President Matthew S. Holland of the North Carolina Raleigh Mission and his companion, Sister Paige Holland, received an unexpected call two months ago, with the voice from Salt Lake City asking “would you take a video-conference call with the prophet?”
President Russell M. Nelson “was so kind,” first asking about the couple’s children and missionaries, President Holland recalled.
But the Church president quickly got to the point, calling the 53-year-old mission president to be a General Authority Seventy and to be sustained at April 2020 general conference.
“He said the Lord had called us to this sacred calling, and he promised wonderful blessings of joy and ability. He bore witness to us that the call was from God and a sacred work. It was an experience we will never forget.”
That set the stage for additional unexpected, memorable moments for the Hollands.
With the ensuing COVID-19 pandemic restrictions altering typical general conference experiences, they weren’t able to fly to Utah for his sustaining, setting apart and in-person orientation.
Instead, the Hollands watched the April 4 Saturday afternoon session broadcast in the Raleigh mission home with their children, who only learned of the calling just before the session started.
“To have that moment in the sanctity of our own home with our children, and then to be able to talk about it with them and have a devotional together, was one of the sweetest experiences we’ve had as a family,” said Elder/President Holland, who will hold the dual titles and dual callings for the next two months.
The experience served as a reminder how “the Lord always brings compensatory blessings into our lives,” added Elder Holland, no stranger to general authorities or general conferences.
Many Latter-day Saints know the new General Authority Seventy as the son of Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Others remember him as a 17-year-old speaking during April 1983 general conference’s priesthood session.
“It has been a wonderful blessing, all of my life, to watch how my mom and dad have lived, what they’ve been committed to and what they’ve been asked to do,” said Elder Matthew Holland.
“Yet, due to these firsthand observations, we know too much about this calling to think we’re adequately equipped for it. Fortunately, we’ve also learned the Lord qualifies those whom He calls, and we’re taking a lot of faith and comfort in that.”
He remembers the experience of speaking in conference as daunting. Preparing a message that eventually came “line upon line, precept upon precept” became “an early, reassuring blessing to know that when you accept assignments from the Lord, He will help you and give you the thoughts and impressions of things that need to be shared.”
Born in Provo, Utah, in 1966, Elder Holland spent the first half-dozen years of his life also in California, Washington and Connecticut as his father was starting his career in the Church Education System and getting his education. The Hollands moved back to Utah — Salt Lake, Provo, Bountiful and returning to Provo as his father became president of Brigham Young University.
Elder Holland recalls always believing in and loving the gospel since his childhood, paying tribute to the influence and example of both his parents and the “great climate of faith” they created.
“That doesn’t mean there haven’t been difficult times or times of personal, spiritual struggle,” he said. “But I’ve always wanted to pray; I’ve always believed that my prayers would be heard.”
And he remembers prior to embarking as a full-time missionary to Scotland when he wondered if he should have had one of those singular, memorable moments that foster or confirm one’s testimony.
“That’s when I came to know that testimony comes in different ways for different people — and that I had had revelation and spiritual experiences,” he said. “They didn’t seem to come to me as a young person in the way one could say ‘at this hour and this day is when I got my testimony.’ Yet I knew the gospel was true. I had no doubt whatsoever.
“And since then, I’ve had many distinct, unforgettable witnesses that this Church is led by a prophet of God and continuous revelation, that the Book of Mormon is absolutely the word of God and is the purest, best book on earth. And most importantly and centrally, that that Jesus is the Christ, that He’s my Savior, that He atoned for my sins and is ‘the Way’ back to the Father.”
After his mission and a bachelor’s degree from BYU, he was at home during the summer of 1995 while pursuing post-graduate studies at Duke University in North Carolina. His sister, Mary, ran into an old high school friend — Paige Bateman, who was studying and working at BYU — and set up the two on a blind date.
The date led to sharing emails between Utah and North Carolina once he returned to Duke. The cross-country friendship turned into courtship and then marriage for the Hollands the next year in the St. George Utah Temple.
The young family took root in North Carolina, with two children born there while two post-graduate degrees were obtained. The bulk of Elder Holland’s career has been in higher education in the Provo/Orem area — as an associate professor of political science at BYU from 2001 to 2009, and then nearly a decade as president of Utah Valley University during a period of great expansion in enrollment and facilities.
“At every stage, we’ve learned and grown,” said Elder Holland, citing his education as teaching him the value of reading and thinking carefully. Lessons learned at UVU include leadership, accountability, delegation and messaging, all of which he hopes will continue to serve him well.
The 2018 call for the Hollands to oversee the Raleigh mission brought their family back to North Carolina, this time for the formative teenage years of the two youngest of their four children.
Elder Holland sees parallels with two separate periods spent in the Tar Heel State. Initially, he was single and older, looking first to find a companion, a purpose and a career and then starting a family. “It all got worked out here in North Carolina, and it brought me closer to my Heavenly Father.
Now, as a mission president and companion helping missionaries weather hurricanes, ice storms and pandemics in North Carolina, “this has also been a time of coming close to our Father in Heaven and having to rely on Him,” he said. “This has been a spiritually deepening and refining place — as a result, it is very special to us.”
The Hollands’ full-circle experience mirrored the Raleigh North Carolina Temple. The first time, the young family enjoyed its announcement, construction and dedication. This time, the Hollands were back for the temple’s renovation and rededication, with their missionaries helping to host the 40,000 who toured the temple during its open house.
Said Sister Holland: “We just thought we were incredibly blessed to be part of those temple experiences both times here in Raleigh.”
Elder Holland says his time as mission president and having his wife as his companion will help in the transition to the new calling. “I frankly can’t imagine trying to do this new role without having had this assignment.”
He added: “I’m so grateful every day for the knowledge of the Savior’s atoning sacrifice and the Father’s plan of salvation, with the Church being the critical instrument to help us understand those things and participate in covenants that allow us to return to Them clean and without spot.”