During his recent trip to Asia, Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles found timeless inspiration in the words of two modern-day prophets.
First, from President David O. Mckay in his 1921 dedicatory prayer upon the nation of China:
“We beseech thee, O God, to reveal to thy servants the best methods to adopt and the best plans to follow in establishing Thy work among this ancient tradition-steeped people. May the work prove joyous, and a rich harvest of honest souls bring peace to the workers’ hearts which surpasseth all understanding.”
And second, the words of President Gordon B. Hinckley delivered at the 1996 dedication of the Hong Kong China Temple:
“May the blessings of freedom continue to be enjoyed by those who live here and, in a particular way, we pray that future events may be conducive to the growth and strengthening of Thy work, that rich and marvelous blessings may come into the lives of Thy sons and daughters.”
Those two prophetic statements, delivered decades apart, are rich with hope and high expectations for the future of the gospel in Asia — a vast area filled with more than half the world’s population.
Elder Ballard recently presided over area reviews of the Asia North Area and the Asia Area of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. His Apostolic visit also included meetings with thousands of members, priesthood leaders and missionaries. His travels marked a realization, in part, of the “future events” envisioned here almost 20 years ago by President Hinckley.
Yes, the Church is still writing its maiden chapters in many Asian nations. But Elder Ballard said the strength of the leaders across this continent would ensure continued growth during this historic period “of the Lord’s hastening.”
“It’s remarkable to see the spiritual maturity of the stake presidencies, the bishoprics and the elders quorum presidencies in Asia,” Elder Ballard told the Church News. “Many of them are relatively new in the Church, but they understand their duty as priesthood leaders to protect, bless and teach the members of their congregations.”
Elder Ronald A. Rasband of the Presidency of the Seventy and Bishop Gary E. Stevenson, the Church’s Presiding Bishop, accompanied Elder Ballard during his Asian tour (Feb. 17–March 1). Highlights included visits to the Japanese cites of Sapporo, Tokyo and Nagoya and to the southern Asian cities of Hong Kong and Singapore.
“This was the first time that a member of the Twelve has conducted two area reviews on one trip,” noted Elder Rasband.
With the assistance of the host Area Presidencies, the visiting Brethren were able to focus on many key areas of the Church in Asia.
Area reviews allow members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles to spend time in the vast regions of the Church. The area reviews help the Apostles keep an eye on the growth and challenges of Latter-day Saints across the globe.
“It’s a wonderful way for the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve to keep their arms around what is going on in the Church, worldwide,” said Elder Ballard.
During area reviews, the visiting Apostles and their travel companions from the Seventy and the Presiding Bishopric generally schedule time to teach and support local priesthood leadership, full-time missionaries and members of the Church.
Besides participating in the two area reviews, the visiting Brethren presided over two priesthood leadership conferences (one in Nagoya, the other in Singapore), five missionary meetings, four meetings attended by some 6,300 members and three special stake conferences.
For Bishop Stevenson, the recent tour of Asia was almost like returning to his own home.
“The Asia and Asia North Area Reviews were somewhat of a reunion for me,” he said. “ I served as a young missionary in Japan, followed by many years of my professional career traveling throughout Asia and most recently in the Asia North Area Presidency.”
The wives of the General Authorities also participated in multiple women’s meetings for the Asian sisters. “The buildings were filled to capacity with sisters who had come to hear our wives,” said Elder Rasband of the meetings with the sisters. (See accompanying box.)
Elder Ballard and the other General Authorities also made visits to key government leaders, including Japan’s Majority Leader, Mr. Sadakuza Tanigaki, and Japan’s Minister of State, Mrs. Eriko Yamatani.
Another highlight included a visit at the American Embassy in Japan with Caroline Kennedy, the U.S. Ambassador to Japan and the daughter of former U.S. President John F. Kennedy.
During their visit, Elder Ballard shared with the ambassador photos of President Kennedy meeting with President David O. McKay during a visit years ago to Church headquarters in Salt Lake City.
“Ambassador Kennedy was very moved by the pictures of her father with President McKay,” said Elder Rasband. “It helped her connect with Elder Ballard and the Church.”
In his discussion with the Church News, the Apostle spoke of some of the challenges facing members in Asia. Many juggle demanding employment schedules outside the home and work long hours each week, including Saturdays.
In their many meetings, the visiting Brethren encouraged the members to do what they can to simplify their lives. Make families and weekly sacrament services a key priority.
They also taught members and local leaders to work closely in ward, branch and family councils.
“We taught the fundamental principles of the gospel,” said Elder Ballard.
Elder Rasband was humbled to travel alongside an Apostle who holds sacred, spiritual keys. Elder Ballard’s visit, he said, marked a realization of Doctrine and Covenants 107:35: “The Twelve being sent out, holding the keys, to open the door by the proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
In every meeting and training conference, the Apostle shared his witness of Jesus Christ and then invited the members and missionaries to prayerfully seek opportunities to share the gospel with others.
During their visit to Asia, Elder Ballard and the other visiting General Authorities saw first-hand, as President McKay once prophesied, the Lord’s work being established “among this ancient, tradition-steeped people.”
“The center of Zion is truly in the hearts of the members and the leaders in every country of the vast areas we visited,” said Bishop Stevenson.
As foretold, a “rich harvest of honest souls” in Asia is underway.
[email protected] @JNSwensen
Elder M. Russell Ballard, Elder Ronald A. Rasband and Bishop Gary E. Stevenson recently traveled from Church headquarters in Salt Lake City to participate in Area Reviews of the Asia Area and Asia North Area.
They were accompanied in their travels by their wives — Sister Barbara Ballard, Sister Melanie Rasband and Sister Lesa Stevenson.
Also participating in the area reviews and other meetings were the Asia North Area Presidency: Elder Michael T. Ringwood, Elder Koichi Aoyagi and Elder Scott D. Whiting, all of the Seventy; and the Asia Area Presidency: Elder Gerrit W. Gong, Elder Randy D. Funk and Elder Chi Hong (Sam) Wong, all of the Seventy. Those Brethren were accompanied at various meetings by their wives — Sister Rosalie Ringwood, Sister Shiroko Aoyagi, Sister Jeri Whiting, Sister Susan Gong, Sister Andrea Funk and Sister Carol Wong.