Experiences given in life shape and mold people into who they are and who they continue to become. Spiritual experiences provide opportunities for growth, and serve to increase faith in Jesus Christ and in His Atonement.
Elder Evan A. Schmutz, sustained April 2 as a new General Authority Seventy, recalls some of the spiritual experiences that were key in shaping his life and preparing him to serve the Lord. It started in his youth.
As an 8-year old Cub Scout, Evan was preparing for the Scout Jamboree by selling tickets. Each ticket sold for $1 and he had worked hard to sell a total of 17 tickets. “I had a little white envelope that I kept the money in, and I was going to turn that in to the Cub Master,” said Elder Schmutz.
But when the day came to give the money to his Cub Master, he couldn’t find the envelope. He panicked and ran aimlessly around the house, gripped with fear because he knew that if the money wasn’t found, he could never replace it. His mother, observing his distress, stopped him and asked what was the matter. Eight year-old Evan explained his seemingly hopeless predicament. “I felt horrible. I felt I had committed a grave error, and I was in deep trouble,” he said.
After listening to her son’s anguished explanation, Evan’s mother asked: “Have you prayed about it?” The thought had not crossed his mind. But he turned and went to his bedroom and knelt in prayer. He had no sooner called upon his Heavenly Father and begun to explain his difficulties when a picture came into his mind showing him the exact location of the envelope.
“I could see it. It was at the bottom of the kitchen wastebasket.” He got up and ran to the kitchen, pulled the wastebasket from under the sink and dumped its contents on the kitchen floor. There, at the very bottom, just as he had been shown, was the envelope.
It was such a relief. But more, it was the beginning of testimony. “I learned firsthand from that experience that God lives. He is our Father, and He answers prayers. He loves us. He even listens to a little boy, and He can show us wonderful things.”
Elder Schmutz was raised in a closely knit and loving family, led by parents of faith who raised their children in the light of the gospel. When Elder Schmutz was 18, his older sister Linda was engaged to be married. As she and her fiancé were returning to Utah from a visit to her fiancé’s parents, Linda was killed in a tragic accident.
“Linda’s death had a huge impact on me,” said Elder Schmutz. “I loved her deeply and knew that she had loved the Lord and His Church. It drove me to consider seriously the purpose of my life and required me to make practical application of the doctrines of the Church and the Plan of Salvation.”
His sister’s death came at a time when Elder Schmutz was beginning to prepare for his mission. In the midst of this tragedy, Elder Schmutz turned to God and received spiritual knowledge that his sister still lived and it was of great importance that he should make correct choices in the way he lived his life in order to enjoy the blessings of eternal family relationships.
Elder Schmutz’s choice to serve a mission led to many spiritual experiences that deepened his conversion. Called to serve in the North Carolina Greensboro Mission, Elder Schmutz arrived at the old Salt Lake City mission home in December 1973. “On the first day, I watched as two fine returned missionaries showed us how to teach,” said Elder Schmutz. “They bore a powerful witness of Joseph Smith and the reality of the First Vision. It affected me greatly, but caused me to doubt if my testimony was strong enough. Doubt in my own capacity to testify with such power and surety troubled my soul.”
That night in his dormitory, Elder Schmutz climbed to his assigned bunk at the top of a three-tiered bunk bed. His heart was filled with doubt about his ability to serve unless he could obtain a stronger testimony. “I waited and pondered on this concern until everyone around me was sleeping. I knelt on my bed and shared my distress with Heavenly Father,” said Elder Schmutz. In desperation, Elder Schmutz made a youthful proposal: “If you will give me the testimony I seek, while I am here in the mission home, I will never turn back from it. I will give you everything I have in my mission and for the rest of my life.”
On the last of his five-days in the mission home, as Elder Schmutz sat in the last classroom session before departing for the field, the returned missionary instructors role-played a meeting with investigators. Once again, they recited Joseph Smith’s experience in the sacred grove. “As the missionaries taught and testified, I received a witness of the actuality of the First Vision so powerful that I could hardly contain it. It burned into my soul. At the end of the class, I ran from the room and sought a private place where I could pray.” Elder Schmutz knelt to thank Heavenly Father, reaffirmed his testimony, and went on his way.
This powerful event would not only serve as a catalyst for a wonderful mission, but also for decisions and pursuits throughout Elder Schmutz’s life. Of all these decisions, the one that he is most grateful for is his marriage to Cindy Lee Sims on Feb. 3, 1978, in the Provo Utah Temple. Elder Schmutz attributes much of his happiness in life and the success of his family to the presence and influence of Sister Schmutz as his partner and covenant companion, and as the mother of their children.
Sister Schmutz speaks in similar terms about Elder Schmutz. “Throughout our marriage, my husband has made daily scripture study a hallmark of his life. His love and understanding of the scriptures has blessed our home and marriage. He loves to teach the doctrine of Christ and our children have grown up with a love of the scriptures,” Sister Schmutz said.
Another powerful spiritual experience was born of Elder Schmutz’ love of the scriptures. One morning after being called as a mission president, he sat pondering at his desk. “I was just starting to break in a new set of scriptures, and I picked up my old set. It was completely worn out after years of use,” he said. “I was struck with an overwhelming thought. What if I hadn’t spent so much time in my scriptures? What if, at the age of 56, I was just starting what I had started in my early twenties? How could I ever make up for lost time, for lost opportunity? It left me with a deep sense of gratitude, and with a profound understanding of the importance that we should not waste the days of our probation. It had a powerful effect on me.”
Elder and Sister Schmutz speak with warmth and love about their time spent together while Elder Schmutz served as president of the Philippines Cebu Mission. “We are eternally grateful for the opportunity to participate in the growth and mighty changes in the lives of our missionaries, and to have experienced the love and faith of the Filipino members.”
With his call to serve as a General Authority Seventy, Elder Schmutz hopes to continue learning and growing from spiritual experiences. “Those experiences change lives,” he said. “By seeking God through prayer and study, men and women can come to learn of Jesus Christ and His overwhelming love in their lives. It’s a wonderful thing.”
Family: Born June 6, 1954, in St. George Utah. Married Cindy Lee Sims on Feb. 3, 1978, in the Provo Utah Temple. Five children and 12 grandchildren.
Education: Earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in English and a Juris Doctorate from Brigham Young University.
Employment: Thirty-two year career as an attorney working for several law firms and business entities from 1982 to 2016 (except for his time as a mission president). Most recently he worked as a managing shareholder in the Lehi office of Durham Jones & Pinegar.
Church service: Full-time missionary, North Carolina Greensboro Mission, elders quorum president, ward Young Men president and counselor in a Young Men presidency, high councilor, bishop, counselor in a stake presidency, president of the Philippines Cebu Mission from July 2011 until July 2014 and Area Seventy.