I was ten years old when my grandfather, Elder Melvin J. Ballard, died. Grandfather Ballard was an Apostle. As a young boy, I didn’t fully appreciate what it meant to be an Apostle, but I understood that he was a great missionary.
While my grandmother was expecting her first child, Grandfather Ballard was called on a mission in the United States. He was sent to the Midwest, and he provided music at missionary meetings at which he, Brother B. H. Roberts, and Brother George Pyper taught the gospel. When Brother Roberts and Brother Pyper went back to Salt Lake City, Utah, Grandfather was left alone in Illinois. He was discouraged and lonely. He missed his wife and his firstborn son—my father—who was born after he left. Then he came across the hymn “I’ll Go Where You Want Me to Go.” * He had a beautiful baritone voice, and he sang that hymn often.
When he became a member of the Council of the Twelve, he was put in charge of the Music Committee of the Church. When the hymnbook was updated in 1927, he saw to it that “I’ll Go Where You Want Me to Go” was included. I think that this hymn has the greatest missionary message of any of our hymns. It has affected my life much the same as it did my grandfather’s. My commitment to go wherever the Lord wants me to go has taken me to almost every corner of the earth. As a General Authority, I have visited Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America, the United States, Canada, and Russia. Truly the commitment to be a missionary has prepared me for a lifetime of service to the Lord.
As a young boy, I was a little bit timid, but I had the desire to be a missionary because I knew that that was what my grandfather wanted me to do. I knew that that was also what my mother and father wanted me to do. When I turned nineteen, I was eager to serve.
There has never been a time in my life that was more important than my own mission in preparing me for what I am now doing as a General Authority. I served in the British Mission from 1948 to 1950. All of England, Wales, Scotland, and Ireland were part of that mission. The Church had gone through a difficult period in the British Isles after World War II, and we were reopening the area to missionary work. We would knock on doors and hand out tracts about the Church.
You can’t be timid for long as a missionary. Street meetings were a very popular form of our missionary work. We’d set up a stand in the marketplace or town square, sing a few hymns, then bear our testimonies and answer questions.
The second day I was in England, I attended my first street meeting at Hyde Park in London. Six missionaries and our mission president, Selvoy J. Boyer, were there. President Boyer called on two missionaries to speak, and I was one of them.
On my way up to the stand, he said to me, “Elder Ballard, you preach the gospel.” I quickly picked the principle of baptism and said everything I knew about it in about thirty seconds. That was a good experience because it made me realize very quickly how much I did not know. I realized that I had a lot of studying to do.
While I was on that mission, the plan of salvation came into focus for me. I knew that we had the truth and the scriptures, so it was not frightening to bear my testimony in public. I began to understand that Heavenly Father is willing to give all that He has to His faithful children.
Serving a mission is a great opportunity to show our love for Heavenly Father. I think it is very important that young boys and girls save money for their missions. Young people who help pay for their own missions are better missionaries. I tell young people wherever I go that out of every dollar they earn, they ought to pay ten cents for tithing, save forty cents for their missionary fund, and keep fifty cents for their use.
If I could go back and relive my life, I would start preparing for a mission much earlier. I would read the scripture storybooks. I would read the scriptures daily with my family. I would pay more attention in Primary. I would spend that time in my youth really trying to understand the message of the Restoration.