Some months prior to his death in January 1984, Elder Mark E. Petersen of the Quorum of the Twelve accepted a request to write a biographical article on President Benson, by whose side Elder Petersen had sat for nearly four decades. President Benson has suggested that in lieu of preparing a feature on him that the article prepared by Elder Petersen be printed. The dates and circumstances associated with President Benson becoming President of the Church have been added.
“What is best for the Kingdom?”
The answer to that question has been the deciding factor in every important matter that has come before President Ezra Taft Benson throughout his life.
From his earliest youth, he has sought for what is best for the work of the Lord, for the kingdom of God on earth.
Always he has arranged his own affairs to suit this objective. Always this has been the ultimate concern of his life.
After more than forty-two years in the general leadership of the Church, President Ezra Taft Benson was ordained and set apart as Prophet, Seer, Revelator, and President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in a special meeting of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles held on Sunday, 10 November 1985, in one of the upper rooms of the Salt Lake Temple.
His advance to the leadership of the Church gives him presidency over all the work of the Lord on earth at the present time. As the scripture says, “The duty of the President of the office of the High Priesthood is to preside over the whole church, and to be like unto Moses … to be a seer, a revelator, a translator, and a prophet, having all the gifts of God which he bestows upon the head of the church.” (D&C 107:91–92.)
And as the scripture further says, “The Presidency of the High Priesthood, after the order of Melchizedek, have a right to officiate in all the offices in the church.” (D&C 107:9.) And the Melchizedek Priesthood is “the Holy Priesthood, after the Order of the Son of God.” (D&C 107:3.)
The established order of the Church in this dispensation provides that on the death of the President, the power to govern the entire Church moves to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.
The choice of a new First Presidency is not a matter of election. The President of the Quorum of the Twelve is the senior member of that quorum in terms of the number of years since his setting apart as a member of the quorum. He becomes the President of the presiding quorum of the Church as a matter of direct succession upon the death of the incumbent President.
The Quorum of the Twelve Apostles has full authority to ordain their quorum president as head of the entire Church under these conditions. He in turn chooses his own counselors, and they three together become the Quorum of the First Presidency.
This process was followed when President Benson was ordained and set apart to that high office. He immediately selected Elder Gordon B. Hinckley as his First Counselor and Elder Thomas S. Monson as his Second Counselor.
The process by which the President of the Church also becomes Prophet, Seer, and Revelator was established when the Church was organized on 6 April 1830. By revelation, the Lord so decreed the procedure and imposed on the membership of the Church the duty of fully sustaining the President. Said He:
“Wherefore, meaning the church, thou shalt give heed unto all his words and commandments which he shall give unto you as he receiveth them, walking in all holiness before me;
“For his word ye shall receive, as if from mine own mouth, in all patience and faith.”
And then He gave a marvelous promise to the Saints:
“For by doing these things the gates of hell shall not prevail against you; yea, and the Lord God will disperse the powers of darkness from before you, and cause the heavens to shake for your good, and his name’s glory.” (D&C 21:4–6.)
All the authority given by the heavenly messengers to the Prophet Joseph Smith is transmitted by the laying on of hands to each succeeding President of the Church. Thus it is that President Benson now, as our new leader, holds all the keys which were restored to carry on this dispensation in preparation for the second coming of the Lord.
President Benson is the thirteenth president of the Church in chronological order. He comes to his office humbly and devotedly. He will officiate in the spirit of the holy scriptures, in kindness and love. He will seek constantly to know and implement the word of the Lord for this important day in the history of the Church.
President Benson was called to the Council of the Twelve on 26 July 1943 and beginning on 30 December 1973 he presided over the Council of the Twelve for nearly twelve years, having come into that office when President Spencer W. Kimball succeeded President Harold B. Lee in the First Presidency. President Kimball set him apart as President of the Quorum of the Twelve on 30 December 1973. He has led the quorum with great efficiency, constant inspiration, and a never-ceasing flow of love for his Brethren. Their well being has been a constant concern. Always he has kept their best interests in mind, together with “what is best for the Kingdom,” as he has assigned them to their responsibilities in various parts of the world.
Abiding harmony characterized his administration in the Twelve. For all concerned, it was a labor of love and good will. These brethren were fully in harmony with the word of the Lord, who said: “I say unto you, be one; and if ye are not one ye are not mine.” (D&C 38:27.)
He comes into the office of President of the Church with the complete love and sustaining power of the Twelve and all other General Authorities. They will work with him in the true spirit of their calling for the advancement of the kingdom of God.
President Benson’s entire life has prepared him well for this new position. From his earliest youth, he has been devoted to the work. From his infancy, the power of God was manifest in his life. At his birth he was not expected to live, but through the blessings of the holy priesthood, he was strengthened and has been permitted to fill a lifelong labor for his Master.
President Benson’s Church experience has been long and varied, beginning in his youth as a deacon. As the years passed, he became fully active in MIA and in his priesthood quorums. He served as ward and stake superintendent of MIA in Boise, Idaho. He served as stake president twice, once in Boise, Idaho, and later in Washington, D.C. It was from this latter position that he was called into the Twelve in July 1943.
In Scouting he received the three top awards given by the Boy Scouts of America: the Silver Beaver, the Silver Antelope, and the Silver Buffalo.
For many years he was a member of the National Executive Board, B.S.A., the governing body of the entire Scouting movement in the United States. He succeeded President George Albert Smith in this position.
When President Benson reached the required retirement age, President Monson succeeded him. He serves now on the National Advisory Council of B.S.A.
As a member of the Council of the Twelve, he has traveled the world around, visiting hundreds of stakes and all missions, organizing many new units while doing so. In his term as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve, he has organized many stakes. Among them are Tokyo Japan, 15 March 1970; Melbourne Australia South, 22 August 1971; Osaka Japan, 12 September 1972; Manila Philippines, 20 May 1973; Belfast Ireland, 9 June 1974; Copenhagen Denmark, 16 June 1974; Helsinki Finland, 16 October 1977; Munich Germany, 23 October 1977; Nagoya Japan, 10 May 1978; Nauvoo Illinois, 18 February 1979; Vienna Austria, 20 April 1980; Brasilia Brazil, 12 October 1980; Naha Okinawa Japan, 23 October 1980; San Juan Puerto Rico, 14 December 1980; Bern Switzerland, 3 May 1981; Milan Italy, 7 June 1981; Geneva Switzerland, 20 June 1982; and Barcelona Spain, 31 October 1982.
One of the most remarkable experiences of his ministry was when he was called at the close of World War II to go to Europe to reorganize the work of the Church there, as it had been so sadly disrupted during the war, and to distribute needed food, clothing, bedding, and medical supplies to the Saints who had survived the ravages of the conflict.
When he received this call late in 1945, President George Albert Smith, then head of the Church, lived near the Bensons and promised Elder Benson that he would keep a watchful eye over his family.
President Smith did so and wrote regularly to Elder Benson during the ten months he was away. President Smith and other Brethren in the Twelve constantly sent encouragement to this humble ambassador of good will in Europe.
Elder Benson left Salt Lake City in a blizzard, flying out on a small plane which was grounded in the Midwest by the storm. Finally he reached New York and obtained a flight to London, arriving there 4 February 1946.
On the following Sunday, he held conference in the London district and then flew to Paris to purchase vehicles for the distribution of food and supplies. At times, he had to change trains several times in the course of the day and resort to Army trucks to cross rivers where railway bridges had been bombed out.
On this assignment he visited the Saints in thirteen nations, distributing sorely needed supplies to them, meeting with them in large groups and small ones, always inspiring them to have faith in God and know that He would provide for them.
Entering Germany was most difficult, but as the Lord opened doors and raised up friends, he was able to go to the Saints in most parts of that land.
It was the same when he went to Poland. Only by divine intervention was he admitted. He went to all the Scandinavian countries and dedicated Finland for the preaching of the gospel. He labored also in Holland, France, Belgium, Czechoslovakia, Austria, Switzerland, and Great Britain, always strengthening the Saints spiritually, always distributing food, medicine, clothing, and bedding where needed.
The cooperation of the Church Welfare Program in the United States made this possible. Many freight-car loads of supplies from stake welfare storehouses were sent from Salt Lake City for as long a time as needed. It was Elder Benson’s responsibility to distribute these supplies on arrival.
To gain access to the various countries, he had, of course, to work with military officials. Access to these men was usually difficult. But again the Lord opened the way.
On one occasion it was necessary for him to drive to Berlin. When he asked to see General Joseph T. McNarney, the four-star general in charge of all American forces in Europe at the time, he was quickly turned away by the general’s aide.
Disappointed, he returned to his car, where he humbly asked the Lord to open the way. He went again to the general’s office and was admitted immediately and given the necessary assistance.
The general reminded him that he would be the first American civilian to travel to Berlin by car since the military occupation and added that the Army could not accept responsibility for his safe passage through the Russian zone.
Elder Benson assured him that he was not fearful of personal safety, knowing that the Lord would take care of him. This type of incident was repeated over and over again.
One time, Elder Benson needed to make a quick flight from Paris to The Hague in Holland. There was no available space on the planes. Through fasting and prayer, three seats were provided for himself, his secretary, and a chaplain who was accompanying him.
On another occasion, Richard Ranglack, a local German member of the Church, accompanied Elder Benson to a warehouse where some supplies from Utah were stored. Brother Ranglack asked, “You mean to tell me that those boxes are full of food?” Elder Benson replied, “Yes, with food, clothing, bedding, and I hope a few medical supplies.”
They took down some boxes. The first contained cracked wheat. Brother Ranglack was incredulous. He ran his hands through the wheat, then broke down and cried like a child. The second box was filled with dried beans. Again Brother Ranglack wept and said, “Brother Benson, it is difficult for me to believe that people who have never seen us before could do so much for us.”
This was typical of many experiences during that year-long assignment in Europe.
Throughout these and other experiences, Elder Benson always remembered the words of his father, who with his mother had taught him faith in prayer. Said his father, “Remember that whatever you do, or wherever you are, you are never alone. Our Heavenly Father is always near. You can reach out and receive His aid through prayer.” Elder Benson found this always to be true. The Lord did not fail him.
Twenty years after his assignment to war-torn Europe, he was sent back again as president of the European missions, with headquarters in Frankfurt, Germany. There he saw the growth which had taken place in the years since the war. Stakes had been organized, new missions set up, and thousands of people had joined the Church. This mission extended from 1 January 1964 until 14 September 1965.
During his mission, he again experienced repeated evidence of the hand of the Lord working with him. From his headquarters in Germany he directed the work toward Italy, where strong branches developed. Missionaries also were sent to Lebanon under his direction. By 26 February 1965, twenty missionaries were laboring in Italy, laying the groundwork for the two stakes and three missions that exist in that nation today. President Benson himself later returned and organized the Milan Stake.
One of the most notable periods of his life came when he was appointed Secretary of Agriculture in the cabinet of President Dwight D. Eisenhower.
It was a responsibility he did not seek. When he learned he was being considered for a Cabinet post, he saw President David O. McKay, then President of the Church. President McKay said, “I received a very important telephone call last night” seeking to learn the attitude of the Church if a Cabinet appointment were offered to Elder Benson. President McKay said, “Brother Benson, my mind is clear in the matter. If the opportunity comes in the proper spirit, I think you should accept.”
Elder Benson said he hardly believed such an offer would be extended, and told President McKay that he wished to carry on his work as a member of the Council of the Twelve.
President McKay, however, advised him that if it were offered, to have an interview. President-elect Eisenhower asked Elder Benson to come to New York and there told him of the high regard in which Elder Benson was held by the farmers of the nation and urged him to accept his patriotic duty and respond to the call of his government.
He served there for eight years. The President had told the Secretary that he would like him to remain in the Cabinet the entire period of his occupancy of the White House. This Secretary Benson did.
He traveled the world over in this capacity, dealing with government heads in many lands, and successfully carried forward a progressive and sound policy in directing the agricultural activities of the United States. This assignment was particularly helpful to other nations since he directed much of the relief distribution to needy nations.
In recognition of his service, he was awarded with more than a dozen honorary degrees from universities throughout the land. They included—
Distinguished Alumni Award, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah, 3 June 1950.
Honorary degree, Doctor of Humane Letters, College of Osteopathic Physicians and Surgeons, Los Angeles, California, 15 June 1951.
Testimonial for Distinguished Service to Agriculture by the University of Wisconsin, Madison, Wisconsin, 6 February 1952.
Honorary degree, Doctor of Laws, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, Utah, 9 June 1953.
Honorary degree, Doctor of Agriculture, Iowa State College, Ames, Iowa, 12 June 1953.
Honorary degree, Doctor of Agriculture, Michigan State College, Lansing, Michigan, 10 February 1955.
Honorary degree, Doctor of Public Services, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah, 2 June 1955.
Honorary degree, Doctor of Science, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, New Jersey, 6 October 1955.
Honorary degree, Doctor of Laws, University of Maine, Orono, Maine, 10 June 1956.
Honorary degree, Doctor of Laws, University of Hawaii, Honolulu, Hawaii, 22 March 1957.
Honorary degree, Doctor of Laws, Utah State University, Logan, Utah, 7 June 1958.
Honorary degree, Doctor of Laws, Fairleigh-Dickinson University, Rutherford, New Jersey, 10 February 1959.
President Benson was born in Whitney, Franklin County, Idaho, 4 August 1899, the son of George T. and Sarah Dunkley Benson and a great-grandson of the Apostle Ezra T. Benson, one of the original pioneers who entered the Salt Lake Valley with Brigham Young on 24 July 1847.
His grandparents were among the earliest pioneer settlers of Cache Valley on the Idaho-Utah border. He grew up on a farm in his native state and operated a farm there from 1923 to 1930.
He was the eldest of eleven children. At age eleven, he took over the management of a dairy herd while his father went on a two-year mission for the Church. He worked his way through college as a farm hand.
On 10 September 1926, Flora Smith Amussen and Ezra Taft Benson were married in the Salt Lake Temple by Elder Orson F. Whitney of the Council of the Twelve, who had been President Benson’s mission president and for whom the town of President Benson’s birth, Whitney, Idaho, was named.
Flora Amussen was the youngest daughter of Carl C. Amussen, a native of Denmark who was a prominent jeweler and watchmaker during the 1848 gold rush in Australia. He joined the Church in Liverpool and crossed the plains in 1865 to Salt Lake City, where he established a jewelry business.
Flora’s mother was Barbara Smith Amussen, who was born in Tooele, Utah, of Scottish pioneer parents. Flora’s father died when she was only one year old, and her mother reared the family of six as a widow.
When he first saw Flora, President Benson was impressed that she would become his wife. He was standing with some other young men students on the campus of Utah State University when a girl drove by in a car, and they waved to her. Elder Benson said, “Who is that girl?”
They said, “That is Flora Amussen.”
He said, “I am going to marry her.”
One of them said, “You are not. She’s too popular for a farm boy.”
He said, “That makes it all the more interesting.” In 1927 he received a master’s degree from Iowa State College (later Iowa State University) and was elected to Gamma Sigma Delta, the agricultural honor society.
The couple then moved to the farm in Whitney, Idaho, where they entered actively into agriculture. Together with his brother, Orval, he had purchased the family farm. In the fall of 1927, Orval was called on a mission to Denmark and was supported by the farm income.
In 1929, President Benson became the Franklin County agricultural agent for the University of Idaho Extension Service in Preston, Idaho, and the following year became extension economist and marketing specialist at the University of Idaho College of Agriculture. He also became a Scout commissioner with the Boy Scouts of America that same year.
In 1931 he became the head of a newly organized Department of Agriculture Economics and Marketing for the Extension Service of the University of Idaho. In 1935, he became a member of the stake presidency in the Boise Stake. During his stay in Boise he was appointed secretary of the Idaho Cooperative Council, which he helped to organize. He held that position for five years.
For nearly four years (from 1935 to 1939) he served in the presidency of the Boise Stake. He was given a leave of absence during that time to attend the University of California, where he did further graduate work. He became president of the Boise Stake in 1938, holding that position for two years.
In 1943 he became a member of the National Council of Boy Scouts of America and was appointed executive secretary of the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives. This required him to move to Washington, D.C.
He was there less than one year when he became the first president of the newly created Washington Stake in Washington, D.C., and also became a member of the National Farm Credit Committee. He held the latter position for a year.
In 1942 he became a member of the executive committee of the board of trustees of the American Institute of Cooperation, an organization of farm cooperatives and land grant colleges. Twelve years later, on 19 July 1954, he was named a trustee of the Robert A. Taft Memorial Foundation. He was well acquainted with this outstanding United States Senator and was his sixth cousin.
It was during these years that he was awarded two George Washington Honor Medals by the Freedoms Foundation at Valley Forge and, on 10 April 1957, the High Cross of the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic, the highest decoration the Italian government could give. This latter medal was bestowed in recognition of his help in assisting Italy solve its food problems, with United States surpluses.
The honors continued in 1960, when he was named to the Hall of Fame of the Saddle and Sirloin Club of Chicago. In his election to that position, an oil painting of President Benson was hung in the club’s Hall of Fame.
One of his significant contributions to public life in the business field was his membership on the board of CPC International (formerly Corn Products Company), an organization which encompasses forty-one nations. He served with this organization for twelve years.
In January 1961 he concluded his eight years as United States Secretary of Agriculture and returned to Salt Lake City to resume his responsibilities as a member of the Council of the Twelve. On 4 September 1965 he was named to the American Patriot’s Hall of Fame. Thirteen years later, in 1978, he was given the American Farm Bureau Federation award for Distinguished Meritorious Service.
In 1967, a delegation to draft President Benson for president of the United States came to Salt Lake City to solicit his acceptance. The organization was already well underway with offices in Michigan and southern Illinois. However, President Benson offered no encouragement, and the campaign was dropped.
At another time he was urged to accept a draft to run for governor of the State of Utah. This he also declined. It was now his purpose to devote himself entirely to the Church as a member of the Council of the Twelve.
President and Sister Benson have six children, thirty-four grandchildren, and twenty great-grandchildren.
Their son Reed and his wife, May, of Provo, Utah, are the parents of nine children: Holly, Taft, Heidi Hinckley, Heather, Lucilla May, Moroni Mark, Joshua Ruben, Lynna, and Sarah.
Mark and his wife, Lela, of Salt Lake City have six children: Stephen Reed, Stephanie, Stacey Ann, Margaret, Mary, and Michael Taft.
President and Sister Benson’s daughter Barbara and her husband, Dr. Robert H. Walker, of Calgary, Alberta, are the parents of five children: Flora Elizabeth, Heather, Laurel, Robert Benson, and Holly Benson.
Their daughter Beverly and her husband, James M. Parker, living in Burke, Virginia, are the parents of four children: Flora Benson, James Benson, Grace Benson, and Scott Benson.
Their daughter Bonnie and her husband, Lowell L. Madsen, now living in Littleton, Colorado, have five children: Mark Benson, David Benson, Susan Benson, Heather Benson, and John Benson.
Their youngest daugther Beth and her husband, Dr. David A. Burton, who are living in Salt Lake City, are the parents of four children: Thomas David, Mary, Deborah, and Daniel David.
Family love and solidarity have been characteristic of the Bensons’ home life. Both President and Sister Benson had the advantage of strong families as they grew up, and this training blossomed in the family they themselves raised.
In the remarks made to the press announcing the reorganization of the First Presidency following President Spencer W. Kimball’s death, President Benson said: “We shall continue to stress the importance of strong Christian homes and family life. We feel the increased necessity for parents to teach their children to live the principles of the gospel as revealed in the Bible, the Book of Mormon, and other sacred scripture.”
President Benson also stressed that the Church would continue to emphasize missionary work and temple activity. “I love this work with all my soul,” he said. “I will be most grateful for your faith and prayers for me, for my two counselors, and for this sacred work of the Almighty.”
The home life of President and Sister Ezra Taft Benson has always been a model of family harmony. Home evening was one of the great and important factors in their lives. So impressive were these programs to friends who occasionally attended them that at one time the family was invited to give a home evening on national television on the Ed Morrow show.
For one of their home evenings they invited the families of President Eisenhower and J. Willard Marriott.
The family was always concerned with the dating of their children. President and Sister Benson encouraged them to kneel in prayer before they went out on a date, praying that they would conduct themselves properly and that they would have an enjoyable evening on a high plane, and this they did. They all prayed that they could each be married in the temple, and this was accomplished.
As a boy, President Benson played the trombone and later took lessons on the piano. He sang solos in the community and also at college, but “he loved his trombone best.” The President says: “As our own family was growing up, we had much music in our home. All of our daughters sang. They made up a quartet, and then when one married, they organized a trio, and then a duet.”
President Benson was very fond of horses and other animals. He rode a horse and herded cattle when he was only four years old. He drove his team on the farm when he was five, and later a harrow and then a plow.
As a boy he worked hard on the farm and also exchanged labor with a neighbor. He records that they used to thin sugar beets with a short-handled hoe. He said, “I remember the first day I thinned an acre of beets in one day. You don’t do it in an eight-hour day; you are out from sunup to sundown.”
For that labor he received two silver dollars and two five-dollar gold pieces, or twelve dollars, and walked home feeling that he was “the richest man in town.”
A Mission to England
As a young man, President Benson went on his first mission to England, where he labored in the Lake District.
Persecution was heavy there. At one time he and his companion were mobbed, but he has now seen that entire area covered with stakes of the Church which he has visited as a member of the Twelve.
Referring to his early mission and the misunderstandings that people had about the Latter-day Saints, he relates that he knocked at a door and the man who responded said, “Oh, you can’t tell me anything about those Old Mormons. I have been in the British Navy, and I remember that we sailed right into Salt Lake harbor and they wouldn’t let us land.”
“That,” said President Benson, “was about as much as people knew about us at that time. But they are great people, and we have seen a wonderful development among them.”
When he left home to go on this first mission, he bade his grandmother good-bye, but had the impression that he would never see her again. She was in good health. One night when he was in Sunderland, England, he received an inspiration that his grandmother had died. This he told to his companion. The companion said, “What do you mean?”
“I mean she just passed away. I got that impression as I was shaving.”
The companion said, “Has she been sick?” Elder Benson said, “No.” In about ten days he got a letter from his father telling him that his grandmother had passed away, almost the very hour when he got the impression in far off England.
President Benson’s Call to the Council of the Twelve
President Benson describes the manner in which he was called to be a member of the Council of the Twelve. He had come to Salt Lake City, where he visited with President David O. McKay, a counselor to President Grant.
President McKay said, “President Grant wants to see you when you come back from Idaho.”
President Benson said, “Fine,” and then went up to Idaho for two meetings, one in Boise and one in Idaho Falls. On returning, he checked again with President McKay. He said, “President Grant wants to see you. His son-in-law will call for you at the hotel.” He called and took Elder Benson to President Grant’s home on Eighth Avenue, where they learned that President Grant was at a cottage in the mouth of Emigration Canyon.
They went to the cottage, where Sister Grant told Elder Benson that the President was in a bedroom relaxing. She invited him to go in to see the President since he was all alone.
“So I went in, and he was reclining on the bed—dressed, but reclining. He asked me to pull my chair right up to his bed, which I did. Then he took both of my hands in his and looked me in the eye.
“He said, ‘Brother Benson, the Lord bless you. You have been chosen as the youngest member of the Council of the Twelve Apostles.’”
Elder Benson said, “I just could not believe it. It just seemed as though the whole world had caved in on me.
“We visited for a few moments, and then I left and we drove down the canyon to President McKay’s home because he had invited me to have dinner with him. As I went up on the porch, he embraced me. He knew all about it. President Grant had said, ‘Now you tell David that this [announcement] is to break in the Deseret News. This decision was made three weeks ago, and we have been waiting for an opportunity to tell you about it and have an interview with you.’
“So I had dinner with President McKay, and he drove me down to the train station immediately after dinner.
“I had never received any intimation of this call. It came as a complete surprise. President Grant emphasized, ‘We want you to stay back there [in Washington] with this National Farm organization as long as it is necessary to satisfy them, to be sure there will be no difficulties with the transition and to help select and train your successor.’”
Before continuing home, President Benson called Sister Benson on the phone and told her about the new appointment. She said, “I am not surprised. I had a feeling that some great event was going to happen on this trip that would affect us. Of course you know we are all behind you 100 percent.”
A Moving Experience in Russia
On one of his trips to Russia as Secretary of Agriculture, President Benson had a moving experience revealing the deep religious faith of some of the Russian people.
He had been conferring with Premier Khrushchev and other high officials of the Russian government as a representative of the United States. Following that conference, he indicated a desire to visit some church where Christians were still permitted to meet. After some persistence, he was taken to a Baptist church in Moscow. The members of the press accompanying him to Russia for his governmental meetings also followed him to this little church.
It was one of the very few Christian churches still open in that vast city. The congregation was made up mainly of elderly people, many of whom were women.
As the obviously American group walked into the chapel, the people in the congregation looked almost agape, hardly believing their eyes. One of the Americans, Secretary Benson, was unexpectedly called to the pulpit.
Choking with emotion, he testified in that city to the reality of the Lord Jesus Christ.
“God lives. I know that He lives. I know that Jesus is the Christ and the Redeemer of the world,” he declared.
His words were translated into Russian. With each sentence, nods of assent were seen throughout the congregation. Women removed their head coverings and wiped their eyes. Men rubbed away the moisture that blurred their vision. The hardened news correspondents who came because they felt they were compelled to as part of the Secretary’s entourage, and who at first had no interest in this religious gathering whatever, now wept with the congregation.
It was a solemn moment. Hearts were melted. A spirit enveloped the worshippers such as they had never felt before. Hands folded and heads bowed in humble prayer.
“I firmly believe in prayer,” the voice of the Secretary continued. “It is possible to reach out and tap the unseen power which gives strength and anchor in time of need. Be not afraid. Keep God’s commandments. Love the Lord. Love one another. Love all mankind. Truth will triumph. Time is on the side of truth.”
The American press then slowly walked down the aisle toward the door with a humble attitude in complete contrast to that with which they had entered. As they passed the pews, anxious hands and hungry hearts reached out to them. Then from thankful lips came the strains of “God be with you til we meet again. …” although everyone realized that this hope would likely never be fulfilled in mortality.