Episode 162: President M. Russell Ballard, 1928 — 2023: Celebrating his life in his own words
Special memorial Church News podcast remembers the life and teachings of President M. Russell Ballard
Episode 162: President M. Russell Ballard, 1928 — 2023: Celebrating his life in his own words
Special memorial Church News podcast remembers the life and teachings of President M. Russell Ballard
In this special memorial episode of the Church News podcast, the Church News celebrates his life in his own words. The podcast features interviews and talk excerpts highlighting his teachings as a devoted husband, beloved father and faithful witness of Jesus Christ.
He is remembered for his deep commitment to the Church, his focus on missionary work, his teachings on councils and, above all, his desire to anchor his personal testimony to the life and Atonement of the Savior Jesus Christ.
Sarah Jane Weaver: It is with heavy hearts that we mourn the passing of President M. Russell Ballard, Acting President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. We dedicate this special memorial episode of the Church News podcast to President Ballard as we remember his words and celebrate his life and teachings.
Melvin Russell Ballard Jr. was born to Melvin Russell Ballard and Geraldine Smith Ballard in Salt Lake City, Utah, on Oct. 8, 1928. He grew up in Salt Lake City, where he had many good friends who influenced him. His decision to serve a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the British Isles from 1948 to 1950 was a hinge point in his life. During that time, he gained a sure knowledge of the love God has for him and of the divinity of the Savior Jesus Christ. He defended the Church while speaking publicly and served as a counselor in the mission presidency.
When he returned from his mission, he attended the University of Utah, where he met and then married Barbara Bowen in the Salt Lake Temple on Aug. 28, 1951. They became the parents of two sons and five daughters. Professionally, President Ballard was a businessman with interests in the automotive, real estate and investment businesses. In 1974, he was called as president of the Canada Toronto Mission, and while serving in that capacity was called to the Quorum of the Seventy in April 1976, beginning his full-time service as a Church leader. He served as a member of the Presidency of the Seventy from February 1980 to October 1985, overseeing the Church’s quorums of the Seventy before his call to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in October 1985.
He was sustained and set apart as Acting President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles by President Russell M. Nelson on Jan. 14, 2018. He is remembered for his deep commitment to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, his focus on missionary work, his teachings on councils, and the need to anchor one’s personal testimony to the life and Atonement of the Savior, Jesus Christ. From his very first talk in April 1976, as a newly called General Authority, he spoke of the importance of serving the Lord with obedience and faith.
President M. Russell Ballard: As I contemplated the possibility of bearing my testimony tonight to you, my mind went back to many years ago when I was in the Aaronic Priesthood, and somehow I and one of my companions found ourselves over here, where we did not belong, just prior to the beginning of the priesthood meeting. George Albert Smith, in his kindness, saw our plight, saw that we had really nowhere to go, and invited us to sit on these stairs. I sat there with my friend and watched the proceedings of that conference, never ever believing that I would ever get that close again to this pulpit.
I said to my friend when we left the conference, “It sure would be nice to be a general authority; then you would have one of those big red chairs to sit in.”
I would like to say, my brethren, that I have been sitting in a big red chair for just a few minutes, it seems. The greatest desire of my heart is that I will learn through my obedience and my service to be comfortable in that big red chair. I would pray that the Lord would bless me that I might represent President Kimball, his counselors, the Council of the Twelve and all of my brethren in the General Authorities, that as they send me forth on whatever errand it might be, I might do the will and the bidding of the Lord.
Sarah Jane Weaver: In March of 2022, President Ballard sat down with the Church News to reminisce about decades of participating in general conference, and to provide a peek into the process of speaking at these historic events. He always remembered to anchor his testimony on the Savior of the world.
President M. Russell Ballard: After I have given my talk and the rest of the conference goes on, I am listening carefully and trying to determine if there is something that is being said that would be the keynote that I could build a talk around in six months. I try to think through what the current needs, the realities of what people are facing, and try to say something that would be helpful to them. All focused on the anchor that everyone needs in their lives, regardless of what is happening, and that anchor is to stay close to the Lord Jesus Christ.
If people will love Him and keep Him foremost in their hearts and in their lives, whatever difficulties we may face — whether it is a loss of a loved one, or a tragedy of one kind or another, or an illness, or disappointment in a marriage or children or whatever — if we are anchored properly, with our love and our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, and He really is our Savior, and He really is, in our hearts, the Redeemer, and that He really can be our best friend as He Himself has declared He wants to be, then I would say that is one of the most important things people can have in their lives, is to never be so busy or so preoccupied in other things that they do not have time to ponder on their relationship with Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world.
Sarah Jane Weaver: In that same interview, he also spoke about his family heritage as a direct descendant of Hyrum Smith and how that has shaped his life and ministry.
President M. Russell Ballard: My mother’s father was Hyrum Mack Smith, who was the oldest son of Joseph F. Smith, who was the youngest son of Hyrum Smith, who is the brother of the Prophet Joseph Smith. So through my mother, I have claim to Hyrum, the brother of the Prophet Joseph Smith. And I have given talks over the years that the Lord not only raised up Joseph, but he raised up Hyrum to be Joseph’s companion and older brother. He was five years, almost six years older than Joseph; and yet, talk about an example of an older brother being willing to sustain and support a younger brother. You do not find a better example that I know of anywhere in the history of the world.
Hyrum Smith was chosen of the Lord to be a shepherd, I think, to the Prophet Joseph. I think Joseph was able to do, in a lot of ways, what he did in restoring the fullness of the gospel, and being the Prophet of this, the dispensation of the fullness of times, this last dispensation, because he had an older brother that was with him and loved him and sustained him.
President M. Russell Ballard: It is interesting when you read carefully, when they were together, on occasions, Joseph would turn to Hyrum and say, “Hyrum, you’re the oldest, what should we do?” A good example of that was when the mobs were trying to kill Joseph, and he knew that that was their objective, and they had crossed the river, and he and Hyrum were there on the other side of the river, and the word came: “Well, the people think you are running away.” And Joseph — this is not exact words — turned to Hyrum, and he said, “Hyrum, you are the oldest, what should we do?” And he said, “Let us go back and face what we need to face.”
And along the way, Hyrum Smith said to his little brother, “Joseph, Joseph, I will not leave you.” And to Carthage they went, and were both martyred there, with Hyrum — holding the door, trying to serve and save the others — was murdered in Carthage Jail, and so those two great prophets were taken at the same time.
Sarah Jane Weaver: In 1984, with a severe drought plaguing Africa, the Church held a fast to raise money for Ethiopia. President Ballard joined Elder Glenn L. Pace, who was managing director of the Church’s Welfare Department. The pair traveled to Ethiopia to determine how best to use $6 million raised by Latter-day Saints in a special fast. President Ballard learned about compassion in a deeper way than ever before from that experience.
President M. Russell Ballard: Well, the first memory is I got called into President Hinckley’s office, and he said, “Russ, I am sending you and Glenn Pace to go to Ethiopia to decide how to use this money.” I said, “When do you want me to go?” He said, “Tomorrow.” So I said, “Well, OK.” Then we had to get shots — we got shots for everything — and off we went.
And I would have to say that that was one of the molding experiences in my ministry. I learned, I think, about compassion and love and gentleness, and appreciating anguish and anxiety and suffering on that experience, which I believe has blessed me the rest of the time that I have tried to serve the Lord as a general authority. We saw situations there that were just heartbreaking. You know, fighting away the tears to see little kids holding a cup to get a little meal that they would pour out of a big barrel into there. It is kind of like a Cream of Wheat sort of thing. And those little kids just gathered around us and held our hands. And we saw, we just saw things that changed me.
Sarah Jane Weaver: Speaking in general conference in an April 1985 talk titled “Prepare To Serve,” President Ballard again talked about visiting Ethiopia. In the talk, he offered a glimpse of the growing international Church and how the living waters of Christ will continue to bless all nations.
President M. Russell Ballard: I can testify to you, my brethren, that I know as I have never known before that to enjoy the privilege of holding the holy priesthood is a most treasured blessing. If every one of you young men of the Aaronic Priesthood could have been on the mission to Ethiopia with Bishop Glenn Pace and me, your hearts surely would have been filled with the desire to honor your priesthood. I do not believe even one of us in this vast priesthood gathering should take for granted the great blessings that we enjoy as bearers of the holy priesthood.
When we arrived in Ethiopia, we found one member of the Church, Brother Harry Hadlock from Seattle, Washington. He was overjoyed to meet two brethren of the priesthood. On Sunday morning, the three of us held a testimony meeting and then, with our priesthood, we blessed and passed the sacrament. The Spirit of the Lord was present. Because we had a deep yearning to help our Father’s children who were suffering, we offered a special prayer that rain might come to that drought-stricken area. We felt a deep sense of the importance of our mission. I knew that if we called upon the Lord to bless the land, the elements would be tempered. We prayed, brethren, for rain. During the balance of the time we were in Ethiopia, it rained every day wherever we traveled. We were grateful to our Heavenly Father because the rain was a special witness to us that he was aware that His sons, bearing His holy priesthood, were about His business in that part of the world.
But there was more we could do for them, much more. We have a spiritual gift, the living waters, to share (see John 4:10). Could we but give them this, they would not thirst thereafter. My brethren, tonight I feel a deep urgency to touch the hearts of every boy in the Church that each one might have a desire to live worthy to hold the Melchizedek Priesthood and serve a mission. You young men must live worthy to become elders so you can carry the light of the gospel of Jesus Christ to every nation, kindred, tongue and people, as the Lord has commanded us to do (see Mosiah 15:28).
Sarah Jane Weaver: Sharing the gospel with every nation, kindred, tongue and people through missionary work was a key principle President Ballard continually taught throughout his life. In a recent general conference talk in April 2022, titled “Missionary Service Blessed My Life Forever,” he shared how missionary service blesses more than just those who have been taught, but the teacher as well.
President M. Russell Ballard: Brothers and sisters, several years ago while I was speaking in general conference, the sight in my left eye was suddenly compromised by something called macular degeneration, which subsequently worsened and has left me without useful vision in that eye.
As I have dealt with this challenge, I am ever more thankful for other kinds of vision, including hindsight vision. As I have looked back over my life, I have been able to see certain experiences that made a significant difference. One of those experiences is how my full-time missionary service as a young man in England blessed my life and shaped my spiritual destiny. My missionary service prepared me to be a better husband and father and to be successful in business. It also prepared me for a lifetime of service in the Lord’s Church.
The Lord knows you. When you are serving your mission, you will have experiences that will help you come to know Him better. You will grow spiritually in serving Him. In His name, you will be sent on errands to serve others. He will give you experiences with promptings of the Holy Ghost. The Lord will authorize you to teach in His name. You can show Him that He can trust you and can rely on you.
President M. Russell Ballard: As an Apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ, I call upon you young men — and those young women who desire to serve a mission — to begin right now to talk with your parents about serving a mission. I also invite you to talk with your friends about serving a mission, and if one of your friends is not sure about serving, encourage him to talk with his bishop. Commit to yourselves and to your Heavenly Father that you will serve a mission and that from this time forward, you will strive to keep your hearts, hands, and minds clean and worthy. I invite you to gain a solid testimony of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ.
When you are released from your mission, remember that you are not released from activity in the Church. Build upon the good habits you learned on your mission, continue to strengthen your testimony, work hard, pray and be obedient to the Lord. Honor the covenants you have made. Continue to bless and serve others.
I pray that you young men and young women and your parents will see and know how missionary service will bless forever your life. May you know in your minds and feel in your hearts the power of the invitation of the Lord that He gave to the great missionary sons of Mosiah. He said, “Go forth ... and establish my word; yet ye shall be patient in long-suffering and afflictions, that ye may show forth good examples ... in me, and I will make an instrument of thee in my hands unto the salvation of many souls” (Alma 17:11).
Sarah Jane Weaver: President Ballard’s plea to recognize the power and lifelong blessings that come from missionary service was rooted in a sacred experience he had while serving his own mission in England, an experience in which he gained his own testimony of God’s love for him as an individual. He shared this experience with the Church News while traveling back to his mission field in the fall of 2021.
President M. Russell Ballard: A lot of times, somebody asked me the question, “When did you know that the Church was true — really know it?” My response was that I had a special spiritual experience walking along the Trent River in Nottingham England. I was a district president, so I did not have a companion, and I was coming alone. And while walking along this river, I knew that the Lord knew that I was there. “Did you see anything?” No. “Did you hear any voices?” No. I had a spiritual inner assurance that Heavenly Father was aware of me and that the Lord was aware of me and that I was on Their errand, and that what I was doing was important. And I knew.
Sarah Jane Weaver: The knowledge gained on his mission encouraged him to focus on what matters most as he returned home. He spoke about this with Brigham Young University students in an April 2003 speech.
President M. Russell Ballard: Now, for a few minutes, I would like to talk to you about some of my experiences in life. This year, I will be 75 years old, and I have learned a few things in the school of hard knocks. When I was the age of most of you, I attended the University of Utah. I had returned from my mission in England, where I had learned in some wonderful and special ways that the Church is true, that Jesus truly is the Christ — the Savior and Redeemer of the world. Those lessons were and still are among the very most important I have ever learned in my life.
At the conclusion of my mission, I promised the Lord that whatever else happened to me in life, I would always be willing to accept any call to serve from those who would preside over me in the Church. I am happy that I can report to you that I have kept that promise. I have served in many capacities, from a teacher of children to a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. As I look back on all of these years of Church service, I am grateful that I have kept the promise I had made with the Lord 53 years ago. May I suggest to each of you graduates that you consider making a similar promise, if you have not already done so. I can assure you that if you will keep your promise to accept any call that comes to you to serve the Lord, great joy, peace, satisfaction and happiness will also be yours.
I am often asked by young Church members, “What do I have to do to be prepared to serve the Lord in the Church?” My simple answer is this: “Learn to focus your life on the things that matter most.”
I offer that same counsel to each of you on your day of graduation. Do not allow anything to preempt your focus on the eternal plan of happiness that our Heavenly Father has prepared for His faithful children. Participating in the great plan of happiness is best accomplished in our lives by making and keeping covenants with God. Through service and devotion to the Lord Jesus Christ, our testimonies grow, and through solid testimonies, we can stay focused on the things that really matter. This effort to stay focused has served me well, as I assure you, the same will be true in your lives.
I have learned along the way a few things that might be helpful to you. Be wise and careful in the decisions that you make. Seek constantly and strive to live worthy of the companionship of the Holy Ghost. The power of the Spirit will work with you and will help you to know what you should do and what you should not do.
Now, on the other hand, I could share with you hundreds of powerful spiritual experiences that have come into my life as a result of responding to spiritual promptings. I now know what the Lord wants me to do. I cannot count the times I have visited the sick or those who are in need, not because they called upon me but because the Spirit directed me to go to them. Now, my dear young friends, this same blessing can be yours in your Church callings and in your personal lives. You will receive promptings, and, from my point of view, there is no education more important than learning to know and respond to the prompting of the Spirit. Stay worthy and live for the companionship of the Spirit.
Now, just one other important thing for you to learn is to exercise good judgment in every decision you will make in life. I know of no attribute that is more sought after and appreciated in the world and in the Church than the ability to use good judgment and common sense in making decisions. To know how to exercise good judgment, you must become a good listener. Be slow to judge but quick to seek to know all of the facts. The fully educated person, in my judgment, is one who has developed this ability to understand real issues and apply sound judgment in seeking right solutions. By developing this skill, you will be sought after as a leader in your profession; you will be a better eternal companion, a better father or a mother; and you will be a better Church leader.
May God bless you graduates as you now go into the world, that you will stay focused on what matters most, that you will seek the influence of the Spirit and that you will exercise good judgment in your lives. Add these things to the formal education you have received here at Brigham Young University, and your life will be filled with many more accomplishments and personal satisfaction in knowing you have made a difference during your life.
Sarah Jane Weaver: A constant support to President Ballard was his beloved wife, Sister Barbara Bowen Ballard, who died on Oct. 1, 2018. He fondly spoke of meeting his eternal companion in a Church News interview in 2020.
President M. Russell Ballard: What is it, 45 years that I have been a general authority? I have covered the world. There are not very many places I have not been. But the greatest thing probably that ever happened was finding her and marrying her. I go to the University of Utah Hello Day Dance, and Richard Harris — he and I went through high school together — he said, “I’ve got somebody you need to meet.” So he dances Barbara Bowen over and introduces me, and I danced with Barbara. I was smitten just with her countenance and her smile. So I called her up because I wanted to take her out on a date.
We were married 67 years. I would have to say that she is everything, really. We have seven beautiful children. We have 43 grandchildren, and now 96 or 97 great-grandchildren. When I talk about Oct. 1, when she passed away, that was — half of me, in a lot of ways, went with her, I think. And it has been a long two years. People ask me how it is, and I say it is terribly lonesome at night. But I know where she is. She is waiting for me, I hope.
So, the gospel, you know, takes you through these things. It all comes back down, in my judgment, to an unwavering, through-and-through belief that Jesus is the Christ, that He is the Savior and Redeemer of the world, and that this is His Church, and that He is watching over it. The gospel is simple, and it is simply beautiful. So, He does live. And I know that, and I love Him.
Sarah Jane Weaver: President Ballard’s love for Christ and His gospel was evident no matter where he went and served. In the very first episode of the Church News podcast, he shared how focusing our hearts and minds on Jesus Christ can lead to personal safety, comfort and healing.
President M. Russell Ballard: Well, it is the same message, I think, that I have tried to emphasize in my whole ministry, and that is that we must focus our hearts and our minds on Jesus Christ. We need to come to know who He really is. And really, you come to know the Savior by serving Him and His Church. I think the more you serve, the more you reach out, the more you extend your efforts to try to help others along the way — whether it be just quietly or publicly — those quiet moments of service draw you closer to the Master.
I never go away from private, one-on-one efforts to try to help somebody who has been hurt in accidents, or who has been hurt emotionally, or just struggling in life — I never leave those experiences without a deeper abiding love for the Lord, knowing that I can say to anyone, “Just trust Him. You have to trust Him. Your safety and my safety is the Lord.” If we stay close to Him and then try to do the things He would want us to do, we are going to be OK, regardless of what burden we may be carrying. And there are some people that are really, really burdened. But He has promised if we follow Him, He will help us carry them. And I am a witness that that is true.
Sarah Jane Weaver: President Ballard knew that just as Christ carries us individually, He carries the restored gospel in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as well. He illustrated this principle perfectly in his October 2014 general conference talk titled “Stay in the Boat and Hold On!”
President M. Russell Ballard: Recently, a friend of mine took his son on a trip down the Colorado River through the Cataract Canyon, located in southeastern Utah. The canyon is famous for its 14 miles of white-water rapids that can be particularly hazardous. In preparation for their adventure, they had carefully reviewed the National Park Service website, which contains important information about personal preparedness and common, hidden hazards.
At the beginning of the trip, one of the experienced river guides reviewed important safety instructions, emphasizing three rules that would ensure the group’s safe travel through the rapids. “Rule no. 1: Stay in the boat. Rule no. 2: Always wear a life jacket. And Rule no. 3: Always hold on with both hands.” He then again, with even more emphasis, “Above all,” he said, “remember the rule ‘Stay in the boat.’”
This adventure reminds me of our mortal journey. Most of us experience periods in our life where the tranquil waters of life are appreciated. And other times, we encounter white-water rapids that are metaphorically comparable to those found in the 14-mile stretch through Cataract Canyon — challenges that may include physical and mental health issues, the death of a loved one, dashed dreams and hopes, and — for some — even the crisis of faith when faced with life’s problems, questions and doubts.
The Lord, in His goodness, has provided help, including a boat, essential supplies such as life jackets, and experienced river guides who give guidance and safety instructions to help us make our way down the river of life to our final destination. The words of the Lord are found in the scriptures and the teachings of the apostles and prophets. They provide us counsel and direction that, when followed, will act like a spiritual life jacket and will help us know how to hold on with both hands.
We need to become like the sons of Mosiah, who “waxed strong in the knowledge of the truth.” We can become men and women “of a sound understanding.” This can be accomplished only by “search[ing] the scriptures diligently, that [we] might know the word of God” (Alma 17:2). In searching the scriptures and the words of past and current apostles and prophets, we should focus on studying, living and loving the doctrine of Christ.
In addition to developing the habit of personal scripture study, we need to be like the sons of Mosiah and give ourselves “to much prayer, and fasting” (Alma 17:3). It seems that these things which are not easily measured are of great importance. Stay focused on these simple things, and avoid becoming distracted.
As I have known people that have not stayed in the boat and have not held on with both hands during times of trials and troubles or who have not stayed in the boat during times of relative calm, I have observed that many of them have lost their focus on the central truths of the gospel — the reasons why they joined the Church in the first place and slipped away from them; the reasons they remained fully committed and active in living gospel standards and blessing others through dedicated, consecrated service; and the ways in which the Church has been in their lives “a place of spiritual nourishment and growth” has slipped away.
Joseph Smith taught this central truth: “The fundamental principles of our religion [are] the testimony of the apostles and prophets concerning Jesus Christ, … ‘that he died, was buried, and rose again the third day, and ascended up into heaven’; and all other things are only appendages to these, which pertain to our religion.”
If we keep our focus on the Lord, we are promised a blessing beyond comparison: “Wherefore, ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men. Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life” (2 Nephi 31:20).
Sarah Jane Weaver: Part of President Ballard’s apostolic work as a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was his willingness to defend the Church and its teachings. In his November 1989 BYU speech “Unlocking the Doors,” he breaks down the remarkable history of the Church rolling forth boldly, nobly and independent, despite persecutions, mobs and calamity. He offered Latter-day Saints a vision of the standard of truth filling the entire world.
President M. Russell Ballard: In the earliest years of the development of the Church, at a time when its enemies already were making great efforts to stop the work, the Prophet knew that no enemy present or future would have sufficient power to frustrate and stop the purposes of God. Even Joseph’s closest associates in those early years did not understand that the Church would roll forth from small beginnings to fill the entire world, as prophesied by the Old Testament prophet Daniel (see Daniel 1). This review of Church growth from the Prophet’s time to ours is one more reason we know without question that Joseph Smith was a Prophet of God.
When Elder [Dean L.] Larsen and I witnessed firsthand the profound growth of the Church in the face of the current violence and challenges in South America, my testimony was expanded greatly. And my testimony to you students here this morning is that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the Savior’s work will continue to roll forth in the world. Those of you who are preparing to serve the Lord as missionaries, I call upon you this morning to prepare well. Your day in Church history is yet to be written. It will be what you make it. To those of you who have returned from your missionary service, remain true and faithful, for you will lead the Church in the coming years with the challenges of continued growth.
Oh, that I would have the power to open your eyes and cause you to see the vision of what yet lies ahead. And you, many of you sitting here as students at the Brigham Young University, will carry a remarkable role in fulfilling the prophecies of the Prophet Joseph Smith until that day does come when the great Jehovah shall say, “It is enough.”
Sarah Jane Weaver: Likewise, in his November 2017 speech “Questions and Answers” at BYU, he expanded on the need to seek out the right questions in life, while emphasizing the importance of diligently seeking and teaching words of wisdom.
President M. Russell Ballard: I am very happy to be here. I cannot see you; I guess there is somebody up there. I am now in my 90th year, and I have been happily married to my dear Barbara for 66 years. We have been blessed with seven children, 43 grandchildren, and now we have 86 great-grandchildren — and more on the way. And I want to include you in our family today. I would like you to picture me as your grandfather who believes in you and who is cheering for you. I love you and constantly pray for you.
I wish I could respond to every question. However, reviewing the questions has been a blessing to me because it gave me another window to consider the issues and challenges you face. As we begin to consider some of your questions, it is important to remember I am a general authority, but that does not make me an authority in general. My calling and life experiences allow me to respond to certain types of questions. There are other types of questions that require an expert in the specific subject matter. This is exactly what I do when I need an answer to such questions: I seek others, including those with degrees and expertise in such fields.
I worry sometimes that members expect too much from Church leaders and teachers — expecting them to be experts in subjects well beyond their duties and responsibilities. The Lord called the apostles and prophets to invite others to come unto Christ — not to obtain advanced degrees in ancient history, biblical studies and other fields that may be useful in answering all the questions we may have about scriptures, history and about the Church. Our primary duty is to build up the Church, teach the doctrine of Christ and help those in need of our help.
Fortunately, the Lord provided this counsel for those asking questions: “Seek ye diligently and teach one another words of wisdom; yea, seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom; seek learning, even by study and also by faith” (Doctrine and Covenants 88:118). If you have a question that requires an expert, please take the time to find a thoughtful, qualified expert to help you. There are many on this campus and elsewhere who have the degrees and expertise to respond and give some insight to most of these types of questions.
Question: “If I have family or friends who are less active, how far do I go in my attempts to bring them back?” Well, my answer is please do not preach to them. Your family members and friends already know the Church’s teachings. They do not need another lecture. What they need — and what we all need — is love and understanding, not judging. Share your positive experiences of living the gospel. The most powerful thing you can do is share your spiritual experiences with family and friends. And also, genuinely be interested in their lives, their successes and their challenges. Always be warm, gentle, loving and kind.
I close with three suggestions about seeking answers to gospel questions. First, while searching, studying and praying for answers, please remember you have to be living right to get the answers you seek. As one well-known historian writes: “Guilt clouds the mind. If you are knowingly sinning, you will subconsciously want to separate yourself from God and find reasons for denying His power.”
Second, my dear young friends, please take time to “be still, and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10). Most all of our concerns in life are answered in the quiet times of thinking, praying and reaching out to Heavenly Father and the Lord Jesus Christ for guidance, peace and joy as we strive to live the gospel. And finally, please keep focused on what is really essential. Do not look beyond the mark. Trust Heavenly Father. He has given us His eternal plan, so “stay in the boat and [hang] on.” We love you, and we need you now and in the years to come.
President M. Russell Ballard: Our Savior, Jesus Christ, is the ultimate pioneer in preparing the way. Indeed, He is “the way” (John 14:6) for the plan of salvation to be accomplished so that we can repent and, through faith in Him, return to our Heavenly Father. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me” (John 14:6). He has promised to not leave us comfortless; He will come to us in our trials. He has invited us to “come unto [Him] with full purpose of heart, and [He] shall heal [us]” (3 Nephi 18:32). I testify that Jesus Christ is our Savior and our Redeemer, our Advocate with the Father. Our Heavenly Father has opened the way for us to return to Him by following His Beloved Son, Jesus Christ, with faith in every footstep.
My great-grandparents and early pioneers faced many obstacles as they came by wagons, handcarts and walking to the Salt Lake Valley. We too will face challenges in our individual journeys through our lives. We are not pushing handcarts or driving covered wagons over steep mountains and through deep snowdrifts; we are trying as they did to spiritually overcome the temptations and challenges of our day. We have trails to walk. We have hills — and sometimes mountains — to climb. Although the trials today are different than those of the early pioneers, they are no less challenging for us.
It is important to follow the Prophet and keep our feet firmly planted on the covenant path of faithfulness, as it was for the early pioneers. Let us follow Jesus Christ with faith in every footstep. We need to serve the Lord and serve one another. We need to strengthen ourselves spiritually by keeping and honoring covenants. We should not lose the sense of urgency to keep the commandments. Satan tries to dull our commitment and our love for God and the Lord Jesus Christ. Please remember that if anyone should lose their way, we will never be lost to our Savior. With the blessing of repentance, we can turn to Him. He will help us learn, grow, change as we strive to stay on the covenant path.
Sarah Jane Weaver: In 2004, President Ballard shared his firm testimony of the Atonement of Jesus Christ as he tenderly spoke about the loss of his grandson Nathan to an airplane crash.
President M. Russell Ballard: This past January, our family suffered the tragic loss of our grandson Nathan in an airplane crash. Nathan served in the Russian-speaking Baltic Mission. He loved the people and knew it was a privilege to serve the Lord. Three months after I officiated at his eternal marriage to his sweetheart, Jennifer, this accident took his life. Nathan being taken so suddenly from our mortal presence has turned each of our hearts and minds to the Atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ. While it is impossible for me to put into words the full meaning of the Atonement of Christ, I pray that I can explain what His Atonement means to me and our family and what it might also mean to you and yours.
The Savior’s precious birth, life, Atonement in the Garden of Gethsemane, the suffering on the cross, His burial in Joseph’s tomb and His glorious Resurrection all became a renewed reality for us. The Savior’s Resurrection assures all of us that someday we, too, will follow Him and experience our own resurrection. What peace, what comfort this great gift is, which comes through the loving grace of Jesus Christ, the Savior and Redeemer of all mankind. Because of Him we know we can be with Nathan again. Coming to understand this great gift is an individual pursuit for each child of God.
Brothers and sisters, I believe that if we could truly understand the Atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ, we would realize how precious is one son or daughter of God. I believe our Heavenly Father’s everlasting purpose for His children is generally achieved by the small and simple things we do for one another. At the heart of the English word “atonement” is the word “one.” If all mankind understood this, there would never be anyone with whom we would not be concerned, regardless of age, race, gender, religion, or social or economic standing. We would strive to emulate the Savior, and we would never be unkind, indifferent, disrespectful or insensitive to others.
If we truly understood the Atonement and the eternal value of each soul, we would seek out the wayward boy and girl and every other wayward child of God. We would help them to know the love Christ has for them. We would do all that we can to help prepare them to receive the saving ordinances of the gospel. Surely, if the Atonement of Christ was foremost in the minds of ward and branch leaders, no new or reactivated member would ever be neglected. Because every soul is so precious, they will counsel together to see that each one is taught the doctrines of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
When I think of Nathan and how precious he is to us, I can see and feel more clearly how our Heavenly Father must feel about all of His children. We do not want God to weep because we did not do all we could to share with His children the revealed truths of the gospel.
Sarah Jane Weaver: In what would become his final general conference address in October of 2023, he opened the Sunday morning session bearing a tender and poignant testimony of the Prophet Joseph Smith.
President M. Russell Ballard: I have been thinking about just all of the marvelous things, brothers and sisters, that we know, and all the things that we have, the understanding of the purpose of life, who we are. We know who God is; we know who the Savior is because we have Joseph, who went into a grove of trees as a boy, seeking relief and forgiveness for his sins. I think it is one of the most glorious and wonderful things that anybody in this world can know — that our Heavenly Father and the Lord Jesus Christ have revealed Themselves in this latter day and that Joseph has been raised up to restore the fulness of the everlasting gospel of Jesus Christ.
My beloved brothers and sisters, my testimony to you this morning is how abundantly blessed we are.
Sarah Jane Weaver: President Ballard’s message and testimony are enduring. He taught that we can all get through hard as well as great times by focusing on the love of Jesus Christ.
President M. Russell Ballard: At my age, I have attended many funerals. I am sure many of you have noticed what I have noticed. When celebrating the life of a deceased family member or a friend, it is rare for the speaker to talk about the size of the person’s home, the number of cars or the bank account balances. They usually do not speak about social media posts. Almost all of the funerals that I have attended, they focus on their loved one’s relationships, service to others, life lessons and experiences, and their love for Jesus Christ.
Do not misunderstand me; I am not saying that having a nice home or a nice car is wrong or that using social media is bad. What I am saying is that in the end, those things matter very little compared to loving the Savior.
When we love and follow Him, we have faith in Him. We repent. We follow His example and are baptized and receive the Holy Ghost. We endure to the end and stay on the covenant path. We forgive family members and neighbors by letting go of grudges we may be holding. We earnestly strive to keep God’s commandments. We strive to be obedient. We make and keep covenants. We honor our fathers and mothers. We set aside negative worldly influences. We prepare ourselves for His Second Coming.
In “The Living Christ: The Testimony of the Apostles,” we read: “[Jesus] will someday return to earth. ... He will rule as King of kings and reign as Lord of lords, and every knee shall bend, and every tongue shall speak in worship before Him. Each of us will stand to be judged of Him according to our works and the desires of our hearts.” As one of the Apostles who signed “The Living Christ” document, I can say that knowing that Jesus “is the light, the life, and the hope of the world” gives me greater desire to love Him more every day.
I testify that Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ live. I testify that They love us. The scriptures teach that “God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). The scriptures also teach that Jesus “so loved the world that he gave his own life, that as many as would believe might become the sons [and daughters] of God” (Doctrine and Covenants 34:3).
Heavenly Father so loved us that He prepared His plan of salvation with a Savior as the central figure. And Jesus so loved us that in the great Council in Heaven, when Heavenly Father asked, “Whom shall I send?” Jesus, who was the firstborn of all the Father’s spirit children, answered, “Here am I, send me” (Abraham 3:27). He said unto the Father, “Father, thy will be done, and the glory be thine forever” (Moses 4:2). Jesus volunteered to be our Savior and Redeemer so that we could become like Them and return to Their presence.
These two scriptures also teach that to return to Their presence, we need to believe. We need to believe in Jesus and in God’s plan of happiness. To believe is to love and follow our Savior and keep the commandments, even in the midst of trials and strife. We cannot lose our love for and hope in Jesus, even if we face seemingly overwhelming challenges. Heavenly Father and Jesus will never forget us. They love us.
Sarah Jane Weaver: In one of his final Church News interviews, released in the Church News podcast on Nov. 1, 2022, President Ballard shared a concluding testimony of the Savior and His desire to serve and follow Him. We conclude this special memorial podcast with his words and testimonies of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
President M. Russell Ballard: I think our message is a message of love. It is a message of inclusion. It is a message of “Come and enjoy the fullness of the gospel of Jesus Christ, which has been restored to the earth to the Prophet Joseph Smith and those who have succeeded him in the sacred calling as apostles and prophets.” That I know that Jesus Christ is the Savior and the Redeemer of the world. And this is His Church, and He presides over it, and we move about doing our work at His direction.
Sarah Jane Weaver: You have been listening to the Church News podcast. I’m your host, Church News executive editor Sarah Jane Weaver. I hope you have learned something today about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints by peering with me through the Church News window. Please remember to subscribe, rate and review this podcast so it can be accessible to more people. And if you enjoyed the messages we shared today, please make sure you share the podcast with others. Thanks to our guests; my producer, KellieAnn Halvorsen; and others who make this podcast possible. Join us every week for a new episode. Find us on your favorite podcasting channels or with other news and updates on the Church on TheChurchNews.com.