One morning in the spring of 2000 I was driving my car through downtown Seattle. It was a nice day and the sun was shining. Then my cell phone rang. I looked at the number and didn’t recognize it. Upon answering the call, the voice on the other end said, “This is Elder Neil Andersen from the First Quorum of the Seventy. I’m going to be at the Seattle airport tomorrow and I wonder if I might be able to meet with you for a few minutes?”
I agreed to meet with him and hung up the phone.
This was all very strange for me! Who is Elder Neil Andersen? Why does he want to meet with me? How did he get my cell phone number? I was nervous and curious.
The next day we met in a small conference room at the Seattle airport. Elder Andersen introduced himself to me and I immediately liked him. He was very nice and very easy to talk to. He got quickly to the point. One of his assignments, as a member of the First Quorum of the Seventy, was that of serving as the executive director of the church's Audiovisual Department. In this role he had been given the assignment to create a new website for the Church that would be used by non-members to learn about the Church. At that time, the only website used by the Church was www.lds.org, a site dedicated to members.
To accomplish this assignment, Elder Andersen decided to create three committees, consisting of computer industry Church members, to work on this project: one would be in Seattle, one in Utah and one in Texas. Each committee was to design their version of such a website, based on their vision, ideas, creativity and inspiration. Elder Andersen assigned me to be responsible for the Seattle committee. Since he didn’t know other people in Seattle, he assigned me to create the Seattle committee and to have a “proto-type” of the website completed within a couple months. This was to be a volunteer assignment, on top of all other current Church callings, job responsibilities, etc.
I quickly accepted the assignment and built my team. It included some of my LDS friends who have excellent technology and design skills. We began meeting every Tuesday night at my kitchen table. Ideas were discussed and homework assignments were given. These meetings continued for 3-4 months. The team members worked in their spare time throughout the summer and would then report on their progress at our Tuesday night meetings. Elder Andersen flew up to Seattle to join us for one of these meetings. He was full of good ideas, feedback and recommendations.
Out of this effort, and those of the other two groups, came the Church website www.Mormon.org. And, out of this effort also came a unique friendship with Elder Neil L. Andersen, recently called to be an Apostle of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Elder Andersen will remain in this calling for the rest of his life.
A year or so after this project, I was at Church headquarters for some meetings and I met again with Elder Andersen. He had just received a new assignment from President Hinckley that would require his family to move to Brazil. He was called to serve as 2nd counselor in an Area Presidency. The Area President and the 1st counselor were native Brazilians. Elder Andersen explained that this move to Brazil would be difficult and that the timing was not great. I could tell he was surprised by the assignment. He then changed the tone of his voice and, looking directly into my eyes, asked the following question, “Do you know why I am going?” I didn’t respond and waited for him to answer his own question. He continued looking into me in a deep, personal and unforgettable way. And he stated, “I am going because I am a true believer.”
Unlike the corporate world where managers get reshuffled and careers get tossed and turned, this was a calling from the Lord. Elder Andersen trusted in this completely. Even though the calling did not come at the perfect time for him, he knew in his heart that it was perfectly correct on the Lord’s calendar. And he would go and do because he was “a true believer”.
Elder Andersen had been a mission president in France and he spoke fluent French. But to serve in an area presidency in Brazil one must speak Portuguese. Elder Andersen, who did not yet speak Portuguese, then told me an interesting story.
A few months prior to receiving this new assignment, he had received an out-of-the-blue prompting that he should learn Portuguese. The prompting made no sense. He was very busy in his current responsibilities and had many projects for which he was responsible. He lacked the time and interest to pursue such an endeavor.
Many of us would ignore such promptings. This is because such promptings do not pertain to our current life, our current needs or our currents challenges. A mark of Elder Andersen’s spiritual maturity is that he did not ignore the prompting. He recognized the source from which it came. He paid exact attention to it and purchased some “How to Learn Portuguese” tapes. He began studying Portuguese in the evenings at his home. His wife would hear him speaking an unknown language. She would say, “Neil, what are you doing?” He would cheerfully say, “I’m learning Portuguese.” “Why are you doing that?” she would ask. “I don’t know! I just know that I’m supposed to!” he would reply.
And then, a few months later, he received his new assignment to move to Brazil. No one in the "chain of command" knew that he had been learning Portuguese. Is there any doubt that the Lord is not involved in our lives? What can you learn from this story? How can it apply to your daily life? Do you ever receive seemingly random promptings for service, for personal change, or for doing something exceptionally good? Such promptings come from the Holy Ghost, on behalf of a loving Father in Heaven. They are the heavenly means of Twittering or text messaging things you need to do!
On a different occasion I received another phone call from Elder Andersen. At this time I was starting up a new organization called Unitus that provides microcredit loans to poor women in developing countries. The board members of Unitus had created a mind-boggling vision of reaching 15 million poor women by the year 2015. As chairman of the new organization it was my responsibility to hire a president. It would be the president’s role to build the team and achieve the bold vision. Elder Andersen had heard a little bit about Unitus.
In this phone call he told me of a former missionary who had served as one of his assistants while he was a mission president in France. This young man was now graduating with a master’s degree in economic development from Harvard. Elder Andersen had kept in touch with his former missionary and felt that he might be a good candidate for the job as president of Unitus. I thanked Elder Andersen for this referral and followed up on it immediately.
Too my great surprise and joy, this former missionary had all the qualifications we were looking for, including a great education and prior experience in microcredit lending. We offered him the job and he accepted. He did a marvelous job building Unitus into a world-class organization that is now helping over seven million poor women and their families in Africa, India, the Philippines, Cambodia, Mexico, Argentina and Indonesia.
In the Sunday morning session of General Conference, Elder Andersen gave his first talk as a newly sustained Apostle. I was touched by these words: “In so many ways I feel inadequate and humbled. I take solace (comfort) that in one qualification for the holy Apostleship, where there can be no latitude extended, the Lord has deeply blessed me. I do know with perfect and certain clarity through the power of the Holy Ghost that Jesus is the Christ, the beloved Son of God.”
This past Sunday I had the distinct privilege of raising my hand, among millions of other hands, sustaining Elder Neil L. Andersen as an Apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ.
I am a true believer,
Wednesday, April 1, 2009
On Monday night we said good-by to Elder Jordan Atkinson. The plaque in his hands was given to us last year as a Christmas gift from his parents (whom we have never met). He and nine other departing missionaries enjoyed a farewell dinner of lasagna, good bread, salad and cake. The dinner was followed by a wonderful testimony meeting in the family room at the Mission Home. Then, at 4AM, the missionaries were whisked off to the airport. Within a few hours I received an email with a photo of Elder Atkinson at the Salt Lake City airport, being welcomed home by his parents. His home is in Riverton, Utah. One moment they're here -- and the next moment their gone! Reminds me of raising our four children.
During his time in the PA Philadelphia Mission, Elder Atkinson served in the following areas:
* South Philadelphia
* Valley Forge
We will miss this outstanding young man!
at 3:20 PM