As a young missionary venturing away from home for the first time, Bonnie Hillam arrived at the Missionary Training Center in Provo, Utah, and knew she needed confirmation that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was Christ’s restored church on the earth.
Even though she had been raised in the Church and had heeded spiritual promptings to submit her mission papers, the prospect of traveling to a foreign land and learning a new language sparked in her a desire to know for herself.
“The Lord was very kind, and I was given a reassurance that this is the Church of Jesus Christ and that He is at the head,” she recalled. “Just knowing that gave me courage and confidence to go out on my mission to testify that Christ lives.”
She would need that confidence, she said, because she struggled to learn a new language. But if there was one thing her father, Harold Hillam, instilled in his children, it was the knowledge that with the help of the Lord they could do anything. “There are no limits,” her father would say.
It’s a truth she saw proven as she eventually learned fluent Portuguese and one she has been repeating to herself since being called as second counselor in the new Primary general presidency.
Sister Bonnie Hillam Cordon was born March 11, 1964, to Harold and Carol Rasmussen Hillam and experienced a “fairytale childhood,” as she describes it. Her father was an orthodontist but decided to buy a small farm in southeast Idaho when he and his wife started their family. “When someone asked what he was going to raise on the farm, he responded, ‘Kids.’ ”
Saturday was a work day, Sister Cordon recalled. She and her six siblings were expected to either help their mother in the house or their father around the farm. When given a choice, young Bonnie always chose to be outdoors and would help her father plant corn or move sprinkler pipe or perform other chores outside. When she was in elementary school her dad decided she needed a project and bought her an entire flock of chickens. At first, she thought, “Oh, I get to play with these beautiful chicks.”
“But then they grew up,” she said. Her dad asked her what she was going to do with all the eggs so she started carrying them on the bus to sell to her schoolteachers.
“I quickly became known as the ‘egg girl,’ ” she remembered with a laugh. Working, playing and living on the farm taught her many important lessons including self-reliance, responsibility and “not to be afraid to try things.”
And while the farm required their family to work hard together, they also made time to play hard together. They would often go camping and fishing — “Yellowstone was our playground” — and at one point decided as a family to get scuba certified.
But whether it was work or play, the gospel was always central in their lives. “We said family prayers, held family home evening and went to church every Sunday, but my parents also taught us why we did it and why it was important to our Heavenly Father.”
Her parents provided the example in missionary service by accepting a call to preside over the Portugal Lisbon Mission during her senior year of high school. Which is why she had some trepidations when she learned she would be returning to Portugal on her own mission. “I did not want to serve in Portugal because I could not speak Portuguese,” she said. But once again the lessons from the farm helped her. “I knew I could do hard things.”
During that time, missionaries were encouraged to memorize discussions. “So I’d memorize [the lesson] and go to teach it and the dear people would look at my companion and ask, ‘What did she say?’ ”
The struggle, however, helped her learn to rely on the Lord. “I was on my knees a lot asking for miracles.” She also learned that the Lord needed her to do her part. “The miracle came. The Lord eventually taught me how to speak Portuguese, but it required a lot of work and a lot of patience.”
Her ability to speak Portuguese blessed her many years later as she and her husband, Derek Lane Cordon, were called to preside over the Brazil Curitiba Mission.
“It’s interesting how the Lord prepares us and builds us, a little at a time,” Sister Cordon said. “It always makes more sense when we look in the rearview mirror. We just have to have faith.”
After her mission she studied education at Brigham Young University, in Provo, Utah. While there she became “really good friends” with Derek Cordon. Their friendship naturally progressed into a deeper connection, and the two married on April 25, 1986, in the Salt Lake Temple. They have four children — three sons and one daughter — and three grandsons.
Sister Cordon continues to share many of the hobbies from her childhood with her own family. They love to be outdoors — hiking, skiing and even scuba diving.
Looking back, Sister Cordon said life has taught her that “there will be a lot of raindrops on your world but there will also be a lot of rainbows — if you look for them. All of it is agency and we get to choose what part of this good world we partake of. It’s our choice,” she said. “But He’s so eager for us to turn to Him.”
That is something she has tried to do throughout her life and most especially since receiving her new calling. “There have been a few sleepless nights since this call came, but a real calm has come through all of it as the Lord has said, ‘Bonnie, this is My work,’ ” Sister Cordon said. With the Savior’s help individuals can accomplish whatever He asks, she added.
One of Sister Cordon’s favorite Primary songs is “I Love to See the Temple.” “The temple is one of her favorite places,” Brother Cordon said.
In her new assignment, Sister Cordon said she hopes to teach the children of the Church an essential truth taught within the temple: “Heavenly Father loves them.”