . . . " knowing "that the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them." (1 Ne. 3:7.)

Elder Madsen's wife, Diane, said her husband feels all he needs to know is the will of the Lord. "John has never set out to do his own will; it's always what the Lord would have him do," she said.

" `Wait upon the Lord.' That's how John has allowed his life to unfold day by day. He has never put his own desires first or seized the opportunity to pursue the world's goods at the expense of his desire to serve the Lord."

She related that early in their marriage he had been working for the Church Educational System about two weeks when he received a telephone call from a man who offered him a job with a salary that was about four times what he was earning as a seminary teacher. "I was near the phone," Sister Madsen said. "John didn't even pause to think about his answer, and told the caller he was already committed to working with the youth."

When asked what helped him develop his commitment to serve in the Church and especially to work with youth, he quickly referred to his experience as a student in the early morning seminary program in Pullman, Wash.

"Dale T. Tingey, whom I had never before seen, came into my Sunday School class the day before I was to begin my junior year in high school," Elder Madsen recalled. "Brother Tingey announced to us that we were going to have seminary. I had never heard of the program and didn't know what was involved, but on Monday morning my sister Patricia and I attended our first early morning seminary class with Brother Tingey. For the next two years, I never missed a day. It was during those early morning seminary classes that my personal testimony was strengthened, and I decided that I was going to serve a full-time mission, marry in the temple and serve the Lord throughout my life.

"Much later, after my mission and during my senior year at Washington State University, I received a telephone call from Joe J. Christensen, who was then institute director in Moscow, Idaho, which is about eight miles from Pullman. He told me Brother Tingey had become ill while returning from Canada and had stopped in Moscow. Brother Christensen asked if I could assist in giving Brother Tingey a blessing.

"After we administered to Brother Tingey, he asked me what I was going to do next year. I told him I was intending to go to dental school, to which he responded: `What are you going to do that for? . . . You come do the work of the Lord.' As a result of the feeling I had at that moment, I knew that I was going to work with the youth of the Church."

Elder Madsen then began his life-long career as a teacher in the Church Educational System. (Please see box on this page.)

In 1968, he was called to introduce the seminary program in the British Isles. He and his wife, who had served a mission in the British Isles, moved to England, where they served for two years. Elder Madsen then was called to preside over the England Southwest Mission from 1970-73.

After he returned from England, he continued work on a doctor of education degree and taught Book of Mormon classes at BYU. At the time he was called as a General Authority, he was an associate professor of ancient scripture at BYU. Just a week before moving to Mexico, he administered final exams to 170 students enrolled in summer term.

Elder Madsen's love for the scriptures was instilled at the knee of a faithful mother, who read the scriptures every Sunday to her children while other youngsters in the neighborhood were playing ball, swimming or involved in other activities.

When he was 4, he contracted pneumonia and became so seriously ill that he went into a coma for two days. "The doctor indicated to my parents there was really no hope for their child," Elder Madsen said. "My mother, unbeknownst to me, pleaded with the Lord and promised that if He would spare her child that she would give him to His service. My father laid his hands upon my head to give me a blessing. In the moment he placed his hands upon my head, I became conscious, and soon recovered completely. Early in my life, I knew full well the power of the priesthood and of prayer."

During his youth, Elder Madsen, who now is a lean 175 pounds at 6-feet tall, was active in athletics, playing football, basketball, baseball, and competing in track and swimming during his high school years. He continued athletic competition in football, basketball and swimming into his freshman and sophomore years of college.

It was in college that perhaps the first real test of his commitment to serve the Lord was issued. He earned a scholarship during his freshman year while playing football at Washington State University. He red-shirted his sophomore year, and during spring football was chosen to start as a wide receiver for Washington State the next season.

"It was then that I received a letter from President David O. McKay calling me to serve a mission in the North Central States," Elder Madsen said. "With some concern I went into the office of the head coach, Jim Sutherland, who read my letter of call and then looked up at me and said, `The Lord works in mysterious ways. If I had 33 players like you, my job as a coach would be a pleasure.' Elder Madsen feels certain the coach was speaking not of his football prowess, but rather was referring to the ideals he had learned to cherish as a member of the Church.

Companions and associates in the North Central States Mission remember Elder Madsen as a powerful missionary.

One fellow missionary, James Kennard, said he and his companion had taught two families in one particular town but had made no progress in helping them decide to be baptized. "Despite everything we could do, we couldn't get them to be baptized," Brother Kennard told the Church News. "Then Elder Madsen and his companion, Elder James Olgivie, came along. They were so upbeat and hard working. They loved those people into the Church. Elder Madsen, especially, was always a positive person. As a traveling elder [similar to today's zone leaderT I saw that he had patterned his life from the beginning. I knew he would make Church service his life."

Elder Madsen said his life was influenced by men and women who were dedicated to serving the Lord. He names his parents and wife specifically among those who have influenced him most.

He was born in Washington, D.C., and lived in the vicinity of Belstville, Md., until he was 6, at which time his father, who worked with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, was transferred to a position at Utah State University in Logan. His father was then appointed president of USU, serving from 1950-53. Later, he moved to Pullman, Wash., where his father became dean of the Institute of Agriculture and Applied Sciences at Washington State University.

"I was attending seminary in my junior year of high school when Diane Dursteler, my future wife, walked into the classroom," Elder Madsen recalled. "She was the younger sister of my seminary teacher's wife and was visiting in Washington during spring break at her high school in Ogden, Utah. I was 16; she was 15. Eight years later, on Aug. 16, 1963, we were married in the Salt Lake Temple."

In describing her husband, Sister Madsen said: "He is an optimist filled with faith. He knows the Lord is at the helm. He is obedient to the Spirit and is so cheerful."

An experience that had an impact on Elder Madsen was when President George Albert Smith died in 1951. "My father, then president of Utah State University, was invited to attend the funeral in the Tabernacle on Temple Square. I accompanied him," Elder Madsen reflected.

"That was the first time I saw President McKay, who presided and spoke at the funeral. I will never forget the feeling I had as I listened to President McKay speak. At the conclusion of the funeral, I hurried down the side of the building, where I thought the Brethren might exit the Tabernacle behind President Smith's coffin. I remember looking up and seeing the prophet and all the Brethren passing before me. I have never wondered since that important day whether or not we were led by living prophets. I have found wonderful blessings in being obedient to the voice of the Lord's servants. I have loved their words and have tried always to be obedient to their counsel."

Elder John M. Madsen

  • Family: Born in Washington, D.C., April 24, 1939, to Louis L. and Edith Louise Gundersen Madsen; married Diane Dursteler of Ogden, Utah, in the Salt Lake Temple, Aug. 16, 1963. They are parents of six children, Lynette, living in Pittsburgh, Pa.; Lisa, a missionary in the Denmark Copenhagen Mission; Michelle, who married Chad Heybourne Aug. 18, 1992, in the Salt Lake Temple; Amy and John Jr. Another son, James Allen, died at birth.
  • Education: Bachelor's degree in zoology from Washington State University; master's and doctor of education degrees from BYU.
  • Employment: Seminary teacher, institute director and instructor, early morning seminary coordinator, religion professor at BYU, director of Melchizedek Priesthood MIA, other assignments in Church Melchizedek Priesthood Department.
  • Church Service: Melchizedek Priesthood MIA general board; Young Men general board; mission president; regional representative; served on various Church general committees; stake mission president, stake Sunday School president, teacher in auxiliaries.

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