Boyd Matheson: President M. Russell Ballard inviting all to “come and see!”
Nov 16, 2023, 8:09 AM | Updated: 11:03 am
(Boyd Matheson/KSL NewsRadio)
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SALT LAKE CITY — In March of 2019, the 15 senior leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, including President M. Russell Ballard, gathered in Rome, Italy prior to the dedication of a new temple. The visitors’ center on the grounds of the temple includes replicas of Bertel Thorvaldsen’s majestic statue of Jesus Christ along with statues of the ancient apostles. It was to be the setting for a truly iconic and historic photo of Apostles and Prophets.
I watched the unassuming and ever-observing M. Russell Ballard, Acting President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, enter the visitors’ center and walk directly to the statue depicting the apostle Andrew. President Ballard stood there gazing at Andrew for a very long time. It was as if two good friends were reunited in their ministry. Two Apostles of the Savior Jesus Christ, two who had spent their days inviting all to “come and see”.
It was Andrew who invited his brother Peter to “come and see”. It was Andrew who introduced the centurion, in need of a miracle, to Jesus. It was Andrew who brought to Jesus the lad with the loaves and fishes that would feed the 5,000. Andrew was the great introducer.
Throughout his life and ministry, M. Russell Ballard was likewise the great introducer, connector and missionary — inviting individuals, organizations and the world to “come and see”.
President M. Russell Ballard as a great connector
Most great leaders are known for their ability to see far ahead and around corners. President Ballard possessed that vision on many important issues including the power of interfaith relationships, the importance of sacred art, the impact of counseling in councils, the influence of women in leadership and how to best lift those in physical, emotional or spiritual need.
President Ballard possessed another dimension of visionary leadership which is far less common — the ability to see the interconnectedness of individuals from history with the people of the present and the posterity in the future.
In many ways, President Ballard has been the great lynchpin and connecting link in the unfolding history of the Church of Jesus Christ from ancient Apostles in the meridian of time through the Smith family’s role in the Church’s restoration in upstate New York in the 1800s, to his nearly 50-year personal global ministry that came to an earthly end on Nov. 12, 2023. His vision could truly see beyond the years and will extend for generations to come.
As a special witness of Jesus Christ, he invited all to “come and see” the powerful principles exemplified in the lives of pioneers and prophets along with faithful followers of Jesus down through the ages.
President M. Russell Ballard’s visit to Vermont
Providing media coverage of President M. Russell Ballard’s visit to the Smith Family Farm and the birthplace of the Prophet Joseph Smith in Sharon, Vermont in October of 2019 was truly insightful. I saw his past, present and future vision in panoramic view as he invited all to “come and see” in word and deed.
The group traveling with President Ballard stayed at a small hotel not far from the Smith Family Farm. Before heading to the farm early one morning, most in the group explored the breakfast buffet, but not President Ballard. He was found in the lobby of the hotel speaking kindly and personally to the young clerk behind the counter, bearing his Apostolic witness of Jesus Christ and inviting her to “come and see”. (The Ballard children were used to “being late” because their father had stopped to share the “good news” of the gospel of Jesus Christ with a clerk, a waitress, a cab driver, or someone who happened to cross his path.)
Later that morning, in the Smith cottage, President Ballard let everyone “come and see” his connection to the past and present and his urgency to accelerate his ministry in the present and future during a recorded interview. He traced the trajectory of his family and ministry through great leaders and family members by describing three busts he has in his office in Salt Lake City.
Filled with immense emotion, President Ballard shared, “I’ve got the bust of Joseph F. Smith and Joseph and Hyrum, and I look at them and I think I hear them say, ‘Get going boy, do something worthwhile. Tell the world what’s happened’. I get nudged, big time, when I see them and see what they did, and what they gave… I feel obligated to do everything I can to declare and to teach that the fullness of the gospel of Jesus Christ is once again upon the earth.”
President Ballard’s urgent drive to “tell the world what’s happened” and to “come and see” carried him to the far corners of the planet as a world religious leader where he met with members of the Church as well as with business, government, faith and philanthropic leaders in countless countries.
His last invitation
I caught a glimpse of President Ballard’s fierce determination to invite the world to come and see one last time just prior to the Church’s October 2023 General Conference. On the Tuesday before the conference, I followed him to the Conference Center where he would do a walk-through of his talk. His eyesight had grown increasingly dim and cloudy. His prophetic and apostolic vision, however, was never more clear. While using a teleprompter proved impossible — and even large font bullet points on paper were pointless — President Ballard had a point of view to share, a testimony to declare and a message to deliver.
He took my arm at one point and commented, “Boyd, it is hard to go blind.”
I simply replied, “President Ballard, you have been teaching the world how to walk by faith and not by sight for 50 years. This should be easy for you.”
On Sunday morning, this venerable apostle stood to speak before the vast gathering in the Conference Center and, not ironically, to the unseen millions around the world who tuned in by radio, television and the internet.
With perfect 360-degree vision of past, present and future he declared:
“For 50 years, brothers and sisters, I’ve had the privilege to cover the world in my assignment, as a general authority of the Church. It’s been a wonderful blessing… I’ve met with members of The Church all over the world. Oh, how I love you. What a glorious experience that’s been—to look into your faces, be in your presence, and feel your love that you have for the Lord and for the Restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
With history’s 20/20 hindsight, prophetic insight and visionary foresight, President Ballard concluded, “I leave you my witness and testimony that I know that Jesus is the Christ. He is our Savior, our Redeemer. He is our best friend.”
In the echo of his final Apostolic declaration, I could hear again President Ballard’s lifelong invitation, “Come and see!”