How an ‘unmistakable’ answer about the gospel changed this General Authority’s life

As a 19-year-old entering the Missionary Training Center, Elder James Richard Rasband felt inadequate and stressed at the prospect of declaring the gospel with power in a foreign language in an alien land.

On his third day in the MTC in Provo, Utah, the anxious elder recorded in his journal, “I finally slept last night.”

He felt similar trepidation many years later when he was called as a stake president.

In both cases, he wondered, “Am I adequate to fulfill the call?” And in both cases, the answer was the same. “Stay at it. Joy comes.” Or, as his mother once told him when he expressed his feelings about not being enough for a new calling, “Oh, Jim, the Lord is fresh out of perfect people. Just go to work.”

He feels a bit of that now after being sustained in April 2019 in general conference as a new General Authority Seventy. Interviewed just after his sustaining, Elder Rasband smiled and said, “At least this time I’ve slept some, which is different than my mission.”

And this time he knows from experience to persist and to trust. “Heavenly Father just needs us to go to work and share the healing and joyful message of His Son and of His Son’s atoning sacrifice.”

Despite his initial fears, his mission was a wonderful and formative part of his life, said Elder Rasband, who served in Seoul, Korea, from 1982 to 1984. “I loved my mission. The Korean people were extraordinary, just so generous, kind and gracious.”

Thinking back on his mission, one vivid memory was the opportunity he had to testify that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God. “Every time I had a chance to teach or testify of the First Vision, I felt its power, and I’ve always been grateful for that witness.”

His experiences teaching and testifying to the Korean people built upon principles first learned in his youth. He was born in Seattle, Washington, on March 20, 1963, but grew up in Pebble Beach, California, in a home about 200 yards from the ocean’s edge.

He and his brother, who is 20 months younger, would come home from school and spend hours on the beach or among the oak, pine, and cypress trees, playing and exploring. To this day, Elder Rasband said the smell of the ocean or the sound of a foghorn make him nostalgic.

His father, James E. Rasband, loved to take his sons camping and hiking in the national parks of the western United States.

Young James was “a 5th-grade athletic superstar” but after that “it all went downhill,” Elder Rasband said with a laugh, although he played basketball, baseball and lacrosse in high school.

“It was a joyful childhood,” he said.

His parents taught their children about the gospel by example. His father, a radiologist, is a humble man, who taught him about integrity, absolute honesty and hard work.

His mother, Ester Johnson Rasband, taught him to be quick to forgive. Her deep love and knowledge of the scriptures made them a natural source of conversations in their home. “It was just who she was. The gospel means everything to her.”

As a young man, he desperately wanted a “magnificent, heavenly-choir-of-angels” spiritual experience to evidence the truth of the gospel. “I wasn’t finding that big event in my life, and so I kept wondering, ‘Did I have a testimony?’ I felt peaceful about the gospel but wondered.”

Because he skipped a grade, he graduated from high school at 17 and had two years at Brigham Young University before his mission. During that time, he also participated in a study abroad to Israel. While visiting the places where the Savior walked and taught, he studied the Savior’s life and teachings by reading through all the Standard Works, as well as “Jesus the Christ” and “The Articles of Faith” by James E. Talmage.

Finally, one afternoon he found a quiet place near the kibbutz where he was living and prayed again. This time he received a sure witness that Jesus was the Christ and that the scriptural accounts of His life and atoning sacrifice were real.

“That was the first experience in my life where I felt something so powerful and strong. I’d felt peace before, and I’d been comforted, but this was unmistakable,” he recalled.

Since then, Elder Rasband said, he’s had other peace-giving experiences when, for just a moment, he has “understood and felt with clarity the amazing symphony of the gospel and the plan of salvation” but mostly he has learned the simple peace that comes from living the gospel.

He met Mary Diane Williams as a freshman in the dorms at BYU, but it took him until his sophomore year to gather the courage to ask her out. She wrote him during his five-month study abroad to Israel and then through his mission in Korea. The two were married six months after his return from Korea on Aug. 11, 1984, in the Los Angeles California Temple. They have four children and two grandchildren.

Sister Rasband said they still have all those letters they wrote each other organized chronologically in a binder. “They’re very entertaining,” she said.

Instilled with his mother’s love for reading and literature, Elder Rasband completed a bachelor’s degree in English and Near Eastern studies at BYU. At the same time, Sister Rasband was finishing her master’s degree in chemical engineering.

Elder Rasband pondered and prayed over what career path to take. “I thought about becoming an English professor and then finally decided that law would allow me to apply my love of reading and textual analysis to real world problems.”

After earning his juris doctor degree from Harvard Law School, he clerked for Judge J. Clifford Wallace for one year in San Diego, California, on the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. They then moved to Seattle, Washington, where he practiced natural resources law before joining the faculty of BYU’s J. Reuben Law School in 1995. He later served as dean of the law school and was serving as academic vice president at BYU at the time of his call as a General Authority.

Since moving to Utah, Sunday nights have been reserved for family dinner where the children are encouraged to bring their latest “dad joke” to share. “The Rasbands like to laugh,” said Elder Rasband.

Elder Rasband has passed on his love of the outdoors to his own family, with many family vacations spent exploring the spectacular public lands of the western United States. He and Sister Rasband especially enjoy hiking and exploring the red rock canyons of Southern Utah.

Elder Rasband said he knows this new call really isn’t about him. “Sister Rasband and I are just plain people, but we’ll do our very best.”

He hopes he can share his conviction and gratitude for the Atonement of Jesus Christ. “The healing power of the Savior’s atoning sacrifice is broader and more magnificent than most of us appreciate,” he said.