Commenting on his new calling as a member of the First
Quorum of the Seventy, Elder Joe J. Christensen said, “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 brought him to his 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,” said Elder Christensen. His wife,
Barbara, added, “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
In 1985, Elder Christensen was called 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,” said Elder Christensen.
Barbara said in reply, “I have the kindest husband
in the world. He is so kind and gentle to everyone, especially me.”
The Christensens had six married children: Amy (Poulton),
Susan (Jones), Stephen, Linda (Evans), Douglas, and Spencer.
“We’ve always believed that building memories within
the family is very important,” said Elder Christensen. Among their most
cherished family memories were 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.”
Elder Joe J. Christensen was called to the Presidency
of the Seventy Aug. 15, 1993, and sustained Oct. 2, 1993. He is a former
mission president in Mexico, president of the Missionary Training Center
in Provo, Utah, counselor in the general presidency of the Sunday School,
and a member of the general board of the Young Men and Melchizedek Priesthood
MIA; active in Scouting, serving as council commissioner and a member of
the National Exploring Standing Committee.
After many years of faithful sevice Elder Christensen was granted emeritus status
The following is from an article printed in the Idaho State Journal.
BANIDA - Although Joe J. Christensen, 83, an emeritus general authority for the Church of Jesus Christ
of Latter-day Saints, has traveled the world in his church service, he maintains his roots and home are
here in the small town of Banida north of Preston.
He related his childhood in Banida in an interview with The Preston Citizen
weekly newspaper. As a young man growing up in the "Poverty Flats," there were eight boys born within a
couple of years of each other in age. The group became good friends, he said.
The boys called themselves "The Banida Bummes." They all ran around together, so
much so, they got to be pretty good at team sports. They "modestly" claimed to have won stake
"When the time came, the small Banida ward supported seven of the eight boys as
missionaries, all out at the same time. Our ward consisted of about 124 people," Christensen said.
"That was quite a feat."
He enjoyed the farm and the tiny town of Banida and valued the religious studies
that would become the basis of his life of service in the church.
"My ambition was to teach seminary somewhere close and be able to stay there and
work on the family farm," he said. But that wasn't meant to be.
Christensen graduated from high school at 16 years old and then went to Utah
State University for a couple of years.
"That was our school (USU). It was the closest place to go to college and that's
just what you did back then," he said.
The Banida farm boy took a break from his academic studies when he was called to
serve an LDS church mission. He served in the Mexican Mission which also included the six countries
of Central America from the top of Mexico down to the Panama Canal.
During his mission he helped open up Costa Rica for missionary work and was part
of the first LDS baptisms in that country.
Returning home after serving his mission, he enrolled in Brigham Young University.
The thought was, if he wanted to stick to his life's plan and teach seminary, he should go to BYU. So
that's what he did.
While in Mexico, Christensen met up with
Barbara Kohler, a sister missionary. When she returned from her mission more than a year later, he was
still single and they were married in the Salt Lake Temple in 1952. He often said the best decision he
ever made was his choice of a wife.
His brother, Verl, said Barbara was a very supportive woman and a talented wife
and just a great lady.
He finished his Bachelor's Degree at BYU, then did a stint as an officer in the
United States Air Force as the Korean War (Conflict) was winding down, from 1953 to 1955. While serving
in the Air Force, the family was stationed at Charleston Air Force Base in South Carolina.
While he finished his Ph.D. degree from Washington State University, he served as
the director of the Institute of Religion. After graduate school he was invited to be the director of
the Institute of Religion adjacent to the University of Idaho. From there, two years later, he was
invited to become the director of the Institute adjacent to the University of Utah where he served for
In 1970, he, Barbara and their six children went to Mexico City to serve as
mission president. After just three months, the First Presidency called him back to Salt Lake in 1970
to serve with Neal Maxwell, the newly appointed Commissioner of Education for the church.
Christensen worked as an Associate Commissioner of Education for nine years,
administering the seminaries and institutes of religion after the leaders of the church decided to make
the seminary and institute programs available to members of the church around the world. He traveled to
66 countries around the world establishing international seminaries and institutes in 16 languages.
In 1979 his work with church education took another turn when he was called to
serve for four years as the president of the Missionary Training Center in Provo during which time more
than 58,000 missionaries received their initial training. Then in 1985, Christensen came back to
southeast Idaho where he was invited to serve as the president of Ricks College (now BYU-Idaho).
Four years later, in 1989, he was called as a member of the First Quorum of
Seventy. His first assignment was to serve in the Area Presidency over Brazil. Then for more than
six years as one of the presidents of the Seventy.
He was given emeritus status in 1999 and he and his wife were called to serve as
president and matron of the San Diego Temple. Although he is in emeritus status, he still serves with
various assignments from the First Presidency of the Church.
He continues to come to Franklin County to visit with his siblings quite often at
a family getaway near Glendale Reservoir.
"News of the Church: Elder Joe J. Christensen," The Ensign, May 1989, page 88
"New Calls: Second Quorum of the Seventy Created; 12 New General Authorities Sustained," Church News Archives, April 8, 1989>
"Granted emeritus status," Church News Archives, Oct. 9, 1999
2005 Church Almanac, p. 78
Idaho State Journal