“Go Forward with Zeal,” Elder Perry Told Mission Presidents and Wives Prior to His Passing

Contributed By Jason Swensen, Church News staff writer

  • 15 July 2015

Eleven days before his death on May 30, Elder L. Tom Perry, left, sat down with fellow Apostle Elder Russell M. Nelson to make a video about missionary work. The video was shown during the 2015 Seminar for New Mission Presidents.

Article Highlights

  • Elder Perry was a life-long missionary.
  • He opened a new branch in Ohio and was recently asked to dedicate a new chapel.
  • The relationship between a missionary and his or her mission president is very important.

“If you can get that spirit caught in the ward unit, that’s strong and exciting and alive, then you’ll start to see something happen with the missionaries that keeps their lives full.” —Elder L. Tom Perry


The annual seminar for new mission presidents has been a gathering of many unforgettable talks and teachings. Prophets and apostles have used the event to teach gospel truths essential to missionary work and beyond.

Participants in this year’s edition of the seminar will never forget being taught by Elder L. Tom Perry of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.

The beloved Apostle—a modern-day icon in Church and missionary leadership—died May 30. But just 11 days before his death, he sat down and filmed a missionary-themed interview with his friend and fellow Apostle Elder Russell M. Nelson.

The interview allowed Elder Perry to, once again, play a key teaching role in the seminar for new mission presidents—while offering the many who love him a final few moments with a man defined by his selflessness, generosity, and enthusiasm.

Elder Nelson began by introducing Elder Perry as a lifelong missionary. Besides serving a full-time mission as a young man, Elder Perry also chaired the Church’s Missionary Executive Council for a number of years.

“I am just delighted to have the opportunity to be here today, to be at another new mission presidents’ seminar,” he said with his trademark broad smile. “There is something special about that week we spend together. It’s special. It’s one we look forward to. It’s one we’re excited about.”

Elder Perry said he knew well what the young elders and sisters of the Church are experiencing today in the mission field. He went through it himself decades ago after accepting a call to the Northern States Mission.

After five days of training in Salt Lake City, he embarked on a long train ride to mission headquarters in Chicago.

“My goodness, it was something,” he said. “We got in late in the evening. We were driven to the mission home in Chicago. And there we had our first introduction to the mission. The mission president interviewed all of us. He left me to last. And finally he was tired and said, ‘We’re gonna put you on a train tonight, send you to Columbus, Ohio.’”

Elder Perry was assigned to work with an exceptionally able companion. Almost immediately, the two began knocking on doors. The first door was “an absolute failure.” But Elder Perry and his companion persevered and began to have a few successes.

Then a remarkable experience occurred. “And that’s what I want you to have the missionaries have—a remarkable experience.” The missionaries were asked to help support the opening of a new branch in Marion, Ohio. There was only one family, the Knudsens, in the branch. Sabbath services were held in their home.

The two young elders got to work, tracting out the entire city. Eventually their teaching pool began to grow and the congregation had become too large for Knudsen family’s living room. Soon sacrament meeting was being held in a rented Elk’s Hall.

“Then, as months progressed, we got a few converts coming in. Soon we had the Elk’s Hall full of people coming to sacrament meeting. They enjoyed it. They enjoyed singing. The little branch started to grow. We got up to about 25 people attending every week. It was such a warm group. We just had a lot of fun together.”

The little branch grew strong. In time, Elder Perry and his companion concluded their missions and returned home.

“The most remarkable thing I think that has occurred through all of this is last January ... I was invited to come back and dedicate [a new] chapel,” he said. “Unfortunately, I had a mishap and couldn't make the trip. But there’s a ward of the Church in Marion, Ohio, today because two elders were asked to go up and start a branch of the Church.”

Elder Perry said perhaps his missionary experience won’t be common for today’s missionaries. But they all share key similarities.

“First, getting that call,” he said. “That thrill, that excitement of going into the field and declaring to the people a message of the gospel. Giving them the fire that comes from these experiences. They need that fire, that determination to go forward.”

Elder Perry then spoke of the important relationship between a missionary and his or her mission president.

“When you interview the missionary, don’t rush it,” he said. “I know you have a lot to do. But listen to that missionary. Get his or her feelings. Feel how he or she wants to go forward and do it. And praise him or her in the work as he’s excited about the opportunity. Remember what he or she is doing is bringing the light of the gospel to people for eternity—the blessing and glorious gospel that will set their lives in order and put them on the way for eternal life.”

Ward councils, he added, can play pivotal roles in a missionary’s success.

“If you can get that spirit caught in the ward unit, that’s strong and exciting and alive, then you’ll start to see something happen with the missionaries that keeps their lives full. [They will have] the opportunity to teach every night. And when they get the teaching spirit, they’ll not be able to leave it alone.”

Challenging days await today’s missionaries, observed Elder Perry.

“We’re losing Christianity. It’s the worst thing that could happen to a nation. And we’ve got to find a way of rekindling it—not only with the people we contact, but with the opportunity to reach out to others. We’ll see a deterioration in this nation unless we do. The conscience of the world depends on religious faith. And we’ve got to rebuild that confidence in the world for religious faith and just spread it throughout the people. And when they start seeing the contrast, the contrast between good and the bad way, then we’ll see a change.”

Elder Perry concluded his interview with Elder Nelson with his testimony of missionary work.

“This is the greatest work that we have on the earth,” he said. “It’s the work the Lord described for His people to hear to move them from mortality into immortality and eternal life. They’ll be blessed. They’ll be protected. They’ll have family units that are strong.”

With a broad smile, Elder Perry challenged the mission presidents and their wives to “go forward with zeal.”

“May the Lord bless you with all of the health, the strength, the vitality, excitement, the enthusiasm you can possibly have in carrying on this great work that we’re engaged in.”