Decades ago, President M. Russell Ballard eased into a soft chair at home to read the afternoon newspaper.
He wasn’t alone very long as his 5-year-old daughter soon settled on his lap.
“She was a talker and began chattering away,” he said, smiling. “I was replying with ‘uh huh, uh huh’ — because I was busy reading the paper.”
Suddenly, two little hands yanked down the newspaper.
“She put her hands on my face, looked me in the eye, and said, ‘Daddy, you’re not listening to me!’ And she was right.”
This key lesson taught by a child to a young father still remains with the now 89-year-old Acting President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.
“We all need to learn to listen to each other,” President Ballard taught during a Family Home Evening broadcast via Facebook Live on Sunday, May 20. This event was viewed by as many as one hundred thousand in Australia, New Zealand and other surrounding Pacific nations.
“Little children need to be listened to. Teenagers need to be listened to. Young single adults need to be listened to. We all need to listen to each other.”
This “focus-on-the-one” counsel was the foundation principle of President Ballard’s recent assignment to New Zealand and Australia on May 18-20.
With only three days in two countries — including a full slate of meetings and conferences — the veteran apostle was heard by multitudes due to the broad reach made possible by social media (such as Facebook Live).
“We were able to reach, via live broadcast, more members of the Church during this leadership conference assignment than I have ever done in my entire ministry,” he told the Church News.
The messages shared at each gathering by President Ballard and his companions — Elder Gary E. Stevenson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and Elder Carl B. Cook of the Presidency of the Seventy — centered on ministering as individuals and families, especially in the home.
Several local Latter-day Saints commented how the visiting Brethren seemed to share such customized messages for their personal lives and concerns.
“It was great to be able to bring the Apostles into my home,” wrote New Zealander Aaron Cuff. “It felt much more [like] a personal experience. President Ballard seemed so relatable.”
“We hoped to be able to be inside people’s living rooms (via live connections on Facebook) to help them feel how much we love them,” said President Ballard.
A ‘living room’ stretching across the Pacific
Originating from Sydney, Australia, the family home evening live broadcast via Facebook became a large and yet comfortable setting. Imagine a home evening for a family of many thousands.
Joining President Ballard, Elder Stevenson, and Elder Cook was Elder O. Vincent Haleck, Elder Craig A. Cardon and Elder Ian S. Ardern of the Pacific Area Presidency. Also participating were Sister Peggy Haleck, Sister Deborah Cardon and Sister Paula Ardern.
With President Ballard presiding in a grandfather-like role, each of the participants shared thoughts and experiences on a wide range of topics applicable to members anywhere in the world.
People tuning in “had the gospel delivered to their homes by the Acting President of the Quorum of the Twelve,” said Elder Stevenson. “We had a family discussion centered on the things you would want to talk about in a Family Home Evening. Things like how to get along as a family and how to love and minister to one another at home.”
Just as reading a newspaper once distracted him from his daughter as a young father, President Ballard warned that today’s devices can separate family members sitting around the same table.
Set aside the cell phone and other electronic devices each day. Strive to reconnect with family, friends, and especially the Lord on a regular basis.
“I’m not sure if any of us can really connect with heaven if we are so captured and occupied by technology,” he said.
Elder Cook said the Sunday evening broadcast delivered reassuring messages to all watching: “You matter. You are a daughter or a son of God. The Lord cares about you and the Lord’s servants care about you.”
The New Zealand/Australia assignment was quite demanding due to the travel schedule with many meetings being held in three short days. The Brethren participated in two leadership conferences in two different countries on the same day. One in Wellington, New Zealand and just a few hours later in Sydney, Australia. In addition, they met with hundreds of missionaries in three missions and presided at three special stake conferences on Sunday in the Sydney, Australia area.
Despite such a full schedule, Elder Cook said the visiting Brethren ensured they had time to speak with Church members “about things relevant to the family.”
President Ballard made everyone watching and listening feel at home, added Elder Haleck.
“What I heard most was how natural the conversation was amongst the participants. People could relate to what was said. ... The counsel was delivered in a loving and compassionate way.”
President Ballard encouraged those viewing the broadcast to pray and build their own personal relationship with the Lord. He also reminded them to not be too hard on themselves.
“Perfection is a process, it’s not an event,” he said. “There is no point in time when we say, ‘Ah hah, now I’m perfect!’ ”
Elder Stevenson taught, “Strive each day to be the best you can be.” He also invited members to focus first on the Lord and one’s family.
“A family can create a ministering environment that can truly bless the home and then those blessings expand outward,” he said.
Ministering in the Savior’s way
Elder Cook observed how President Ballard and Elder Stevenson kept the doctrine simple as they focused on Christ.
“They taught how to minister without forms and format,” he said. “They taught to minister as the Savior did.”
The topic of ministering remained the Apostles’ anchoring message when they met with the missionaries — their fellow “witnesses of Christ.”
An element of ministering which assists in hastening the work of salvation is when missionaries minister to the members, and when members to minister to the missionaries as well as the people they teach, said Elder Stevenson.
President Ballard reiterated the words of President Nelson in April 2018 general conference to “implement a newer, holier approach to caring for and ministering to others.”
In addition, President Ballard encouraged members to “stay in the boat and hang on.” There is strength that comes as people look out for one another.
“Love each other, forgive each other and help each other repent,” he said as the family home evening live broadcast concluded. “If there is something going on in your life that you should not be doing, stop it.
“Help each other get over the things holding us back from the peace and joy the gospel offers, especially in our homes.”