Mission Presidents See the Blessings of Heaven
Heather Whittle Wrigley, Church News and Events
It had to have been the third or fourth time that a missionary had called that day to report a miracle. James Jardine, president of the California Sacramento Mission (2008–2011) listened as an elder described his experience meeting a Hispanic man who needed a Hmong translator. This missionary was one of two missionaries in the world who could have translated Hmong into Spanish during the three hours of Church meetings.
Missionaries called President Jardine’s cell phone, which they came to call the “miracle phone,” whenever they saw the Lord’s hand in their work.
Randall and Deanna Probst had similar experiences seeing the Lord’s hand in the work during their three years of service as mission president and mission president’s companion in the South Africa Cape Town Mission.
“There was a constant recognition of the need for the Lord to be involved in every aspect of the work,” Sister Probst said. “So many times things would happen that it was very clear it was not coincidence. The Lord was directing and coordinating.”
Faith in Jesus Christ is essential for all members. The exercise of faith is as evident in missionary work as it is anywhere and the results of that faith is a common theme in the stories of returned mission presidents.
“Faith is central to almost everything we did in the mission,” said Steven King, who along with his wife, Michelle, presided over the Georgia Atlanta North Mission. “The faith that the missionary who steps off the plane is going to be the kind of missionary that he should be and that his mother expects him to be when he returns home; the faith to work with the members and have the members doing what they should be doing to help the missionary efforts move along; the faith to get up every morning and face another day. … It required not just faith—it required faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. This is His work.”
Called to Serve Him
Suggestions for potential mission presidents—which typically come from general authorities—are reviewed by the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, who then make selections. The First Presidency extends the call, and a member of the First Presidency or Quorum of the Twelve Apostles sets the mission president apart.
A mission president’s primary responsibility is for the missionaries, but it also extends to the members and nonmembers in his area.
When President Thomas S. Monson set Brother Jardine apart, he charged him and his wife, Jeanne, to love the missionaries and to look after their individual spiritual development and physical well-being.
“Probably the most important thing for a mission president to do is to help the missionaries strengthen their testimonies and become who they’re supposed to become,” Brother King agreed. “It’s important that they understand [their] potential . . . and understand spiritually where they stand.”
Mission presidents’ companions provide assistance in everything from health care to training to counseling.
Sister King, like many other mission presidents’ companions, helped train the missionaries. “I’d never served a mission before; I felt inadequate,” she said. “It took a lot of faith just to ‘go and do,’ but [the experience] was amazing.”
“[We were charged to take] the message of salvation to every person in Sacramento and to do it with holiness, charity, and love,” Brother Jardine said.
Many mission presidents come from professional backgrounds—Brother Jardine practiced law prior to his call, Brother Probst worked in hospital administration, and Brother King was the creative director for an automotive group.
But merely applying the tools of administration and leadership developed in professional settings to the mission field is not enough.
“I think one of the challenges was … to do things the Lord’s way and to be teachable,” Brother Jardine said.
Most mission presidents would agree that their service posed challenges they had never faced before.
“So often you’d look around for someone [to help] and realize that there was no one else,” Brother Probst said. “That would give you the opportunity to look up to heaven, and that witness would come and you’d feel the Lord’s Spirit.“
He said that to be able turn to the Lord and trust in His help is a wonderful blessing of service available to all.
The Lord Is in the Details
Like Brother Probst, many mission presidents saw hand of the Lord not only in their lives but also in the details of the missionaries’ lives and the lives of those they taught.
“I can’t tell you how many times we had convert testimonies from people who said they were kneeling in fervent prayer to God [asking] that He would help them find what their life’s purpose was or would lead them to the truth and … literally within seconds missionaries would knock on their doors or would meet them on the streets,” Brother Jardine said. “If that had happened just one or two times maybe you would say [it was] coincidence, but it happened over and over and over again.”
Sister Jardine said she saw young elders and sisters who didn’t like to read or study grow to love the scriptures and use them to solve problems and answer their questions.
“I really saw the power of faith and the power of the Atonement to transform lives—from our missionaries to people that they were teaching to myself. And seeing that power in action every day—I think it really did grow my faith and strengthen it,” she said.
Brother Jardine said the Lord’s involvement was evident most frequently when he was preparing to train missionaries. “We stopped and said a prayer, and immediately what we were to teach began to come into our hearts and minds,” he said.
In South Africa, the Probsts often faced visa issues, not knowing when, or even if, the documentation necessary for the missionaries to stay in the country would be delivered.
“We just had to have faith that it was the Lord’s work and He would provide the way,” Sister Probst said. “And many times it was the last minute when these elders were able to get into the country. We had to depend upon the Lord for that blessing.
“Every day we experienced situations where I knew the Lord was very directly involved,” she continued. “Whether it was protecting us or our missionaries or when we were in an area where a missionary needed our help, it was a constant reassurance that the Lord was very much a part of our lives.”
Both Brother Probst and Brother King commented on the Lord’s guidance as they decided where to send missionaries.
“[You had] to be able to put [your] trust in the Lord that He could really guide … all of those young men where he wanted them to be,” Brother Probst said.
Brother King agreed. “Time after time I’d get a letter from an elder or a sister who after two or three weeks in an area would say, ‘President, I didn’t like it when you sent me here … but now I know why I’m here,’” he said.
The Blessings of Faith-Filled Service
After three years of serving as mission president and mission president’s companion, Brother and Sister Probst said they have a better idea of why they’re here, too.
“When we do the Lord’s work, we are doing what He would do. I am appreciative of that opportunity to express my love … to Him by fulfilling the calling that He asked me to do,” Sister Probst said. “As a result of having served in this capacity for the last three years, I have a greater understanding of why I am here on earth.
Brother and Sister King said they felt they needed to find out the reason they were sent to the Georgia Atlanta North Mission. They found several.
“It was amazing people that we met, amazing investigators who joined the Church, amazing missionaries,” Sister King said. “I wouldn’t even call it a sacrifice—it was giving up something good for something better.”
Part of that “something better” is the increased guidance of the Holy Ghost as they realigned their priorities.
“You say 15 or 20 or 25 prayers [a day]; you try to have the Spirit guide you in planning, in what you’re going to teach when you’re in the lesson, in responding to the needs and questions of people,” Brother Jardine explained.
“You say over and over to yourself in the mission field, ‘Thy will be done,’” he continued. “And you try to align your goals and your hopes and what you’re doing with the will of Heavenly Father and make sure that what you’re doing really glorifies Him. … That’s been a wonderful place to find in our lives.”
In being set apart, mission presidents are blessed that their families will be taken care of during their time of service.
The Kings’ family back home was blessed to see Brother and Sister King’s example as they dedicated three years of their life to serving the Lord. Their son Connor accompanied them on their mission and was blessed to experience the mission culture and do some missionary work of his own.
“He started up a lacrosse program at the high school, where he was able … to show that he was a boy of integrity and that he was friendly and fun and held his values and standards,” Sister King said. “He made lots of friends, and I know that there will be a lasting impact on both sides—for the friends and for him.”
The Probsts said they felt blessed as they drew closer by constantly working together.
“It’s increased our faith, but it’s also increased our desire and our hope for what eternity is like,” Brother Probst affirmed. “If eternity can be somewhat like this, of working side by side with my companion forever, [I am very excited] about what eternity is like.”
Three years is a much shorter time than eternity, but every member's consecrated service can have an eternal influence.
“It is one of those moments in your life when the theory of consecration becomes real,” Brother Jardine said. “There was something of a feeling of sacrifice at the front end. But at the end of the mission, it just feels like a gift from Heavenly Father.”