TORONTO, Ontario — As President M. Russell Ballard stepped into the cold, wet, Toronto wind Friday evening, his thoughts of the past eclipsed the present.
“What do missionaries do on a night like this?” he said. “Where do they go if they don’t have an appointment?”
It has been more than 40 years since the acting president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles oversaw missionary work in this part of Canada. But, amid the winter elements, he is ever mindful of the young elders and sisters working in the area — where he lived with his wife, Sister Barbara Ballard, and their children from 1974 to 1977.
During that time, local members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints say their hearts “intertwined forever” with the Ballards. It was a time, President Ballard said, that was “filled with laughter, tears and wonderful spiritual experiences.”
President Ballard returned to Toronto on March 6 to conduct leadership, member and missionary meetings — and to meet with old friends. Toronto, he told them, is forever woven into the fabric of his life.
During a dinner held at the Brampton Ontario Stake Center, the area’s old timers talked about President Ballard — who, they say, was always the last to leave a Church building, spent hours on the road helping missionaries and ministering to members in large geographical districts, and was not afraid to talk to those he met about the Church of Jesus Christ.
“His desire was to do what the Lord wanted him to do,” said Malcolm Warner, who served as a stake president during the years President Ballard was mission president.
Michael Finnigan, a bishop and stake presidency member in the mid-1970s and now patriarch of the Brampton Ontario Stake, said President Ballard’s time as a mission president “wasn’t just an event in his life.”
“He has constantly been involved since the time he was mission president here,” Finnigan said.
The first Latter-day Saint meetinghouse in eastern Canada was dedicated in 1939 in Toronto, where the first stake was organized in 1960. Today there are nine stakes, two districts, 53,000 members and a temple in Ontario. Two of those stakes were created in the mid 1970s, during the time President Ballard served as mission president.
“It was a very engaging time,” said Finnigan. “People were engaged in the work. [President Ballard] was, without a doubt, out in front, leading in making missionary work a very important part of the kingdom here. He was consumed by it. He helped others be engaged in it just by his example.”
Finnigan said President Ballard was “a very busy force” as mission president.
He remembers a night shortly after he was called as a new bishop in Toronto when President Ballard stopped in on a late-night bishopric meeting. Finnigan said President Ballard told the men to go home and conclude future meetings by 10 p.m.
Maurice Regimbal joined the Church on July 6, 1974 — one day after President Ballard arrived in Toronto on July 5. President Ballard attended the baptism.
“We always come away inspired and uplifted and strengthened with the flood of memories that come back,” said Finnigan. “We are friends. All the people here tonight feel the same way.”
President Ballard also recalled memories as he addressed his friends, thanking them “for training me.”
He spoke of Sister Ballard, who died Oct. 1, 2018. “If she were here she would tell you how much she loved you and what a dear experience it was to live among you,” said President Ballard.
Much has changed in the four and a half decades since he lived in Toronto, he added. The world is noisy and busy, and it is hard for people to find quiet time.
“I did not know when I was your mission president what I know now,” he said.
Then, after sharing his sure witness of the Savior Jesus Christ and bidding his friends goodbye, President Ballard stepped back into the cold wind of Ontario’s provincial capital.
“This has been a good day,” he said.