Friday, February 22, 2008

Mission Presidents and Sacrifice

Many mission presidents are younger than retirement age as a consequence they sometimes have to make a great economic sacrifice to go on a mission. It is true that they receive a modest living expense during the three years they serve and sometimes receive a temporary position somewhere in the church to transition them back to the workforce. I guess that is one of the reasons many mission presidents called are self-employed or have saved up considerable resources or near retirement age. Not every mission though comes from a wealthy background.

I remember my own mission president M. Russell Ballard telling us of how he had to leave his business enterprises which included H. Salt Fish and Chips franchises, Ballard Wade and Sons Car Dealership, and the Promised Valley Playhouse. While on a mission he didn't give much thought to whether his businesses were prospering. He continually told us to seek first for the kingdom of God and all things would be added to us. I remember when he was called to the Quorum of Seventy that he was asked to begin divesting himself of his business interest and totally removing himself from them by the time he was an apostle since they could prove a conflict of interest to his church responsibilities.

David O. McKay said about mission presidents: "The men who preside over our missions are chosen generally from the rank and file of the Church. They are businessmen, contractors, ranchers, college professors, lawyers, physicians and surgeons, dentists, and members of other professions. When the call comes to any such, no matter what his responsibilities or circumstances, seldom if ever does he offer an excuse but, as Samuel of old, replies: "Speak, for thy servant heareth," [1 Samuel 3:10] even though such acceptance means a financial sacrifice and sometimes the loss of political preferment." (David O. McKay, Gospel Ideals, Salt Lake City: Improvement Era, 1953, p. 129).

In 1972 Milton R. Hunter, a member of the seventy made this observation about mission presidents in the "Miracle of Missionary Work": "The faith and devotion of mission presidents and their wives and families present marvelous stories of sacrifice and service to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ and build up his kingdom.

When the First Presidency, serving as God’s holy prophets, call a man and his wife to preside over a mission, regardless of their business situation or economic conditions, the answer is yes. All personal interests are pushed aside and they faithfully accept the call from the Lord through the First Presidency to preside over a mission for three years’ time.

Each mission president’s individual call, his experiences and faithfulness in accepting that call, adjusting his economic affairs, and completely readjusting the social life for himself and family, is a modern missionary miracle.

For example, in a casual conversation I had recently with the president of one of the full-time missions of the Church, he told me that when he received his mission call from the First Presidency, he asked his employers for a leave of absence. Within three years his financial interest in the company in which he was employed would be large enough to support him and his family for the remainder of their lives.

His employers, being non-church members and unfavorable toward his going on a mission, refused to give him a leave of absence. Also, they informed him that he would lose all of his financial benefits in the company if he accepted the mission call. In spite of this terrific financial sacrifice and the loss of his job, he accepted the mission call and is now faithfully serving his church and his God.

I asked the mission president, “Why didn’t you tell the First Presidency of the financial loss you would suffer if you went on a mission at that time and ask them to postpone your call for three years?”

He replied, “The Lord didn’t call me on a mission for three years from now. He called me to serve now. My wife and I decided to obey the call of the Lord and trust that our financial affairs would be taken care of later.”

Such a sacrifice to render Christian service is certainly astounding. It is a modern missionary miracle."

President Gordon B. Hinckley
assured the mission presidents' seminar particpants in 1992 "that although they may have concerns about their ability to do the work, 'the Lord will not let you down if you walk with faith and humility.'

“You will be trained in greater depth than any generation of mission presidents before you were ever trained. Your fears, your concerns, [your] sacrifices are not new,” President Hinckley commented. “They have been felt by those who have similarly gone forth since the earliest days of the Church.”

“I hope,” President Hinckley concluded, “that each of you presidents and leaders will carry in your hearts a flame of faith and knowledge from which the candles of those who serve under you will catch a light and become of the very essence of their testimonies of the work.”

In 1978 Boyd K. Packer said about mission presidents leaving their worldly pursuits behind: "What is it that would cause a man to set aside his personal pursuits, to interrupt his business or professional activities, to yield in political preference, often to give up seniority, often retirement benefits, to go anywhere on earth, without question and without any unusual compensation or persuasion—no compensation materially—simply to preside over a mission?

I recall a few years ago I was supervising the missions in western Europe. We needed a mission president with a certain language proficiency. Several names were brought forward, but none of them seemed to be right. Then one of the Brethren remembered that he had met a man—I think it was in Korea—several years before. He was a member of the Church who was in the customs service. Somehow just the mention of that name and the Spirit confirmed it. He was called, by virtue of the time pressures, by telephone to preside over the mission. I visited him a few weeks later. He was living in Washington, D.C. He was within reach of the number one office in his category. His lifetime had been spent progressing through the ranks, thinking that perhaps one day he would stand at the head of that division. His senior officer had indicated that because of a health problem he would retire early and that this man was being recommended for that position. It was just at that time that the telephone call came.

I wanted to get acquainted with him and was invited to stay overnight. He brought me a message from his superior. The message was this: “Tell that Brother Packer of yours that you’re no missionary; I’ve worked with you for 30 years, and you haven’t converted me. Tell them they’re making a mistake. And you’re making a mistake. You’re a fool.” (I’m leaving out one word.) “If you will give up your retirement and all that you’ve reached for—why? Why would you do it?”

Simple answer: he’d been called. We live to know, in this church, that the response to a call does not depend on the testimony and witness of the one who delivers the call. It depends, rather, on the testimony and witness of the one who receives it.

It was very interesting. We were looking for a man who spoke French. It was not until after he was in the mission field, and we had some opportunities and responsibilities relating to some of the problems of some members we had in Spain, that we discovered that he wrote and spoke Spanish fluently. I suppose if we’d searched through the Church for a man who spoke French, spoke Spanish, and had had some diplomatic experience, particularly as it related to customs work, we would have gone afar in the world and not found him. Yet it was through the “chance” memory of one of the Brethren that he’d met a man a few years before in Korea who spoke French that he was found. (Boyd K. Packer, Called of God by Prophecy,” New Era, [September 1978]: 33).

Elder Packer says about mission presidents' sacrificing: "Each year a number of men are called to preside over missions. In each case this requires the man's wife and family to accompany him to some distant place and live there for three years. This is a matter of great importance to the family. If the husband accepts the call he must leave his occupation, making such arrangements as he can to obtain a leave of absence from his employer or to find someone to carry on his business. Sometimes the later reentry into his employment is left unsettled. He gives up political preference, his other interests, and his hobbies. He turns away from every worldly ambition in accepting the call.

His wife is equally affected. Her home, the garden, her social position, perhaps some of her family will be left behind for the years of the call. Frequently the call comes at a time when there is the promise of marriage for one of the children, or the coming of grandchildren. The probability of that the parents will not be present during these very important occasions in the lives of their children. Children who accompany the parents are affected too, sometimes more deeply and personally than are the parents. After several years of struggle a young man may have just made the athletic team. Or a young woman perhaps has achieved some position in the school or community that is very desirable to her.

What does a person do when he is asked to set aside every personal interest and go away for three years on call of the servants of the Lord? That depends on how he regards his covenants.

I have met mission presidents and their wives in the training session prior to their departure and have met them in the distant parts of the world in the mission field. I never fail to be impressed with one thought. We are here to be tested. Who will pass the test? Are there men and are there women and are there children in the world who will turn aside from all that they hold dear to respond to a call from the Lord? Is there such dedication in the world? Insofar as these mission presidents and their families are concerned, the question has to that time been answered.

We covenant with the Lord to devote our time, talents, and means to His kingdom. (Boyd K. Packer, The Holy Temple, Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1980, pp.163-164)."

A great example of loving your enemies occurred during World War II when Ezra Taft Benson asked the Dutch Saints to help feed the German people: "While still in Europe, President Benson urged President Cornelius Zappey, president of the Dutch mission, “to find some land on which the Dutch saints might possibly grow some potatoes to take care of their own welfare needs. At the end of the first year the Dutch saints had harvested 66 tons of potatoes—sufficient to care for most of their own needs.

“Then an unusual request was made of these people. As they were assembled together in a mission-wide conference at Rotterdam to give thanks for the abundant harvest, their mission president … said, ‘Some of the most bitter enemies you people have encountered as a result of this war are the German people. We know what intense feelings of dislike you have for them. But those people are now much worse off than you are and we are asking you to send your entire potato harvest to the German saints. Will you do it?’

“They did it. …

“The following year the Dutch Saints raised about 150 tons of potatoes. In addition, they went fishing and caught sufficient herring to fill several barrels. Their response to that success was in effect this: ‘We enjoyed so much giving the German saints those potatoes last year that we want to send them the entire harvest this year along with the pickled herring!’ ” (Frederick W. Babbel, On Wings of Faith, pp. 76–77)."

Dallin H. Oaks
says about this sacrifice: "These senior missionaries offer a special measure of sacrifice and commitment. So do our mission presidents and temple presidents and their loyal companions. All leave their homes and families to serve full-time for a season."

Monte J. Brough says the reward is great for mission presidents leaving everything to go out on a mission: "General Authorities are not alone in this demonstration of sacrifice. Between 500 and 600 letters are sent each week to young people, senior couples, temple missionaries, family history missionaries, and others, asking them to leave their families for a time.

More than 300 mission presidents and their families and more than 50 temple presidencies accept their callings and assignments with the same spirit, knowing that their special calling is a manifestation of unique, personal revelation.

I love the revelation given to President Brigham Young:

“Dear and well-beloved brother, Brigham Young, verily thus saith the Lord unto you: My servant Brigham, it is no more required at your hand to leave your family as in times past, for your offering is acceptable to me.

“I have seen your labor and toil in journeyings for my name.

“I therefore command you to send my word abroad, and take especial care of your family from this time, henceforth and forever. Amen” (D&C 126:1–3)."

M. Russell Ballard tells we must sharing what the Lord has given us if we truly love the Lord: "Every member can give his time and talents freely to the building up of the kingdom of God upon the earth. No member of the Church should miss this opportunity to exercise his faith and feel the spirit that comes from humble sacrifice. Seeing the great good that the Saints in South America do with their meager means helps me realize how much more many of us in other parts of the world could do. We should never forget the Savior’s teaching: “Unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required” (Luke 12:48). He has blessed us abundantly. I think of the teaching words of one of our hymns:

Because I have been given much, I too must give;
Because of thy great bounty, Lord, each day I live
I shall divide my gifts from thee
With ev’ry brother that I see
Who has the need of help from me
(“Because I Have Been Given Much,” Hymns, 1985, no. 219)."

M. Russell Ballard says about a mission being a sacrifice: "A mission is a sacrifice, yet your sacrifice will bring forth “the blessings of heaven.” (See Hymns, 1985, no. 27.) In reality, the sacrifice of leaving home, family, and comforts truly turns out to be a sacrifice of something good for something better."

Sometimes a mission president is blessed for his sacrifice. M. Russell Ballard related the experience of one of his friends: " I would like to share with you a story without sharing any names. I have a very good friend who was the chief executive officer and principal owner of a very large corporation. He was called to preside over a mission. Like so many of our wonderful men who have great skills, capabilities, when the call came from the Lord, he did not question. He had thought enough through his life that it was instantaneous in his mind to accept the call.

But what was to happen to the business, what was to happen to this great enterprise? Situations and management worked out for the best, but in three years lots of things can happen to a business when the guiding light is not there on a day-to-day basis. Ultimately some of the assets of the company were sold. But toward the end of the mission of this great man, an opportunity arose. Within days after his release he was back in business with a program far bigger than anything he had before he was called to be a mission president. He is presently bringing into being one of the major corporations to be based in the state of Utah.

How did he do that? I suppose he learned from the mistakes he made through his life, but, most importantly, he had learned to think straight. When the second opportunity came up, it was easier for him to define, to determine, to make decisions, and to move forward with that second opportunity. (M. Russell Ballard, "Let Us Think Straight," BYU 1983-84 Fireside and Devotional Speeches, Provo: University Publications, 1984, pp. 34-35)."

The Lord truly blesses mission presidents and their families for serving in the mission field. I always think fondly of my own mission president M. Russell Ballard and his example of giving up his worldly wealth to serve the Lord. It has inspired me to want to follow his example. Some day I hope to serve in a similar capacity so I can shape the lives of hundreds of missionaries and bring thousands of members in to the fold.

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