Just before Christmas, Elder Ronald A. Rasband of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles attended his grandson’s school program.
Amid the lively crowd, Elder Rasband and his family found a place to sit and were settling in when the school principal approached Elder Rasband and asked if he would say a word or two.
Elder Rasband stood with the intent to welcome the guests and wish them a wonderful night. But as he looked across the restless crowd and school band — all eager for the program to begin — the words of his Apostolic ordination came to mind.
“We place you in a position to be a special witness of the name of Christ in all the world,” President Thomas S. Monson had said in the blessing.
“And then President Monson added these words: ‘At all times and in every circumstance,’ ” recalled Elder Rasband.
Elder Rasband said at that moment he knew his charge was clear. He said, “Ladies and gentlemen, I cannot miss this opportunity with it being the season of the birth of Christ to bear witness of His name and of His ministry and of His life.”
In revelation associated with the organization of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles given on Nov. 11, 1831, to Joseph Smith, the Lord instructed: “The twelve traveling councilors are called to be the Twelve Apostles, or special witnesses of the name of Christ in all the world — thus differing from other officers in the church in the duties of their calling” (Doctrine and Covenants 107:23).
The Twelve, working under the direction of the First Presidency, are commissioned to preach the gospel to all the world, said President M. Russell Ballard, Acting President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.
The Savior’s last direction to his Apostles was to go forth “to teach, to testify, to baptize and to build and strengthen His Church,” said President Ballard. “That commission hasn’t changed. It’s the same responsibility.”
Elder David A. Bednar said, “First and foremost, all the time, we are witnesses of the living reality of the Lord Jesus Christ. We are not administrators; we are ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland said Apostles are commissioned “to be traveling witnesses” who go to “all the world,” being with the membership of the Church “face to face whenever possible.”
“We want even the most distant unit of this Church, geographically speaking, to feel that there is a very close link between them and the prophet of the Lord,” Elder Holland said. “It is often said, ‘The Church makes a very small world of it.’ In the case of apostolic contact, we hope that is always so.”
A sacred experience
Being part of a traveling high council is a sacred experience, said Elder Neil L. Andersen. “When we bear testimony, that testimony goes into the heart of the people, in part, because of our ordination.”
Sometimes that enormous responsibility weighs heavily upon the soul, especially when traveling to a new culture and testifying in a foreign language. However, Elder Andersen said, experience has taught him that by the time he arrives at a destination and offers his best, with faith in Christ, “it will be sufficient.”
Elder D. Todd Christofferson said that early in his Apostolic ministry, he also felt overwhelmed by perceived expectations. He worried Church members would be disappointed. “How am I going to measure up to what they anticipate?”
But then he received a simple message from the Lord: “Forget about yourself and what people may think of you, whether they are impressed or disappointed or anything else. Just focus on what I want to give them through you. Focus on what I want them to hear through you.”
And that relieved all the pressure, he said. “It allows me to be happy just for the chance to be together.”
Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf said the work and message of the Twelve is to be a representative of “our Savior and Master, the Lord Jesus Christ. But is it is also important to share how this sacred message influences and works in our own lives.
“As Apostles we meet and greet many all around the world.
“When Harriet and I shake hands with our members we can feel their love for the Savior and the Church. We love to be with people from all walks of life because they are our brothers and sisters. We only hope that they can feel our love for them, as we try to follow our exemplar and leader Jesus Christ.”
The Twelve are witnesses of Jesus Christ and His great plan of happiness, he said. “It’s all about Him. We are representing Him. It is all about God and His greatness, and His importance for the happiness of His children.”
Understanding a worldwide membership
President Ballard said being among the worldwide membership helps Church leaders better understand how they should be spending their time.
Elder Andersen said he often asks local leaders, “What keeps you up at night?” And then he listens.
Collectively, the rich, deep instructive experiences of members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles help guide these local leaders as they make important decisions to encourage and support members through their challenges, Elder Bednar said.
“There are things to learn about the Church in Asia, in Africa, in Europe, in Mexico, in South America, and in other places around the world,” he said. “To learn and understand, we have to be among and hear the stories of the people.”
Elder Gerrit W. Gong called it a privilege to travel and be among the people.
“As we go different places, we feel the goodness of the members,” he said. “We hear the experiences and we learn things that help us to understand as we counsel together as a quorum about what is happening in the different parts of the world and in different groups within the Church.”
Elder Ulisses Soares added that the world is evolving.
“Many things are different than they were years ago,” he said. “We need to learn the things affecting the lives of people.
“The Apostles need to be in a constant process of learning, inquiring and receiving inspiration and revelation in order to accommodate things.”
Reaching every stake
Elder Quentin L. Cook explained that over a four-year period, through priesthood leadership conferences, every single stake and ward in the Church has a member of the Twelve coming and meeting with its leaders — and training them on prophetic priorities.
“Priesthood leadership conferences have allowed us to fulfill our doctrinal mandate to build up the Church and regulate all the affairs of the same in all nations under the direction of the First Presidency,” he said. “This gives us the opportunity to interact with wonderful, sweet people. We go to their homes, and we have a chance to minister to them. … It’s the ministering to the Saints that touches our hearts most deeply.
“We do it with guidance from the Holy Ghost and the Savior” and with the knowledge learned by experience, some too sacred to share, he said.
“Our principal responsibility is exactly the same as it’s always been,” said Elder Cook. “We are to be witnesses of the Savior.”
Elder Gary E. Stevenson said President Ballard has taught members of the Quorum to be inclusive. “There is a place for everyone in the Lord’s Church,” he said. Often that means succoring the weak and lifting the hands that hang down (Doctrine and Covenants 81:5).
“Are we insulated from people in the world? No, we are not,” Elder Stevenson said. “We are meeting with members and ministering to members who have very particular and significant family and individual afflictions and adversities.”
Elder Dale G. Renlund said the real joy of traveling the globe as an Apostle comes “one on one, knee to knee, eyeball to eyeball.”
“The Savior didn’t fly on a jet, go to a Marriott, go to a meetinghouse, give a two-hour sermon and then leave,” explained Elder Renlund. “He was with people. He actually spent time with people. We don’t have everything recorded in the New Testament or Book of Mormon that He did, but it’s clear that He spent a lot of time being with, ministering and helping individuals.”
Church leaders must get to know the people and their circumstances to be able to serve them better, said Elder Renlund. Paul said, “I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some” (1 Corinthians 9:22).
“When I go to Madagascar, I want to be as Malagasy as I can be. … I think part of that is getting to know their circumstances, getting beyond the appearance of a chubby old guy from the United States. I need them to see that I’m a disciple of Christ, and that doesn’t happen unless I’m with them. Whatever the outward characteristics are, they can look and first and foremost see a disciple of Christ.”