It’s surprising that Elder Ronald A. Rasband does not instinctively reach for a seatbelt whenever he sits down. Fastening up for take-off has become something of a habit for this newly called Apostle.
Since becoming a General Authority 15 years ago, Elder Rasband has traveled to all corners of the world to be with the members of the Church. He and his wife, Sister Melanie Rasband, have filled multiple passports and logged hundreds of thousands of air miles.
And with each assignment, their love and admiration for the Latter-day Saints across the globe has grown stronger and stronger.
“We’ve come to recognize that this really is a worldwide Church,” he told the Church News. “We have had tremendous experiences that have given us a rich perspective of the diverse nature of our members.”
Elder Rasband, 64, said that each assignment — be they local or distant — has also taught him lessons that will serve him well in his calling to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. He was sustained in general conference as an Apostle on Oct. 3, along with Elder Gary E. Stevenson and Elder Dale G. Renlund.
His past tenure in the Seventy, he added, provided priceless opportunities to serve, shoulder to shoulder, with the men of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve. They were and continue to be his mentors. On each assignment with the presiding Brethren, he soaked up their counsel and wise words. And he kept his eyes and ears wide open.
“You are always learning,” he said of his association with the Apostles. “I have loved being an observer. ... They have helped to lift and prepare me in every way.”
In 2000, Elder Rasband was called, at age 49, as a General Authority Seventy. He came from the international business world and served as president and chief operating officer of Huntsman Chemical Corporation before accepting a call, in 1996, to preside over the New York New York North Mission.
But it was as a new General Authority that he developed a deep appreciation for the growing, worldwide Church. Soon after he was called, he and Sister Rasband relocated to Europe. His assignments in the Area Presidency there would prove invaluable to his spiritual and leadership development. His assignment covered more than 35 countries — stretching from Iceland to Egypt. Almost every weekend, Elder Rasband taught and worshipped alongside members from a variety of nationalities and cultures.
“Those first experiences were amazing and they taught, prepared and broadened us deeply for this new chapter in our lives,” he said.
Sister Rasband was humbled by the daily sacrifices she witnessed being made by many of the members.
“The Saints are magnificent in their faith and diligence,” she said. “In some countries, they face difficult circumstances just to make it to Church, to hold callings or to even read the scriptures with their families.”
Elder Rasband would return to Church headquarters a few years later, fulfilling assignments as president of the Utah Salt Lake City Area and as executive director of the Temple Department. In the latter capacity he worked closely with President Gordon B. Hinckley and his counselors in the First Presidency.
He remembers President Hinckley once looking him squarely in the eye, pointing his finger and saying: “Take everything you learn from me about the Lord’s love for temples. Take it for the rest of your ministry.”
With each new assignment, Elder and Sister Rasband relished their moments with members at stake conferences or during mission tours.
“You can’t be involved with the Saints without being touched by their faith and their desire to serve the Lord,” he said.
During stake conferences or other member gatherings, Sister Rasband occasionally called upon children to sing “I Am a Child of God” in their native tongue. Elder Rasband smiles when he speaks of his wife’s natural rapport with members of all ages and backgrounds.
“Many times, after a meeting, a few members come forward to speak with me — and a whole flock comes forward to be with Sister Rasband.”
Elder Rasband’s exposure to the worldwide Church only grew with his calling in 2005 to the Presidency of the Seventy. He came to love the Brethren of the Seventy — be they General Authorities or Area Seventies. He continues to be inspired by their devotion and capacity.
Sister Rasband, meanwhile, is grateful for her friendship with the wives of the other General Authorities. “I have come to deeply love the sisters in a way that I never thought possible,” she said.
In 2009, Elder Rasband was called as Senior President of the Presidency of the Seventy. His ecclesiastical duties frequently placed him, again, in the company of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. He came to treasure and rely upon their time-earned wisdom. He seconded Elder David A. Bednar’s recent general conference endorsement of the veteran Apostles and their priceless experience.
“Fear,” he said, “is not a word known to the First Presidency and the Twelve. They are not fearful — they are faithful. Their experience gives them a great view of the past. Their seership gives them a view of the future.”
Counted dearly among his friends and mentors in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles are the recently departed Apostles President Boyd K. Packer, Elder L. Tom Perry and Elder Richard G. Scott.
Elder Rasband said it’s impossible “to fill the shoes” of those three men. “But I feel like I can stand on their shoulders. I can use every good thing that I have learned from them.”
The new Apostle plans to utilize his ministry to testify of Christ and His Atonement for the rest of his life. His counsel for the membership of the Church: “Follow the President of the Church. Follow those we sustain as prophets, seers and revelators. Build faith in Heavenly Father, in Jesus Christ and in the Savior’s Atonement. Protect and strengthen your own family.”
Keeping the Sabbath Day holy, he added, is a sacred vehicle to realizing such faith.
The Rasbands have five children and 24 grandchildren.
“We really don’t have any other life beyond Church and family — that’s it,” he said, laughing. “When we are not serving in some Church capacity, we are with our children and our grandchildren.”
The children and grandchildren, added Sister Rasband, “are our social life.”
Elder and Sister Rasband met with the Church News just hours after Elder Rasband was ordained an Apostle. Emotions remained close to the surface as they reflected upon the life-changing call.
“My wife and I are humbled beyond measure with this new calling and new opportunity,” he said. “Today I was ordained an Apostle under the hands of President [Thomas S.] Monson. I am still trembling.”
[email protected] @JNSwensen