SHARON, VERMONT — As the colors of New England’s bright fall foliage began to give way here Friday, the changing season provided a reflective atmosphere for President M. Russell Ballard.
His thoughts turned to his grandfather, Elder Melvin J. Ballard, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve from 1919 to 1939. Near the end of his life, Elder Melvin Ballard traveled to Sharon, Vermont.
“He was not well,” said President Ballard, acting president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. “My grandmother pled with him not to come.”
Still, Elder Melvin Ballard stood for 40 minutes and boldly declared his witness of the Prophet Joseph Smith in the very place he was born.
Then he got in his car, drove to Boston and delivered what would become his final address and witness as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Elder Melvin Ballard then drove his car to Salt Lake City. He died of Leukemia two weeks later.
“And yet he was here and he would not — even though he had very little energy — give up the responsibility he had to declare the word of the Lord to the world. … in the birthplace of the prophet in this, the dispensation of the fullness of times.”
Speaking at a member devotional held on the same sacred ground, President Ballard added his witness of the prophet Joseph Smith to his grandfather’s witness. He was accompanied by Elder D. Todd Christofferson and his wife, Sister Kathy Christofferson; and Elder Randall K. Bennett, a General Authority Seventy, and his wife, Sister Shelley Bennett.
As President Ballard prepared to travel to New England, he thought much of this connection between his grandfather at the end of his life and the place where the Prophet Joseph began his life.
Speaking of the “significant birth” in their neighborhood, President Ballard asked the congregation to never be complacent about “the reality of what is ours.”
“Brothers and sisters, I love the prophet Joseph Smith. I count it a great privilege to be an apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ to bear witness to the world that our Heavenly Father lives and He loves us. We are His children. He loves us so much. He gave us his only begotten Son. …
“I have a witness that the prophet Joseph Smith is everything we say he is, the prophet of this, the final dispensation of the fullness of times.”
Upon entering Sharon, Vermont, Elder Christofferson also turned his focus to his family. Years earlier, he brought his children to this sacred place to share his witness of Joseph Smith.
In 1805 “in a very small, out of the way place, unknown to pretty much the rest of the world,” a baby boy was born.
That child would come to influence the history of the world and stand at the head of the final dispensation of the gospel — “the dispensation that will actually succeed.”
In all the world, the baby in a crib here, was the baby “that made such a huge difference,” he said.
Answering the very question posed by President Russell M. Nelson in his closing address of the Church’s October general conference, Elder Christofferson said he can’t imagine life without Joseph Smith. “I hope that day comes when I might see him, greet him, and thank him as profusely as I can for the differences his sacrifices made in my life.”
Elder Christofferson told the congregation he hopes they too can “see some of the fruit of that labor, some of the fruit of that sacrifice.”
When he has the chance to see Joseph Smith, Elder Christofferson said he won’t see him in “common, humble clothing,” from these very, very humble beginnings, but will see “this prophet in all his glory, standing in the majesty of his calling at the head of this last and great dispensation.”
Sister Bobbi Jo Beck of the New Hampshire Manchester Mission expressed gratitude for the opportunity to look into the faces of those in the congregation. “I see a hope that makes you different from the rest of the world,” she said.
Elder Bennett promised the Lord’s blessings to Latter-day Saints in the community. “The Church will grow here as you minister to one another, minister to those not of our faith and be a temple-going people,” he said.
He expressed gratitude for the opportunity to “sit at the feet of two apostles of the Lord Jesus Christ, to learn from them and to hear their witnesses.”
At the conclusion of the meeting, President Ballard and Elder Christofferson took time to shake hands with members and then exited the building into the cold October night — proving while the seasons change the restored gospel and legacy of faith that began with the birth of Joseph Smith in Sharon, Vermont, rolls on.