Monday, April 14, 2008

Everything I Am Today I Owe to My Mission President (M. Russell Ballard)

Everything I am today I owe to my mission president M. Russell Ballard. In 2004 was the thirtieth year anniversary of when M. Russell and Barbara Bowen Ballard went to Toronto, Canada to serve a mission. At the time President Ballard was a former bishop and not a general authority. He had run a few successful businesses in the Salt Lake City area including Ballard Wade and Sons (automobile dealership) and H. Salt Fish and Chips Franchises. He briefly owned the Promised Valley Playhouse with Art Linkletter as a partner. He was on the verge of being worth millions of dollars. He left it all behind to become mission president in Canada. 2007 was the thirtieth year since the Ballards and I went home from our missions.

He was made a member of the Seventy in April 1976 when he was down to his last year as our mission president. He knew most of the general authorities on a personal basis because he had lived his whole life in Salt Lake City and had a few in his stake back in the Holladay area. He talked to us about believing blood and how the family members of General Authorities were trained because they associated with the General Authorities. I guess this was why later in life I would work for nothing to associate with several of them. Since it was impossible for a son of a Catholic Italian mafia type to come to know them in any other way.

In 2004 his mission assistants who have run the mission reunions for the past thirty years put together a tribute book to the Ballards. Over seventy percent of the missionaries said "Elder Ballard is like a father to me." I wrote the same comment. In my case he was like a surrogate father to me as my own father was not a member of the church. After my mission he gave me a special father's priesthood blessings and would check on me after few months. He was even known to call my church leaders to discuss me. Like many father and son relationships we have gone through periods of affection for one another and periods of disaffection. For the most part I have always loved him but I have felt at times that I did not measure up to his expectations. He has always had high expectations for his missionaries and for me particularly. I have lived my whole adult life trying to gain his approval. This desire on my part to emulate him has made me at times conflicted. For the most part I have been a much better person than I would have been without having an ideal to live up to.

To understand M. Russell Ballard you must understand that he too was driven by being the grandson of two apostles Melvin J. Ballard and Hyrum Mack Smith. I was driven to be like him and he was driven to be like them. His father had his ups and downs in the Church and was not always active. He did come on strong in the last twenty years or so of his life. His father ended up being a regional representative of the Twelve. If you measure people by callings than he ended up a success. Elder Ballard did measure people by their callings.

He continually talked to me throughout my life about keeping my nose clean so that leaders could know me better and call me to positions of leadership. He recognized in me a unique talent but he knew I was self-destructive at times as he would tell me "Quit keeping against the pricks." I have never been overly solicitious of LDS leaders in fact I see their humanness only too clearly. Having been a Catholic who was forced to kiss a priest's ring as a kid it sickened me to forced to kiss the ring of a monsegnier whose car could be seen every week at the local kindergarten teacher's house all night long.

I hate hypocrisy as a result. I promised myself I would never kowtow to another human being unless that person earned my respect. The only way a person could earn my respect was by being a straight shooter or for the spirit to witness to me of their goodness. Fortunately M. Russell Ballard was as genuinely and at times as brutually honest as they come. In fact I can attribute my desire to be honest to him. He would tell you like it was. He even made it a point when talking to jab his finger in your sternum to make a point when he thought you weren't telling the truth. I hated when he did it so I adapted that style by doing it verbally instead of physically. He always talked about having a balance in life and about being smart about what we say and when we say it. It has taken me thirty years to improve on my communication style. I guess now that I am about his age when he was our mission president that I am catching up with him.

I remember one day visiting Elder Ballard in his office in the Church Administration building. He and I were on our way up to his office when Franklin D. Richards and Alma Sonne stepped on to the elevator with us. I observed the genuine respect and admiration that Elder Ballard demonstrated for the two men calling them sir and asking their advice on some matter. The man genuinely loved the brethren of the church. I can say that he conscientiously fulfilled every task he was ever given in the Church to the highest caliber and as a result he was held in high regard by the leaders of the Church.

As far as faithfulness goes I don't think there is a man in the LDS Church including my hero Boyd K. Packer who is as kept the straight and narrow way so dependably. There was only once that I ever felt he wasn't nearly perfect in his life and that concerned something he said to me about Ezra Taft Benson when I worked for the Prophet and his son. For the most part he was about the most righteous man I have ever known. Whenever I think of a man who follows Christ and is faithful to the brethren I think of M. Russell Ballard. His example has made me in to the conservative that I am today. If my bishop were to ever say I followed Satan I would say yes sir you are the Lord's annointed and I will repent as quick as possible. If I hadn't been a missionary under Elder Ballard I would probably tell the man to go to hell and write a blog on ecclesiastical abuse. I learned from him it is better to think positively and to defend the Church at all costs.

He never told us ever to lie for the Church but to be smart in what we say about the Church. There is a big difference between these two things even if some people don't accept this. I can see why he is the head of Public Affairs for the Church. He is very knowledgeable about LDS history, doctrine and practices. My desire to be a LDS institute teacher comes from the desire to be at his level. Even though I started out as a business major I knew instinctively that I didn't have the charisma to make millions. I wanted to be successful like Elder Ballard in my chosen profession. As our mission president he told us that we needed to seek first for the kingdom of God and then all things would be added to us. I have always tried to build the kingdom first. If it wasn't for that driving thought I would have never worked for five general authorities and six religion professors.

I was one of the top researchers in LDS history and doctrine when I assisted these men. Even when the LDS Church decided I should be a librarian I became one of the best in the nation. Good enough to be nominated to the governing board of the American Library Association by my peers for eight consecutive years to stand for election and receive over 2,000 votes each year. I have written dozens of articles and am the electronic editor of the Multicultural Review for the last decade. When Elder Ballard went to Africa many years ago it gave me a desire to become an expert on different cultures in the world. My expertise was recognized by the American Library Association and I served for three years as the only Caucasian member on the Council on Diversity other than one Transgender representative, an amazing achievement for a Mormon Italian American male. A few years ago I was interviewing at places like Columbia University, Pepperdine, Ithaca College, etc. for the top job.

I had eight children because of the example of the Ballards. They had six children and most were girls also. I saw what good parents they were. I also followed his example in making my children in to good missionaries. He would tell us missionaries some experiences of his children while in the Brampton area. I would continually have the missionaries over throughout the years for dinner and to encourage my children to give them referrals. I wouldn't take no from my kids and that had to give actual referrals to the missionaries. My children were instrumental in having about six people baptized. I remember Peter Huntsman his son-in-law and I discussing how our children had converted their boyfriend or girlfriend before their missions. His son converted his girlfriend and my daughter her boyfriend before going on a mission.

Even my interest in missionary work came from Elder Ballard. He was constantly talking about what a great missionary he was in England. How he gave talks on a soap box. How he saw the Savior. My companion and I actually bought a step stool and preached in large apartment complex areas on the street. We almost got arrested one day but the spirit saved us. Even though Ezra Taft Benson told me I should do a missionary book after his teachings book I was already moving in that direction as a way to pay back what Elder Ballard gave me. I wanted to be as good a missionary as he was but unfortunately my colleagues in Canada didn't think much of me so I reacted to them. I tried to make it up by blogging and writing books and sending my children on missions. I intend to go on a few missions when I am older. I thought on my first mission I would baptize thousands but it didn't work out I only managed about twenty-five people.

Even my having dreams about the Savior and other significant biblical and church figures I owe to M. Russell Ballard. He would talk to us constantly about having our election and calling made sure. I sought after that most of my adult life. I believed in what he told me when he shared D&C 93:1 that every soul who forsaketh their sins, calleth on my name and cometh unto me so see my face and know that I am. I knew he had done it as a missionary in England and not as a general authority and that I could also. He talked about his grandmother Margaret McNeil Ballard and his grandfather Melvin J. Ballard's saying the Lord would prepare the way in opening our genealogical lines. I have done the work for thousands of my relatives because I listened to him. I have walked and talked with the Savior because his grandfather and he did. I have come to know Hyrum and Joseph Smith on a personal basis because he loved them. I have come to love his grandfather Hyrum Mack Smith because he admired the man.

Not only did I come to love him but I was able to understand Hyrum Mack's tenacious character when he died on the table because of stubbornness. I have lived stubbornly at times feeling that I have lived the Word of Wisdom and the Lord will look out for me, which is a dangerous thing for a man like me with high blood pressure and diabetes who doesn't take medication. If it weren't for Hyrum I wouldn't even consider taking medicine at times or watching my diet.

My work ethic I also owe to Elder Ballard. Even as a missionary I never was a slacker even if I was a little contentious. I got up late admittedly on my mission but I worked until late in the evening. I left at nine and I didn't return many days until after nine at night. I never took more than an hour for dinner and had fewer than ten dinner appointments in my entire mission. I tracted thousands of doors and even if I didn't pass the discussions I taught hundreds of discussions and bore my testimony to dozens of people. I never back off of knocking on a door or putting in twelve hour days. For the first six months in Italy I led the mission field in every category with both Giorgio Dal Pozzo and later Peter Paul Sorenson when I was in Ragusa, Italy.

As a worker in my professional career I worked a minimum ten hours a day when I was only required to work seven and half in most jobs. I worked many six day weeks even when five days was all that was required. I was so dedicated to the church that when I did the teachings of Ezra Taft Benson I worked twelve hours a day for two and half years getting paid a whopping eight dollars an hour for eight hours a day. I worked four months for nothing. I promised the Prophet of God I would do the job even though I wasn't being paid a professional salary or for the equivalent amount of hours I worked. I did it because I knew M. Russell Ballard would do it. I wonder how many people because of the example of their mission president would give two and half years of their lives to live in poverty and stay true to the church when promises were made and broken to them so they could serve the Prophet. I watched M. Russell Ballard give up his millions to serve the Church so I followed his example.

I have never turned down a Church calling. Once I questioned the calling and the man didn't call me only because I asked why would you call a guy who was never a scout to be scout master when you have eagle scouts in your ward. He said he didn't realize it so changed the calling. I have held almost every calling in the church from the YM to Elder's Quorum to High Priest to Sunday School to Primary and even nursery leader except bishop, bishop's counselor and stake president and stake priesident's counselor. Many times I have served in the same calling multiple times because I have moved twelve times in twenty-five years. I have moved because I have followed the Spirit in my life. My patriarchal blessing said I had the blood of leadership in me and that I would bringing many people in to the Church as I went from place to place and that I would be looked out for in my jobs. I learned from Russell Ballard to seek the Spirit. It almost bordered on spiritualism the way we would go in to homes and cast out Satan and bless them through the priesthood. I have always felt that when I had a new job that it was the Lord leading me to some place where my family could make a difference. I guess I should have been more like Elder Ballard and stayed in the same house most of my life at least I would have one when I retire. Now I don't have anywhere to hang my hat but that isn't going to stop me from going on a few couple missions in the next ten or fifteen years.

If I hadn't served with M. Russell Ballard I wouldn't be the person I am today. He emulates the Savior. He always talks about following the Savior. I have tried to follow the Savior in my life. I remember Elder Ballard telling us as missionaries if you don't have a testimony you can cling to mine. In many gospel principles I have looked to Elder Ballard as an example. However he moved I knew it was in the right direction. I don't mindlessly follow him but I do consider when he does or says something and I get my own witness of it. I gained my testimony that way. I gained my spiritual witnesses that way. I can honestly say everything I am today that is good and righteous I learned from my mission president M. Russell Ballard. Who in my opinion is the greatest missionary in the LDS Church. Why you ask?

He continually preached to us as missionaries that we needed to bring one soul unto Christ and great would be our joy in the kingdom of heaven. Because of M. Russell Balllard I will bring one soul unto Christ and that soul is my own and as a convert the only active convert in my family there will hundreds of my posterity and tens of thousands of my ancestors that will bless the name of M. Russell Ballard who helped convert me and making me the man I am today. Yes everything I am righteous today I owe to my mission president and to the Savior whom he follows.

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