What is important? The lives of the people ‘we’ve been able to help,’ says President Ballard to BYU business students

Speaking at an event celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Melvin J. Ballard Center for Social Impact, President Ballard thanks those who bless the lives of others

PROVO, Utah — In his lifetime, President M. Russell Ballard has traveled to the four corners of the world representing The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He has testified of the Savior, seen miracles and suffering, and tried to help when and where he could.

Speaking at an event celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Melvin J. Ballard Center for Social Impact, at the Brigham Young University Marriott School of Business, on Feb. 23, the Acting President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said reflecting the love of Jesus Christ in word and deed is what matters most. 

What a person acquires in this life will mean little, said President Ballard. What will be important, he said, are the lives of the people “we’ve been able to help” by reaching out and extending a hand of fellowship, taking the time to make a phone call or send a note, and offering help to someone who just needs a little boost.

“I hope that we will have our hearts and our hands and our eyes available, that we will be anxiously engaged in reaching out to them,” he said.

Founded in 2003, the Ballard Center helps students lend their energy to solving the world’s most pressing social problems. Named for President Ballard’s grandfather, Elder Melvin J. Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the center serves some 3,000 students annually. Following the directive to “Do Good, Better,” they participate each academic year in classes, competitions, internships, research and employment opportunities.

Elder Melvin J. Ballard, Quorum of the Twelve Apostles from 1919 to 1939. | BYU

Joined by members of his family and Elder Robert C. Gay, an emeritus general authority, President Ballard gathered with students, faculty and supporters of the Ballard Center for the anniversary event, asking all in attendance to, as followers of Jesus Christ, find small ways to help and serve God’s children on earth.

“On behalf of my grandfather, Melvin J. Ballard, I say thank you for all that you do in support of the Church and the kingdom of God,” said President Ballard.

The things accomplished at the Ballard Center are far reaching, he added, noting that all of God’s children have the directive to prepare themselves to help and bless the lives of others.

“I want you to know that I know that Jesus is the Christ. I’ve carried His name and been a witness of Him in all different circumstances, all different places in the world. And I never come away from those experiences without being so humble, so grateful that I am a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, that I know what I know about who I am, and who all of you are, and our purpose in life.”

Elder Gay, an early donor to the center, spoke about attending a meeting with a few others in 2000 and asking the question: What could they do to lift 1 million people out of poverty?

“It became one of the great privileges of my life to be involved in a startup through BYU,” he said.

While the center was named for Elder Melvin J. Ballard, who labored under the direction of Church President Heber J. Grant during the Great Depression to bring about the Church’s vast welfare program, Elder Gay said it is also a tribute to President Ballard.

Elder Gay observed that while Elder Melvin J. Ballard is one of the fathers of welfare services of the Church, President Ballard is one of the fathers of humanitarian services of the Church.

In 1985, Elder Ballard embarked on a journey across the globe that resulted in the establishment of Latter-day Saint Charities — the Church’s humanitarian services program that has served millions of God’s children in more than 170 nations, said Elder Gay.

Following civil war and famine in Ethiopia that would ultimately claim the lives of 1.2 million people, President Spencer W. Kimball called for two worldwide fasts in 1985. Then-Elder Ballard and Elder Glenn L. Pace, then managing director of the Church’s Welfare Department, visited Ethiopia to determine how best to use what would be $11 million raised by Latter-day Saints in the fasts.

Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve, then of the Presidency of the Seventy, visited Ethiopia to oversee Church relief efforts during a famine in 1985. | Provided by Elder M. Russell Ballard

“They traveled to Addis Ababa on what many called mission and mercy,” said Elder Gay. “Great miracles took place.”

On that trip President Ballard exemplified something important about caring for the poor and needy, he said. “It was a mission of faith. … We will never lift people the way we need to lift them without faith.”

In the country the Church leaders found one member of the Church, Harry Hadlock, and held sacrament meeting. President Ballard prayed for rain — which came.

“This wasn’t just a moment of rain in Ethiopia,” said Elder Gay. “They would be there for a week. And everywhere that President Ballard and Elder Pace traveled the rain would follow them.”

Elder Robert C. Gay of the Presidency of the Seventy
Elder Robert C. Gay, an emeritus general authority | Credit: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Other miracles came as the Church officials received travel documents and transportation in the nation.

They visited a camp that housed 120,000 people living in tents. However, it was the 30,000 people outside the camp — those who had arrived at the gate after traveling hundreds of miles to find relief from starvation, only to learn there was a waiting list to get in — who captured their hearts.

In the midst of the camp, a man arrived who had walked 50 miles, carrying a baby he had found next to the child’s deceased mother. When he arrived, Elder Gay recalled, he did not ask for anything for himself, instead saying, “What can be done for this baby?”

“That’s the question we all want to ask ourselves. What can be done for the sons and daughters of God?”

Dean Brigitte C. Madrian, dean of the Marriott School of Business, conducted the event, during which BYU Academic Vice President Shane Reese and Ballard Center Director Todd Manwaring also spoke.

Manwaring said the center can accomplish much because of the involvement and commitment of BYU students, who bring creativity, innovation and excitement. 

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