Sunday, May 6, 2012

The Mormons and Life After Death

This morning I taught the gospel doctrine class. The scripture block we covered was Mosiah 12 - 17. It's the story of Abinadi, preserved by the hand of his only convert, Alma, one of the corrupt high priests in wicked King Noah's court.

I told the story popularized by President Gordon B. Hinckley about the impact of one convert baptism. We send missionaries all over the world for two years, and sometimes many of them return from that experience having made only one convert. Missionary work is not easy. It harvests one convert at a time. It's slow work, but it rewarding work. Here's President Hinckley's story:

Elder Charles A. Callis
“You don’t know how much good you can do; you can’t foresee the results of the effort you put in. Years ago, President Charles A. Callis, then a member of the Quorum of the Twelve, but who previously was president of the Southern States Mission for twenty-five years, told me this story. He said that he had a missionary in the southern [United States] who came in to get his release at the conclusion of his mission. His mission president said to him, ‘Have you had a good mission?’

“He said, ‘No.’

“‘How is that?’

“‘Well, I haven’t had any results from my work. I have wasted my time and my father’s money. It’s been a waste of time.’

“Brother Callis said, ‘Haven’t you baptized anyone?’

“He said, ‘I baptized only one person during the two years that I have been here. That was a twelve-year-old boy up in the back hollows of Tennessee.’

“He went home with a sense of failure. Brother Callis said, ‘I decided to follow that boy who had been baptized. I wanted to know what became of him. …

“… ‘I followed him through the years. He became the Sunday School Superintendent, and he eventually became the branch president. He married. He moved off the little tenant farm on which he and his parents before him had lived and got a piece of ground of his own and made it fruitful. He became the district president. He sold that piece of ground in Tennessee and moved to Idaho and bought a farm along the Snake River and prospered there. His children grew. They went on missions. They came home. They had children of their own who went on missions.’

“Brother Callis continued, ‘I’ve just spent a week up in Idaho looking up every member of that family that I could find and talking to them about their missionary service. I discovered that, as the result of the baptism of that one little boy in the back hollows of Tennessee by a missionary who thought he had failed, more than 1,100 people have come into the Church.’

President Gordon B. Hinckley
“You never can foretell the consequences of your work, my beloved brethren and sisters, when you serve as missionaries” (Teachings of Gordon B. Hinckley [1997], 360–61).

* * *

At Sunday dinner this afternoon, we were discussing our lesson, and Patsy's 90 year-old mother Peggy commented, "I remember Elder Callis." She went on to talk about many of her associated memories of others, including President Heber J. Grant's death coinciding with the death of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and how memorable it was to her. Both died within weeks of each other in 1945. That prompted a memory of a story I had heard my Grandfather, President Harold B. Lee, tell about the death of Elder Charles A. Callis.

The Quorum of the Twelve, about 1944, next to the Salt Lake Temple. Seated: The Quorum of the Twelve, about 1944, next to the Salt Lake Temple. Seated: George Albert Smith (quorum president), George F. Richards, Joseph Fielding Smith, Stephen L Richards, John A. Widtsoe, Joseph F. Merrill; standing: Charles A. Callis, Albert E. Bowen, Harold B. Lee, Spencer W. Kimball, Ezra Taft Benson, Mark E. Petersen (newest member).
Elder Charles A. Callis had presided over the Southern States Mission for over twenty-five years prior to his being called to the Council of the Twelve and was virtually "sainted" in the hearts of Church members living there. The assignment to create the first stake of the Church in the South had been long contemplated in 1946, but was reserved for Elder Callis to perform when his failing health permitted him to travel. At the beginning of 1947 Elder Lee was assigned to accompany this mighty Apostle and on January 11 the Lees departed for Jacksonville, Florida.

Elder Callis arrived in Florida a day ahead of the Lees to clear up a personal matter with a dear friend. Once this was taken care of, Elder Callis told Elder Lee, his junior companion, that he was willing to leave the details of organizing the stake in his hands. In the course of the interviews, however, some difference of opinion arose concerning whether Orlando and some of the other mission branches should be included in the new stake. Differing from Elder Lee and some of the local priesthood leaders, Elder Callis was insisting that Orlando, Florida, ought to be included.

Eleven years later Elder Lee used this experience to teach an important characteristic of prayer to seminary teachers of the Church. He recalled:

When Mission President Heber Meeks and President Douberly from the Orlando Florida Branch and I all disagreed, it worried President Callis. That was always a rather serious situation to me, too, to not be in agreement with Brother Callis. He was a man of strong, vigorous, and powerful thinking.

He said finally, "I will have to sleep on this." With that statement he dismissed me. The next morning he called me into his room, and as he pulled his chair close alongside mine, he said to me with an impressiveness which I shall never forget, "Last night I talked with God, and he has given me to understand that you are right and I am wrong." (From an advanced course in theology at Brigham Young University, July 6, 1956.)

As they concluded their interviews they overheard the choir practicing in the chapel. When the choir began singing the hymn "O My Father," Elder Callis broke into tears, and said to the brethren, "Take care of your wives; I haven't and she's gone." His emotions were close to the surface, and it became apparent to those who were with him that he was preparing for the end of his life. He ordered a room in the church fitted up as a bedroom, and he insisted upon spending two nights alone in that room. He told the brethren that everywhere he went he saw Sister Callis. Elder Lee wrote:

I had the impression, and so expressed myself to Sister Jenkins, that Brother Callis wanted to die and had wished it could take place in that room, by himself. He had us drive him to the old chapel and to the home where his twin sons were born and died. He seemed to be reliving these experiences for the last time.

Members of the Church came to Jacksonville, Florida, from as far away as Miami and Charleston, South Carolina, with 789 in attendance at the morning session and 1,043 present for the afternoon session of the history-making event. The spirit of prophecy was upon Elder Callis as he presided at the conference, all the time very near his departed loved ones to whom he made frequent reference.

A Perfect Parting

After the announcement of the new stake presidency in the Sunday morning session, Elder Callis seemed to have suffered a mild heart attack, but grew stronger during the day. He spoke with great emotion to the Saints he loved and paid tribute to Sister Callis, declaring that she and others who had labored as missionaries in the South were in attendance at their meeting that day. He prophesied that there would be other stakes organized in the South, and that eventually a temple would be built there that the younger members of the stake would live to see. The fulfillment of his prophecy came on June 1-4, 1983, with the dedication of the first temple to be constructed in the South, in Atlanta, Georgia.

After setting apart sixty-four ward and stake officers, the visiting authorities were guests for dinner at the home of Brother and Sister O. H. Hawkins. The Lees left at 9:00 p.m. for St. Augustine, where they spent the night. Elder Callis, in excellent spirits that night, requested his host, Brother Hawkins, to retell a famous fight story. Later in the evening he asked Brother Hawkins to arrange for his return trip to Salt Lake City the next day.

The following day, driving toward Miami, Elder and Sister Lee were stopped by a highway patrolman who informed them that he had a death message for them. They learned then that Elder Callis had died suddenly the night before of a heart attack.

Elder Lee reported the death immediately to President David O. McKay in Salt Lake City, advising him that the Saints in the South were desirous of holding services in Jacksonville for their beloved leader, before the Lees left with his body for Utah. Elder Lee cleared the proposal with President George Albert Smith, and memorial services were delayed in Salt Lake City until after funeral services were concluded in Florida.

Twelve years later, while teaching a group of student leaders, Elder Lee drew on an experience he had at Elder Callis's funeral to illustrate the importance of praying for each other:

I was the one to conduct Brother Callis's funeral service in Florida. It was a sorrowful trail that I had followed. I loved Brother Callis. My heart was tender. In the quiet of my hotel room I shed some tears; I tried to prepare. Finally the day came. It was Thursday, January 23, 1947. The funeral was to start at 10:00 a.m. in the Jacksonville Ward Chapel.

Speakers were President D Homer Yarn. President of tile Georgia District; A. E. Jenkins, senior member of the high council and dear friend of Elder Callis; President Heber Meeks, president of the Southern States Mission; and myself.

As the first two speakers concluded it was now about a quarter to eleven, and as the song was being rendered, before the president of the mission and I then were to conclude the service. a Western Union messenger arrived with a telegram for me. When I opened it, it was a message from the First Presidency requesting that I read it at the service. I arose to read it and I suddenly found myself overwhelmed with some kind of a great feeling that I couldn't quite understand. It wasn't sorrow. because I had conquered that in those two days preceding. And then I began to think, "This is Thursday." What was it that I felt? Suddenly when that telegram came it was as though I was just as close to the Council of the Twelve and the Presidency as though they had walked in and taken their seats on the stand behind me. Up to that time I had felt so much alone, with such a heavy responsibility. Twelve o'clock in Florida meant it was 10:00 a.m. in Salt Lake City, and knowing the way the Council meeting is held, at 10:45 a.m. every member of the Twelve and the First Presidency would be dressed in temple clothing surrounding an altar in the place nearest to heaven on earth. And I said. "Now I know what is happening. They have offered a prayer for me. and this is the answer. I am receiving the answer of the prayers of the First Presidency and the Twelve."

When I returned home, my first question to President George F. Richards was: "Brother Richards. in your temple meeting last Thursday do you remember whether or not at the prayer at the altar there was a prayer offered for me particularly?" He thought a moment and said: "Yes, Brother McKay led us. And he prayed that the Lord would bless you down there all alone so that you would feel the strength of the Presidency and the Council of the Twelve to be with you." I said: "I received it in one of the most dramatic experiences of my life."

I was taught by that experience how important it is to receive the prayers of the faithful.

Elder Lee entered this final comment in his journal about a sacred moment at the conclusion of the services for Brother Callis in Jacksonville: "As the services ended and I went to Brother Callis's room in the Church to get my hat, I seemed to hear him say to me, 'Well done, son, well done' - and I felt satisfied."

On January 28, 1947, a funeral service was held in the Salt Lake Tabernacle for this powerful missionary-Apostle so revered in the South. Nearly four thousand persons attended, despite a snowstorm. At the following Thursday meeting with the Quorum of the Twelve, Elder Lee voiced Elder Callis's opinion that other stakes in the mission should be created, rather than further dividing the mission. He then repeated in the presence of the First Presidency the prophecy made by Elder Callis that other stakes, and one day a temple, would grace the Southern States.

At the meeting of the Twelve on April 24, 1947 it was decided to organize two new stakes from the missions, one centering at Columbia, South Carolina, which partially fulfilled the prophecy, and another one at Spokane, Washington. (Harold B. Lee, Prophet and Seer, L. Brent Goates, 205-09).

* * *

My re-telling of that story prompted more memories from Peggy, who was reminiscing about many of the contemporaries of Elder Callis. She recalled the friendship of Elder Melvin J. Ballard, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve and the father of present-day Apostle, Elder M. Russell Ballard and President Edward J. Wood, who served many years as the President of the Cardston Alberta Temple. There are few readers of this page who would know Edward J. Wood, so I include a brief biography here:

Edward was called on three missions to Samoa. One as mission president at only 30 years old. During his first mission at 25 because of his knowledge of the Samoan language he was asked by the mission president to write a series of 12 gospel pamphlets in the Samoan tongue. In 1901 when only 35 years old he was called to Alberta Canada to take charge of the Cardston Co-op. In 1903 while only 37 he was called to be the president of the Alberta Stake covering a vast area. This office he held for 39 years. He spearheaded the building of the Cardston Tabernacle started in 1904 and completed in 1912. He spearheaded the Cardston Temple which was started in 1913 and dedicated ten years later in 1923. He was called as the first temple president the calling he held for 25 years at the same time being the Stake President. He officiated at every session. His Stake had the highest attendance and other activity in the Church for a number of years. He was Alberta Stake Patriarch for 9 years afterwards. He worked under the direction of a number of prophets including John Taylor, Wilford Woodruff, Lorenzo snow, Joseph F. Smith, Heber J. Grant, George Albert Smith, and David O McKay.

Death of His Oldest Son

Glen was President Wood's oldest son was 39 years old and Bishop of nearby Glenwood. In his earlier years, like his father before him, he also had been a missionary to Samoa. President Wood writes:

Glen came in to the hospital with a carbuncle on his neck causing blood poisoning and he is very sick.

“June: Glen kept getting worse. We called three other Doctors from Lethbridge at different times to help our local doctors Mulloy and Braton, Drs. Roy, Campbell and Fowler, but he didn’t respond to any treatment and the whole Stake and especially Glenwood and our Temple workers fasted, but all to no avail — he passed away very peacefully Thursday at 5:00a.m., June 8th. Lala, Mary Ann and I had been at his bedside nearly all the time but he seemed better, and we left Forest, Dale, Vi and Glen Nielson to be with him and to our great sorrow and surprise he left us. He seemed to know from the first he would not recover. He told me that he and I were in the sealing room in our Temple where I officiated, and that a ‘messenger’ told me he could not be healed. He told me in native Samoan he was going on ‘a malaga fou’ — a new journey. He told me several times that Frank Smith [Edward and Mary Ann’s son-in-law, decease husband of Fern] and others had been to see him and at the last he told the boys not to delay him — he had to go.

“I’m quite satisfied that often when brothers and sisters are called from this sphere of action to pass into eternity, it is to respond to a call that’s made for them to fill in the spirit world. Our son, Glen, was taken sick. Nothing very serious we thought, but we got him to the hospital and we all went down and administered to him, he finally told me the next morning, ‘Now, Father, you don’t need to worry at all about me. I’m never going back to the ranch anymore.’ I had spoken to him about it — he had charge of the stock and family interests — and I was wondering if he wanted to [tell me about the ranch]. He told me not to expect him to return to the ranch because he was called to go to the spirit world to visit in the part of the spirit world where the Samoans were now staying; that he was called on a mission to go and visit them; that he wouldn’t get better; and for me to go home and tell his mother and others of the family. So we left and the next morning, he felt worse. The doctor said it looked like his condition had turned into blood poisoning and it was a very serious case. As I was standing at the foot of the bed in the hospital, with the doctor, he started talking native [Samoan], and he was talking to native people just like he was on the island. The doctor said to me, ‘He’s kind of delirious.’ I said, ‘That isn’t delirious to him. He’s talking in the Samoan language where he labored between three and four years among the natives.’ So he finally quit talking to them and talked to us and told me to get his things ready and have the folks come down and say good-bye to him because he was to leave and take up his mission in the spirit world with those Samoan people who had visited him. So the next day he passed away and it was quiet testimony to all of us that our passing out of this life into the spirit world is the next [step], at least it was in his case. Sure enough, he just sat up and shook hands with us and said good-bye and went back down on his cot, turned over and went into a deep sleep. And that was his death.”

* * *

That story prompted another recollection from Peggy, something to do with the passing of Elder Melvin J. Ballard that was linked to President Wood and the Cardston Temple. I did a little research at the table with my iphone and discovered her memory is still pretty sharp. Here's what I found:

The last time apostle Melvin J. Ballard attended an Alberta Stake Conference he was greeted by Mary Ann Wood [Edward's wife] and he replied, “I am glad to see you too, and you’ll never see me again.” Sister Wood, who was deaf but could read lips very well, wondered if she was going to die. In the temple the Apostle spoke for twenty minutes. Mrs. Wood heard every word and told him how wonderful it was to hear him speak. He answered, “That is very good, and you’ll never hear me again.” After the conference was over there was much contemplation as to the meaning of the Apostle’s words to Mary Ann. Sometime later in the temple, President Wood said he saw in a vision a group of people in the Celestial Room. He asked, “Who are you waiting for?” They replied, “Brother Ballard.” “He is not here,” replied the President. He said that as he then turned around, “Brother Ballard came through the veil in his temple robes.” President Wood interpreted this vision to mean that Apostle Ballard’s kindred dead were waiting in the temple for him to join them, for this happened on the day of Brother Ballard’s death. (Melvin S. Tagg, The Life of Edward James Wood Church Patriot, an unpublished Master’s thesis, Brigham Young University, 1959, 111).


  1. How did you know that I needed to read, hear and feel message like this on this day very day?

    Very comforting spiritual experiences indeed...I hope that over three years of preaching a kind of bilingual, risky and/or rendezvous version of the everlasting gospels to a wicked and perverse generation in the south, by the sea east, makes at the very least, one of those goodly converts. Maybe it is done already and I may not know about it.

    When I was seventeen years old, soon after I became or was ordained a priest in the order of Aaron, I learned or was taught by the priesthood how to repent and offer unto the LORD a broken heart and a contrite spirit. I had a great many sins piled up upon my shoulders, and I truly wanted to die because I did not know how to release myself of my misery and desperation, but the LORD would not grant it after many pleas and efforts. So, I was resolute to get something out of the LORD on that day, so I claimed in payer a blessing of breath of life given to me by an angel send out or down of heaven. I had faith, so it was granted, but I was sent to sleep to receive it right upon the place where I was praying. I saw and heard many things while I was asleep on that morning not long after I had woken up to go to school, which visions have somewhat faded away thru the years. When I saw those things, which were not bad at all, as if it were the things, I was going to do in the rest of my life, a thought came to my mind that perhaps my wish of death had been granted. This fret me or made me afraid and did all I could to wake up at that moment, but someone was holding my shoulders down which presence I truly felt pressing down. Then, I made grater efforts to wake up; and I heard a voice from behind me which confirmed my requested blessing and the source of the visions. IT was an angelic voice, then it told me and I will never forget. “I will come again, but before you must bring a sheep t the fold.” Then I was let lose or woke up. And to dismiss it as a delusion due to the anxiety of my mind, I knelt down again and prayed to our heavenly Father in the name of Christ, suddenly, when I had finished, the still small voice of the Hoy Ghost, confirmed by an almost audible whisper the same things and repeated the words of the angels saying that he will return to visit me again, but before that I must bring a sheep to the fold.

    I have been trying ever since to preach the gospel, on and off, inviting friends, family and total strangers everywhere in the world among the living and among the dead. I even baptized some, here and there, but I do not now for sure which soul I must bring back to Christ’s fold.

  2. Thanks for this, and for the above commentator. I found the story of Glen Wood to be particularly touching.

    I'm curious about Elder Callis' comment about his wife, it sounds like he felt he had neglected her to some degree. I'm wondering if you know anything about this

  3. I can tell you this much, though I know nothing of the particulars of Elder Callis's relationship with his wife. The life of a General Authority, particularly during the era we are speaking about, was difficult. Travel was a burden, often requiring a minimum of four days in a week to get to conferences, conduct them over two days - Saturday and Sunday - then return home on Mondays. As a result they rarely saw their wives and children. The sacrifices are enormous. I've often thought those who aspire to those callings simply do not understand what they seek. Many of the Brethren, I can be safe in saying, carefully guard against the inevitable selective neglect that accompanies such a calling.