Sister Linda K. Burton: Love transcends language and culture

New Relief Society president relies on the help of the Lord

As a teenager, Linda Kjar Burton had a sudden realization during a Church meeting in Christchurch, New Zealand. “I knew the gospel was true,” she recalled. “I was also aware I had always known.”

It was one of several important lessons she learned after moving with her family from Salt Lake City to New Zealand, where her father presided over the New Zealand South Mission.

Sister Burton attended the Church College of New Zealand and associated with Latter-day Saint teens from across the Pacific. Three years later she returned to Salt Lake City with not only a love for varied cultures and traditions, but especially for the Lord and her family.

Sister Linda K. Burton, Relief Society general president, and her husband, Craig P. Burton, pose for a photo in the Church Office building.
Sister Linda K. Burton, Relief Society general president, and her husband, Craig P. Burton, pose for a photo in the Church Office building. Credit: Photo by Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

Those lessons will help Sister Burton now, as she begins her service as Relief Society general president.

Born in Salt Lake City, Utah, Linda Kjar was the second of Marjorie C. and Morris A. Kjar’s six children. She had a happy childhood filled with music and roadshows and sweet associations with people linked to her parents’ Church service. But she never realized how deeply committed her parents were to the Church until they moved their family across the globe to New Zealand. Linda was 13.

The family lived on in Wellington, the southern-most tip of New Zealand’s North Island, while Linda and her sisters attended school at the Church College of New Zealand, located much further north. The dorms were filled with young women from across the Pacific.

“They were our dearest friends,” she said of young women she met in the dorms. “We had such fun as we grew to know and love each other.”

It was hard to leave them a couple of years later when her family returned to Salt Lake City, where Linda graduated from Highland High School and began attending the University of Utah.

As a university student, she met her future husband at a devotional in the Assembly Hall on Temple Square. “She was wearing a pink turtleneck and long, black velvet dress,” he recalled. Craig Burton thought she might be “the most beautiful girl I had ever seen.” On their first date, to a University of Utah/BYU basketball game, they found out their fathers had served together in the Western Canadian Mission.

Sister Burton said the relationship felt different than anything she had ever experienced. “It felt as if we were starting in the middle of a friendship. It just felt right,” she recalled.

The couple married Aug. 7, 1973, in the Salt Lake Temple.

Together they made the decision to follow the prophet’s counsel and start their family right away; the first of their six children was born almost a year later.

She was grateful to be able to stay home with the children while her husband completed a business degree and made a career in real estate.

The family took simple camping vacations and enjoyed being together. Sister Burton served in Young Women, Primary, Relief Society and Sunday School and on the Primary and Relief Society general boards. Brother Burton served as a bishop, counselor in the stake presidency and as a stake president.

Still, things were not always easy. Just as the couple’s fourth child was born and while Brother Burton was serving as a bishop, the U.S. economy collapsed and the real estate market fell apart. The prime rate went sky high. No one was buying. “We went one year without an income,” Brother Burton recalled.

“We lived off our food storage and got down to almost the last can of food,” said Sister Burton.

The Burtons turned off their furnace and used a wood-burning stove to heat their home. A ward member asked the couple if they would be interested in taking over a garden plot. “That was a gift to our family to have fresh produce,” said Sister Burton. “We grew a huge garden that year and lived off that.”

One day they came home and found a box of frozen meat sitting on their counter. To this day they don’t know where the meat came from or how someone got into their house, which was locked. But “it was a blessing to us,” said Sister Burton. “It was an assurance to us that Heavenly Father was aware of our needs and our efforts to be self-reliant.” Then, when it seemed they couldn’t make it any longer, “a wonderful job came. It was an answer to prayers.”

Ultimately, Sister Burton said, the experience taught them to look to the future with confidence “because we knew we had done something hard with the help of the Lord.”

Sister Burton remembered those lessons when she and her husband served together as he presided over the Korea Seoul West Mission from 2007 to 2010. In the mission field Sister Burton received advice from a dear friend who told her not to worry so much about learning the language, but to instead focus on loving the members and the missionaries. “They will feel your love,” her friend promised.

The Burtons had attended Korean mission reunions their entire marriage, as Brother Burton also served in Korea as a young missionary. But, after serving in the country herself, Sister Burton began to understand why she always felt something extra special at those reunions. “I finally understood that love,” she said. “The love was a gift from the Lord to those who serve His beloved children.”

It’s a lesson she had learned as a 13-year-old girl in New Zealand. It’s a lesson she will rely on now as the Church’s Relief Society general president. “I learned love transcends language and culture,” she said.

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Biographical information

Family: Born in Salt Lake City, Utah, on Oct. 19, 1952, to Morris Ashton and Marjorie Castleton Kjar; married Craig Palmer Burton on Aug. 7, 1973, in the Salt Lake Temple; six children: Jed (Brooke) Burton, Emily (Dan) Decker, Katie (Iuri) Melo, Annie (Brian) Karren, Mandi (Bryce) Winkelman, and Brynne (Tanner) Frei; 19 grandchildren.

Education: Studied elementary education at the University of Utah.

Community service: PTA president and board member and other volunteer work.

Church service: Former member of the Primary and Relief Society general boards, seminary teacher and had various callings in Primary, Young Women, Sunday School and Relief Society; accompanied her husband while he served as president of the Korea Seoul West Mission from 2007 to 2010 and her family when her father served as president of the New Zealand South Mission.