M. Russell Ballard serves as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. But he was also a car salesman who had the nickname of “the bishop” in college because his friends knew that no matter the circumstance, he would always stay true to his standards (“M. Russell Ballard”). In this biography of M. Russell Ballard, read the stories from his life about his leadership experiences, his missionary efforts, and his reliance on the spirit.
General Authority at the Movies
Even though his grandfather died when he was ten years old, Russ still has precious memories of this man who was an apostle for the Church. Russell remembers a time when his grandfather took him to the movie theater. But when the lights dimmed and the movie started, Russ’s grandfather promptly fell asleep. He slept very noisily, and Russell had to wake him up at the end of the movie. Young Russ could not understand how anyone could fall asleep during a Walt Disney movie.
Years later, when Russell was a General Authority himself, he took his family to the movies. When the lights dimmed and the movie started, Russell fell asleep. His children could not understand how anyone could fall asleep during Star Wars (When Thou Art Converted).
Chemistry and Gospel Lessons
When Russ was in high school, he remembers taking a chemistry class. One day, they worked on a lab and he and his partner were following the instructions to the letter. They mixed all of the ingredients and applied a match to the test tube. But while the other tubes in the class had burned like they were supposed to, Russell’s exploded and shot the bottom of the tube across the classroom and into the wall. His teacher ran over to them yelling, “Boys, boys, what have you done?”
So years later, when Russell’s daughter came to him asking for help understanding the material for an upcoming chemistry test, he told her this story and said, “Sweetheart, to this day, I don’t know what we did wrong. And you expect me to be able to help you with chemistry? We are in real trouble.”
Russell instead suggested that they pray and ask God for help on the test. A few days later, Russell’s daughter came to him and excitedly announced that not only had she passed the chemistry test, but had done well on it. However, she said that she still did not understand the material any better than she had before she took the test. Russell said, “Sweetheart, you might not know any more about chemistry, but you know a lot more about your Heavenly Father” (When Thou Art Converted).
“Teach the Gospel”
Russell was called to serve his mission in England and traveled there with a group of 14 other missionaries. They went to London and met with the mission president. The mission president decided to take the young missionaries to Hyde Park for a street meeting and have two of them speak at it. Russell was sure that out of the 14 missionaries, he wouldn’t be picked to speak. He was wrong.
When he moved to step up to the stand, his mission president took his arm and said only one thing: “Teach the gospel.” Russell went up and said everything he knew about the principle of baptism. This speech only lasted a short 45 seconds and was not very effective.
When Russell stepped off of the stand, he realized that, “You have a lot of work to do. You have a lot of learning to do. You have a lot of preparation to do in order to accomplish the purpose for which your Heavenly Father has sent you to England.” Throughout his mission, Russell worked hard to learn and teach the gospel (When Thou Art Converted).
Challenge to the Saints
Russell served as a member of the Seventy and in the October 1980 General Conference, he gave a challenge to members of the Church. He asked them to share the gospel with nonmembers or those inactive in the gospel. Russell promised members that he would help them keep this commitment, “write to me when your time has come for some additional help. Send me the name of the person you seek to rescue, and I’ll write a letter of encouragement to him.”
Russell did just that. He wrote over 600 personal letters to nonmembers and inactive members in order to help them build a testimony. Many of the recipients were very touched by his words and wrote back to him. One person wrote, “I feel that your letter was the real beginning of this fantastic change in my life, and I thank you from the bottom of my heart” (Ensign article “Elder M. Russell Ballard: True to the Faith”).
Courtship and Marriage
First Meeting Barbara
Just three short days after returning from his mission in England, Russell met his future wife. He was at the University of Utah’s Hello Day Dance, and a friend of his thought Russell should meet Barbara Bowen. He introduced them, and Russell and Barbara started to dance.
However this dance was a tag dance and you could only dance with someone until you were tagged out. Barbara was popular, so Russell was tagged after dancing with her for about 30 seconds. He says that this was the beginning of their 11 month courtship (“M. Russell Ballard” ; General Conference talk “Following Up”).
Russell had learned the importance of following up from his mission, and did just that with Barbara. He called her the day after the dance for a date, but she was so busy with school and other activities that she didn’t have the time to go out with Russell. “Thankfully, my mission taught me to be persistent even in the face of discouragement, and I was eventually able to make a date” (General Conference talk “Following Up”).
Russell knew that he wanted to marry Barbara from the very beginning. However, she wasn’t quite as confident as he was in this venture. “It was a little hard convincing her,” Russell says. He often jokes that “getting her to agree to marry me was the greatest sales job I ever did” (“M. Russell Ballard”).
Voice of the Spirit
Lessons From Trials
Russell worked at, and eventually owned, his father’s car dealership in Salt Lake City. Ford Motor Company approached Russell with a brand new car they were confident would revolutionize the industry: an Edsel. They wanted Russell to become a dealer for the Edsel, but Russell wasn’t so sure. He was already doing well with the lines he had been selling; then again, the Edsel could be the biggest business opportunity of his life.
Russell decided to pray about the decision. When Ford showed him the car for the first time, Russell received the impression, “Do not sign the franchise.” Russell did not doubt the prompting from the Spirit. But Ford Motor Company gave him some time to think about the decision, and when they approached him again, they were even more persuasive than before and convinced Russell to sign with the Edsel (Our Search For Happiness).
At first, Russell did very well and his Salt Lake City dealership soon became the most successful in the country. Ford Motor Company even invited him to Detroit to teach other dealers how to see the same results with their own dealerships. However, the success was short-lived and the Edsel became one of the biggest failures in the industry. Dealers across the country lost millions of dollars because of that car.
Even though it would take years for Russell to help his dealership recover from the Edsel fiasco, he did learn some important lessons from the experience. For one, always obey promptings from the Spirit. He also learned to have compassion for others:
The first part of my business career it seemed like everything worked. I was a little intolerant, I think, of those who were having trouble in business. But then I had trouble, and that helped me gain an empathy and understanding for people who struggle similarly.
To me, failure is only when you quit trying. If you keep working at a task and try to do what’s right and honest, ultimately it works out.
Russell would help his dealership recover and become a successful businessman once again. He also became stronger spiritually through this trial (Ensign article “Elder M. Russell Ballard: True to the Faith”).
“I heard it speak through you.”
Russell once heard a young woman speak of her older sister who was going through a very difficult pregnancy due to several health issues. This woman had always had difficult pregnancies and once gave birth to a stillborn child. Russell sympathized with the woman and wished there was something he could do for her. While reading his scriptures that evening, he received the impression to go visit her.
Russell and Barbara knocked on the door of the woman’s home, and when her husband answered, Russell told him, “I don’t know for sure why I’m here, except that I had a strong prompting that I need to see your wife.” The husband didn’t think she would see Russell because she had been feeling so ill that she hadn’t seen anyone, but Russell insisted saying, “Please just tell her that we’re here and why we’re here.”
Even though she was weak and in a lot of pain, the woman agreed to meet with them. Along with the difficult pregnancy, she was suffering from a severe case of shingles and blood platelet levels that were so low that her life and her unborn child’s were at risk.
Russell told her that the Lord had sent him to give her a blessing. She later wrote to Russell saying, “I know the Spirit of the Lord was there, Brother Ballard. I felt it. I heard it speak through you. . . . It gave me the strength to faithfully endure and accomplish a task that seemed impossible. After the blessing I knew in my heart that we would be blessed with a healthy baby,” and they were (Our Search For Happiness).
A Leader in the Church
From Jeep to Church
Russell had been called as the Priest Quorum Adviser and was trying to encourage an inactive young man to return back to church. So far, his efforts had had no success. Russell prayed about this young man and received the impression that if he rode in the young man’s jeep, then Russell would be able to reach out to him.
Though this was an unusual suggestion, Russell obeyed it and asked the young man if he would take Russell for a ride in his jeep. The young man’s eyes lit up, and he asked Russell where he wanted to go. Russell said that anywhere was fine. He soon realized his mistake of not suggesting a destination when they headed for the hills. The jeep bumped along over the rough terrain and Russell swallowed a lot of dust in the process.
They returned to the young man’s home and Russell told him that he would pick him up for priesthood meeting at 7:45 tomorrow. When he returned the next day, the young man’s father told Russell that his son was still asleep. Russell told the father to wake him up. When the mother came to the door, Russell also told her to wake her son or, if she didn’t want to, to tell Russell where the young man was sleeping so he could wake him up himself.
Though the beginnings were unorthodox, Russell and the young man became friends and soon he was active in the Church once more (When Thou Art Converted).
“You can’t give up. You can’t quit.”
When Russell was called to be a counselor in the bishopric, he was given the task of finding a new Scoutmaster. Russell poured over the ward roster again and again, searching for an active member who could fill the calling. The only problem was that all of the active members of the ward already had callings. Russell prayed and fasted for a solution to this dilemma, receiving the impression that an inactive member of the ward should be the new Scoutmaster.
The bishop protested against this because of the man’s inactivity, but Russell insisted. They visited the man and extended the calling. He was very surprised and asked to have a few days to think about it. When they returned to him, he said that he did not think he could accept the calling. Russell told him that the boys in the ward needed to know about scouting. The man said, “Do you think I could really do it?” Russell responded, “I know you can.”
The man started his calling and everything went well for a few weeks. Then he spoke with Russell and asked to be released because he had broken the Word of Wisdom. Russel told him:
You can’t give up. You can’t quit. You can’t destroy the confidence of those boys. You can’t let your wife down. You can’t let yourself down. You can’t let the bishop down. You can’t let me down. You made a mistake; just do not do it again.
The man stayed with his calling and the gospel. Later he became bishop of the ward (When Thou Art Converted).
A Testimony Building a Church
Russell was called to be the bishop of a ward that was getting a brand new meetinghouse. The building was nearly finished, but the ward still needed to pay 30,000 dollars for its completion. However, the ward consisted of young families who struggled to provide for themselves, let along donate money to pay for their new meetinghouse.
Russell fasted and prayed about how to obtain the 30,000 dollars. At a priesthood meeting one morning, he felt impressed to share the testimony of his grandfather from the day he was called as an apostle. His grandfather had told the First Presidency of a vision he’d had years earlier. He had seen Christ and felt His love:
The feeling that came to my heart then was: Oh! If I could live worthy . . . so that in the end when I have finished I could go into His presence and receive the feeling that I then had in His presence, I would give everything that I am or ever hope to be!
The testimony of Russell’s grandfather touched the hearts of the members of his ward. Families poured into Russell’s office to offer money for the building. By the end of the day, Russell had the 30,000 dollars needed, because the members of the ward recognized the cause they were sacrificing for (General Conference talk “The Blessings of Sacrifice”).
Blessing in His Life
Flight and Prayer
Russell remembers a time when a friend was flying him from Reno, Nevada to San Rafael, California in a twin-engine Aztec airplane. The sky filled with low, dense clouds and soon they could not see anything. The friend had to rely on his instruments alone to guide the plane and became very nervous as he tried to remember everything he could about instrument flying.
Their situation soon became perilous and out of control. Russell’s friend did not know if the plane would run into anything or even if they were flying right side up. Russell prayed for help. He prayed that his friend would remember instrument flying and he offered himself to the Lord to be whatever the He needed him to be. Soon, Russell’s friend was able to contact an Air Force Base and gain assistance (New Era article “Lead Them to Safety”).
Treasures in Heaven
Once, Russell went on a business trip to Mexico with three associates; one was a billionaire and the other two were millionaires. They flew on a private jet, and the rich men discussed multi-million dollar business deals they had pulled off. When they asked Russell what he did, he said, “After listening to the three of you talk, I guess I don’t do very much at all.” They chuckled, but did not disagree with him.
The billionaire spoke some more and it soon became apparent that the most important thing in his life was to make more money. However, Russell sensed that “beneath that collection of materialism was a foundation of unhappiness that comes from spiritual deprivation.”
When Russell came home, he told Barbara:
Honey, we may not have much money or the other things that some people think are so important. But I have a feeling that of the four men on that plane, I was the happiest and, in a way, the richest. I have blessings that money simply cannot buy. And I have the satisfaction of knowing that the things that are most important to me—you, our family, and my love of God—can endure forever.
Russell learned that happiness does not come from the temporal things of the world, but from eternal treasures (Our Search For Happiness).
After He Was Called An Apostle
M. Russell Ballard has given his time to church leadership positions for much of his life. When he was only a 21-year-old missionary, he served as the first counselor of the British Mission. He has also served as a bishop, presided over the Canada Toronto Mission, been a member of the First Quorum of the Seventy, and served on the presidency for the First Quorum of the Seventy.
In his career, M. Russell Ballard has worked in the sales business in the automotive industry, real estate, and investment business. He and Barbara raised seven children (“M. Russell Ballard”). On October 6, 1985, He was called as an apostle for the Quorum of the Twelve (“Elder M. Russell Ballard”).
M. Russell Ballard has taught the importance of missionary work in our lives. In his General Conference talk, “Be Anxiously Engaged,” he says:
In your morning prayer each new day, ask Heavenly Father to guide you to recognize an opportunity to serve one of His precious children. Then go throughout the day with your heart full of faith and love, looking for someone to help. . . . If you do this, your spiritual sensitivities will be enlarged and you will discover opportunities to serve that you never before realized were possible.
M. Russell Ballard has been such an example of a missionary throughout his life as he relies on the spirit to guide him to those who need the gospel.
To learn more about M. Russell Ballard, check out his Facebook Page or visit the links below.