As a young boy, Brian Kent Ashton remembers listening to his mother tell stories of his ancestors. Often, she told of his fourth great-grandfather, Richard Ballentyne, who started the first Sunday School of the Church in Salt Lake City in 1848.
Nearly two decades before Sunday School was officially organized Churchwide, the Scottish convert — who had been a Sunday school teacher in his former church — gathered approximately 50 students in his home on Dec. 9, 1849, for the first Sunday school lesson.
Although he has heard that story over and over from his mother, it wasn’t until recently that it really became personal, said Brother Ashton, who currently presides over the Texas Houston South Mission and has accepted a call to serve as the second counselor in the Sunday School general presidency.
“I can’t help but think he may have had something to do with this call to serve in the Sunday School,” Brother Ashton said.
Born in Provo, Utah, on March 8, 1969, to Kent and Vicki Brown Ashton, Brother Ashton is the first of nine children. Along with six brothers and two sisters, Brother Ashton learned the importance of living the gospel. Although the family moved around to different cities quite often for their father’s work, the Ashton home was one of consistency in doing what is right, no matter where the family lived.
“Some of my very first memories of my mother are of her teaching me the gospel,” Brother Ashton said. “My parents were always consistent, no matter where we lived. They could see the difference living the gospel made and they wanted us to have the blessings of the gospel.”
Brother Ashton remembers his father taking a call at home during dinnertime one evening. He listened as his father engaged in a lengthy conversation, finally ending with a “no.” When asked about what was going on, his father said it was someone calling about a work deal, and although the deal was worth a lot of money to his father personally, he turned it down “because it wasn’t the right thing.”
When it came time for seminary during his senior year of high school, Brother Ashton remembers telling his parents that he wasn’t learning anything. His father decided that they would study the Book of Mormon together. Studying with and learning from his father during that time helped Brother Ashton to recognize the importance of studying the scriptures as well as taught him how to learn from them.
By the end of his senior year in high school, he had decided that he would attend the University of Virginia.
While trying to decide if a mission was for him, he had a good friend tell him he felt prompted to tell him he needed to serve a mission. As his friend expressed his feelings, young Brian felt the Spirit confirming he needed to serve a mission. He was called to serve in the Peru Lima South Mission.
A week before his last semester finals of his first year, his two-and-a half-year old brother fell in a Jacuzzi. Although his brother initially lived, he was in a coma, and Brian didn’t know if he should leave on a mission when he felt his family needed his help. He decided to turn to the Lord for help in making his decision. He received a clear answer that he needed to go.
“While on my mission, I prayed to Heavenly Father to help me focus and to take care of my family,” he said. “I turned my family over to the Lord. It was while I was in Peru that I really learned to trust the Lord.”
While in Peru, Brother Ashton had other opportunities to learn to trust the Lord. He was sick with worms and malaria and, at age 20, he was called to be branch president in his assigned area. It was during the quiet moments on preparation day that he prayed to Heavenly Father for solutions to the problems he and his branch members faced.
“I learned to rely on Him, and He came through for me,” he said. “Learning to trust Him has made all the difference.”
Just after he returned home from his mission, his little brother passed away. Although it was difficult, Brother Ashton said, it was a reminder to him that the Lord had taken care of his family and helped him to focus on his mission in answer to his prayers. Instead of returning to the University of Virginia, he headed to BYU where he met his future wife, Melinda Earl. He was her home teacher.
“I was a very faithful home teacher,” he said with a chuckle.
Sister Ashton said, “From the very beginning he was the type of person I wanted to marry. From the time I met him I realized he was committed to the Lord, willing to change and learn and was a hard worker. But both of us had things we needed to learn.”
Although they were a great fit for each other, Sister Ashton didn’t receive a confirmation that they should marry until after she served in the Spain Malaga Mission.
Sister Ashton looks back on her mission as a great time of personal growth, as well as an experience that has helped her in their life together — especially as a mission president’s wife.
While she was gone, Brother Ashton worked in Minneapolis and Chicago. When she returned, he moved to Provo and commuted to work in Chicago. They were married on July 20, 1996, in the St. George Utah Temple. They have seven children.
Jobs and further schooling in different cities for both of them — medical school for Sister Ashton and an MBA for Brother Ashton — kept them commuting for much of their early marriage. When they decided to start a family, Sister Ashton was in her third year of medical school. After much prayer and consideration, she decided to take a leave of absence.
Although that was a difficult decision — especially after the huge commitment of time and money medical school had been — she learned to trust in the Lord.
“I ended up never going back,” she said. “I decided I didn’t want to miss what was going on with my children.”
The next few years brought more children, new jobs, more commuting for Brother Ashton’s work in addition to his calling as a bishop. They had been living in Las Vegas for 13 years when they finally received a confirmation that they needed to move to Utah where Brother Ashton’s work had been for the past seven years.
Only three weeks after they moved to Utah they received a call to meet with a General Authority in preparation for a call to preside over the Texas Houston South Mission. Just as they were supposed to report to the mission, Sister Ashton gave birth to their seventh child.
Although the timing of things hasn’t always been what they would have initially planned, the Ashtons say it is through putting their trust in the Lord that they have seen and felt the Lord sustaining them.
“As we put ourselves in the hands of the Lord, He sustains us and makes us happy,” Brother Ashton said. “Happiness comes from doing it the Lord’s way.”
Family: Born March 8, 1969, in Provo, Utah, to Kent and Vicki Brown Ashton; married Melinda Earl in the St. George Utah Temple on July 20, 1996; seven children: Spencer, 16; Braeden, 14; Jacob, 12; Elisabeth Kate, 10; Ethan, 8; Daniel, 5; Wesley, 2.
Education: Bachelor of arts degree from Brigham Young University in 1993, with a major in international relations and minor in English; master of business administration from Harvard Business School in 1998.
Employment: Business manager and executive and board member at various companies since 1998, including McKinsey & Company, 1993-96; AllMeetings.com (bought by Getthere.com/Sabre in 2000), 1998-2003; Batteries & Bands (became Precision Time), 2003-2012; Corrective Education Company, 2011-2012.
Church service: President of the Texas Houston South Mission from 2012-present, former bishop, bishopric counselor, high councilor, elders quorum president and counselor, gospel doctrine teacher, missionary in the Peru Lima South Mission.
[email protected] @marianne_holman