Serving a mission itself was a challenge. Even though the Depression was under way and relatively few young men were serving missions, 1st Ward Bishop John C. Duncan urged him to consider a mission.
President Hinckley discussed it with his Liberty Stake president father, his mother having died three years earlier from cancer. The family was facing challenges, financially and in every other way.
"Nevertheless I remember my father saying, 'We will do all we can to see that your needs are met,'" President Hinckley recalled in an Ensign interview after he was sustained as prophet, "and he and my brother committed to see me through my mission. It was at that time we discovered a little savings account my mother had left change saved from her grocery purchases and other shopping.
"With that little bit of help added, it appeared I could go on my mission," said President Hinckley, who had graduated from the University of Utah the year before and was earning money to attend Columbia University to continue his journalism studies. "To me, that money was sacred."
His farewell was June 11, 1933, and he was on his way to England by the end of the month.
He was sent first to Preston in Lancashire, where then-Elder Hinckley found some of the discouragement common to missionaries facing new circumstances in a new land.
As he went to his first street meeting in that impoverished mill town in the north of England, he recalled: "I was terrified. I stepped up on that little stand and looked at that crowd of people that had gathered. They were dreadfully poor at that time in the bottom of the Depression. They looked rather menacing and mean, but I somehow stumbled through whatever I had to say.
"We didn't get anywhere," he recalled in August 1995 at a Liverpool fireside during his first international trip as prophet. "To get people to listen to us was like knocking on a brick wall; they were bitter.
"I wrote home to my father and said, 'I'm not doing any good here. I am just wasting my time and your money. I don't see any point in staying here."'
The answer came: "Dear Gordon. I have your letter. ... I have only one suggestion. Forget yourself and go to work. With love, Your Father."
President Hinckley said of that moment, "I pondered his response and then the next morning in our scripture class we read that great statement of the Lord: 'For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel's, the same shall save it.'
"I got on my knees in that little bedroom and made a pledge that I would try to give myself unto the Lord.
"The whole world changed," he said. "The fog lifted. The sun began to shine in my life. I had a new interest. I saw the beauty of this land. I saw the greatness of the people. I began to feel at home in this wonderful land.
"Everything that has happened to me since that's been good I can trace to that decision made in that little house ... in Preston, Lancashire."
Recalled companion Wendell J. Ashton: "We didn't baptize many people in London in those days, but Elder Hinckley was a knockout in those street meetings on Hyde Park corner. I can promise you we learned to speak quickly on our feet. And Elder Hinckley was the best of the bunch.
"I have always thought that he gained tremendous firsthand experience there in London's Hyde Park doing what he would so skillfully do for the rest of his life defend the church and speak up courageously of its truths."
Another effect from his mission came when he was church president, as he stressed the need for increased emphasis on fellowshipping new converts.
In 1998, he returned to Lancashire to dedicate the Preston Temple. Often in his talks, he tearfully reminisced about his "walking the soil of Lancashire as a missionary."
Copyright 2015, Deseret News Publishing Company