Sarah Jane Weaver: Why a mission is like home for those who serve

For three Apostles who have visited where they served missions or as mission leaders, there is a ‘sense of home’ — a sense of belonging and meaning

President M. Russell Ballard returned last weekend to Toronto, Ontario — where he served as a mission president almost 50 years ago. The province, he said, will always have a big part of his heart. “In so many ways, being here is like coming home.”

Recalling his time in Toronto from 1974 to 1977 — when he worked with local Latter-day Saints to bring others to the Church — touches his heart deeply.

“I moved about among the Saints in Ontario,” he said while speaking to members in the area April 21 to April 23. With his wife, Sister Barbara Ballard, he met with congregations and listened to the testimonies of local members. “I watched you work and serve and believe and attend to your duties. … I love this wonderful province of Ontario.”

Related Stories
President Ballard returns to Ontario; his heart, he said, is intertwined with Toronto
How 3 Apostles received a sure witness of the gospel of Jesus Christ during missionary service in England

President Ballard said his time as a mission president in Toronto is also reflective of his time as a young missionary serving in the British Isles. That experience also changed his life.

In the process of sharing the gospel message in England, President Ballard said his own testimony was solidified. He returned to England in October of 2021 while on assignment with Elder Jeffrey R. Holland and Elder Quentin L. Cook and of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.

“The more we were trying to give the gospel away by teaching it to others, the more our own testimonies grew,” President Ballard said, speaking of the blessing of missionary service on the three senior leaders.

President M. Russell Ballard, Elder Quentin L. Cook Elder and Jeffrey R. Holland with wives Sister Mary Cook and Pat Holland tour an area near the River Ribble in England.
President M. Russell Ballard, Elder Quentin L. Cook Elder and Jeffrey R. Holland of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints with wives Sister Mary Cook and Sister Pat Holland tour an area near the River Ribble in England on Wednesday Oct. 27, 2021. Many converts to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints were baptized in the river through early missionary efforts. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

In a single day on Tuesday, Oct. 26, 2021, President Ballard, Elder Holland and Elder Cook each addressed missionaries in different parts of the British Isles.

Speaking to missionaries of the Scotland-Ireland Mission in the Edinburgh Scotland Stake Center, President Ballard said he first arrived in the British Isles in 1948 without understanding the “magnificence of the gospel message.” But his mission changed everything.

“I didn’t know much when I first arrived on this island,” he said. “I certainly did not know what I should have known.”

Heaven, he told the missionaries, is “orchestrating your lives.”

“This is a heavenly work. Why? Because every human soul who has ever lived on the earth is a spirit son or daughter of God,” he said. “There has to be something that touches their hearts that says, ‘I have found something here that is precious and I want to embrace it.’”

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland said England is his spiritual home.

Related Story
Returning to their ‘spiritual home,’ 3 senior Apostles reflect on lives ‘anchored in the British Isles’ as full-time missionaries
President M. Russell Ballard, center right on the front row, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, center, Elder Quentin L. Cook, third from right, of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, and Elder Massimo De Feo, a General Authority Seventy, pose for a photo with missionaries of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at the Royal Albert Hall during a London and Birmingham combined missions meeting in London, England, on Friday Oct. 29, 2021. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Addressing missionaries from the England Manchester Mission gathered in the Chorley England Stake Center, Elder Holland told the young elders and sisters his hope for them was simple: that they will feel about their mission the way he felt about his.

Elder Holland said a phrase penned by William Shakespeare — “scepter’d isle” — has great meaning.

“Physically, I was born in the United States,” Elder Holland said. “But spiritually, I was born on this green and scepter’d isle.”

Elder Cook delivered a similar message from the Cross Gates meetinghouse to missionaries in the England Leeds Mission.

Elder Cook said missionary work is “seminal” and “foundational” in the lives of all who serve the Lord. The miracle of missionary work has existed since the earliest days of the Church, he said.

It is a process in which the Lord blesses not only the missionary — but also those whom the missionary serves.

Elder Cook is a descendant of Heber C. Kimball — who was among the first missionaries to preach the gospel in this dispensation outside North America in the early 1840s. Thousands joined the Church and left England to gather with the early Latter-day Saints.

President M. Russell Ballard, Elder Quentin L. Cook and Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, speaks to missionaries from the England Missionary Training Center at the Parish Church of Saint Leonard in Downham, England on Wednesday, Oct. 27, 2021. Early Church missionaries Heber C. Kimball and Joseph Fielding taught and baptized many converts in the area. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Charles Dickens mingled with one group of emigrants as they were leaving Great Britain and described them as “the pick and flower of England.” It was a seemingly contradictory description of those early Saints — poor, but functional, members of England’s working class. Yet, in the short time they had been members of the Church, the gospel had defined them and elevated them. And that is what Dickens identified, said Elder Holland.

The miracle of missionary work gives those who serve — as well as those they teach — a sense of belonging and meaning, said Elder Cook. “It is a sense of home.”

Just as is the case then, those today who “throw themselves in the work and turn to and trust the Lord,” complete missionary service a little better than when they arrived, said President Ballard.

That was his experience as a young missionary in England and Scotland and later as a mission president in Ontario.

At the conclusion of a ministry assignment on the East Coast of the United States one month ago, President Ballard shared the reality of his nine and a half decades of life.

“The Lord blessed me because I was willing to preach and testify and witness that He is the Savior and Redeemer of the world,” he said.

“This is the Church of Jesus Christ.” He is “the Savior and Redeemer of all mankind.”

— Sarah Jane Weaver is editor of the Church News.

Subscribe for free and get daily or weekly updates straight to your inbox
The three things you need to know everyday
Highlights from the last week to keep you informed