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April 30, 2012
James Ritchie Conquers Challenges to Serve God
Today I wanted to tell you about a man who had a big impact on my life. When I was a teenager, he was my Stake President as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I’ll always be grateful for the confidence he had in me to make something of my difficult early circumstances. He had confidence in all of the youth in the Stake, not just me. I couldn’t get enough of his enthusiastic pep talks.
Jim Ritchie was born into a humble family in Utah to a poultry farmer. As a little boy, he sold the eggs that the chickens laid. In Second grade, he got in trouble for having $200 in his pocket at school. He hadn’t made it to the bank to deposit the money yet. He also helped rent rooms at his family-owned motel.
While a child, he contracted Polio. Jim had a bad enough case that he limped visibly as an adult. He wasn’t able to play any sports in school, but settled for managing the teams when he could.
To compound his problems, he stuttered. It was a bad enough problem for him that he didn’t say much to avoid the embarrassment of stammering when words just wouldn’t come. This problem followed him into the mission field.
In his Mission in Scotland, all of the missionaries were assigned zones. Only one missionary (Elder Walch) could leave his zone because had been designated to speak in the many areas as a travelling speaker. And he chose brand-new Elder Ritchie to speak as his companion speaker each Sunday for 6 months! He said, “Every Sunday I had to get up and give a five-minute talk. The first three months they were terrible, terrible talks. Then Elder Walch stood up and gave his powerful 30-minute dissertation and people would line up to get baptized every time he spoke. Nobody but my mother and best friend knew I had a problem with stuttering. And yet, somehow the Lord put me together with Elder Walch in Dumbarton, Scotland for six long months, forcing me to stand at a pulpit until one day I finally gave a talk that somebody understood. I’m telling you that that didn’t happen by accident.” God made that happen to prepare Jim for his future service in His Kingdom.
Elder David B. Haight was Jim’s Mission President. Jim still speaks of the advice that Elder Haight gave him on the day he left his mission to return home. He said, “Go home, Jim. Get your education. Make your mark. And get prepared to be used.” Jim said, “That statement had a dramatic impact on the way I've lived my life and on what kind of objectives and goals I have set. I went home and became obsessed with doing exactly what he had said in the order he said to do it. Get my education, make my mark, and get prepared to be used.”
Jim went to BYU in Provo and earned a Bachelors in Accountancy. There he met his wife, Carolyn, and he began to make his mark. He tried several business endeavors, at one time having 26 different entities all operating at the same time. They included a farm store, trailer parks, restaurants and hotels, land development projects, Ski-Doo dealership, a Sears Catalog store, a tire store, a Meadow Gold dairy products distributorship, a travel agency and a used car lot. (I remember how he called it “Honest Jim’s Used Cars.” Somehow the public couldn’t fathom an honest used-car salesman!) Many of these businesses didn’t work out, but some did. Jim kept trying and kept applying the formula he got from Elder Haight. And he trusted in the promises that God gives his faithful servants.
After a few years of failures and successes, he was able to retire at the age of 30! Yes, he was independently wealthy at that young age because he found his place to make his mark. He formally retired and accepted a call to start a ‘released-time Seminary’ in my hometown of Simi Valley, California as the new Institute Director. Arriving in Simi, he was immediately called to be Stake President of the Simi Valley Stake. Now he was truly doing the third part of the advice—being used in the work of the Lord. Since then, Jim has served as a Mission President, an MTC President and completed two other missions with his wife. He also served as a Regional Representative, and Area Director for CES in Southeast Africa.
Once crippled by polio, now he is described as reaching ‘lofty heights.’ And once unable to speak without stuttering, now he speaks motivationally to groups about how to succeed in life. In fact, he shares this formula without hesitation, hoping to motivate young people to prepare themselves to ultimately serve in God’s kingdom. He says to his audiences, “…someday you are going to be asked to fill some important roles. You have no idea what is to come. We are the generation that will finish the job of having this earth prepared for the Savior’s return.”
Jim further declared, “I want you to know that the Church is true. God runs this church. It is the Savior’s church. It has His name on it and He runs it. When He wants an Elder Walch to be by your side, at some pulpit in some lowly village in Scotland, He’ll find a way to do that. If He’ll do that for a chicken farmer’s son, who limps when he walks and stutters when he talks, if He’ll do that for me, what will he do for you?”
Can you see why he motivated me? He kept reminding me that I was here for a purpose, that I could accomplish it with an education and hard work and the Lord’s help.
To learn more, see Ritchie, James W. “Find Your Oil; Make Your Mark” Marriott Magazine, Winter 2002 Found on April 29, 2012 at http://marriottschool.byu.edu/marriottmag/winter02/features/ritchie1.cfm?loc=feature
Ritchie, James W. “Happiness and Success Formula (Guaranteed), 14 October 2008 Devotional talk, found on April 29, 2012 at http://www.byub.org/talks/transcripts/hdevo/2008/10/hdevo20081014-3457.pdf
Foley, Mike. “New BYUH Entrepreneurship Director Named.” Newsroom Brigham Young University-Hawaii, 13 May 2008, found at http://newsroom.byuh.edu/print/1727
“Mormon Simi Stake President is praised for his life’s work” The Enterprise March 4, 1983, p. 12.