Not all the Church's pioneers lived in the 19th Century, and Merrill J. Bateman is an example.
A pioneer, in the most common dictionary definition of the word, is "one who goes before, preparing the way for others." Elder Bateman, called last month as one of 15 new members of the Seventy, filled that role in 1978 in connection with carrying the gospel to the nations of West Africa.Eminently qualified in business management, he had visited West Africa several times as a consultant. In 1977, Elder James E. Faust of the Council of the Twelve was president of the International Mission. He asked Brother Bateman to contact members of the Church on his next visit. Brother Bateman complied with the request in January 1978.
"When I came back I recommended that contact be made with the Ghanaians and Nigerians at BYU, and a fireside be held," he recalled.
That was in May 1978. The following month, the First Presidency announced the historic revelation extending priesthood and temple blessings to all worthy male members of the Church. (See D&C Official Declaration – 2.)
Three weeks later, Elder Faust asked Brother Bateman to accept a short-term mission call. He was to go with Elder Edwin Q. Cannon to Ghana and Nigeria. They were to search out and determine the sincerity of people who, having read about the Church, were meeting unofficially to worship in the Church's name. The two missionaries did so, informing the groups about the recent revelation, then returned and reported to the First Presidency.
"Time after time, miracles occurred to help us find people we needed to see," he recalled.
In Calabar, Nigeria, they were to meet Ime Eduok, a Church member who would help them find some 25 groups. He was not at the airport to meet them and they had no idea how to find him.
"Elder Cannon and I went up to our hotel room and prayed. We came back down to the reception area and asked at the desk. This was a city of a few hundred thousand people. Suddenly, a man came up, having overheard us, and said he was Brother Eduok's employer."
The employer had stopped at the hotel to buy a newspaper. He told them that Ime Eduok was still at the office, but they had better hurry to meet him, as he was leaving in 15 minutes. They arrived just as he was putting the lock on the door. Over the next three days, they found all the groups they needed to see.
From 1963 until the 1978 revelation on the priesthood, Elder Bateman visited West Africa at least once a year, and on several occasions had informally met groups who were meeting in the name of the Church. For the next nine years, he never had occasion to go back.
Experiences in his youth in Lehi and American Fork, Utah, helped prepare Merrill Bateman for his later role in business and the Church. At age 16, he taught a Sunday School class of 8-year-olds.
"I became fascinated with the scriptures and studying the gospel as a result of trying to teach those lessons," he remembered.
An experience he said helped him develop the confidence to succeed in most environments was a convention of the Rotary Club, a civic organization, in Salt Lake City. One young man was selected from each high school in the state to attend the convention. That group was interviewed, and Merrill was one of the students who received a four-year scholarship.
He studied economics at the University of Utah and went on to earn a doctorate from Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His education led to a distinguished career, as an instructor at the U.S. Air Force Academy, BYU economics professor, executive with Mars Inc. in England and the United States, dean of BYU's College of Business and School of Management, and ultimately owner of his own consulting and capital management companies.
His doctoral thesis on how farmers in Africa respond to economic price incentives took him to that continent many times over the years. Thus he was in a strategic position when the Lord required someone to prepare the way for missionary work in the West African nations.
Handsome and gray-haired, with a voice a radio announcer might envy, Elder Bateman is 6 feet 2 inches tall, an attribute that came in handy when he played high school basketball.
"He did very well," said his wife, Marilyn, who added that he was a member of the Deseret News all-state team his senior year.
She knew him well then. Born in Logan, Utah, she moved with her family to American Fork, and she and Merrill dated. They married in 1959, the year after he returned from his mission.
Twelve years later, he would return to England with his wife and family. In the two years they spent there, he was in the High Wycombe Branch presidency and later was in the presidency of the Reading District.
"The first Sunday we were there, we looked around; there were about 15 members in attendance, and seven of them belonged to me," he recalled. But by the time they moved away two years later, about 150 members were attending, and a new meetinghouse had been built and dedicated."
The Batemans have seven children. Sister Bateman said they have developed no magic formulas for child rearing, but patience and reliance on the Lord helps.
"We are a skiing family," she said.
"And our children have been involved in athletics – football, basketball and baseball – so we've attended thousands of games over the years," Elder Bateman added.
The opportunities to serve as a bishop and stake president have given him the chance to experience what he calls the mantle that comes with the position. "It is a very strong feeling of love for all the people in your jurisdiction."
As a General Authority, he said he hopes to be an instrument in helping lift people, "helping them to see the potential within themselves and to really flourish in the callings that they have."
"And we want to bring people to Christ – particularly those who've not heard about the gospel – and help all of us understand more clearly who He is and what He has done for us."
Elder Merrill J. Bateman
-Family: Born in Lehi, Utah, on June 19, 1936, to Joseph Frederic and Belva Smith Bateman. Married Marilyn Scholes in the Salt Lake Temple on March 23, 1959. Parents of seven children; Michael Joseph Bateman, 32; Mark Joseph Bateman, 30; Michele Bateman Swindler, 28, twins Merilee, 24, and Melissa, 24; Matthew, 19, submitting papers to serve a mission; McKay, 15.
-Education: Bachelor's degree in economics from University of Utah, doctorate in economics from Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
-Military service: U.S. Air Force, 1964-67, as an associate professor at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo.
-Employment: Owner of a management consulting company and a capital management company, both in Orem, Utah, 1980-present; senior staff officer for M&M Mars Corp., in McLean, Va., 1979-80; dean of College of Business at BYU, later the School of management and Graduate School Management, 1975-79.
-Church service: Regional representative in Orem Utah Southwest and Spanish Fork Utah regions; president of Provo Utah Sharon East Stake and BYU 1st Stake, member of Redding District presidency in England, high councilor, bishop of BYU 8th Ward, and a missionary in the British Mission, 1956-58.