Sunday, October 7, 2007

Sister Missionaries

Much of the major growth that is coming to the Church in the last days will come because many of the good women of the world (in whom there is often such an inner sense of spirituality) will be drawn to the Church in large numbers. This will happen to the degree that the women of the Church reflect righteousness and articulateness in their lives and to the degree that the women of the Church are seen as distinct and different--in happy ways--from the women of the world. (Spencer W. Kimball, "The Role of Righteous Women," Ensign, [November 1979]: 102-103).

With reference to young sister missionaries, there has been some misunderstanding of earlier counsel regarding single sisters serving as missionaries. We need some young women. They perform a remarkable work. They can get in homes where the elders cannot. But it should be kept I mind that young sisters are not under obligation to go on missions. They should not feel that they have a duty comparable to that of young men, but some will wish to go. If so, they should counsel with their bishop as well as their parents. (Gordon B. Hinckley, “To the Bishops of the Church, Worldwide Leadership Training Meeting, June 2004, p. 27 quoted in New Era, [March 2007]: 47).

We also have and can use many young sisters in this work, although the same responsibility does not rest upon them that rests upon the brethren, and our greater concern with reference to young sisters is that they enter proper marital unions in the temples of the Lord. (Joseph Fielding Smith, Conference Report, October 1970).

A full-time mission is totally appropriate for a young woman, if that is what she wants to do and she is worthy. Holding the priesthood comes with the obligation for young men to carry the message of the Restoration to the world. Young women are invited to participate in missionary work as it is appropriate to their circumstances. If they have prospects for marriage, that is a higher calling. But young women who are in a position to serve make great missionaries. They are good teachers, they have empathy, and they can relate particularly well to women. I don’t think that we have a mission president anywhere in the world where the mission president wouldn’t be thrilled to get more sister missionaries. (M. Russell Ballard, “How to Prepare to Be a Good Missionary,” New Era, [March 2007]: 6).

There was a time when our sisters did not go into the world very much as missionaries. There was a time when some of the mission Presidents did not think they could do missionary work very well, it was so difficult, but if you could see some of the letters that are written in from mission Presidents now, "Can't you send us some more of those fine women that can do such splendid work among the women and among the children in these lands?" (George Albert Smith, "Living to Enjoy the Blessings of the Lord," Relief Society Magazine, [December 1948]: 838).

Recently on a trip to Brazil we stopped overnight in Jamaica to meet with our people there. I think it was the first time a President of the Church had ever been there. At the airport, as we came through customs and immigration, were two wonderful women. One is from Los Angeles. Each is a widow. Each has reared a fine family to maturity. Each volunteered for missionary service without indicating where she might go or what she might do. They were assigned to Jamaica, and there they are performing a marvelous work. They are teaching, lifting, and encouraging those who have felt they had a small opportunity in the world.

As I shook hands and conversed with Norma Hall and Erva Fredericksen, I asked them if they were having a good time. They said they were having the time of their lives. They have found that they are needed. They have discovered that they can help. They have learned that someone depends on them. They have come alive in their declining years. They love what they are doing. About the only fear they have is that all of this will come to an end before too long. When that happens, there can be a short time of rest and relaxation and then another opportunity. Their health is better because they are actively engaged. They have never known one another before, but they have become fast friends. They are making a contribution. (Gordon B. Hinckley, Los Angeles World Affairs Council, 12 June 2002 quoted in Discourses of President Gordon B. Hinckley Volume 2: 2000-2004, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2005, pp. 516).

On one occasion, Elder Hanks toured a mission, interviewing each of the missionaries laboring in that particular area. I had been on an assignment in an adjoining area and was given a ride to the airport with Elder Hanks and the mission president.
Elder Hanks told the mission president what a privilege it had been to visit with and interview each of the missionaries. He said he had felt prompted to ask one sister missionary, "Please tell me about your mission and how you felt about being called as a sister missionary."

She told him that her humble father, a farmer, had willingly sacrificed much for the Lord and His kingdom. He was already sustaining two sons on missions when he talked with her one day about her unexpressed desires to be a missionary and explained to her how the Lord had helped him to prepare to help her.

He had gone to the fields to talk with the Lord, to tell Him that he had no more material possessions to sell or sacrifice or to use as collateral for borrowing. He needed to know how he could help his daughter go on a mission. He felt the inspiration to plant onions. He thought he had misunderstood. Onions would not likely grow well in this climate; others were not growing onions; he had no experience growing onions.

After wrestling with the Lord for a time, he was again impressed to plant onions. So he borrowed money from the bank, purchased seeds, planted and nurtured, and prayed.
The elements were tempered; the onion crop prospered. He sold the crop; paid his debts to the bank, the government, and the Lord; and put the remainder in an account under his daughter's name—enough to support her during her mission.

Elder Hanks then told the mission president, "I will not forget the story or the moment or the tears in her eyes or the sound of her voice or the feeling I had as she said, “Brother Hanks, I don't have any trouble believing in a loving Heavenly Father who knows my needs and will help me according to His wisdom if I am humble enough.”
Elder Hanks was teaching a most important lesson: each child in each classroom, each young man or young woman, each student in seminary or institute, each adult in Gospel Doctrine classes, each missionary—yes, every one of us—has a story waiting to be told. Listening is an essential element as we teach and as we learn. (Thomas S. Monson, “Examples of Great Teachers,” Worldwide Leadership Training Meeting: Teaching and Learning, 10 February 2007).

Full-time missionary work is primarily a priesthood calling, and that is why young men are asked to prepare. President [Spencer W.] Kimball has said that every worthy, normal young man should respond to a mission call. In the case of a sister, however, such service is optional. We do not wish to create a program that would prevent them from finding--or place a hardship in their way toward finding--a proper companion in marriage, because that is their foremost responsibility, if such is able to happen. But there are many sisters who have decided that a mission call will further bless and enrich them, and I should say that we have need for them, for their great service and their added maturity. Thus we do not seek to place the same mandate upon the sisters as the Lord has upon the young men, but we are very happy to have them if a mission is their desire. ("Status Report on Missionary Work: A Conversation with Thomas S. Monson," Ensign, [October 1977]: 11).

Now it is my opinion, and I have a very strong opinion to that effect, that this world is rapidly reaching the point when the cup of iniquity will be full, and we send our missionaries out to warn the people. Among those missionaries now, for many, many years, we have been sending our sisters. They have been doing a good work. The Lord says:

Verily I say unto you, that they who go forth bearing these tidings unto the inhabitants of the earth, to them is power given to seal both on earth and in heaven, the unbelieving and rebellious;

Yea, verily, to seal them up unto the day when the wrath of God shall be poured out upon the wicked without measure. (D&C 1:8-9).

I think that day of wickedness is rapidly drawing upon us. We need the help of our sisters, you good sisters of the Relief Society, to help us teach the principles of eternal truth just as well as we do the elders of the Church. You can teach it in your organizations. Our sisters need to be taught, many of them, just as well as do our brethren. (Joseph Fielding Smith, Take Heed To Yourselves!, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1966, pp. 260-261).

Some girls may be called on full-time missions, and all will have the opportunity to be highly useful in the kingdom of God if they prepare themselves. It has been said that "when you educate a man, you educate an individual; but when you educate a woman, you educate a whole family." (Dr. Charles D. McIver). We want our women to be well educated, for children may not recover from the ignorance of their mothers. ("The Greatest Personage Was the Most Perfect Teacher," Assembly Hall, Salt Lake City, Utah, 12 September 1975).

Recently, in Dallas, Texas, I had the pleasure of addressing nearly two hundred missionaries. Among them were several young sisters. As I spoke to them, I had the feeling that they are a good example of a group of young people who are living in this wicked world and yet are not partaking of the sins of the world.

I am proud of them and grateful for them and know that the Lord is blessing and magnifying them. It is my great joy to meet with them whenever we go to a mission headquarters. They are choice young people. (Ezra Taft Benson, CR A'84, Ensign, 14 [May 1984]: 45).

We have hundreds of older sisters, for example, serving as full-time missionaries. And there is a need for the labors of everyone. But the rigors of missionary work are real, and I think it fair to say that an elderly adult contemplating a full-time mission would need to be able to find an intense lifestyle a pleasant experience.
Now, when an older couple goes out, these two are companions and have had long experience in pacing themselves. But the same mutual experience is not available when we mix youth and age as companions. Lest I paint a bleak picture, however, I must say that we have had a number of fine older sisters serve successfully in the missions of the Church.

But I would thing a much more preferable alternative for most older single adults would be a stake mission. The joys, opportunities, and flexibilities of stake missionary service are very little known throughout the Church. This type of missionary service would represent a much more ideal match-up to many of our people who wish to be involved in full-time or part-time missionary work. We often do not appreciate the fact that missionary work in New York or Texas or Toronto or London or New Zealand is just like calling on nonmember neighbors in your own stake.

One of the outstanding stakes in stake missionary work in Salt Lake Valley had been Millcreek Stake. Recently while there I talked to two lady missionaries who had filled full-time missions elsewhere and were now serving stake missions. Each enthusiastically said that she had been instrumental in bringing twice as many people into the Church as a stake missionary as she has as a full-time missionary. One of the most successful stake missionaries I have ever known was sister Veda Mortimer, wife of George Mortimer, who served as stake president in New Jersey. She asked that the stake and mission presidencies assign her three companions because she wanted to do missionary work most weekdays and weekends. Her success and results were phenomenal.

I think it is significant that President Kimball has placed great emphasis on stake missionary work--and I think many of our people are just now beginning to see and understand the great joy and potential that exist in stake missionary service. I would hope that many, many of our older and middle-aged couples and single adults would wish to discuss such a possibility with their leadership. ("Status Report on Missionary Work: A Conversation with Thomas S. Monson," Ensign, [October 1977]: 12).

I sat in a meeting in Aruba the other evening. I daresay that most of those who hear me do not know where Aruba is or that there is even such a place. It is an island off the coast of Venezuela. It is a protectorate of the Netherlands. It is an inconspicuous place in the vast world. There were about 180 in the meeting. On the front row were eight missionaries: six elders and two sisters. The congregation consisted of men and women, boys and girls of various racial strains. A little English was spoken, much of Spanish, and some expressions of other languages.
As I looked into the faces of that congregation, I thought of the faith there represented. They loved this Church. They appreciated all that it does. They stand and testify of the reality of God the Eternal Father and his resurrected Beloved Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. They testified of the Prophet Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon. They serve where they are called to serve. They are men and women of faith who have embraced the true and living gospel of the Master, and in their midst are these eight missionaries. I am sure that it is a lonely place for them. But they are doing what they have been asked to do because of their faith. The two young women are beautiful and happy. As I look at them, I said to myself, “Eighteen months is a long time to be in this faraway place.” But they do not complain. They speak of the great experience they are having and of the wonderful people they meet. Shining through all of their service is the reassuring faith that the work in which they are engaged is true and that the service they are giving is given unto God.

It is so with our missionaries wherever they might serve, whether it be here in Salt Lake City or in Mongolia. They go and serve with faith in their hearts. It is a phenomenon of great power that quietly whispers, “This cause is true, and to you there is an obligation to serve it regardless of the cost.”

Again, people cannot understand it, these thousands of bright and able young men and women who forgo social life, leave school, and selflessly go wherever they are sent to teach the gospel. They go by the power of faith, and they teach by the power of faith, planting a seed of faith here and another there which grow and mature into converts of strength and capacity. (Gordon B. Hinckley, Conference Report, 2 April 2001).

Two of my sisters, widows--one the mother of ten, and the other the mother of eight--after sending their children on missions, talked to their bishops about going on missions themselves. I well remember the day they called me on the telephone and said, "Guess what? We have received our missionary calls." I said, "What missionary calls?" They replied, "Don't you know?" I said, "No, I hadn't heard." They responded, "Yes, we are both going to your old field of labor in England." The mission president assigned them to work as companions--twenty months without a transfer. I think that is some kind of record. (Ezra Taft Benson, CR A'84, Ensign, 14 [May 1984]: 45).

When two-year-old Clayton overheard the family sharing feelings about his grandmother serving in Swaziland, Africa, his little heart was touched. Often he would fold his arms, bow his head, and say, "Gam-ma on mission. Jesus. Amen." When she returned, he did not recognize her until she said, "This is your missionary grandma." Instantly, he broke into a smile, ran, and threw his arms around her. Each grandchild now wants to be a missionary. (Richard G. Scott, CR A'93, Ensign, [May 1993]: 33).

Remember, young women, you may also have the opportunity to serve a full-time mission. I am grateful my own eternal companion served a mission in Hawaii before we were married in the Salt Lake Temple, and I am pleased that I have had three granddaughters serve full-time missions. Some of our finest missionaries are young sisters. (Ezra Taft Benson, "To the Young Women of the Church," Ensign, 16 [November 1986]: 83).