What Elder James W. McConkie III knows about the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ to change lives

When Elder James W. McConkie III was a young missionary in Czechoslovakia in the early 1990s, the country had just undergone a series of events that ended 40 years of communism.

“It was like I was in the right place at the right time with the right people,” said Elder McConkie, now a recently sustained General Authority Seventy. “I had mission leaders in Richard and Barbara Winder who were thoughtful and loved the Czechs and the Slovaks, and it was like a match made in heaven.”

People had waited decades to be able to worship freely again. The young missionaries worked hard, helping the Church grow by finding Latter-day Saints lost due to limited interactions and finding new people and adding them to the fold. 

From the archives: Dawning of a new day — ‘Our Czech members never gave up,’ says mission president

Elder McConkie said he was prepared because of what his parents did when he was 12 years old — they invited him to study the scriptures, as well as books, essays and writings from Church leaders and Church history, and then discuss what he learned. 

“My dad and my mom believed in the importance of teaching their children the gospel as suggested in the 68th section of the Doctrine and Covenants. It invites parents to teach their children essentially the doctrine of Christ,” said Elder McConkie. “And they took that very, very seriously.” 

He worked through many books and writings through his teenage years: “What happened as a result of that is that my sense for the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ to change people was something that was really deep in my soul before I even set foot in Czechoslovakia,” he said. 

On his mission, he witnessed the power of the gospel, “and the people were thirsty for it,” he said. He also fell in love with the people. 

Elder McConkie has returned many times to what is now the Czech and Slovak republics — first as a visiting professional, then as co-founder of a humanitarian foundation, and also as a mission president in 2013.

Family

James Wilson McConkie III was born in Salt Lake City on Aug. 27, 1971, to James Wilson McConkie II and Judith Miller McConkie. He was raised in Salt Lake City, and met Laurel Springer on the first day of seventh grade.

“We met in orchestra class,” said Sister Laurel S. McConkie. She was trying out the violin, and he was a violinist. They attended Olympus High School, but they never really dated until he returned from his mission and started going to the University of Utah. 

Sister McConkie served in the Argentina Córdoba Mission, which she said helped prepare her for the assignment with her husband to lead the Czech/Slovak Mission later in their marriage. They were married on July 18, 1995, in the Salt Lake Temple, and have four children.

Elder James W. McConkie III of the Seventy
Elder James W. McConkie III of the Seventy Credit: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Elder McConkie graduated from the University of Utah with a bachelor’s degree in history in 1995, and received a law degree from George Washington University in 1999. Early in his career, he had an opportunity to be a visiting associate with a law firm in Prague, Czech Republic.

As new parents, the decision to go wasn’t easy. But Sister McConkie described an impression she received one day.

“I just felt like God said: ‘You have to go. You have to go.’ And so we went,” she said. “I thought it might be our only chance to go to Europe, but now it means so much to me — it is like another home. The Czechs and Slovaks are like family to us.”

The area where the McConkies lived was the same neighborhood where later they would live again with their four children as they presided over a mission. It made the adjustment much easier.

Returning to serve

In 1993, soon after Elder McConkie returned home from his full-time mission, Czechoslovakia split into the Czech Republic and Slovak Republic, or Slovakia. The Church was quickly recognized in the Czech Republic, but it took much longer in Slovakia. 

In 2006, the Church needed to get 20,000 signatures on a petition for official recognition in Slovakia. Elder McConkie and other returned missionaries helped organize and lead groups of then-serving missionaries to gather those signatures.

What seemed at the time to be an insurmountable task was accomplished in less than a week. The Church eventually turned in 33,000 signatures and received official recognition.

From the archives: Daunting task known as Slovakian miracle

Elder McConkie and two of those other returned missionaries had only just decided to form a non-profit organization, the Wallace Toronto Foundation, to do service projects and humanitarian work in the Czech and Slovak republics. They learned from the signature-gathering project that with local volunteers and projects, the foundation could have a larger impact. 

Almost every September, they return to a different city in the region and partner with a local nonprofit or municipality to perform service, inviting Church members and others to serve with them. 

Sister McConkie said the weekend starts with a devotional, and then they get to work. She has watched the children of the families grow up every year as they return to serve together. 

She added that in just watching the foundation and its involvement, “the most beautiful thing isn’t the new playground or helping someone build a house. It’s the service — getting to meet each other and work with each other. That’s the power of service, it just expands you.” 

When the McConkies were called to serve as Czech/Slovak mission leaders in 2013, they were returning to a place they love.

Elder McConkie said the opportunity to go back to Prague was like going back to a wonderful place spiritually and otherwise:  “It is a place that represents me at my best self. The best version of me is when I am engaged in service, thinking about others, preaching the gospel.”

Mission leaders

The McConkies’ children — a girl and three boys — were ages 15, 13, 9 and 7 when they began their mission leadership service. Sister McConkie said even though it was hard to say goodbye to their native language, family and friends in Utah, the Lord blessed them.

Senior couples became like grandparents, elders and sisters became like siblings and cousins. Czech and Slovak Saints became family and friends. 

“To me it was the most powerful thing to watch the Lord compensate,” she said. “It wasn’t easy for our kids, and it wasn’t easy for us, but we were so blessed with an enlarged love for the gospel.”  

The children came along as they visited members and missionaries in both countries, teaching with the missionaries and going to branch and district conferences.

The first district was organized in Slovakia in 2015, and the first stake was created in the Czech Republic in 2016. To help prepare for those important events, the McConkies visited branches large and small throughout the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

“Our kids were amazing, we just expected them to be ready to give a talk every time,” said Sister McConkie.

Elder McConkie said their children would hear their name during a Sunday meeting — because it was the only thing they would hear in English — then they would walk up and bear their testimony one sentence at a time because they knew to wait for the translator. Then they would close in the name of Jesus Christ and go back to sit down and resume reading or drawing.

The family spent a lot of time walking together through cobblestone streets, talking around the table together, and especially driving long hours in the car together. 

Elder and Sister McConkie carried the experience he had with his parents as a young man studying the gospel into their relationship with their children: “Learning the skills and engaging in the process of thinking out loud, talking together and safely exploring the way in which faith and the Church and the gospel impact our lives,” he said.

“That skill is in some ways as important as anything a young person could ever have. Because in the world that we’re now living in where you’re just so bombarded by ideas and information, the capacity to think through, process and evaluate how our life experience is properly understood because of the gospel of Jesus Christ, that’s a powerful thing. And that happened in the car.“  

The power of councils centered on Christ

At the time of his call to the Seventy, Elder McConkie was serving as stake president of the Salt Lake Pioneer YSA Stake. He said he loved how the young single adults are in a decade of decisions, where many had the foundational experience of a mission, and then were ready to move forward as a disciple for the rest of their lives. 

“Thinking about those things and talking about those things again, it’s just sort of a natural extension of what I love to do and what we love to do and what I’ve done since I was 12 years old,” said Elder McConkie.

In the councils with young single adults, with ward members, with missionaries and with their family, Elder and Sister McConkie always talk about the whats and the whys and the hows of the gospel — and encourage active, honest participation.

“Like in 1 Peter 3:15, helping people to be ready always to give a reason for the hope that is in them. To think through: ‘What is it that I believe? Why do I believe it? How does it impact my life and what should I be doing going forward?’” he said.

But the most important thing, said Elder McConkie as he became emotional, is that “it always has to end with Jesus. And it always did, with my mom and dad and with our kids and with our missionaries and with our stake. We always, every council we have, at the end of it, once we’ve learned what we need to learn, we put everything aside, and we spend time in the gospels studying the life of Jesus.” 

“It always has to end with Jesus. That’s been our experience. And when we do that, things tend to work out.” 

Biographical information

Family: Born in Salt Lake City on Aug. 27, 1971, to James Wilson McConkie II and Judith Miller McConkie. Married Laurel Springer on July 18, 1995. They have four children. 

Education: Graduated with a bachelor’s degree from the University of Utah in 1995. Received a law degree in 1999 from the National Law Center at George Washington University. 

Employment: Attorney/shareholder at Workman Nydegger; cofounder and member of the board of directors of the Wallace Toronto Foundation, a nonprofit organization engaged in humanitarian and literacy projects in the Czech and Slovak republics.

Church service: Czech/Slovak Mission president (2013-2016), stake president, high councilor, bishop, bishopric counselor, ward Young Men president, elders quorum presidency counselor, ward mission leader, mission preparation teacher, Gospel Doctrine teacher and full-time missionary in the Czechoslovakia Prague Mission (1990-1992).