Tales from the Archives: Mission President?!

Imagine coming off your mission, and later getting called back, but as Mission President. Oh, and it’s only a few years later, so… you’re a 26 yr-old Mission President. Also, your mission territory includes “China, India, Burma, Indonesia, the Philippines, Taiwan, Singapore, Thailand, and the Pacific Islands.” That was the experience of Grant Heaton. Heaton recounts his teenage mission call experience.

“I had been interviewed by Elder McConkie for a mission call, he told me I could go to Denmark for two years. No call came. I assumed all the bad, bad things I did while at Valley High had caught up with me. I spent my savings on a car. The next day I received a letter from President George Albert Smith asking if I would go to China for FOUR years. I immediately considered that I would not. Denmark was just fine for me, and two years was also just fine.”

It was not “just fine” and Heaton becomes one of the first missionaries in Hong Kong, who manages to study the language at Berkley while a missionary.

“When we arrived, President Robertson told us that we should not bother to look at the calendar, because ‘four years would go like six,’ so it didn’t really matter.”

Heaton’s mission companion was a 32-yr old married man who had left his son at home with his wife. Heaton serves, comes home. Several apostles repeatedly consult him about Asia. He gets called in for another meeting. They visit. Steven L. Richards comes in, asks if he could go to Hong Kong that summer. He assumes it’s about follow-up. Would his wife be willing to go? Sure, she could spend the summer there. President Clark comes in. Then President McKay comes in, plays with his toddler. Then McKay turns to him and says,

“Now President Heaton, this is a very important assignment. I have long been interested in the Chinese people and the missionary work there.” For the first time it dawned on me that all this was leading up to me being called as Mission President. My first reaction of shock and disbelief, impelled me to say, “President McKay, I am neither capable nor worthy to be a mission president.” He very casually replied, “Oh, we are perfectlyaware of that, Brother Heaton.” Our official call came in the mail a few days later.

The Heaton family. Image from link below


The Heatons spend their first two months as Mission President accompanied by Joseph Fielding Smith and his third wife Jesse Evans Smith (see here); Fielding had been instructed to dedicate any countries which hadn’t been. They get on a boat to Hawaii. Heaton had read some of Smith’s books, and repeatedly asks him about them.

“At one point… he scolded me for taking some of his writings so seriously.” Smith said, “During my life I have written and said many things that I wish I could take back. But once it is in writing I guess I’m stuck with it.”

At one point on the boat, there’s a festive dinner.

“Part of the preliminary dishes was a bowl of something that looked like tapioca pudding. Sister Smith and I tasted it at the same time. It was a very strong Rum eggnog custard. Sister Smith winked at me, then [said] how good the tapioca pudding was… [and gave] a wink to remain silent. Sister Smith then began to tell President Smith what a wonderful pudding that was. ‘Take a big taste’ she said. Finally President Smith took his soup spoon and took a big spoonful of the custard. He looked startled when he swallowed. He then said, ‘Boy!… Wow!” After the dinner, he insisted that all the missionaries line up on deck so he could smell their breath.”

They were on an island in the Philippines.

“He had the chance to talk with Sister Smith up through a little Igerote village of Melanesia aboriginal pygmies. These people were very much Negroid in appearances and I heard him remark to Sister Smith that it was amazing how far spread the blood of Cain had been.”

At another point, it’s Smith’s birthday on the ship and there’s a small party. Sister Smith has a present for him.

“She insisted, so he unwrapped the package and it contained the first volume of ‘Doctrines of Salvation’ which had just been printed…. President Smith opened the book, read the introduction and then flipped through the pages of the book. There were several minutes of silence. We did not know what the book was. Finally, President Smith stamped his foot, turned to Sister Smith and said ‘Bruce had no right to do that!'”

Wow. What a life. What an experience. More here

As always, you can help me pay my tuition here via GoFundMe. *I am an Amazon Affiliate, and may receive a small percentage of purchases made through Amazon links on this page. You can get updates by email whenever a post goes up (subscription box below) andcan also follow Benjamin the Scribe on Facebook.

2 thoughts on “Tales from the Archives: Mission President?!

  1. “Bruce had no…”? Wow, I’ll never look at that series the same again.

    Thanks for the tip on the sale. We just ordered two more sets to gift family members at Christmas.


  2. So interesting. I have the 7th and 14th printings of Doctrines of Salvation, which belonged to my grandmothers. I respect the books but have wondered about them, and have not studied them. Maybe another time.


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