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The assignment and miracles behind the creation of ‘Preach My Gospel’

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The following is excerpted from Anxiously Engaged: A Biography of M. Russell Ballard.

By mid-2002, Elder Ballard was no stranger to the Missionary Department. Before his call to the Twelve, in addition to his service as president of the Canada Toronto Mission, he had served as the executive director of that department, as president of the International Mission (with Elders Jack H. Goaslind and John K. Carmack as counselors), and as a member of the Missionary Executive Council. On August 15, 2002, he was assigned to be chairman of the Missionary Executive Council.31 The First Presidency were well aware that macular degeneration had destroyed his left eye, and he had lost all vision in that eye. “If I close my right eye, no one is there. I have to keep the right eye open to see anything,” he said.32 Nevertheless, Elder Ballard was asked to take on this new assignment, with very specific instructions from President Gordon B. Hinckley:

  • Missionaries need to be freed up from what he called “wooden” presentations; they must be able to teach in their own words.
  • The spirituality and commitment of our missionaries need to be raised to new levels.
  • We must stop baptizing people before they are ready. Retention of converts must be an essential part of the conversion process.
  • Standards for missionary service need to be raised.33

Elder Ballard moved into action, building on work previously done by Elders Dallin H. Oaks and Jeffrey R. Holland, his predecessors in this assignment. Elder Oaks said of Elder Ballard, “He is a ‘real pusher’ in the best sense of the word. He has a knack for pushing hard without offending. . . . He knows how to delegate, to give direction, and free up people to work on a job. He is the kind of person you want to put in charge if you want to have the job done.”34

The first thing he did as chairman of the Missionary Executive Council was to ask staff members in the Missionary Department in Salt Lake and at the Missionary Training Center in Provo to take a hard look at effective ways to improve the preaching of the gospel. Richard Heaton, administrative director of the Provo Missionary Training Center, said:

”We were young new employees and Elder Ballard believed in us and asked us to do important things without written instructions or timetable. When he asked me, ‘What do you think?’ I knew he wanted to know. We put together a team of young employees, each with something to contribute and a commitment to work. There is nobody that can light a fire under me like Elder Ballard. He connects me with God and invites me to do God’s work.”35

As the committee worked on the first three directives outlined by President Hinckley, Elder Ballard’s talk at the priesthood session of general conference in October 2002 squarely and directly addressed the fourth:

Please understand this: the bar that is the standard for missionary service is being raised. While it is true that you can repent of sins, you may or you may not qualify to serve. It is far better to keep yourselves clean and pure and valiant. We expect you to have an understanding and a solid testimony of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. We expect you to work hard. We expect you to be covenant makers and covenant keepers. We expect you to be missionaries to match our glorious message.36

President Hinckley endorsed Elder Ballard’s remarks in his address: “Elder Ballard has spoken to you concerning missionaries. I wish to endorse what he said. I hope that our young men, and our young women, will rise to the challenge he has set forth. We must raise the bar on the worthiness and qualifications of those who go into the world as ambassadors of the Lord Jesus Christ.”37

Neither Elder Ballard nor President Hinckley mentioned that missionary discussions were under review. It was not until the first worldwide leadership training satellite broadcast on January 11, 2003, that President Hinckley said: “The question now rises as to how the missionaries shall teach those who are willing to listen. For many years now we have had a standard set of missionary lessons. Great good has come of this. . . . But unfortunately this method, in all too many cases, has resulted in a memorized presentation, lacking in Spirit and in personal conviction.”38

On the heels of his address, the Church published Teaching by the Spirit: Guidelines for MTC Teachers and Supervisors. This was the first step toward creating a manual that provided “doctrinal summaries to be studied rather than discussion scripts to be memorized.”39 On June 12, 2003, the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve approved pulling together the missionary curriculum into a single manual, with the invaluable support of Elder Quentin L. Cook of the Seventy, executive director of the Missionary Department, as well as other assigned General Authorities.40 This was a major step toward what would eventually become the Preach My Gospel missionary curriculum. As the committee worked on the manual, chapter numbers and order evolved. Eventually draft copies were printed in full color, and these copies were circulated and reviewed before Preach My Gospel was ready for testing.

From March to May of 2004, fourteen missions—from Japan Fukuoka to Mexico Puebla, and from England Manchester to California Anaheim—were asked to field test Preach My Gospel and determine if (1) each chapter was simple and easy to use, (2) missionaries applied the principles presented in Preach My Gospel in their study and proselyting efforts, and (3) anything had been overlooked. When the results came in, it was back to the drawing board for the writers.

When a final draft of Preach My Gospel was ready for review, Elder Ballard sent copies to General Authorities and lay members. He and Elder Cook saw that copies were given to all members of the Twelve, including Elder Oaks, who was serving as Area President in the Philippines, and Elder Holland, who was the Area President in Chile.

Elder Ballard and Elder Cook delivered President Boyd K. Packer’s copy to him personally. As President Packer thumbed through the colorful manual, he asked, “Are you preparing the people for the King James Version of the Bible or a comic book?” There was a long pause before Elder Ballard said, “President, we will do what you want and go back to a black-and-white manual, but if the missionaries don’t take the manual out of the cellophane, don’t be surprised.”41

Elder Cook recalls, “We left a copy of Preach My Gospel with President Packer and waited for his decision. As we waited, Elder Ballard sent school textbooks to President Packer that had full-color pages. A while later, I received a phone call from President Packer telling me to get Elder Ballard to stop sending him textbooks—‘I get the picture.’” He signed off on the manual.42

. . .

Once Preach My Gospel had been thoroughly vetted, publication preparation began. Elder Ballard telephoned Richard Heaton at the Missionary Training Center and asked, “Can you have Preach My Gospel ready by August?” Then, “Can you have it ready by mid-July?” Then, “Can it be ready by July 1?” And finally, “How about having it ready by mid-June?” To meet the mid-June deadline, Heaton recalls: “The staff housed at the Missionary Training Center worked 24/7. For three weeks I daily drove from Provo to Salt Lake City with a section of the manuscript for Elder Ballard and Elder Cook to review. I then returned to the MTC with their revisions for the night shift to work on. We made the mid-June deadline.”45

More miracles followed. Elder Ballard said:

“We learned that there was no paper available on which to print Preach My Gospel for at least two or three months. . . . We prayed about that in the Missionary Executive Council, and two days later the representative of a paper company called and said, ‘We’ve had a cancellation of an order‘ for the exact paper that we needed to print Preach My Gospel on. And the same thing happened with the ink. . . . I have a witness and testimony that the preparation of that document, Preach My Gospel, was led not by the Missionary Executive Council but by the Lord Jesus Christ. We had miracle after miracle, inspiration and revelation pour down upon us, because it was really unheard of to take a document of that significance from conception to the field in about fourteen months. I don’t know that there’s ever been anything else done that quickly before.46”

. . .

On November 6, 2004, Preach My Gospel was introduced to the membership of the Church in a Church News article.48 This marked the first time missionary lessons were made available to the Church membership.

Of Elder Ballard’s service as chairman of the Missionary Executive Council, Elder Richard G. Scott said, “I know there has been great input by a lot of people in the development of Preach My Gospel, but the one who has been the driving engine, the power behind getting it accomplished, is Elder Ballard.”49 Elder L. Tom Perry said, “You almost had to run to keep up with him because of the energy and enthusiasm he brought into missionary work. He is just a tireless advocate of carrying the gospel to the world—and I emphasize tireless.”50 Elder Neil L. Andersen wrote, “What a marvelous example of modern revelation and the Lord using the talents of Elder M. Russell Ballard.”51 And Elder Quentin L. Cook said, “There is no General Authority of his generation who has been more intensely involved in missionary work. . . .

Elder Ballard has been at the forefront of presenting the gospel to our Father in Heaven’s children throughout his adult life. I do not believe that Preach My Gospel could have been brought forth without his inspired guidance.”52

Anxiously Engaged: A Biography of M. Russell Ballard

In Anxiously Engaged, accounts of this dedicated missionary, husband, father, business leader, and Apostle—accompanied by photos throughout—offer a close-up look at President Ballard’s life, faith, and testimony. As readers come to appreciate the meaningful difference he has made in the lives of the Lord’s children around the world, their own testimonies of his role as a prophet, seer, and revelator will grow.

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