When area conferences first began, the meetings were held in only one city at a time, such as Manchester, Mexico City, or Munich. Traveling to the conference and then back home again was a relatively simple schedule for the Brethren to follow. As the idea of taking the conferences to the people expanded, particularly under President Spencer W. Kimball’s leadership, it came to mean scheduling five or six area conferences, one right after the other. This made the travel schedules more than hectic—they became absolutely strenuous.
When the area conference plans were announced for Asia in 1975, I became a little concerned and felt that someone should go along as a physician to the General Authorities, their wives, and other members of the group. There were quite a few people traveling together, and it seemed appropriate to have medical help available if needed. A recommendation was made and accepted to have a physician accompany those traveling to the various area conferences. In 1976, I was asked to go to Europe in this capacity.
From the very start of our journey, I was moved by President Kimball and Sister Kimball’s concern for the others traveling with them. When my wife and I boarded the airplane in Salt Lake City we took seats to the side and in back of President Kimball. A few minutes after the plane took off and the seat belt sign was turned off, President Kimball turned around and said to us, “Are you comfortable?” I was there to serve him and the others traveling with him, and yet he showed this concern for us. Throughout the entire trip, this great, kind, friendly man was always interested in the welfare of the people around him. We felt so comfortable traveling with him because of his warmth and graciousness.
After the first area conference in Paris, we traveled to Helsinki, Finland. President Kimball had been actively working now for three days. He was up early every morning, worked a very heavy schedule throughout the day, and then went to bed late at night. His responsibilities were greater than anyone else’s.
His job included not only presiding and conducting, but he spoke for long periods of time using a translator. He had held an exhausting press conference and had interviewed and set apart many local Church authorities. We boarded an airplane late in the evening for Helsinki. It was necessary to change planes in Copenhagen, and as we walked through the hallways of the airport, President Kimball carried a travel bag with his suits in it. I had a free hand and walked up and said, “President Kimball, let me carry that.” He turned and said, “No, thank you, I have to have a reason for being here.” He was almost serious in humbly expressing his desire to carry his own weight; he didn’t want to be a burden on anyone. I was impressed with that same beautiful attitude during the entire trip.
In Dortmund, Germany, during the last area conference on this trip, we stayed in an older, beautiful hotel. The manager was an austere, tall, straight, gray haired Prussian gentleman. He looked as if he could have been an officer in the army. On the second day after arriving at the hotel, the manager commented, speaking of President Kimball, “Every time that man walks through this lobby, I feel goose bumps all over me.” He felt the spirit that radiates from President Kimball. After making that remark, he was introduced to the prophet. President Kimball spoke with him briefly and gave him a family home evening manual. Arrangements were made for him to receive the missionary discussions.
The hotel manager was vividly influenced by that very brief contact with the living prophet. On the day we left, we boarded a bus in front of the hotel and drove around the block, passing the hotel again because of the one-way streets. As we passed the hotel, this handsome, stately gentleman was standing outside on the sidewalk waving good bye to President Kimball with his white handkerchief. It was significant that the hotel manager could feel the Spirit of the Lord just by watching our prophet walk through the hotel lobby. You know, President Kimball looks like any one of the rest of us. Some may not think that there is anything unusual about his appearance—but there is an unusual spirit that he carries with him.
After the Dortmund conference, while most of the group returned to the United States, President Kimball, President Tanner, and their wives, and a few others traveled to Bern, Switzerland. Here the two members of the First Presidency were busy for an additional day and a half in the Swiss Temple. They had been traveling now for 14 days while participating in the five area conferences. They had been going unceasingly when we boarded a bus at Bern to go to Zurich where we were to catch our flight to New York and then on to Salt Lake. I saw President Kimball’s exceptional enthusiasm in action again.
There had been 14 days of going, going, going, and in the 30 hours ahead, there would be no opportunity for the prophet to go to bed or really relax. On the bus, most of us leaned back in our seats and began to nap. I was seated behind President Kimball and expected that he would use the next hour for some well-deserved rest. We had not quite reached the autobahn when President Kimball stood up and made his way up the aisle to a jump seat next to the bus driver. As I sat in my seat feeling almost exhausted, our prophet, who had reason to be more tired than anyone else, couldn’t rest because there was a person on that bus who hadn’t been taught the gospel of Jesus Christ.
As I watched what happened, I had a feeling of guilt—I had been content to sit back and relax, but the prophet, realizing the transcending importance of missionary work, didn’t let weariness dampen his burning desire to share the gospel with others.
I wondered how he was going to talk with the bus driver who seemed to speak little English. President Kimball doesn’t speak German. Initially, there was some difficulty as they tried to speak to one another. After only a few minutes, however, the two of them were obviously quite able to understand each other. Now my worry was transferred from how they would communicate with each other to whether the bus driver, while glancing frequently at President Kimball, would be able to keep the bus on the road. It was clear that he understood and was interested in President Kimball’s sincere message. Their conversation continued until we reached the outskirts of Zurich when President Kimball returned to his seat.
When the bus pulled up at the Zurich airport, President Gary E. O’Brian, president of the Zurich Switzerland Mission, was waiting on the curb. President Kimball went to the door of the bus as it opened. He asked President O’Brian to step on the bus, and while shaking hands with him, said, “President O’Brian, this is Mr. _____. Will you promise me you will teach him the gospel?” President O’Brian said, “Yes, President.” And then President Kimball said, “Mr. _____, this is one of our mission presidents. Will you let him teach you the gospel of Jesus Christ?” The bus driver nodded his head and said he would.
This experience really taught me the importance of sharing the gospel. Our prophet is in close communication with our Heavenly Father and sees beyond the veil much more clearly than I do. He puts this degree of urgency on missionary work. Even when he has every reason to be tired, when sitting back and resting would seem to be a valid excuse for passing up a missionary opportunity, President Kimball continues to be a vigorous missionary. How can you or I do less than share the gospel with our families, our neighbors, our friends, and everyone else we meet?