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Sarah Jane Weaver: When my words were inadequate to write about President Ballard, I found comfort in his words

‘Let’s be happy and keep going forward and do the best we can,’ said President M. Russell Ballard

In March 2020, just two weeks after the world shut down with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, President M. Russell Ballard sat down for an interview with the Church News.

The Church had canceled worship services. Many Latter-day Saint missionaries had returned home. And the First Presidency had closed temples worldwide. 

Still, President Ballard looked forward with calm resolve. History, he said, articulates the resiliency of humankind.

The world will win the “war on the coronavirus,” he promised.

Those words, offered amid uncertainty, were the perfect blend of hope, optimism and perspective. They were shared by a prophet, who spoke like a grandfather. They were followed with a sweet promise, born of experience. “Let’s be happy and keep going forward and do the best we can,” he said, “and these circumstances will change.”

In recent days, since learning of President Ballard’s death on Nov. 12, 2023, I have pondered those words and so many others. I have tried to isolate one single moment that could be representative of President Ballard’s apostolic ministry. Instead, my mind has flooded with dozens of examples of him pressing forward — as an Apostle, teacher, missionary, mentor and friend. I have written and rewritten column after column in an attempt to pay tribute to him.

It has never been hard to write about the ministry of President Ballard — until now. Words felt inadequate to summarize his life and his service.

Then, unable to find my own words, I remembered his.

President M. Russell Ballard stands by the Trent River in England.
President M. Russell Ballard of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, stands by the Trent River in Nottingham, England on Thursday, Oct. 28, 2021. Ballard walked along the river as a young missionary in 1949 and received a spiritual witness of being on the Lord’s errand at that time. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Not long ago, during an interview with President Ballard about his late wife, Sister Barbara Bowen Ballard, I had the opportunity to observe him at the Salt Lake Cemetery. There, in what will become his final resting place, on the headstone he shares with Sister Ballard, he left advice for all of us.

Remember:

  • Think straight.
  • Keep it simple.
  • “Preach My Gospel.”
  • Seek the one.
  • Counsel together.
  • Stay in the boat and hold on.
  • Love and just serve.

He modeled this advice during his October 2023 general conference address — a direct, simple message of the gospel of Jesus Christ that encouraged us to reach out, hold on, love and serve.

Noting that his old eyes no longer worked well enough to read a teleprompter, he instead spoke from his heart. “I’d like to share with you some things that have been in my mind,” he said.

He testified of Joseph Smith, who opened the heavens with a sincere prayer.

“My beloved brothers and sisters, my testimony to you this morning is how abundantly blessed we are to know all that we know because we have Joseph Smith, the Prophet of this last dispensation of time. … Though my message this morning is simple, it’s deep, and it’s full of love for the Prophet Joseph Smith.”

This life, he said, is a “process of trying to prepare ourselves, a day at a time, to be a little better, be a little kinder, be a little more prepared for that day, which will surely come, when we shall pass back into the presence of our Heavenly Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

“That’s getting a little closer for me. … I’m doing the best I can.”

He said it has been a wonderful blessing to travel the world in his assignment as a general authority of the Church.

“Oh, how I love you. What a glorious experience that’s been — to look into your faces, be in your presence and feel your love that you have for the Lord and for the Restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ.”

Concluding, he asked the Lord to watch over us. “And may we have the Spirit of the Lord well up in our hearts, and may our love for the gospel of Jesus Christ — our beloved Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ — increase as we strive to serve Him and keep His commandments and be more like Him.”

He implored the Lord’s blessings for Latter-day Saints around the globe, “wherever you are in this world,” and shared a final, powerful, simple testimony:

“I leave you my witness and testimony that I know that Jesus is the Christ. He is our Savior, our Redeemer. He is our best friend.”

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