LONDON, England — This week President M. Russell Ballard, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland and Elder Quentin L. Cook visited Great Britain; former British missionaries, they each claim this land as their own.
It was here on this soil where they learned to square their shoulders and brace for a stiff, cold, wet wind; where they spoke out and proclaimed the truthfulness of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; where they first wore the Savior’s name and stood as a witness of Him.
“My heart has been touched again, and again and again, that I’ve had the privilege of coming to this great island where I served as a full-time missionary,” said President Ballard. “And to be able to be here with Elder Holland and Elder Cook, my dear colleagues of the Quorum of the Twelve, who also were missionaries as young men here.”
Their story — which they shared as they addressed members and missionaries while visiting England and Scotland from Oct. 24 through Oct. 31 — is the story of all Latter-day Saint missionaries whose service becomes the hinge points of their lives.
Sometimes, Elder Holland said, we are so close to history, so close to miracles, that we don’t know we are making history or witnessing miracles.
That is certainly the case in the lives of three Apostles — young men raised in different corners of Utah by fathers who were not then active in the Church. With the support of a few, they each found their way to missionary service, and the Author of history performed His miracle. Just as the Savior took one boy’s five loaves and two fishes and fed 5,000 (John 6:9), He multiplied their humble offerings and spiritually fed millions.
“I grew up spiritually in England, as I, for the first time really, had to defend the Church,” said President Ballard. “Which then meant, I had to know what the Church was. And I learned quickly about the Lord and about the Prophet Joseph Smith and about the Restoration. My foundation testimony was born here, as a missionary.”
The miracle came because President Ballard, Elder Holland and Elder Cook each had someone who encouraged missionary service.
For President Ballard, it was the friends he found in his youth.
“My good friends … 75 years ago had a tremendous impact on my drawing towards the Church and ultimately wanting to serve a mission,” said President Ballard.
For Elder Holland it was the sweet influence of a young woman and her family.
Born to a family with “absolutely no missionary tradition,” Elder Holland “did not know anything” about what it meant to be a missionary. His future wife, Sister Patricia Holland, however, came from a great missionary tradition and her “expectation became my own.”
Elder Cook followed his brother Joseph, five years his senior, into missionary service. “He’s the one that established that you could go on a mission,” Elder Cook said, adding, “nobody ever had a better brother than I did.”
With the support of committed and loving mission presidents and one another — Elder Holland and Elder Cook served as companions in the summer of 1962 — missionary work for them became “foundational and seminal.”
The blessing was amplified — as it is for all missionaries serving in every mission across the globe — by the opportunity to be mentored by mission leaders who are the “greatest people they may ever meet in their whole life,” said Elder Holland.
Sister Holland said Elder Holland entered the mission field after years of receiving the love, support and accolades of the St. George, Utah, community for his roles in student government and athletics. “After his mission,” she said, “he gave that back. … He came back with so much love for St. George and appreciation for them.”
Elder Cook also entered missionary service with the support of his future wife, Sister Mary Cook. Missionary letters home reflected his focus on the work, Sister Cook said. He returned ready to continue that service. “He was focused on wanting a family, wanting to serve the Lord,” she said.
Both Elder Holland and Elder Cook expressed gratitude to be mentored in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles by President Ballard — one of the great missionaries of this dispensation.
His emphasis on missionary work was reflected in the agenda of this trip to the British Isles. “Were we surprised that he invited us to go visit all the missionaries in England?” said Elder Cook. “No, we were not.”
That’s because history records that in the British Isles — where 52,000 pioneers left to join early Latter-day Saints in the Western United States exactly when the Church needed them, and where today a faithful and growing membership supports 45 stakes, five missions and two temples in the United Kingdom — the Lord has performed miracles by amplifying the most humble, sincere, faithful missionary efforts. In Great Britain and across the world, five loaves and two fishes still feed multitudes.
“The seedbed of future leadership of the Church is in these young men and young women who are having the opportunity, first of all, to come to know the Lord, and the thrill, the personal satisfaction, of serving Him,” said President Ballard.
It’s a lesson he learned as a young man on English soil.
“You think about home, and you think about England,” he said.