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President Monson’s 50 years as an apostle: Proclaim the gospel

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Editor's note: Second of a four-part series looking at the ministry of President Thomas S. Monson.

President Thomas S. Monson has spent most of his life in the service of God — and for the past 50 years, as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve, First Presidency and president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

At the young age of 22, President Monson was called to be bishop of a ward with many needs, of which he often speaks.

At 31, he became president of the Canadian Mission, which he presided over for three years.

In 1963, at age 36, President Monson became the youngest man in 53 years called to the Quorum of the Twelve.

And five years ago, President Monson was called as president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

But it isn't the milestones of this prolific leader that set him apart as a minister among men. It's a life lived in fulfillment of the four purposes of the LDS Church: perfect the Saints, proclaim the gospel, redeem the dead, and care for the poor and needy.

Proclaiming the gospel

Last October, audible gasps were heard in the Conference Center as President Monson announced a historic change in the missionary age. Young men would now be able to serve at age 18, young women at 19.

Social media erupted as Latter-day Saints responded to the change. Within weeks, missionary applications had jumped more than 471 percent — an increase of 4,000 applications a week.

Today, nearly a year later, the number of missionaries worldwide has grown from 58,000 to more than 75,000.

While war and military service prevented him from serving a full-time mission as a young man, President Monson has constantly testified of the importance of missionary work and proclaiming the gospel throughout his service in the LDS Church.

While serving as a mission president in Canada, President Monson learned that the Kingston area on the shores of Lake Ontario had seen only one convert baptism in six years. Missionaries dreaded being sent to the area.

In "To the Rescue," author Heidi Swinton recounts how President Monson developed a plan to revitalize Kingston — and the missionaries’ perspective.

He pulled all the missionaries out of Kingston, closing the area. After a few months, he announced a new city in the mission would be opened. Missionaries wrote home saying they hoped for the chance to work in the new city.

When President Monson reopened Kingston as the new city, the area blossomed. It became one of the most successful areas in the mission.

While the city and population had remained the same, President Monson wrote, “The change was one of attitude. Doubt yielded to faith."

In October 1975, President Monson, then a member of the Quorum of the Twelve, approached the stand to give his general conference address. As he began to speak, he turned to a blonde-haired girl sitting in the balcony.

"In the balcony to my left I see a beautiful girl of perhaps 10 years,” he said. “Sweet little one, I do not know your name or whence you have come. This, however, I do know: the innocence of your smile and the tender expression of your eyes have persuaded me to place aside for a future time the message I had prepared for this occasion. Today, I am impressed to speak to you."

President Monson continued with his address, testifying of the love Christ has for children and the faith of children. But when he closed his remarks, he again turned to the girl.

"To you, my little friend in the upper balcony, and to believers everywhere, I bear witness that Jesus of Nazareth does love little children, that he listens to your prayers and responds to them," he said.

President Monson returned to his office to find the girl, with her grandparents and aunt, waiting for him.

The young girl's name was Misti White. Misti had come to conference trying to decide whether to get baptized on her upcoming eighth birthday or wait, as some had advised, until she turned 18.

In a 2007 address, President Monson recalled their afternoon visit.

Misti had told her grandparents, "If we go to conference, maybe Heavenly Father will let me know what I should do."

Sitting in President Monson's office, Misti turned to President Monson and said, "Brother Monson, while you were speaking in conference, you answered my question. I want to be baptized."

Contributing: Emmilie Buchanan-Whitlock

Katie Harmer is a journalism graduate of Brigham Young University and writes for Mormon Times. Email: kharmer@deseretnews.com Twitter: harmerk