Speaking from the Heart
During his talk at this last October Conference, I felt so much love and compassion for him as he described his frustration with his eyesight. His inability to see the teleprompters to give the talk he had prepared. So he gave a beautiful testimony of the Prophet Joseph Smith and of our Savior Jesus Christ.
I look back now at some of the words he spoke:
Oh, how I love you. What a glorious experience that’s been—to look into your faces, be in your presence, and feel your love that you have for the Lord and for the Restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Little did we know that this would be the last time he would join us at General Conference. I shall miss this great man.
Grandpa Energy & A Testimony of Christ
I first met M. Russell Ballard as a teenager when he came to speak to the ward I grew up in (the Monument Park 16th Ward). I recall that the third hour (remember that?) was canceled, and the ward was asked to come back to the chapel to hear Elder Ballard speak. He spoke for about 25 minutes and then opened the floor for questions. I still remember him smiling and saying, “Now, brothers and sisters, even though I’m an apostle, I don’t know everything. So please don’t ask me where Kolob is.” I shall miss this great man.
I shall miss this great man.
When I met him, I recall Elder Ballard exuding the most off-the-charts wholesome grandpa energy I’d ever encountered. That has stuck with me ever since, and I always noticed it in his speeches, especially his extemporaneous ones.
The last time I met Elder Ballard in person was on August 2, 2021. I had recently found amongst my late grandfather’s papers a bundle of letters written between my grandpa Stephen P. Smoot (whom his friend “Russ” called “Smooter”) and Elder Ballard while they were on their missions in Canada/Hawaii and England, respectively. Our family friend Richard Holzapfel arranged for my father, Stephen Sr., my brother Joey, and I to meet Elder Ballard in his downtown Salt Lake apartment so that we could personally hand the letters back to him (after I had made high-resolution scans of the originals, of course). We met for about an hour, and Elder Ballard still had that wholesome grandpa energy I first encountered as a teenager. It hadn’t dimmed one bit. I was happy to learn that upon his death, Elder Ballard’s papers would pass into the possession of the Church, where they (including my grandpa’s precious letters) would remain safe in the Church History Library.
Anyway, this is all to say I am going to really miss Elder Ballard and his sweet, infectious wholesomeness. I will miss his distinctive voice at General Conference every six months, although I am so happy to know he is reunited with Sister Ballard, and together they now reside restfully in the bosom of Abraham.
To honor and commemorate the memory of Elder Ballard on the occasion of his passing, I will share some things he wrote to my grandpa in those missionary letters I returned to him. The first is from a letter dated December 18, 1948 (spelling original):
“What a blessing it is to know that ‘My Redeemer Lives’ and that if I prove worthy throughout my life, it is my blessing to stand with Him in the Celestial Kingdom of glory worlds without end. I would never excuss myself from my obligations to my Father in Heaven, but I always hope I can be humble and prayerful, asking [for] guidance and help each day that I live.”
Here is another from a letter dated June 12, 1948 (spelling original):
“Steve, I love this work more than anything I have ever been in. . . . I know that the spirit of the work that I have is a blessing of my Father in Heaven, and I hope I will always be worthy of it.”
God bless you, Elder Ballard.
Well Wishes for a Voyage Ahead
In 1983, our family was scheduled to relocate to Israel. We wanted to know if there would be anything we should know or keep in mind. We had a personal meeting with Elder Ballard, who counseled us just to be on our best behavior as examples of Christ and the Church. He really was so sweet and grandfatherly. It was very comfortable, even in the presence of a General Authority.
Boldness in Crying Repentance
When we lived in Cedar City, Utah, Elder Ballard was speaking at a multi-stake conference. He stood at the pulpit and said the following (paraphrased): “There is someone in this audience who is abusing his family. If this behavior does not cease this instant, your condemnation will be assured. You are to repent immediately, confessing your sins to your ecclesiastical leaders.” He then went on to give his prepared remarks.
An Example of Family
In his address at the Ninth World Congress of Families, Ballard emphasized the eternal significance of marriage, stating, “Temples are very important to Latter-day Saints because, in them, couples are married for time and eternity, not just till death do they part.” This highlights the sacredness of marriage in the LDS faith, not as a temporary union but as an eternal bond ordained by God and central to His plan for His children.
Reflecting on his own life, Ballard’s heartfelt testimony after the passing of his wife, Barbara, sheds light on the personal significance of these eternal marriages. He shared, “This testimony has comforted and strengthened me during the past four and a half years since my wife, Barbara, passed away. I miss her … I felt that she and I belonged together.” This personal reflection touched me and helped me realize the profound impact of eternal marriage on individual lives. He is reunited with Sister Ballard.
He is reunited with Sister Ballard.
For me, President Ballard’s teachings on family and marriage, viewed through my own world lens, highlight the sanctity of eternal marriage, the personal commitment required in family relationships, and the eternal nature of these bonds as central to God’s plan for His children.
An Honor to Serve the Lord
Elder Ballard visited my mission—the New York New York North Mission—in 2002. I can distinctly remember one thing that he said to us. As near as I can recollect, he said something along the lines of, “You could not pay me enough to do this job. It is too strenuous, too heart-wrenching, too emotionally challenging. But it is an honor to do so for my Lord Jesus Christ.”
All missions are a combination of highs and lows, and while I do not remember if that portion of my mission was one or the other, that off-handed statement of his resonated very strongly with me. You could not pay me enough to go on a mission for the Church again. But it would be an honor to do so for my Lord Jesus Christ.
A Beacon for a Generation of Missionaries
For Latter-day Saints of my generation M. Russell Ballard was the face of sharing the gospel. It was his remarks that asked us to meet the challenge of “raising the bar” for missionaries. And he spearheaded the writing of a new training manual for missionaries, Preach My Gospel.
But for many years, Ballard’s book “Our Search for Happiness” was the easiest to read book in the “Missionary Library,” a set of books each missionary was expected to have and read. His accessible and heartfelt prose meant it was often the first and most-read book of the collection. The book’s simple message was that the gospel of Jesus Christ not only promised happiness in the world to come but happiness in the here and now. It gave missionaries an easy-to-understand raison d’être—we were helping people find happiness through Jesus Christ.