The Lord uses ‘ordinary’ people: New general authority and his wife describe themselves as ‘normal,’ ‘ordinary,’ ‘available’

To hear their self-descriptions, Elder Jonathan S. Schmitt and his wife, Sister Alexis Schmitt, bring a lot of “normal,” “ordinary” and “availability” with them as he starts his service as a General Authority Seventy for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

As long as running marathons and half-marathons and hiking the Grand Canyon rim to rim to rim are “normal,” and juggling family responsibilities between his profession as an attorney, hers as an emergency room doctor and their Church callings over the years are “ordinary.”

Through it all, the Schmitts have found and felt the ties to gospel messages, reassurances and a guiding divine hand, and they see how experiences have helped prepare them for this new call to serve, Elder Schmitt being sustained in April 2022 general conference.

Learn more about the 6 General Authority Seventies sustained during the April 2022 general conference

For example, as a bishop in his late 20s, Elder Schmitt was feeling overwhelmed and inexperienced while listening to a woman disclose serious transgressions. His gaze drifted to a piece of art in his office, a depiction of Christ kneeling in Gethsemane.

“The Spirit made it so clear: ’It’s not about you at all. It’s how you can connect her to the Lord,’” he recalled. “That was a beautiful thing — to realize you’re just connecting people to the Savior. And He’s the One who provides the forgiveness, the help, the strength, the mercy, the grace.”

‘Ordinary’

In the Schmitts’ exploratory interview with Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in vetting them as a potential mission president and companion, Sister Schmitt blurted out: “Elder Bednar, we’re so ordinary.”

To which Elder Bednar replied: “Isn’t it wonderful that the Lord uses ordinary people to do extraordinary things?”

Said Elder Schmitt: “That’s just the reality in this Church. It doesn’t matter what the calling is — the Lord just uses all of us ordinary people, and we’re all part of the body of Christ. We need the eyes, we need the ears, we need the feet, we need the hands. …

“We need every member of this Church — marital status or educational background, it doesn’t matter a lick. We need everyone.”

Underscoring the ordinary and the fact they couldn’t have anticipated her husband’s new assignment, Sister Schmitt said: “I think what receiving this calling has taught me is that the Lord takes you wherever you are and whoever you are, and He helps you become whole. He helps you become who He sees, He helps you rise to your potential. It just doesn’t matter what you bring to the table, because He’s the One that compensates for any deficiencies that you have.

“So I feel like we’re very normal people. But the Lord helps us and magnifies us, as He does every single person in whatever capacity they’re asked to serve in.”

Early life

Jonathan Stephen Schmitt was born April 16, 1973, in Mesa, Arizona, the son of Robert Edward and Dianne Lyda Schmitt. He grew up within two miles of both set of grandparents in Yuma, a rural town in southwestern Arizona near the border with Mexico. During his high school years, he played basketball and tennis and swam competitively, participated in student government, mowed lawns and worked as a lifeguard.

His testimony of the Savior and the gospel took root early — feeling the Spirit witness of latter-day Apostles during a stake conference in Yuma with then-Elder James E. Faust of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, of Joseph Smith and the First Vision during a morning prayer while on vacation in California as a teen, and of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon while he read it as a college freshman in his dorm room under the University of Arizona football stadium.

“So I knew at that age that Apostles were on the earth,” he said. “My testimony of the Savior has been sweet and very real for me for many, many years; I’ve been blessed with the gift of faith.”

After serving as a Laotian-speaking missionary in the California Fresno Mission from 1992 to 1994, he resumed his studies at the University of Arizona. While attending institute classes there, he met Alexis Swain Udall. She had grown up in Boston until moving at age 15 to Arizona with her family, then serving as a Spanish-speaking missionary in the California Anaheim Mission.

They married July 21, 1995, in the Mesa Arizona Temple and are the parents of four children — David, Tyler, Noelle and Clayton.

“We have a testimony of the institute program,” Elder Schmitt said with a smile.

Family, professions and balance

Soon came the sleepless nights in law and medical libraries while seeking postgraduate degrees, the meshing of demanding schedules of clerkship and residency and then attorney and doctor, and the coming of children and various Church responsibilities. The two learned early to balance it all, keeping family and faith in the Savior at the center.

When the Schmitts moved to Pearland, Texas, in 2001 for his employment as an attorney in Houston, she began working night shifts in the emergency room at that city’s veterans hospital, which she continued to do until their mission service. After their mission and their move to Gilbert, Arizona, where Elder Schmitt worked as an assistant vice president at Arizona State University, Sister Schmitt resumed work back at the Houston hospital, flying to work a few nights a month and adding a telemedicine practice from home.

The first years set a pattern of support, cooperation and communication. “When we had one child at first, I’d come home from work, she’d hand me the baby and then she’d go into the hospital,” Elder Schmitt recalled. “And then the next morning, we would do the handoff again.

“She’s been so good, as we went from one to four children. She has always had the heart of a physician — reaching out and carrying and serving others. We’ve learned a lot of lessons as we’ve really supported each other through the years in our different endeavors.”

Medical training and service have taken Sister Schmitt across the United States, including the Apache and Pascua Yaqui reservations, and to the Dominican Republic. “I think it’s important for women to know that you can be a good member of the Church if you’re staying at home, if you’re working, if you’re divorced, if you’re married, if you’re in any situation,” she said, adding, “As women, we need to stop beating ourselves up to fit into a certain box.”

Going the distances

Both Elder and Sister Schmitt come from active families. “For fun, we run and we hike — that’s what we do,” said Elder Schmitt, who himself has run more than a dozen marathons and countless half-marathons and other long-distance events.

Other family members, friends and even returned missionaries often join in — such as their participation in the Mesa Marathon and half-marathon this February.

“The mantra in the Schmitt family — and this came from my father — is that you start slow, and you taper from there,” Elder Schmitt said.

Sister Schmitt said running marathons and half-marathons “sounds impressive, but we’re running very slow — we’re joggers.”

The Schmitts turned to running and hiking to help their children realize they could do hard things. “It’s not fun when you’re running a half-marathon or marathon, but we can do hard things. That’s just our hard thing,” Sister Schmitt said, adding: “It keeps us sane. I think the mind, the body and the spirit are interconnected, so it’s kind of cleansing for us, so to speak.”

‘Grand’ hiking

In 2021, Elder Schmitt completed the Grand Canyon’s famed and grueling rim-to-rim-to-rim hike for the fifth and sixth times — going from the South Rim to the North Rim and then back, nearly 45 miles.

“If I can’t be either in the temple or in our home, I’d like to be in the Grand Canyon,” he said. “I really think it’s God’s ‘temple.’”

He sees a lot of about life and its lessons in the ascents and descents, mindful of President Henry B. Eyring talking about his mother’s adage, “If you’re on the right path, it will always be uphill.”

“There’s a lot about life we can learn in the canyon, and sometimes we’re in places where we can’t see anything other than the cliff walls that surround us,” Elder Schmitt said. “But as we ascend, that’s when we begin to see the views and the vistas. It’s not always easy – it’s hard. But if you take it a step at a time, you get there and finish it.”

And, he added, “one thing about running and hiking is you also learn about finishing.”

Availability

When Elder and Sister Schmitt served as president and companion over the California San Diego Mission (2014-2017), they often told their missionaries, “The Lord cares more about our availability than He cares about our ability.”

Elder Schmitt says availability — and a willingness to teach and testify of the Savior Jesus Christ — is what he brings as a General Authority Seventy.

“That’s all we have — I mean that very seriously” he said. “We don’t offer much else. You talk about what a broken heart and a contrite spirit means, it means you just put your heart on the altar and allow the Lord to do His will from there.”

The Lord, he said, “can give us the strength, the talents and the gifts that we need to be able to accomplish His work. But if we don’t make ourselves available, then we are self-selecting and not giving Him the opportunity.”

Biographical information

Family: Born April 16, 1973, in Mesa, Arizona, to Robert Edward and Dianne Lyda Schmitt. He and Alexis Swain Udall married July 21, 1995, in the Mesa Arizona Temple; they are the parents of four children.

Education: Bachelor of Science degree in agricultural and resource economics in 1997 and Juris Doctor in 2000, both from the University of Arizona.

Employment: After working as a law clerk for the Arizona Supreme Court, he was an attorney first for Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP and later attorney and litigation counsel for Baker Hughes Inc. After his mission president assignment, Elder Schmitt was an assistant vice president at Arizona State University.

Church service: Prior to serving as a General Authority Seventy, he served as an Area Seventy in the 11th Quorum of the Seventy of the North America Southwest Area. Previous callings include California San Diego Mission president (2014-2017), stake president, stake presidency counselor, high councilor, stake Young Men presidency counselor, stake mission preparation teacher, bishop, high priests group leader, elders quorum president, ward executive secretary and full-time missionary in the California Fresno Mission.