Change of plans: How following the Lord’s direction has blessed Elder Shumway’s life

‘God has been in the details of everything we’ve done,’ says Elder Steven D. Shumway, a new General Authority Seventy

“We’ve always had a plan in our lives,” said Elder Steven D. Shumway, who was sustained as a General Authority Seventy in April 2024 general conference. “But the Lord has had a way of providing a different and better way forward for us. Following His way has required us to act and take a step forward even when you are surrounded by darkness. Once we take that step forward, the light begins to appear. That’s been the story of our lives. We have needed to trust that the Lord is guiding us to a better place that we cannot see. And now that we look back, it’s easy to see how God has been in the details of everything we’ve done.”

Foundation of testimony

Elder Shumway shared two important ways his testimony has been formed and strengthened. First is the influence of his family. “My parents lived the gospel even more beautifully than they taught it,” Elder Shumway said. “Their example of living the gospel with joy was instrumental to my own faith. I saw in my parents that when we live the gospel, we have joy.”

Elder Shumway’s parents taught him the importance of work in having a successful and happy life. He was a young boy when he got his first job at his father’s grocery store. “My dad often gave me the unpleasant jobs in the store. He did that intentionally so that I would want an education and learn to love whatever I was asked to do.”

A map showing the location of Springerville, Arizona.
A map showing the location of Springerville, Arizona. | Church New graphic

Elder Shumway also shared how his testimony was strengthened on his mission.

His mission president assigned him to open a new area in Kennett Square Pennsylvania — the mushroom capital of the world. “If you don’t know,” Elder Shumway said, “mushrooms grow in dark huts with damp manure. Kennet Square didn’t smell good.

It was a small town with few members of the Church at the time. “Even though I spoke little Spanish, I was tasked with starting a Spanish group in that area. Furthermore, I was a new district leader, and I was training a new missionary.”

Day after day he and his companion worked with little success. As they walked home at the end of a particularly discouraging and rainy day, Elder Shumway stepped ankle deep in a mud puddle. Almost ready to cry, he thought, “You’re doing no good here. You should just go home. There is no way the Lord wants you to labor in these dirty, smelly streets of Kennett Square with no success.”

Then this life-changing question came into his mind: “What price would you pay to know Me?” Elder Shumway had never considered this question. He stopped and quietly whispered, “I will pay whatever price You require of me to know You.” Elder Shumway described this as a spiritually pivotal experience in his life.

He said, “Often, we cannot see the reasons why God asks us to do certain things. They may seem absurd to us. But we know that when we do what the Lord asks with a willing and obedient heart, we come to know the Savior and become more like Him. Ultimately that is why we were all sent to earth — to become like Christ.”

Marriage and moving

Elder Shumway studied chemical engineering at Brigham Young University, where he met his wife, Heidi O’Brien.

The Shumways shared that they both had very clear and separate plans for their lives when they first met. He had a girlfriend. She had a mission call. But gratefully, the Lord had something better in mind for them.

Their meeting was “definitely very spiritual,” said Sister Shumway. “I just knew from the first time I saw Steven that I needed to know him.”

For the next couple of weeks, Elder Shumway kept bumping into Heidi. Unable to get his mind off her, one evening he decided to take a break from studies and sit in on one of BYU’s religion classes. In a “crazy coincidence,” the class he chose just happened to be the one Heidi attended. When she arrived late, the only available seat was right next to his. “That was just one more tender mercy from the Lord to help me to have confidence that I was on the right path,” Elder Shumway said.

The Shumways were married in the Salt Lake Temple on Dec. 29, 1994. After Elder and Sister Shumway graduated from BYU in 1996, they moved to Houston, Texas, where he worked for Exxon Chemical Co. Elder and Sister Shumway loved living in the area. They planned to stay and work there for several years before leaving to earn an MBA.

While they were living in Houston, Elder Shumway’s parents were called to be mission leaders in Bolivia. His father was concerned about what would happen to the family business while they were away for those three years. “I don’t want to put pressure on you to come back,” his father said to Elder Shumway. “But I hope you will prayerfully consider it.”

It was a difficult decision for them to make, said Elder Shumway. So he and his wife traveled five hours to the Dallas Texas Temple and spent the day there without finding an answer. It wasn’t until they visited the bookstore and spotted President Gordon B. Hinckley’s biography “Go Forward With Faith” when, Elder Shumway said: “Both of us felt the Lord say, ‘You need to go forward in My way, not in your way.’ We knew what we needed to do, so we moved to Arizona, which has turned out to be one of the most significant and beautiful experiences in our lives.”

Sister Shumway shared that “in the first few years of marriage we were not able to have children. We have often felt like our willingness to follow this direction to move to Arizona brought the miracle we sought to be able to have children. We are now the parents of four wonderful children.”

After Elder Shumway’s parents returned from serving in Bolivia, he and his wife decided to stay in Pinetop, where they raised their family. He has been president and CEO of Whiting Brothers Investment Co. since 1998.

The Lord continued to direct the Shumways’ path in unexpected ways. For example, while Elder Shumway was serving in the bishopric of his ward, he and his wife bought land in another ward and had plans to move and build a new home. However, just as they were ready to start construction, Elder Shumway was invited by his stake president to reconsider this move and accept the calling to serve as bishop of the ward they were living in. After prayerful consideration, they decided to accept this invitation, put their house plans on hold and accept the call to serve as the bishop.

“It’s always an invitation with the Savior,” Elder Shumway said when recounting these experiences. “That’s one of the important things we’ve learned is that when you accept His invitations and say yes to Jesus, we are saying yes to living the most beautiful and abundant life possible.”

Illinois Chicago Mission leaders

Elder and Sister Shumway were called to serve as leaders of the Illinois Chicago Mission in 2019. “The Lord sent us the very best missionaries,” Sister Shumway said. In fact, in March of 2020 the mission was gearing up to break the mission record for convert baptisms in a month.

In the first part of March, the missionaries had tremendous success in working toward this goal. “Faith was growing stronger as the missionaries saw what God was doing,” Elder Shumway said.

Then overnight, “the world changed,” said Sister Shumway of the COVID-19 pandemic. “Missionary work changed, and we had to change with it,” she said.

“It really was a rebuilding of the work,” Elder Shumway said. The first year they did the work in much the same way it had been done for centuries, including door-to-door and street contacting. “These are still effective ways we need to use. But God had a different plan, a better way to do His work,” he said.

“In COVID, the Lord broke us down to where we had no other way but to do it His way.”

Each missionary took on unique responsibilities to create content for social media, from Facebook posts to making short videos. Sister Shumway added that with faith and with this new understanding, “everybody got excited about this new way of doing missionary work.”

Elder Shumway said that “Chicago became a top performing mission in using technology to find, teach and baptize people. This happened because these remarkable missionaries trusted that the Lord had a different way to make His work go forward.”

This didn’t happen right away. The key, Elder and Sister Shumway said, was that the Lord continually sent them faith-filled missionaries who learned how to draw upon the powers of heaven in using technology to find and teach people online.

This was another example of a lesson Elder Shumway has learned throughout his life, and one he will continue to use in his new calling as a General Authority Seventy: “Revelation is refined. The Lord gives us small pieces of information. As we give effort to understanding, He gives more and more knowledge until our understanding is refined into this larger portion of heavenly understanding,” he said.

Elder Steven D. Shumway
Elder Steven D. Shumway | The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Elder Steven D. Shumway

Family: Born on June 30, 1970, in Springerville, Arizona, to Wilford Douglas and Dixie Ann Shumway; raised in Eager, Arizona. Married Heidi O’Brien in the Salt Lake Temple on Dec. 29, 1994. They are the parents of four children.

Education: Earned a degree in chemical engineering from Brigham Young University in 1996.

Work experience: Worked at Exxon Chemical Co. in Texas 1996-1998, and has been the president and CEO of Whiting Brothers Investment Co. since 1998.

Church service: At the time of his call, he was serving as an Area Seventy. He is a former Illinois Chicago Mission president, stake president, bishop, elders quorum president, stake mission preparation teacher and missionary in the Pennsylvania Philadelphia Mission.

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