Bishop Gary E. Stevenson: Gospel service a sacred legacy
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Witnessing the death, damage and destruction caused by last year's historic natural disaster in Japan was a life-altering experience for Bishop Gary E. Stevenson and his wife, Sister Lesa Stevenson. The Stevensons were, at once, terribly saddened by the heavy toll that was exacted by such cataclysmic events — but also uplifted by the sustaining comfort and support the Lord offered through His Church and its members.
"We witnessed the gospel of Jesus Christ in action," said Bishop Stevenson, who was presiding over the Asia North Area when the March 11, 2011, catastrophe struck. "We saw the way the Lord provides for those who have been adversely affected by natural disasters. ... And we felt the compassion of the First Presidency, the Quorum of the Twelve and the Presiding Bishopric for both the members of the Church and for those who were not members of the Church in a very generous humanitarian offering."
The couple also watched as scores of members and missionaries in Japan worked together, providing tens of thousands of service hours to help ease the suffering of those affected by the quake, tsunami and subsequent nuclear disaster. The spiritual principles of the gospel, they said, were evident through the temporal assistance of the Lord's Church and its members.
"When these things happen, we have faith in Jesus Christ and His Atonement and know there will be a compensating influence that allows people to deal with the burdens they have been given," he said.
The memory of the Japanese disaster — and the spiritual and humanitarian response of the Church — will likely remain at the forefront of Bishop Stevenson's mind as he serves as the Church's 14th Presiding Bishop. The Cache County, Utah, native was sustained to head up the Presiding Bishopric on March 31 during general conference, four years after his calling to the Seventy.
As a lifelong admirer of bishops (his father, Evan N. Stevenson, was the bishop of his youth), Bishop Stevenson is quick to speak of his appreciation for his counselors in the Presiding Bishopric — Bishop Gérald Caussé and Bishop Dean M. Davies — and his gratitude for their collective predecessors — Bishop H. David Burton, Bishop Richard C. Edgley and Bishop Keith B. McMullin.
"We see comments from around the world from people expressing their appreciation and love for all Bishop Burton has done, along with Bishop Edgley and Bishop McMullin," Elder Stevenson told the Church News. "Bishop Burton's example in teaching and practicing principles of welfare — caring for the poor and needy; building principles of self-reliance — is one of the hallmarks of his leadership."
The Stevensons also acknowledge that they have been the beneficiaries of good examples throughout their lives. Young Gary Stevenson was raised in northern Utah where he learned from his family the importance of serving others. Missionary work was a long-established family priority. So after finishing high school, he accepted a call to serve a mission to Japan. There he developed a love for Asia that served him well during ecclesiastical assignments in that region of the world as a mission president and as a General Authority.
After returning from his mission, he would meet Lesa Jean Higley, an Idaho native, in an LDS institute class at Utah State University. They developed a friendship that evolved into a courtship. The two were married on Aug. 20, 1979, in the Idaho Falls Temple, and would go on to raise four sons in Cache Valley. There Bishop Stevenson would co-found and operate a business in the health and fitness industry.
Despite the demands of family and profession, Bishop Stevenson always made time to serve in the Church. He would accept callings as a bishop and as a counselor in a stake presidency. In 2004, he was called to preside over the Japan Nagoya Mission. Sister Stevenson joined him as his missionary companion.
The 2008 call to the Seventy offered the Stevensons an opportunity to again serve full-time together in the Church — and again in Asia. Returning to the Far East helped Sister Stevenson recognize the unity found in congregations throughout the Church.
"We discovered our capacity to love so many people instantly — like we had known them forever," she said. "It didn't matter where we were — whether we were in Japan, Korea, or, say, in the islands of Micronesia — we just felt a love and bond wherever we were."
As Bishop Stevenson considers his new calling, he marvels at the perfect compatibility that exists between the spiritual principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ and the temporal practices of the Church of Jesus Christ. The gospel, he said, provides spiritual direction. The Church is the framework that's built to follow that direction.
"We see the remarkable way in which the outgoing Presiding Bishopric has been able to build that temporal framework, and we feel both overwhelmed and blessed to know that we also will be directing our efforts to continue to build that temporal framework, even as we receive direction from the First Presidency and living prophets."
Through her gospel service, Sister Stevenson has learned that it's the Lord Who is in charge of His Church. "We have a loving Heavenly Father Who takes care of us and knows our needs and shows us that He loves us," she said. "He knows better than us what we need. Things will always work out."
Gary E. Stevenson is humbled to once again answer to "Bishop" Stevenson. He knows well the essential, shepherding role bishops play in the spiritual and temporal lives of members throughout the Church.
"The bishops of the Church are really my heroes," he said. "Every single day they are providing such an impact upon members of the Church, particularly children and young men and young women. I look back with fondness upon the bishops that I had when I was a child and young man and I recognize their deep service."
Bishop Stevenson turns to James 1:27 as a reminder of the charge accepted by him and bishops everywhere: "Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world."
Family: Born Aug. 6, 1955, in Cache Valley, Utah, to Evan Noel and Vera Jean Hall Stevenson. Married Lesa Jean Higley in the Idaho Falls Temple on April 20, 1979. Parents of four sons: Craig (Tiffany), Bryan (Errin), Brett and Kyle. Four grandchildren.
Education: Bachelor's degree in business administration from Utah State University, 1979.
Employment: Co-founder, president and chief operating officer of Icon Health & Fitness, Inc. (1977-2008)
Community service: BYU Marriott School of Business National Advisory Council; Utah State University Foundation Board; Executive Board of the Trapper Trails Council — Boy Scouts of America.
Church service: First Quorum of the Seventy (2008-2012); president and counselor in the Asia North Area Presidency; president of the Japan Nagoya Mission, 2004-2007; counselor in stake presidency; bishop; counselor in bishopric; missionary in the Japan Fukuoka Mission.