“President Hinckley Completes Busy Travel Year,” Ensign, Feb. 1997, 77–78
President Gordon B. Hinckley visited 22 nations and 13 U.S. states, plus Washington, D.C., in 1996. Fittingly, during the year in which the number of Church members living outside the United States surpassed the number of members living in the United States, he addressed 315,649 Latter-day Saints living outside the United States and logged 85,442 miles of travel, most of it abroad.
President Hinckley spoke of his vigorous travel plans in the April 1996 general conference: “I am determined that while I have strength I will get out among the people at home and abroad to express my appreciation, to give encouragement, to build faith, to teach, to add my testimony to theirs and at the same time to draw strength from them. … I intend to keep moving with energy for as long as I can” (Ensign, May 1996, 65–66).
Highlights of his busy year include:
Dedicating the Hong Kong Temple and the Mount Timpanogos Utah Temple in American Fork, Utah.
Presiding at groundbreaking ceremonies for temples in Madrid, Spain; Recife, Brazil; and Cochabamba, Bolivia.
Becoming the first Church President to visit mainland China.
Addressing large numbers of Latter-day Saints in Buenos Aires, Argentina; Santiago, Chile; São Paulo, Brazil; and Manila, Philippines.
Dedicating Cambodia for the preaching of the gospel.
Speaking at eight regional conferences.
Delivering 183 talks.
Holding five press conferences and being interviewed for the television program 60 Minutes.
President Hinckley began the year with visits to the Rio Grande Valley of southern Texas, to southern Utah, and to Veracruz, Mexico, where he attended a regional conference. He attended regional conferences in Hawaii in February and visited north-central Texas, North Carolina, California, Colorado, and Pennsylvania from February to April.
In May, he flew to Asia for the first of three extended trips in 1996. In 18 days he visited Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, mainland China, Cambodia, Vietnam, the Philippines, and Saipan; toured 13 cities; and delivered addresses to more than 75,000 people.
His vigorous pace continued in June, when in six days he visited five European countries: Spain, Belgium, Holland, Denmark, and Germany. In Spain, he spoke at groundbreaking ceremonies for the Madrid Spain Temple, becoming the first Church President to visit that country. Following his European trip, he visited Israel.
From June to September he visited Idaho, Illinois, New York, Iowa, Oklahoma, Missouri, and Oregon. In November President Hinckley traveled to South America, speaking to and strengthening more than 218,000 Latter-day Saints in Colombia, Peru, Bolivia, Argentina, Chile, and Brazil. On his way home from South America he spoke at two firesides in southern Florida.
In December he traveled to Washington, D.C., where he addressed ambassadors and emissaries from 55 nations during a ceremony in which he and Brazil’s ambassador to the United States illuminated the Christmas lights at the Church’s Washington Temple Visitors’ Center. He closed the traveling year in Tucson, Arizona, speaking to youth at a fireside, to full-time missionaries, and to Boy Scouts. He also dedicated another Mormon Battalion monument.
Strengthening the Saints
Despite obstacles posed by health or modes of transportation, Church Presidents since the days of the Prophet Joseph Smith have often traveled among the Church’s membership to preach the gospel, strengthen testimonies, and set in order the Church’s affairs. While Church Presidents in the 19th century concentrated their efforts on building up the Church in the Rocky Mountains, Presidents after the turn of the century began addressing the growing membership outside the Rocky Mountains and the United States.
Aware of the importance of strengthening the increasing Church membership outside the Rocky Mountains and the United States, President Joseph F. Smith began traveling the missions of the Church shortly after succeeding President Lorenzo Snow in 1901. In 1906 he became the first Church President to visit members in Europe (see Life of Joseph F. Smith, comp. Joseph Fielding Smith , 396). He crossed the ocean by steamship to Belgium, then traveled to Holland, Germany, Switzerland, France, and England. He also visited Mexico and Canada, where in 1913 he dedicated the site for the Alberta Temple in Cardston, Alberta. He visited Hawaii four times while President, selecting and dedicating the site for the Hawaii Temple in 1915.
In 1937, President Heber J. Grant followed President Smith’s pattern by making a three-month tour of the European Mission, visiting Latter-day Saints in Germany, Holland, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, France, and Czechoslovakia.
“It melted my heart to find how anxious the people who are in those countries are to see the Authorities of the Church,” he observed after his return, adding that “they are a part of the work of God” (as quoted in Bryant S. Hinckley, Heber J. Grant: Highlights in the Life of a Great Leader , 146).
Though President George Albert Smith traveled less internationally than his two predecessors inasmuch as his presidency closely followed the aftermath of World War II, he nevertheless visited widely in the United States and traveled by train to Mexico City.
“Here Their Destiny Lies”
Shortly after becoming President of the Church, President David O. McKay began what one author called a “vigorous international campaign” (Gibbons, David O. McKay, 287). During international trips over the next four years, President McKay met with and spoke to thousands of Latter-day Saints in more than two dozen nations. His travels and his dedication of temple sites in Switzerland and Great Britain signaled the Church’s ongoing move toward internationalization; the time had come for Latter-day Saints worldwide to build up the Church in their homelands. During a three-week visit to Latter-day Saints throughout the Pacific, for example, he said of members in Fiji: “Here their destiny lies” (as quoted in Gibbons, David O. McKay, 344–45).
President Joseph Fielding Smith, who was 95 when he spoke at the Church’s first area general conference in Manchester, England, in 1971, told Church members: “We are and shall be a world Church. This is our destiny. It is part of the Lord’s program” (as quoted in Joseph Fielding Smith Jr. and John J Stewart, The Life of Joseph Fielding Smith , 365).
During the year and a half that he led the Church, from July 1972 to December 1973, President Harold B. Lee maintained a busy travel schedule that took him to Mexico, England (twice), Greece, Israel, Italy, Switzerland, Austria, and an area conference in Munich, Germany.
Extending Gospel Blessings
President Spencer W. Kimball traveled widely while his health permitted. In 1975, for example, he attended seven area conferences throughout South America and the Far East. Area conferences and the announcement that temples would be built in Brazil and Japan contributed to the objective to extend the blessings of the gospel to Church members throughout the world (see Edward L. Kimball and Andrew E. Kimball Jr., Spencer W. Kimball , 422).
In 1976 President Kimball attended conferences in England, Scotland, and throughout the South Pacific, telling one group, “We want people to stay where they are and build Zion” (Kimball, Spencer W. Kimball, 423–24).
Presidents Ezra Taft Benson and Howard W. Hunter also traveled during their presidencies but were hindered by declining health and strength. President Benson’s busiest travel year was 1987, when he spoke to Latter-day Saints in Finland, Sweden, Canada, Puerto Rico, California, and Iowa. The following year he broke ground for the San Diego Temple. In 1994 President Hunter spent eight days in Switzerland and traveled to Arizona, Florida, California, and Hawaii that fall. In December he flew to Mexico City for the creation of the Church’s 2,000th stake.
“Out of Obscurity”
Though travel can be wearisome, President Hinckley, like his predecessors, enjoys “looking into the faces and shaking the hands of faithful Latter-day Saints” (Ensign, Nov. 1996, 48). He has said that while the Lord sustains his strength, a major focus of his ministry is to get out among Latter-day Saints across the world (interview with Larry Witman of the Washington Times, 2 Dec. 1996).
And as Presidents of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints continue visiting and strengthening members throughout the world, the Church will continue rolling forth inexorably “out of obscurity and out of darkness” (D&C 1:30).