Travels of Church Presidents from the 20th Century to Our Day

Contributed By Sarah Jane Weaver, Church News editor

  • 24 April 2018

President Ezra Taft Benson standing with members in Taiwan, around 1980. Around the turn of the 20th century, Church leaders reversed the policy of encouraging converts to migrate to Utah, which began a pattern of LDS Church presidents visiting the units of the Church around the world.  Photo courtesy of Church History Library.

Article Highlights

  • As Saints have built Zion wherever they live, modern-day prophets have travelled worldwide to lift and strengthen them.

For most of the 19th century, leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints encouraged converts from outside the United States to migrate to Utah. Around the turn of the 20th century, however, Church leaders reversed this policy of gathering, which began a pattern of LDS Church presidents visiting the units of the Church around the world.

The following list, compiled by the LDS Church History Library, details some of those travels:

Joseph F. Smith visited the LDS Church’s missions and branches in Europe on two occasions as prophet, in 1906 and 1910.

Heber J. Grant visited members and missionaries in Europe in 1937; he also traveled to Hawaii in 1919 and Canada in 1923, coinciding with temple dedications at both locations.

George Albert Smith made two international trips as president of the Church to visit the members in Mexico in May 1946 and to organize a stake in Canada in 1948. He was the first LDS prophet to use commercial airlines in traveling for LDS Church business, although David O. McKay was the first prophet to travel overseas by airplane.

David O. McKay traveled extensively as president of the Church, visiting the missions and branches in Europe in 1952, Latin America and South Africa in 1954, and the Pacific in 1955. He also dedicated temples in Switzerland in 1955, New Zealand, in 1958 and England in 1958.

Joseph Fielding Smith made two international trips as Church president, to visit members in Mexico in July 1970 and to preside at the Church’s first area conference in England in 1971.

President David O. McKay in Australia, 1955. Photo by Adam Droge. Photo provided by Dennis O’Riordan.

Elder Spencer W. Kimball and his wife, Camilla, arrive at the airport in Sao Paulo, Brazil, in 1964. Photo courtesy of David Beck.

Harold B. Lee visited members and missionaries in Europe and the Middle East in 1972. He also presided at area conferences in Mexico in 1972 and Germany in 1973.

Spencer W. Kimball continued to preside at area conferences as president of the Church, visiting multiple countries on each trip. He made 10 international trips from 1974 to 1980.

After dedicating the Hong Kong Temple May 26–27, 1996, President Gordon B. Hinckley and his wife, Sister Marjorie Hinckley, visited Shenzhen, China, a “sister cultural center” to the Church’s Polynesian Cultural Center in Hawaii. A burst of confetti added to the festive welcome they received. It was the first time a Church president visited mainland China. Photo by Gerry Avant.

Ezra Taft Benson made an international trip as Church president to dedicate the Frankfurt Germany Temple in August 1987. In July 1987, he presided over several events commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Church in the British Isles.

Howard W. Hunter made one international trip as prophet to preside over the creation of a stake in Mexico City in December 1994.

The image shows President Thomas S. Monson and President Henry B. Eyring saluting the 87,000 people inside Mexico City’s Aztec stadium during the LDS Mexican cultural event. They are wearing Mexican serapes to stay warm. Photo by Jason Swensen, Deseret News.

Gordon B. Hinckley traveled extensively as prophet, logging more than 1 million miles during his tenure and visiting more than 160 countries. He was 95 years old when he traveled to Russia, South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, India, Kenya, and Nigeria in 2005.

Thomas S. Monson made several international trips as prophet, mostly to preside at temple dedications or temple groundbreaking ceremonies, including Brazil, Panama, and Mexico in 2008; Canada, Philippines, Ukraine, and Italy in 2010; and Canada in 2011. He also visited the members in Germany on an extended trip in October 2012.

President Russell M. Nelson recently completed his Global Ministry Tour, during which he covered eight cities in 11 days in Europe, Africa, and Asia, from April 12–23. Read the following stories about each of his stops in the shaded box above.

President Nelson Bolsters Faith from London, First Stop on Global Tour

President Nelson’s Visit to the Holy Land Is “Significant,” Says Elder Holland

Rising Conflicts Underline Need for Christ’s Message of Hope and Love, President Nelson Said in Jerusalem

President Nelson Testifies of Jesus Christ in Kenya during World Tour

President Nelson Completes Africa Tour in Zimbabwe

London and Nairobi Stops of President Nelson’s World Tour Highlight Church’s Cultural Diversity

President Nelson Reaches India on Global Ministry Tour

Prophet Inspires Latter-day Saints in Hong Kong during World Tour

President Nelson Teaches Importance of the Temple in Thailand

President Nelson Concludes Global Ministry Tour in Hawaii with Message about the Temple

Joseph F. Smith, Charles W. Nibley, and A. William Lund pose in front of a train. Photo courtesy of Utah State Historical Archives.

President Ezra Taft Benson and President Thomas S. Monson, then Second Counselor in the First Presidency, stand together at the dedication of the Frankfurt Germany Temple. Photo courtesy of John Hart.

President Spencer W. Kimball in Jerusalem in October 1979. Photo courtesy of Church History Library.

Second from the left, President William F. Perschon of the Swiss-America mission, Elder Samuel E. Bringhurst, president of the new temple, LDS Church President David O. McKay and Elder Richard L. Evans of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles leave the Bern Switzerland Temple following a dedicatory session on September 11, 1955.

George Albert Smith and his wife, Lucy, standing in front of an airplane.