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Photo by Linda J. Purnell
Elder M. Russell Ballard shakes hands with missionaries during his visit to Edmonton, Canada, on June 10.

Nearly a century after his grandfather Elder Melvin J. Ballard visited Church members living in the Alberta, Canada, area as part of his ministry as an apostle, Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles traveled to the same area on assignment to teach and visit with Church members living in the Edmonton area.

Located in a part of the world that has a temple, a mission and many multigenerational members of the Church — the first ward was established in 1888 — Elder Ballard’s message reminded Church members to live the gospel, repent and “be kind.”

“There is safety in living the gospel,” Elder Ballard said. “There is safety in the Book of Mormon. There is safety in not listening to what’s on the blogs.”

Joining Elder Ballard in his travels on June 10-11 were Elder Wilford W. Andersen, General Authority Seventy, and his wife, Sister Kathleen B. Andersen.

“The Church presence is strong in Edmonton,” Elder Andersen said. “The meetings were well attended. They filled the chapels and had more participating through video conferences.”

During the visit, the leaders met with missionaries, held a special meeting for members of ward and stake councils, held two stake conferences and a youth devotional.

Like the Church, Elder Ballard’s association with Canada goes back for generations.

“Elder Ballard has a special love for Canada, and for the Canadian saints,” said Elder Andersen. “He served there with Sister Ballard as a mission president many years ago.”

In 1974, he was called to preside over the Canada Toronto Mission, while accompanied by his wife, Sister Barbara B. Ballard.

His grandfather, Elder Melvin J. Ballard, who was a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles from 1919 to 1939, often visited Church members in Alberta. Although traveling from Utah to Canada was long and hard — especially when done during the snowy, cold winter season — Elder Melvin J. Ballard often volunteered to visit the Canadian Latter-day Saints. He became known as the “Canadian apostle” by many of the Canadian members of the Church.

In his time as an apostle, Elder M. Russell Ballard has responded to the assignment to travel to Canada many times. One experience he had 16 years ago impacted his most recent visit.

In 2001, Elder Ballard was visiting Raymond, Alberta, in celebration of the town’s 100th birthday on July 1. While there, the apostle visited with Cindy and Christopher Smith.

The Smiths were expecting their first child and had learned several months earlier that their son was to be born with a severe form of spina bifida — a failure of the spinal cord to close during its development.

“The future for us and our son felt very uncertain at the time, as we did not know the extent and severity of the difficulties he would have,” the Smiths recently recalled in a letter written to Elder Ballard.

The apostle gave Cindy a blessing, giving her and her husband comfort that “whatever transpired would be the will of the Lord.”

Years later at a stake conference on June 11 during his most recent visit in Edmonton, Elder Ballard was able to greet Sister Smith, her son Nathan, who was sitting in his wheelchair at the back of the chapel, and the Smiths’ other children. Brother Smith watched from the choir seats.

“Nathan was absolutely thrilled to have the opportunity to shake Elder Ballard’s hand and excitedly tell him, ‘You gave me a blessing a long time ago when I was in my mom’s tummy.’ … Elder Ballard was very kind and took the time to listen to Nathan share this with him,” the Smiths wrote in a letter to Elder Ballard. “He was very encouraging and positive with Nathan, and we all left with a tremendous amount of love and gratitude in our hearts.”

During the special youth devotional in Alberta, nearly 1,000 youth and their parents gathered to hear the apostle speak.

“As he spoke to the young men and young women, he connected with them because they felt his love,” Elder Andersen said.

Elder G. Lawrence Spackman, Area Seventy, said Elder Ballard’s visit was “inspiring” as he ministered to all people, “wherever he saw children of God.”

“On this trip, I saw his example of how he ‘walked the talk,’ ” Elder Spackman said. “I was amazed at how easily he used every opportunity with people to introduce the gospel.”

Elder Spackman said the moment Elder Ballard walked off the plane, he was focused on getting his first referral for the missionaries.

“He talked to the lady who was helping us, told her who we were, invited her to learn more, pulled out a copy of a book he had written, signed it, gave it to her and told her to show the signature to the missionaries when they taught her. [He] then called over … the mission president and introduced him and asked him to send the missionaries to her. That was just the first example where he showed how to do what I always pray to be able to do.”

Elder Andersen added, “Elder Ballard has a great missionary heart. He preached with power as he loved and lifted the Canadian Saints, and he left Canada with a pocket full of referrals for the missionaries.”

mholman@desnews.com @marianne_holman

The LDS Church News is an official publication of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The publication's content supports the doctrines, principles and practices of the Church.