“Elder Joe J. Christensen of the First Quorum of the Seventy,” Ensign, May 1989, 88
Commenting on his new calling as a member of the First Quorum of the Seventy, Elder Joe J. Christensen says, “This is a church where teaching is very important, and I’m finding out that teaching is one of the things I’ll be doing a great deal.”
In this regard, Elder Christensen’s 34-year career in the Church Educational System brings him to his new calling well prepared.
Joe J. Christensen was born 21 July 1929, the son of Joseph Amos and Goldie Echo Miles Christensen. He grew up on the family farm in the small community of Banida, in southeastern Idaho, and attended Utah State University for two years before serving as a missionary in Mexico and Central America. After his graduation from Brigham Young University and a tour of duty in the U.S. Air Force, he served as a seminary teacher and later as director of the institutes of religion adjacent to Washington State University (where he received a Ph.D.), the University of Idaho, and the University of Utah.
In 1970, Brother Christensen was asked to become associate commissioner of Church Education under the direction of Commissioner Neal A. Maxwell.
“At that time, the seminaries and institutes of religion were just beginning in non-English-speaking countries,” says Elder Christensen. “So for the next nine years, I traveled to sixty-six countries around the world as the seminaries and institutes were being established. Those were exciting years.”
His work in the Church Educational System was interrupted in 1979 by a call to serve as president of the Missionary Training Center in Provo, Utah, where he supervised the initial training of more than 58,000 missionaries over a period of four years.
“The missionary program of the Church is still one of the great miracles of the world,” says Elder Christensen. His wife, Barbara, adds, “There really aren’t words to describe our experience at the MTC. But in many ways it was like being in the temple. The spirit was so similar.”
Since 1985, Elder Christensen has served as president of Ricks College in Rexburg, Idaho, which he describes without hesitation as “absolutely the finest college educational institution in the world for the first two years.”
In addition to his work in the Church Educational System and his calling as a mission president, Elder Christensen has served as a bishop, high councilor, member of the Melchizedek Priesthood MIA and Young Men general boards, counselor in the Sunday School General Presidency, and Regional Representative.
He has also been successful in the callings he feels are the most important—those of husband and father. He married Barbara Kohler in 1952 in the Salt Lake Temple. “Marrying Barbara was the most important decision I ever made, and the best thing that ever happened to me,” says Elder Christensen.
Barbara says in reply, “I have the kindest husband in the world. He is so kind and gentle to everyone, especially me.”
The Christensens have six married children: Amy (Poulton), Susan (Jones), Stephen, Linda (Evans), Douglas, and Spencer. They have sixteen grandchildren.
“We’ve always believed that building memories within the family is very important,” says Elder Christensen. Among their most cherished family memories are a trip across the United States to tour U.S. and Church historical sites (camping all the way) and a tour of Israel, where they spent Christmas Eve in Shepherds’ Field near Bethlehem. “And we still have part of the Idaho family farm,” he says. “We like to keep our hands in the soil.”
“I have an absolute assurance that Jesus is the Christ and that this is his church. We’re very much committed to the gospel and to the idea that you serve wherever you’re called and for as long as the Lord wants you to serve.”