Returning to their ‘spiritual home,’ 3 senior Apostles reflect on lives ‘anchored in the British Isles’ as full-time missionaries

LIVERPOOL, England— President M. Russell Ballard moved along the brick-and-stone walkways of Royal Albert Dock on Liverpool’s famous waterfront on Monday, Oct. 25, unfazed by the bustling hub of local activity or the cold, wet wind.

As he walked, he reflected on the tens of thousands of earlier Latter-day Saints who launched their pioneer journeys from the historic dock in the mid-1800s. And he spoke of his own spiritual journey that began a century later as a young missionary in England and Scotland.

“I had an absolutely unbelievable experience,” said the Acting President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, adding that the spiritual foundation on which he built his life’s work is “anchored in the British Isles as a full-time missionary.”

President Ballard, 93, traveled to England and Scotland this week to address members and missionaries. Joined by Elder Jeffrey R. Holland and Elder Quentin L. Cook, both of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and themselves former missionaries in Great Britain, the trip marked a coming home for the trio of senior Church leaders.

For each of them, the British Isles and the missionary service they gave here became a hinge point in their lives.

For President Ballard, the journey started before he ever reached England.

“I read the Book of Mormon with real intent on the RMS Queen Elizabeth coming across the Atlantic,” he recalled. “What a tremendous thing my first mission was. It changed me.”

President M. Russell Ballard and Elder Quentin L. Cook of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, walk along the Royal Albert Dock Liverpool in Liverpool on Monday, Oct. 25, 2021. 19th century Latter-day Saint converts immigrated to the United States from the docks.
President M. Russell Ballard and Elder Quentin L. Cook of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, walk along the Royal Albert Dock Liverpool in Liverpool on Monday, Oct. 25, 2021. 19th century Latter-day Saint converts immigrated to the United States from the docks. Credit: Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

‘Heaven is orchestrating your lives’

Speaking to missionaries of the Scotland-Ireland Mission on Tuesday, Oct. 26, in the Edinburgh Scotland Stake center, President Ballard said he first arrived in the British Isles in 1948 without understanding the “magnificence of the gospel message.”

“I didn’t know much when I first arrived on this island,” he said. “I certainly did not know what I should have known.”

Heaven, he told the missionaries, is “orchestrating your lives.”

“This is a heavenly work. Why? Because every human soul who has ever lived on the earth is a spirit son or daughter of God,” he said. “There has to be something that touches their hearts that says, ‘I have found something here that is precious and I want to embrace it.’”

Before the missionary meeting, President Ballard visited a historic church yard and cemetery in Tranent, Scotland, where his great-great-grandparents are buried. “The footings of my foundations are here,” he said.

Traveling just weeks after his 93rd birthday on Oct. 8, President Ballard told the missionaries he may have to account for his life soon. “What will the Lord be most interested in the life of M. Russell Ballard?” he asked. “As I have pondered that, I think it will be two major things.”

The first: “What kind of life did I live? What kind of disciple or believer am I really?”

And the second: “Who did you help along the way? All of us will be asked, ‘Who did you bring unto me during your sojourn in mortality?’” he said.

Scotland-Ireland Mission missionaries smile during a photo in Edinburgh, Scotland on Tuesday, Oct. 26, 2021.
Scotland-Ireland Mission missionaries smile during a photo in Edinburgh, Scotland on Tuesday, Oct. 26, 2021. Credit: Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Green and scepter’d isle

William Shakespeare penned the phrase “scepter’d isle” to praise England. For President Ballard, Elder Holland and Elder Cook, the land is a spiritual home. “Physically, I was born in the United States,” Elder Holland said. “But spiritually, I was born on this green and scepter’d isle.”

Elder Holland delights at breathing the cool, damp air and at the sight of vintage red telephone booths and mailboxes. He and Sister Patricia Holland stopped after arriving in the country to have their photograph taken in front of one such red mailbox — the kind where a young Elder Holland dropped letters home as a missionary.

Addressing missionaries from the England Manchester Mission gathered in the Chorley England Stake Center, Elder Holland told the young elders and sisters his hope for them is simple: that they will feel about their mission the way he felt about his.

“I want them to have that kind of mission,” he said.  

Elder Cook delivered a similar message from the Cross Gates meetinghouse to missionaries in the England Leeds Mission.

He spoke about the significance of the Leeds mission area in early Church history in England. He praised the area — whose residents accounted for a significant number of those on the Mayflower and played an important role in the founding of America.  

Each of the leaders are enjoying the views of the English countryside and of manicured English gardens.

“But the real, special highlight of this trip is to be with President Ballard and Elder Cook,” Elder Holland said. “Elder Cook was my missionary companion (they served together in 1962), and President Ballard has always talked about his mission to us. So to have that in common makes this very unique and special.”

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland and Sister Patricia Holland stand outside the Preston England Temple on Tuesday, Oct. 26, 2021.
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland and Sister Patricia Holland stand outside the Preston England Temple on Tuesday, Oct. 26, 2021. Credit: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

’Pick and flower of England’

Elder Cook is a descendant of Heber C. Kimball — who was among the first missionaries to preach the gospel in this dispensation outside North America.

History recounts that Elder Kimball — so enthusiastic about his labors — leaped in July 1837 from a boat “within 6 or 7 feet of the pier” at Albert Dock in Liverpool.

Standing on the very dock, Elder Cook turned his thoughts to his great-great-grandfather and the early Latter-day Saints who believed the gospel message.

“When you think of this port, you think of the missionaries that came here and you think of the Saints that emigrated from Liverpool,” he said.

“We don’t know the exact spot where Heber C. Kimball jumped off so he could be on shore first,’” said Elder Cook. “But it was here; it was here at the Liverpool docks. 

“So it’s a thrill to be here and to think about how significant Liverpool was and this port is in the Restoration of the gospel and in the history of the Church.”

Charles Dickens mingled with one group of emigrants as they were leaving Great Britain and described them as “the pick and flower of England.” It was a seemingly contradictory description of those early Saints — poor, but functional, members of England’s working class. Yet, in the short time they had been members of the Church, the gospel had defined them and elevated them. And that is what Dickens identified, said Elder Holland.

The Royal Albert Dock Liverpool in Liverpool on Monday, Oct. 25, 2021. 19th century Latter-day Saint converts immigrated to the United States from the docks.
The Royal Albert Dock Liverpool in Liverpool on Monday, Oct. 25, 2021. 19th century Latter-day Saint converts immigrated to the United States from the docks. Credit: Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

’Throw themselves in the work

Looking at the ocean from Royal Albert Dock, President Ballard continued to reflect on the importance of missionary work in his life and the lives of his family.

President Ballard’s mother, Geraldine Smith Ballard, accompanied her parents, Hyrum Mack and Ida Smith, to Europe as a teenager.

President Ballard’s grandfather was called to preside over the Church’s European Mission from 1914 to 1916. His grandmother organized Relief Society sisters to sew gloves and scarves for soldiers. They dealt with rations.  

Like so many coming and leaving England before them, the family arrived in the British Isles on Royal Albert Dock. As mission president, Hyrum Mack Smith returned to the dock many times as he worked to evacuate missionaries from Europe prior to World War I. Then, with his family, he also returned to the United States.

But, just as with any missionary, serving anywhere in the world, who “throw themselves in the work and turn to and trust the Lord,” they left England a little better than when they arrived, said President Ballard.

“They learned,” summarized President Ballard.