In preparation to write a series of Church News articles on the holy Apostleship, my colleague Jason Swensen and I conducted an interview with President M. Russell Ballard several weeks after he became Acting President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in January 2018.
As we sat in his office, President Ballard spoke of his sacred calling — of his love for his associates in the work, of the spiritual mandate given to the Apostles to testify of the Savior around the globe, of the special connection they share with missionaries and of some common misconceptions about being “an apostle, seer,and revelator.”
The sculpted busts of three venerable Latter-day Saint leaders — Joseph Smith, Joseph F. Smith and Hyrum Smith — rested prominently atop a credenza near his office window. President Ballard — a great-great-grandson of Hyrum Smith, who is the brother of Joseph Smith and the father of Joseph F. Smith — has a unique connection to the Restoration of the Church.
As Acting President of the Quorum, President Ballard could have represented the group in the Church News series on the quorum. But he didn’t.
When I asked him if there were other members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles he would recommend to be interviewed about their sacred calling, President Ballard was quick to answer. “Yes,” he said. “All of them.”
In the almost 200 years since the organization of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 102 men have been called to serve as members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.
Although the Lord has directed many changes in the Church since then, the fundamental duties of an Apostle remain the same.
Still, they face vast challenges ministering to worldwide congregations during these times of political unrest, breakdown of the family, relentless social media pressures and economic uncertainties.
After four and a half decades as a General Authority, President Ballard’s duties have taken him to most of the countries in the world, allowing him to minister face to face to countless members and missionaries along with government and religious leaders.
One year after my interview with President Ballard, he accompanied President Russell M. Nelson in Rome, Italy, to a formal audience with Pope Francis, the head of the Roman Catholic Church.
Born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Pope Francis was pleased to learn during the meeting that President Nelson and President Ballard have grandchildren who have lived and served in the country. In addition, President Ballard’s grandfather started the work of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Argentina in 1925.
Connections like this are one way members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles make the world a little smaller through their ministry.
I thought it was also significant that a few days later, President Ballard — who has a unique tie to the Restoration and Latter-day Saint hinge points of the past — sat by President Nelson’s side during the press interview where President Nelson declared that the Rome Italy Temple was another “hinge point in the history of the Church.”
As I was leaving the meeting with President Ballard in 2018, I looked back into his office. He was sitting at his desk, writing a talk. The Church’s longest-tenured General Authority — sustained to the First Quorum of the Seventy in 1976 and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in 1985 — looked tired and energized at the same time.
“How are you doing?” he had just asked me. “Don’t wear yourself out.”
Coming from someone who has accepted a call to literally wear out his life in the service of the Lord, the exchange had great meaning to me.
The Twelve are called to “regulate all the affairs of (the Church) in all nations” (Doctrine and Covenants 107:33). But when you are with them, their focus shifts from a worldwide Church to the individual in front of them. They came to their callings from positions held in high acclaim by the world, yet when I left the office of President Ballard and others in the quorum, the words to define them were always the same — humble and kind.
A few months ago at age 91, President Ballard visited the place Joseph Smith was born in Sharon, Vermont. He spoke with “deep reverence and appreciation” about Joseph Smith, Hyrum Smith and Joseph F. Smith. He said he often looks at their statues in his office. “I think I hear them say, ‘Get going, boy, do something worthwhile. Tell the world what’s happened.’ ”
It’s what being an Apostle is all about.
“This is the Lord’s Church, and our major challenge is to be sure we are in tune with how He would want us to carry out His kingdom here on earth,” President Ballard said.