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Contributed By Jason Swensen, Church News assistant editor
Editor’s note: The following is the third in a Church News series on the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. See the related links for the previous article.
While serving in the Presidency of the Seventy, Elder Ulisses Soares often traveled with members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles—men he now counts as fellow Apostles.
“Many times I watched them travel all night and arrive at their destination. They would take a quick shower, change clothes, and then head to meetings with the members,” he said.
The Apostles’ near-breakneck schedule lifted Elder Soares and the members to whom they were ministering. “It gave us,” he said, “what we did not have.”
Elder Ulisses Soares and his wife, Sister Rosana Soares, speak to missionaries in Tacloban, Philippines, in September 2017. Photo by Sarah Jane Weaver, Deseret News.
But crazy schedules aside, traveling members of Twelve almost always find an hour here or there to be with the local full-time missionaries. The two groups, they say, enjoy an eternal kinship testifying of Christ.
A sacred, symbiotic union
The Apostles and the Church’s 65,000-plus full-time missionaries share a sacred, even symbiotic, relationship. Each depends upon the other to fulfill their divinely issued call to share the gospel.
As a key element of the Church News’s ongoing series about the apostleship, several members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles spoke of their unique connection and love for the missionaries.
Consider the Savior’s defining charge to His Apostles of old: “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved” (Mark 16:15–16).
Go Ye Therefore (Go Ye Therefore, and Teach All Nations), by artist Harry Anderson. (See Matthew 28:16–20.)
Now dissect the Lord’s instructions in those two biblical verses: leave home and go out into the world, share the gospel with everyone, and then teach baptism. Each instruction could aptly be called divine “marching orders” issued to the Apostles—both ancient and latter-day—and to full-time missionaries alike.
In following that command, the Twelve are “righteously engaged” in missionary work and delivering the message of the gospel, said President M. Russell Ballard, Acting President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.
“Whenever we have time, we assemble with the missionaries,” he said. “We meet with them. We let them ask questions. We try to help them find, teach, baptize, and retain our Heavenly Father’s children.”
Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles chairs the Church’s Missionary Executive Council. Sitting atop his office desk is a small bronze sculpture of a missionary companionship peddling furiously on bicycles, perhaps rushing to a teaching appointment.
Whenever he studies that bronze piece, he is reminded of the unbreakable connection between the Apostles and the missionaries. Both groups are following Christ’s direction to share the gospel’s good news. “That’s why missionary work is so important to what we do—we all go out into the world and proclaim the gospel.”
For full-time missionaries, an hour or two spent with a visiting Apostle is a mission highlight worthy of several journal entries. Even listening to the Apostles speak at general conference on television or perhaps online makes for nourishing spiritual sustenance.
Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, center, and his wife, Sister Harriet Uchtdorf, right, greet volunteers from the Russia Moscow Mission on April 24, 2018.
But members of the Twelve are quick to add that they too are uplifted whenever they are in the company of missionaries.
“Part of the reason for that is the spirit that radiates from the missionaries and the joy we feel when we are together,” said Elder D. Todd Christofferson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. “The missionaries are so devoted and committed that the Spirit comes easily.
“As I say to them frequently, we see the full-time missionaries as our companions.”
Elder D. Todd Christofferson greets missionaries in Cordoba during a visit to the South America South Area in February of 2018.
Elder Gerrit W. Gong, a recently called Apostle, calls it “a privilege” to meet with the missionaries who share his responsibility to “represent and testify” of the Savior and His restored gospel.
The Apostles and missionaries, he added, also testify of the prophetic call of Joseph Smith, whose name would be known, according to prophecy, “for good and evil.”
“The missionaries help fulfill that prophecy every day as they testify of the Savior and the Prophet Joseph Smith—and the work he has done with the Restoration.”
Elder Gong greets missionaries in El Salvador during a March 2018 visit to Honduras and Nicaragua with Elder Quentin L. Cook.
“Companions” in the work
The Lord remains the guiding director of missionary work. He authorizes His living Apostles, who often serve on the Missionary Executive Council, to communicate His desires to the full-time missionaries laboring in the field.
Such administrative duties go beyond simply “running the organization,” said Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve. The Apostles hold priesthood keys for the gathering of Israel.
“We are providing spiritual oversight and direction so that the work is performed in the way that the Lord wants it,” he said.
Elder David A. Bednar greets missionaries in Recife, Brazil, during a March 2018 visit.
The word apostle comes from a Greek word meaning “to be sent,” explained Elder Dale G. Renlund of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. And, in apostle-like manner, the missionaries “are sent” across the globe to teach Christ’s gospel.
“In fact, it is the Twelve, exercising the keys that they have, who assign them to missions,” said Elder Renlund. “And so we send them.”
Joseph Smith once said, “After all that has been said, the greatest and most important duty is to preach the gospel.” The Apostles and the full-time missionaries are “joined at the hip” in this most important endeavor, said Elder Renlund.
“We are companions with the missionaries, and they are companions with us,” he said.
And just as a full-time missionary depends upon his or her companion, the Apostles depend upon the missionaries.
Consider the First Presidency and the Twelve, said Elder Christofferson. Those two groups consist of only 15 men. “So we find people and ask them to devote their time—for 18 months or two years—in helping us accomplish this great commission,” he said.
Like Paul of Old, today’s Apostles prayerfully delegate their duties to share the gospel with others, said Elder Uchtdorf. “Every one of those 65,000 missionaries are performing a sacred service and are called by the Lord with a letter from the prophet of God to be representatives of the Savior.
“They are the extended arm of the Twelve.”
Ultimately, the connection between the Apostles and the missionaries goes deeper than mere callings and assignment. Their companionship is rooted in respect, fondness, and love as fellow servants in the gospel.
Sometimes members of the Twelve find themselves ministering to missionaries in need.
Elder Neil L. Andersen recently learned of a struggling missionary assigned to a South American mission. The young elder’s family was in crisis. He wanted to go home. Prompted by an impression that the missionary should remain, Elder Andersen worked late hours counseling with local leaders and a member of the Area Presidency who were working closely with the missionary.
The young missionary was facing challenges, but he knew he was loved. An Apostle was praying for his success and well-being. “Certain things are put in front of us to help save others in a spiritual way, or bless them in a physical way,” said Elder Andersen. “It’s a very real power.”
The unique yet similar callings shared by the Apostles and the full-time missionaries edifies all. “I think every member of the Twelve feels that being with the missionaries is one of the most exciting things we do,” said Elder Renlund.
Elder Neil L. Andersen greets missionaries at the Auckland New Zealand MTC during a March 2018 visit to the area.
Elder Gary E. Stevenson speaks with missionaries during a meeting in Taichung, Taiwan, during a 10-day tour of the Asia Area March 9–19.
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland greets missionaries individually on the occasion of a meeting in Malaga, Spain, September 16, 2017.
President M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles speaks with missionaries offering service to victims of Hurricane Harvey in Houston, Texas.
Elder Quentin L. Cook greets missionaries in Honduras during a February 2018 visit.
Elder Ronald A. Rasband greets missionaries in the Philippines during a February 2018 visit.