Episode 184: Church News editor Ryan Jensen on finding purpose in gospel principles amid life’s ups and downs

Church News editor Ryan Jensen shares about working with prophets and apostles and his family’s struggles with Huntington’s disease

From time to time, members of the Church News staff join the Church News podcast to talk about creating “a living record of the Restoration.” This podcast episode features Church News editor J. Ryan Jensen sharing his observations of prophets and apostles, what he has learned about messaging to Latter-day Saint youth, and his personal life — which includes his family’s struggles with Huntington’s disease.

Before joining the Church News, Ryan worked for the Priesthood and Family Department of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, with responsibility for the youth magazine and other projects, and as a working broadcast journalist.

Listen to this episode of the Church News podcast on Apple Podcasts, Amazon, Spotify, YouTube or wherever you get podcasts.


Jon Ryan Jensen: I don’t think any of us can be so arrogant as to think that we know so much or have a testimony that is so strong that the adversary isn’t going to try to tempt us to think different than what the gospel actually is. And that’s why President Nelson is always saying that we need to be reading in the scriptures daily; we need to read the Book of Mormon constantly; we need to be in the temple, making covenants, honoring our covenants, remembering the covenants that we’ve made; we need to be in church every Sunday, partaking of the sacrament; we need to be in there participating in our classes so that we can help each other build and overcome those challenges that we have of our testimony, whatever it is. Working in the Church, I can point to every single individual one of those and say, “I remember how this helped my testimony about ‘blank.’”


Sarah Jane Weaver: This is Sarah Jane Weaver, executive editor of the Church News, welcoming you to the Church News podcast. We are taking you on a journey of connection as we discuss news and events of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

From time to time, members of the Church News staff join this podcast to talk about creating a living record of the Restoration. This episode of the Church News podcast features Church News editor Ryan Jensen sharing his observations of prophets and apostles, what he has learned about messaging to Latter-day Saint youth, and his personal life, which includes his family’s struggle with Huntington’s disease.

Before joining the Church News, Ryan worked for the Priesthood and Family Department of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints with responsibility for the youth magazine and other important projects. And he also worked as a working broadcast journalist. Ryan, welcome today to the Church News podcast.

Jon Ryan Jensen: Thanks, Sarah. I’m glad to be here today.


Sarah Jane Weaver: I’m really glad you could join us. We’ve been waiting to find a time that we could have you on the podcast since you came to the Church News almost three years ago. Has it been that long?

Jon Ryan Jensen: It has. In the middle of a pandemic and made a lot of learnings for us and for everybody else in the world.


Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, that was such an important time. Since you first joined the staff, you came as a director of audience and reach and have since become the Church News editor. We’ve learned so much about technology and messaging from you, and I hope you’ve learned a few things from the rest of us.

Jon Ryan Jensen: This is one of the best places to work. And we have one of the best purposes, to share with people messages about the ongoing Restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ. And it really is a dream come true to be able to work here, to follow prophets and apostles, and to be able to amplify their words to those around the world who are looking for a way to build their testimony of those same principles that we believe in.

Church News editor J. Ryan Jensen with his wife, Megan Jensen, and their four children at the Conference Center on October 1, 2023. | Provided by J. Ryan Jensen


Sarah Jane Weaver: So, what have you learned, first and foremost, as you have observed the work and the testimonies of prophets and apostles?

Jon Ryan Jensen: So, when I first started at the Church News, my calling was as a Sunday School teacher for the oldest group of teenagers in my ward. And when I would go on trips or follow the ministry of some of our Church leaders, I would try not to come back and focus a whole lot on things that I had seen or heard. Though I was really excited for things that I had seen and heard, I wanted to be able to focus on whatever the lesson needed to be and what the outline was for that lesson when I sat down with them.

And the neighbor friend of mine who was co-teaching with me, he pulled me aside one day. He said, “Listen, I know you had some great experiences where you just were last week, and you have got to come into this class and share with them the great things that you’re seeing and feeling and hearing, because I don’t think that Heavenly Father is letting you have that job without the expectation that you come back and testify of how the Savior is working through these leaders to build His Church.” And it totally turned my perception on its head of how I needed to be sharing that with the people around me. And so, the very next week, I went in and used the lesson, but used the lesson to share with them the things that I had observed on that particular trip.

And for me, I think the thing that I’ve learned is personally how to not just keep these things to myself. I write the articles, but how to be more open with people all around me, because it is a unique perspective and responsibility we have to be a witness of these Apostles, of the organizational leaders, of the First Presidency, of President Russell M. Nelson. And we have an opportunity and responsibility every day to go out and share with the people who we interact with that we know that they are who they are called to be and who we sustain them to be.


Sarah Jane Weaver: I’m so glad that you brought this up, because recently I was in Belgium, Brussels, with Relief Society General President Camille N. Johnson. And President Johnson stood up, and every time she spoke, she bore testimony of the divine calling of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and the inspired organization of our Church, which is actually dictated and recorded in scripture.

And as I heard that, I thought, “Wow, we should do that more.” We who have the opportunity to write and record their words should share that we, too, know that the Church is divinely organized and that it is led by prophets, seers and revelators who make up the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.


Jon Ryan Jensen: I love that you brought that up, because recently, covering the ministry of Elder Quentin L. Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, he was meeting with the leader of a nation that we were visiting. And that particular leader brought up a couple of verses that he loves from the New Testament. And Elder Cook immediately said, “Oh, I love that story, and here are these other stories around that,” gave some additional context of the Savior’s mortal ministry in that moment. And the two of them ended up sitting down and talking about their love of the New Testament and studying the life of the Savior.

And it was really eye-opening to see the two of them go from complete strangers 30 seconds prior to becoming immersed together in studying the life of Jesus Christ and why it was important to both of them. And I think it led to a really great conversation, helped them immediately have some trust with each other of their hopes and their desires for individuals to be able to achieve personal positive outcomes in this life that would lead them back to Heavenly Father. And that doesn’t come any other way, except through that mantle that they have as Apostles, where he could walk in and in that moment say what needed to be said, and the Holy Ghost then be able to touch the heart of the person who was hearing Him.

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Sarah Jane Weaver: And I often get this question: “What is it like to travel with the Brethren?” And, you know, we don’t travel with the Brethren; we follow the Brethren, and we have this unique window of opportunity to observe them. And I think it’s so hard to do that without being changed yourself.

Is there something that has changed in you in the past three years that makes you different than before you had this view of prophetic ministries?


Jon Ryan Jensen: All of this gets to be really personal for us. And I think that every one of us on the staff have these personal experiences that we can look back on. And even as you’re asking the question, I have a million thoughts race through my head. And one of the other questions that people ask is, “Do you have a favorite Apostle? Do you have a favorite leader of the Church who you have covered?” And I tell people all the time, “My favorite is whoever I was with last,” because whoever I was with last, that’s the newest witness that I have. That’s the newest piece I have to my personal testimony puzzle that helps me and helps strengthen my foundation of Jesus Christ as my Savior.

I have to admit, Sarah, that I didn’t ever think to myself, “Well, I don’t have a particularly strong testimony of this individual as a Church leader or as an Apostle.” But as I have covered them, I have seen so many of them act on revelation that they’ve received in the moment. And to be able to feel that and to be able to know that they felt something and then did exactly what the Spirit told them to do, and to see the outcome of those moments, is really, really special to me.

And it has helped strengthen my testimony that He calls all of us, in whatever standing we are. They don’t know any more than any one of us, but they’re honing constantly their personal ability to feel and react to the influence of the Holy Ghost. And that’s what helps me, because now I strive more for that. I strive for that in my work, I strive for that in my family, I strive for that in my calling, because I want to have that same courage that they have to just do it, whatever the Spirit says, just do it. And so that’s helped me strengthen my testimony.

Church News editor J. Ryan Jensen interviews two youth outside the Yigo Guam Temple following its dedication on May 22, 2022. | Provided by J. Ryan Jensen


Sarah Jane Weaver: Yeah, it can be, at times, so overwhelming to think, “Wow, we actually get to do this.” I remember the first time the scriptures became real for me was when I was a student at BYU, and for my journalism final in a class that I was taking, one of my professors said, “Go to the New Testament, and write a news article about the Savior rising after being dead.” And for the first time, the story became real. And then I realized my testimony was strengthened in the process of having to take scriptural words and turn them into what is, of course, the greatest news story of all time. And then to think, somehow or another, we get to talk about modern prophets and apostles in a way where we’re recording their ministry.


Jon Ryan Jensen: And I don’t know if you did this as part of the assignment, but can you imagine having been there and interviewing Mary Magdalene? I don’t want to be irreverent about it, but as a professional journalist, that’s one of the things that comes to mind. I always read the scriptures, and I’m thinking about it from that perspective of, “If I could ask that person one question, what would I ask them in this moment that I’m studying about right now?” And that’s definitely one of them.

What were they feeling after that moment? And how would they have testified of the things that they saw and experienced? Would they have recognized quickly, “He taught us about this. We had no idea this is what He meant”? Or would they have said, “No, no, we got it. We just felt like we couldn’t exactly share that with everybody,” too, because they’re trying to be deferential to Him as He taught. So many great questions. And I hope that maybe after this life, we’ll get to have some of those interviews. It would be a lot of fun.


Sarah Jane Weaver: I really, really want those interviews. I think of questions for that all the time. What am I going to ask Joseph Smith or Brigham Young? And will I even get to do an interview with them? Wouldn’t that be amazing?

Jon Ryan Jensen: Well, and it’s not just, you know, the Church leaders and the prophets and apostles. It also goes to your own family history as well. When I look back at my family, the first member of the Jensen line to join the Church was Ole Jensen, back in Denmark, and I wonder what that was like for him the first time he met with missionaries. And what, you know, what similarities and differences do we have in feeling the Holy Ghost inspire us? And he was the first — did he have any idea what he was getting himself into? Or what that would mean for all of us six and seven generations later?

And so I want to sit down with him and say, “Here I am. Thank you. Can you tell me how this went for you? And can you tell me what your family thought when you said, ‘Hey, I think I’m going to do this’? And here’s what this means for us now.” So it expands to all sorts of people who we love in our lives.

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Sarah Jane Weaver: Now I want to shift a little bit and talk about what we observe, because sometimes it’s different than people think. I remember when I first took a job at the Church News, I had a mentor who meant a great deal to me — she had been one of my university professors — actually say to me, “If you go to work at the Church News, I hope you have a testimony, because you’re going to need it.” And what she was implying was that if for one second, every member could pull back the curtain and view the inner workings of the Church, it would cause them to question their faith. And I have never, ever, ever had one experience that caused me to question my faith.

In fact, everything has been just the opposite, strengthening and building. And my testimony has been that the closer you examine the Church, the better it gets. What has your experience been with that?


Jon Ryan Jensen: Yeah, so the thing I would say to somebody who asks that, though, is, “Well, if you have that moment where it does make you question what you believe, it should make you excited to go look for the thing that is going to help you believe that principle better.” Because I don’t think any of us can be so arrogant as to think that we know so much or have a testimony that is so strong that the adversary isn’t going to try to tempt us to think different than what the gospel actually is.

And that’s why it is so important. That’s why President Nelson is always saying that we need to be reading in the scriptures daily; we need to read the Book of Mormon constantly; we need to be in the temple, making covenants, honoring our covenants, remembering the covenants that we’ve made; we need to be in church every Sunday, partaking of the sacrament; we need to be in there participating in our classes so that we can help each other build and overcome those challenges that we have of our testimony, whatever it is.

Church News editor J. Ryan Jensen interviews Latter-day Saint women from Otavalo, Ecuador following the dedication of the Quito Ecuador Temple on November 20, 2022. | Provided by J. Ryan Jensen

But for me, working in the Church — working in the Priesthood and Family Department; helping with Church Magazines, the New Era, For the Strength of Youth; helping with Gospel Living; helping produce Face to Face events — all of those things, I can point to every single individual one of those and say, “I remember when I learned ‘blank,’” or “I remember how this helped my testimony about ‘blank,’” because those are happening every single day. And I think that sometimes it can almost, if you’re not careful, become so commonplace that you don’t appreciate it.


And so, sure, that happens. But you know what? I think that happens for professional athletes who play basketball. If they think that they’re good enough, that they don’t have to go to practice tomorrow, somebody else is practicing and getting better. And your own skill, if you don’t practice, diminishes, and you’re not going to stick around in the NBA very long. In the Church, we have to practice what we’re preaching.

One of the things that I was talking with my wife about the other day is that the gospel of Jesus Christ is individual. It is collective. And we can say all of us are Heavenly Father’s children, because we are. But if I say that Jesus Christ is our Savior, but I don’t practice repentance, and I don’t do what it takes to continue to build faith in Him, then me saying, “He’s everybody’s Savior,” while true, I’m not doing my own part to actually accept Him and receive the blessings of His Atonement in my life.

And so, I always have to be constantly building on whatever is weakest in my testimony so that there is not a — well, there will always be a weakest link, but so that there’s not a weak enough link that I do fall into that state where I feel like, “Oh no, yeah, this is too much behind the curtain.” It should always be strengthening some part of my testimony.


Sarah Jane Weaver: And I want to talk about your time with the Priesthood and Family Department of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. There, you were the New Era editor. The New Era is now called For the Strength of Youth. You spent some time focusing and studying and trying to understand the youth of the Church better. Tell us what you learned.


Jon Ryan Jensen: The youth of the Church are resilient. They are courageous. They are loving. They are accepting. One day, I had an experience talking with a Church leader who said, “I have some concerns. I know you’ve been doing some research and looking at some research. Can you help me understand this concern that I have about the youth?” And after he expressed some of his concern, I said, “Well, there are a couple of things to think about here. One of them is you’re looking at this from the perspective of someone who has 60-plus years of experience on this earth. And those youth who you’re talking about, you know, no matter how many generations you have seen, no matter how many youth classes you’ve taught — you know, the first Young Men’s class that you taught, priesthood quorum you taught, Young Women’s group who you spoke with — they were 12 and 13 years old when you were newly married and teaching in your first assignment, in your first calling, in your first married ward. But now, 20, 30 and 40 years have passed, but those youth are still 12 and 13 years old.”

Church News editor J. Ryan Jensen with his wife, Megan Jensen, and their four children In Depoe Bay, Oregon on July 1, 2022. | Provided by J. Ryan Jensen

And so, one of the things I like to remind people is that if we looked at ourselves as though Heavenly Father has put all of the ingredients in us that we need to become whatever we’re supposed to become — I love to cook. When you take ingredients one at a time and taste them, they don’t always taste great. When you put them together, they create something better. But every recipe that I look at has a different cooking method or cooking time. And if you’re looking at youth and saying, “Why isn’t that youth a complete cake?” Well, it’s because that youth is barely figuring out how to put their ingredients together into a batter. And a batter is not a cake, and a batter still needs to be put into an oven. It still needs to experience some heat. It needs to get a little uncomfortable so that it can solidify what it really is and what it’s going to become and so that it can be the thing that you hope it becomes but, right now, wish it already was. That make sense?

So, a lot of times, that’s one of the ways that I love to look at the youth, is “Man, it’s so exciting to watch them identify their own ingredients, spiritually, their spiritual gifts.” What is going to differentiate them from the world? Because Heavenly Father has blessed them with unique things, like President Nelson has said, and those unique blessings and abilities that they have are going to help the gospel expand. But they have to be nurtured, they have to be cared for, and they have to be given a little bit of time to grow into those abilities.


Sarah Jane Weaver: Wow, I think that is amazing. You learned so many things from that previous employment experience that benefits the Church News audience today. I remember when you were hired, we had been looking for someone to join the staff. We had a lot of people apply. And I was in a meeting that a lot of people from the Church were in who are involved in communications, and I remember looking — it was during COVID — and I remember looking on the screen and seeing your picture, thinking, “Wow, well, what we need is someone like Ryan Jensen,” and I think within a week, we had you hired.


Jon Ryan Jensen: Sometimes, when something needs to happen, it happens. I remember when I started working at the Church, I had a friend who was already working there who we had known each other from a previous place of employment. And she said to me, “When I started working at the Church, the one thing that I prayed to Heavenly Father for was, ‘Heavenly Father, I’m grateful that I’m here. I’m grateful for this opportunity. Please help me to know when I’ve done what you need me to do in this role so that I don’t overstay my welcome and that I don’t just ride on other people’s coattails, spiritually, working in the Church.’” And I thought, “Well, that’s interesting.” And my prayer wasn’t identical to that, but it was something similar.

I want to make sure that I’m always in the place where Heavenly Father wants me to be. We all know people who, in their lives, whatever their job is, who have maybe stayed someplace where they didn’t feel comfortable or they didn’t feel right. And I think that sometimes we feel that way because we actually have an inkling that Heavenly Father needs us to be somewhere else, doing something else, and we don’t know what it is. And so, when a potential opportunity comes, I’m grateful to have already had that conversation through prayer with Heavenly Father so that I can say, “Is this that moment? Is this that moment where you need me to be somewhere else using my talents that you gave me to do something else?” And in that case, that’s exactly what I felt, and didn’t look back.


Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, and I want to talk about your personal life, too. You’re an Aggie, graduated from Utah State, spent some time in broadcast and some other businesses before making your way to Church employment and, ultimately, to Church News.

But I can’t think of anything that maybe has shaped your personal life more than a struggle that your family has. You lost your father to Huntington’s disease. And in recent months, also your sister. Can you talk about what Huntington’s is and how it has shaped your life and especially your testimony?


Jon Ryan Jensen: So, we can’t look a little bit backwards before I go all the way backwards. And I don’t want to go full Nephi, but I was born of godly parents. And that matters. And I’m unapologetic about how grateful I am for having had the family surroundings that I had. Because my parents, my dad served a mission in Australia; shortly after he returned home, he and my mom met; they were married in the Salt Lake Temple, sealed there. And I’m the oldest now of five children.

But I remember that day, right around my 12th birthday, when my mom sat down my little sister and I and said, “I need you to know that your dad has been diagnosed with this disease called Huntington’s disease.” And she explained what that is. It’s a degenerative brain disease. And, you know, in my 11-plus years of life experience, thought, “And we’re going to pull an aspirin off the shelf, and Dad’s going to be OK tomorrow, because that’s how this works. When I’m sick, Mom makes me choke down some cough medicine that I don’t want to take, and the next day, I’m back at school.” But that was not how this was going to work out.

And as we learned, you know, through a short period of time after, it meant that my dad was going to go through what eventually was a 15-year period of cognitive — not necessarily cognitive, but his brain would not function the way that it had been up to that point. And so as it deteriorated, he lost his ability, at first, to type on a computer. He lost his ability to use the mouse on the computer. He lost his ability to walk very well and to drive, and then eventually to talk.


And I tell people now that those 15 years were 15 years of sanctification for him and for my family. Like the pioneers who came across the plains, who said that they would not give up that opportunity because it was the price they had to pay to come to know their Savior, Jesus Christ, I feel like a sickness like this, drawn out over time, provided us the exact same type of opportunity, where together as a family, we could choose to be angry that there was no solution to my dad’s illness, or we could choose to lean in and be with each other and say, “I’m really grateful for this principle of the gospel, that we’re going to be together forever as a family if we keep doing what we’re supposed to do.”

I am grateful to know that Jesus Christ, as my dad’s Savior, knew every feeling my dad was having when I couldn’t know what he was feeling. So, yeah, we went through that. And it was not easy, and it was not fun. And I don’t want anybody else to have to go through it. But I also recognize that it was the way Heavenly Father allowed us to have a chance to draw closer to Him through that experience.


Sarah Jane Weaver: And we have a colleague, Lois Collins, who, several years ago, wrote a story that we’ll link to in the text of this called “Generations of Tears.” And the reason she titled the story that, which was about Huntington’s — it’s the first time I ever read or heard or became familiar with some of the implications of this disease, was from Lois’ writings — and what Lois’ story communicated so well is that this is a genetic disease that impacts generations. And so, now, your family is dealing with second generation of this.


Jon Ryan Jensen: Yeah, and more than that. My grandpa also had it, and his before him. And so, this has passed through generations for us. That particular article, though, it’s interesting that you bring it up. I was serving my mission when she wrote that. And so, I was in Bogotá, Colombia, when my parents sent me the physical copy of Lois’ article from the Deseret News, back in late ‘99, early 2000, when I got that. And it adequately expressed a lot of things that are really hard to convey to people who aren’t in the experience. And I was grateful for Lois’ writing. But you’re right, and at that point, my dad was probably, you know, halfway through his journey. And my sister was diagnosed fairly young, 10 years younger than my dad was when he was diagnosed. She was only 25, and she was sick for about 13 years.

And, you know, they made some different decisions on how they wanted end-of-life care to be. They made different decisions about how they were going to live their life during that time period. But both of them — I remember being at my dad’s funeral, and my sister talked about how nobody would forget my dad’s laugh. My dad had a super noticeable laugh in any context. People knew that he was having a good time, because they could hear his laugh from all over whatever building he was in. My sister, at her funeral, everybody who spoke, everybody who came to her viewing, who came to her funeral, talked about how the thing they would miss the most was her huge smile, because she, even to her very last day, had the biggest smile of anyone I have ever met. And it conveyed 100% the joy that she felt in her heart.

I spoke at the funeral, and I talked about how we’re changing roles, she and I. As children in mortality, I’m the oldest child, and she was the middle child. And now, she’s the oldest on the other side of the veil. She gets to go be with Dad. She gets to learn from him. She gets to prepare the way for us. And when I get there, I won’t be the big brother. I’ll be the little brother. And I’ll get to learn all I need to know there from everything that she’s learning right now. I just think that’s such a great perspective for us to have as we think about our family and those who’ve gone before us. They’re not gone; they’re in a different place, and they’re excited to bring us there too. And we need to do everything we can to keep those family bonds tight and strong. And that only happens through the gospel of Jesus Christ.


Sarah Jane Weaver: And I said it before on this podcast, but so much of what we accomplish in this life happens with the support of other people. Now, your mother has been an enormous support to your family. You also would have experienced the support of really, really helpful, faithful ward members. And then you and your sister and your other brothers have had to step up and play a supportive role as well.

What have you learned about that concept, that we all support and strengthen one another in this earth experience?


Jon Ryan Jensen: So, my mom is as close as we can get to an understanding of what a saint is; at least, you know, from my perspective as a son. She went through those 15 years with my dad. She’s now gone through 13 years with my younger sister, who lived at my mother’s home. And so that’s 28 years of my mom’s life that she was helping someone with their day-to-day needs. Two of my brothers, my two youngest brothers, have both been diagnosed with Huntington’s disease as well. And so the future for them is something that probably looks a lot like what we’ve already seen.

And we have experienced so many wonderful, gracious hands of service outstretched to us. The neighbors have all been tremendous. My mom lives in the neighborhood that my dad grew up in as a little boy, and there are multiple families there who are doing the same thing, living in the house that someone in their family grew up in. And so, again, it’s this multigenerational, tight-knit community that we have. And people know — we used to have a sign at the back door that said “Back door friends are best.” Because if you lived in the neighborhood, you went and knocked on the back door. You didn’t knock on the front door. Front doors were for salesmen, we used to say, so we knew if someone was coming to the back door, it was somebody who knew us and somebody who already probably knew what we were going through.


And it just lifted your heart to know, “Hey, somebody’s here. Somebody’s here to visit. Somebody’s here to tell us what’s going on in their life, to ask about how our life is going.” And those things all matter. You don’t always have to be somewhere for a specific purpose. Just being there, standing around the piano and lifting where you stand, that mattered. You don’t always have to have the plan. You just go. And by just going, you’re actually enabling yourself to receive additional inspiration. Heavenly Father learns that He can trust you, and you learn that you can trust Him, because by doing the thing that He wanted you to do — even when you didn’t know the outcome it was going to cause — you bless somebody’s life. And you don’t get to pick and choose the blessing that you are to someone. Heavenly Father knows what He needs you to do to bless someone, so just go. Just go.

As far as siblings are concerned, I have great siblings. And we have learned to support each other through all of this. No one wants to lose a sibling to any circumstance. But it’s also opened us up to be able to say, “Hey, won’t it be great when ...” and look with a perspective of eternity. And I think that when you can do that, it changes how you view this life and how you view the life that’s coming. Because the more you can think about what will that be like, I think the better off you’re going to be when you get there, because you’ve already thought about it. You’ve already thought about what’s on the other side. And if you can come to grips with what’s going to come in the future before you get there, then it’s less shocking to you, it’s less of a surprise, and you’re ready to just go do the thing that you need to do.

I think that that’s part of why we have the scriptures, so that when things come at us in our lives, if we’ve read the scriptures, we can say, “Oh, I already saw how this prophet or this family or this individual dealt with this same challenge, and now I know how I can do it. I know how I can overcome it, too.” And so, we’re hopeful that we can do the same thing.


Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, and while you’re in the middle of this with your dad, you chose to serve a mission. You go to Colombia. What impact did that have on your life?

Jon Ryan Jensen: I always knew I was going to serve a mission. From the time I was in Primary, the first time we sang “I Hope They Call Me on a Mission.” “Yep, that’s right. I do. I hope they call me on a mission.” My dad always talked about his mission to Australia, and I didn’t care if I went where he served, but I knew that he loved the people he served with. We still have friends in our family to this day who are his former mission companions, their spouses and their families. And so I knew how much of a community that experience could create.

But then being called to serve in Colombia, there were not a lot of missionaries from the United States. There were a lot of missionaries at that point in time who were being called from other Latin American countries. And that gave me an opportunity to really dive deeply and quickly into my Spanish. And I knew from some of the things that were written in my patriarchal blessing that this was going to be really helpful to me throughout the rest of my life. I didn’t know how. I’ve seen some of those blessings now. But I know that by going and dedicating those two years and not worrying about things I couldn’t control, that I learned to be more comfortable with Heavenly Father in His timelines. I knew there was a chance that my father could have a quick decline and might not be there when I got home. Now, I did get to be with my dad after I got home, and that was great. But it was — the willingness was there. Whatever He needed to happen during that time, I was going to be OK with.


So, I served my mission, I was able to see, you know, the top of the Andes Mountains outside of Bogotá, Colombia. I was able to be on the Amazon River Basin, down in the southern tip of Colombia, where it meets with Brazil and Peru. I was able to meet some of the people who have had the biggest influence on my life because they showed that no matter what your background, no matter what people think of you, accepting the gospel is accepting the gospel. And once you do that, you let Heavenly Father make the best of you that He can and that He will. So, again, you can be a blessing to other people’s lives. It’s not about receiving a recompense in terms of a new house or a big car or those types of things. It’s spiritual blessings, because you have a perspective that God has something much, much greater for you after this life than you could hope to have in this life.

Church News editor J. Ryan Jensen near the Amazon River while serving in the Colombia Bogotá South Mission in 2000. | Provided by Jon Ryan Jensen

Elder Dale G. Renlund of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles spoke about that recently in a general conference talk, where he talked about how sometimes we can shortchange the Savior and His role. In his talk “Jesus Christ Is the Treasure,” he said, “He is our mark. If we incorrectly imagine that there is a need for something beyond what He offers, we deny or diminish the scope and power He can have in our lives. He has claimed the rights of mercy and extends that mercy to us.” That’s way more important than anything that I could receive in this life; mercy and knowing that He has all power to grant all mercy if I will believe in Him. That’s the biggest thing. And I watched people live that daily on my mission. And that’s probably the thing that I brought home most strongly with me when I returned from my mission.


Sarah Jane Weaver: And you also brought home a good skill, in that you spoke Spanish. And you would ultimately end up marrying into a family where some of your in-laws speak Spanish as their native language.


Jon Ryan Jensen: Yeah. And that came because I returned home from my mission and was scared to death to talk to girls. But one of them had grown up speaking Spanish. My wife, as she was growing up, she attended Spanish wards and branches her whole life until she went to college. And she quickly recognized that I was going to be a wallflower at a gathering of friends unless somebody came over and talked to me in a language I felt comfortable in, and she was it. And so she began to speak to me in Spanish. We had not been friends before my mission. And no, it was not the super-quick, “we met right after my mission and got married” story. We developed a friendship over a period of years.

But she was able then to serve a mission of her own. She served in the Brazil Campinas Mission. And so we had a lot of things that we shared in common about our devotion toward the Savior and our love of the gospel of Jesus Christ. And after she returned, I really, really pushed hard for her to go out with me more seriously. And when that eventually happened, she did say, “OK, let’s do this.” And so, you know, it took us five years from beginning to end, from when we first met to when we got married. And during that period is when my dad passed away. And yet, while it was really hard in that moment to lose my dad, I also learned a lot about what my future wife’s eternal perspective was.


As I watched how my wife — who was also really good friends with my sister — cared about us, cared about my mom, cared about my siblings, I saw in her the characteristics that I thought would make a fantastic wife. And I’m grateful that probably some nudgings from the Holy Ghost to say, “Look, it’s not going to get better for you than this. This is the best path forward for you.” And I tried to work really hard to make sure that she knew that I would do everything and anything to have an eternal family with her. And now, we have four kids of our own. We’re almost 20 years later. And we’ve been able to just do all of these things together.

The learning curve hasn’t been as steep, because we’ve had so many things in common. We’ve had plenty of challenges, but when it comes to overcoming something like Huntington’s — and she had a grandfather who had Parkinson’s — we’ve been on the same page. We know that we’re going to see those loved ones again, and so we know what it’s like to be served, and we know what it’s like when people need to be served. And so we’ve benefited on one side, and we’ve tried to give on the other.

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Sarah Jane Weaver: And that brings to my mind a recent general conference talk by President Nelson, who asked all of us to “think celestial.”

Jon Ryan Jensen: That talk was such a powerful moment, because it wasn’t just “think down the road.” It wasn’t “have a long view.” And there’s a time and a place for all of those conversations. But if you look at it in the last 40 years, we’ve gone from “lengthen your stride” or “lengthen your shuffle” to “think celestial.” And that really puts a point on it, doesn’t it? Because it’s not just “think bigger than whatever you’re thinking.” It’s giving you a point at the end of time to say, “Here’s where you want to be. If you want to be back with Heavenly Father, if you want to receive all the blessings that He wants to give you, well, this is where your perspective has to be. And so, go for this. Go for that thing. Don’t let it be nebulous.”

President Thomas S. Monson once taught when we deal in specifics, we seldom see failure. And I think this is President Nelson’s “specific.” He’s not saying, “Just shoot to be good enough.” He’s saying, “Shoot for the best. If the celestial kingdom is the best, shoot for the best kingdom. Do the best you can. Get to the highest place that you can get to. Don’t give up, don’t sit back, don’t get lazy about it. Stick with it, push hard, push harder the next day, get a little bit better every single day, and you’re going to be in the place that you would feel most comfortable and that you really want to eventually be in the end.”


Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, and when we think about what it takes to grow in this life to think celestial, so much of that comes from gospel resources. President Nelson and other prophets have asked us to read the Book of Mormon every day. Just during recent years, we have “Come, Follow Me,” which allows families and individuals to study the gospel in a way they never have before.

While you were working for the Priesthood and Family Department, you had an opportunity to develop and work with some of these Church resources, including Gospel Library and so many other things. Sacred Music and other things. What are some of these things that can help us in our personal effort to think celestial?


Jon Ryan Jensen: Yeah, and I will say there are many, many hands involved in making all of the apps and other resources the Church has available to bless the lives of members. With the Gospel Library, there are individuals who have a responsibility to make sure that the collections for different audiences have the content that those individuals need. So, you have a youth collection. And so, part of my responsibility was to make sure, “Do we have the articles that are going to help the youth of the Church? Do we have the music that the youth of the Church are going to need?” of which Nik Day writes many of the songs that are included in there.

Working with people like Nik makes it so that you realize, “Wow, Heavenly Father really does bless us all with diverse gifts.” I can’t write one note of music. And yet, Nik Day, every single year, sits down and composes an entire album of music that is consumed millions and millions of times by youth and adults in many languages around the world that puts them in a position where they can feel the Holy Ghost working in their lives. Because all of that music is not just hobbyist, cute, poetic music that he’s putting together. This is all doctrinally sound music that helps the Spirit come into someone’s life. And so, I love that.


So, we’re taking care of Gospel Library, where you have a million different resources available. You’ve got the Book of Mormon app, which makes it really easy for people to share the Book of Mormon with those who have not read it before. You have the Sacred Music app, which allows you to have sheet music and lyrics. It allows you to have playlists that you can play in your home. I think these things are wonderful that the Church is providing. Gospel Living, which allows you to have communication within circles, in your family and in your wards, so that you can talk about what’s coming up with different activities. You can talk about what you experienced when your youth group went and did baptisms at a temple recently. You can talk about what they learned going and serving at a homeless shelter.

All of those things can be shared within a gospel context and within a safe space that is not filled with commercial influence. And again, the Church’s investment to make sure that the youth of the Church have a safe place to be, you know, can’t be underscored enough. That doesn’t exist in many other places in the world; you only have commercial entities. And so, for the Church to invest in all of these so that we have safe places and places to help us build our testimonies is one of the biggest blessings for members of the Church around the world.


Sarah Jane Weaver: Wow. I’m so grateful that you would share all of your thoughts and insights with us today. As we wind up, I want to ask you the same question that we like to ask guests on the Church News podcast and give you the last word as we conclude. And the question is: What do you know now? So, Ryan, what do you know now that you’ve learned from life experience, from working for the Church, from writing about the Church and from relying on Church teachings as you have dealt with family situations and struggles?


Jon Ryan Jensen: Thanks, Sarah, I want to go back to my dad. Being the oldest of five kids when he was going through degenerative brain disease, I got to have unique experiences compared to any of my siblings. And so I cherish those moments that I had with him. And he loved to be in a garden; he loved to be in the mountains; he loved to be just outdoors in general, camping; he loved sports. But everything that he did, with all of those hobbies that he loved, he related every one of them back to the gospel of Jesus Christ.

He always made sure that whatever we were doing together, he could turn into a lesson that would stick with me and help me when he wasn’t here. And so to be asked, “What do I know now?” what I know now is that those seeds that he planted in me 25, 35 years ago, when we were in the backyard and he was saying, “This seed that we plant in the ground is going to turn into a strawberry. Just water it every day. Trust me, it’s going to happen.” And then to do that every day over a summer and come back at the end, and there’s a strawberry, and to have to fight the urge to pick that strawberry early, because he told me it wasn’t going to taste good. To pull carrots out of the ground.


Look, what I’ve learned is that when we plant seeds, when we nourish those seeds, we don’t get to control what the end is going to be. We really are planting seeds that sometimes are generational. We won’t see what the gospel fruits are and vegetables are that get pulled out of the ground, but they will come. Because I know that all of those things that my dad taught me as we read from the scriptures, as we prayed, as we went to church, I’m seeing all of those blessings come through now. I feel the Holy Ghost, I think largely in part because of the teachings that he left me with.

I know that by honoring my covenant with Heavenly Father, that there are blessings today and in the eternity. I know that Jesus Christ is my Savior and that even if I do make a mistake and pluck that strawberry early, He can make it right. And nope, I don’t understand how. But I’m going to keep striving every day to not pluck that strawberry early next time, let it grow and do it the way Heavenly Father wants me to do it. And then if I follow the promptings of the Holy Ghost, that I will never go astray, because Heavenly Father will not lead us to do the wrong things. I’m very, very grateful for a dad who taught me those things and for experiences throughout my life since those teachings that have told me they’re true.


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

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