LONDON, ENGLAND — After taking a photograph with dozens of missionaries for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints outside Royal Albert Hall in London on Friday afternoon, President M. Russell Ballard, 93, set out on foot for a meeting a few blocks away at the Hyde Park Chapel.
There, among the bustle that defines downtown London, the acting president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles walked with the missionaries and reflected on his own missionary experience in England seven decades earlier.
The spiritual foundation on which he built his life’s work is “anchored in the British Isles as a full-time missionary,” he said.
Arriving in Great Britain in 1948, just three years after the end of World War II, President Ballard traveled to England and Scotland again this week to address members and missionaries and to visit significant church history sites. Joined by Elder Jeffrey R. Holland and Elder Quentin L. Cook, both of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and themselves former missionaries in the British Isles, the trip marked a coming home for the trio of senior Church leaders.
Elder Cook arrived in England in September and Elder Holland arrived in October of 1960; they would serve together as companions the summer of 1962. Patricia Holland and Mary Cook accompanied their husbands on the trip.
“I will never, ever be able to thank the Lord enough for my mission,” said Elder Holland. “No young man in this church was ever more affected by a mission.”
After the photographs, Elder Cook looked across a group of missionaries from the England London and England Birmingham missions gathered in the Hyde Park Chapel — dedicated by President David O. McKay during Elder Cook’s and Elder Holland’s missionary service — and reflected.
“I knew this was going to be somewhat of an emotional trip,” said Elder Cook. “But I didn’t realize the emotion I would feel looking out at you here in Hyde Park chapel.”
In every way the senior church leaders’ return to England is “history jumping right off the pages of the books,” said Peter Fagg, a historian and a British Latter-day Saint.
Each has played their own significant part in a “British re-emergence,” said Fagg. Because nearly 52,000 Latter-day Saints left England to settle in the Western United States (by 1870 nearly half of Utah’s population were British immigrants), few members stayed in the country in the early 20th century.
Missionary efforts in the mid 1900s changed that.
Today the church has 190,000 members, 45 stakes, five missions and two temples in the United Kingdom.
“For us to come back to this wonderful island, to be able to be in your presence, to be able to share our testimonies with you, this is a cherished and wonderful blessing for us,” said President Ballard during the Hyde Park meeting.
Missionary work, he added, is not easy work. “But let me assure you that as you strive, with all the energy really that you can muster, you come to know that the power of God, the power of Heaven, can speak through you.”
The gospel, he added, is “beautifully simple.”
“What is missionary work? Missionary work is loving our neighbors as ourselves…. Who are our neighbors? Our neighbors are everybody we see.”
Missionaries have the opportunity to internalize the wonderful message the church has for the world, President Ballard said.
“This is right where you ought to be at this time of your life. I hope you are having a fulfilling, glorious and wonderful experience as you serve the Lord here. …
“Go forward now filled with courage and excitement and love of the people with a smile on your face. Find more people, teach more people, baptize more people.”
Elder Holland, who attended the dedication of the Hyde Park Chapel as a missionary, told the young elders and sisters that they often stand so close to history that they don’t realize they are making history. “I hope you understand what kind of day this is,” he said.
Without knowing what was happening in other parts of the world at that moment — a congressional meeting or a presidential committee of some kind or an election in a distant land — Elder Holland said the Hyde Park meeting was the most “important meeting happening on the face of the planet today.”
“There is no work more important than the work you are doing,” he said. “And there is no one more divinely authorized to encourage that work and direct that work and help that work than are the Lord’s apostles in this the true and living Church.”
He pleaded with the missionaries to make enough of the opportunities they are given, “of every opportunity to make history in your life and in somebody else’s life.”
Speaking as their “grandmother,” Sister Holland told the missionaries that they are “companions with three apostles who have served with you.”
“These three men love this land. They loved their missions,” she said.
Their mission is the same as that of the ancient apostles who walked this land and the Latter-day Saint apostles that strengthened the Church through missionary efforts in the British Isles. “You are companions with all of these great people,” she said. “You can have a very similar experience, if you can just keep your eyes single to the glory of God.”
Elder Cook called the missionaries one indicator of the “power and the strength of the gospel in Great Britain.”
Each missionary is an “emissary of the Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ,” said Elder Cook. “And there’s nothing more important that could be done at this stage of your life.”
Elder Cook shared an experience he had years earlier with a former companion who had grown up on a farm far from a major city. The farm, devastated by drought years, was in foreclosure. Because the young man’s parents could not afford to send him on a mission, his older sister gave up her scholarship to BYU and became a legal secretary to support her brother so he could serve in the British Mission. As this missionary’s companion, Elder Cook quickly learned that because the missionary served at the sacrifice of someone he loved dearly, others felt his strength in a powerful way.
When Elder Cook’s companion returned from his mission, he went to work and supported that sister, so she could serve a mission. She was also called to the British Mission and served in the same central London area where her brother had served.
“Your parents, your siblings, your future spouses, your future children, your future grandchildren, everybody that you will ever love will be blessed as a result of this mission,” he said.
Sister Cook asked the missionaries how often the phrase, “It came to pass,” appears in the Book of Mormon. The answer: 1,070 times. “It did come to pass and it will come to pass and this [COVID-19] virus will come to pass and your mission will come to pass,” she told the missionaries.
She spoke of the nine attributes highlighted in the church’s missionary service guide, “Preach My Gospel”: faith, hope, charity and love, virtue, knowledge, patience, humility, diligence, and obedience.
“I know you are on the Lord’s errand, and will be blessed by your service,” she said. “I’m grateful for your sacrifice, and offer my gratitude to each one of you.”
Elder Collin Finch from Houston, Texas, said after the meeting he feels a “brotherhood” with the church leaders — who share his same objective to testify of the Savior.
“They all served in the same mission as us, walked the same streets as we walk,” he said.
Sister Lexie Neibaur of American Fork, Utah, said being able to “hear from apostles who have served in this very mission helped me see how I can be better, so I can qualify for the same spiritual experiences they had as missionaries.”