Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Role of Mission Presidents Wives

I have been researching the role of mission presidents wives. She is called as her husband with the laying of hands by a member of the Executive Priesthood Committee who is usually an apostle or a member of the First Presidency. Her responsibility is to her children and husband then to the missionaries.

Gerald J. Day in the Encyclopedia of Mormonism
says: "An important concern of the mission president and his wife is naturally the continued nurture and care of their own children who have come with them. A second concern is the nurture and care of the missionaries, the majority of whom are young, uprooted, often struggling with a new language, and facing new stresses."

The Mormon Wikipedia says: "It is not uncommon to hear references to both a husband and wife serving as mission presidents. This is, however, is incorrect as only a high priest may serve as mission president. The mission president's wife is set apart as a missionary and a companion to her husband and accompanies him to his field of service.

Mission presidents' wives have choices in how they serve. Since mission presidents can bring their children with them (if they are still dependent), some mission presidents' wives are still very busy with the duties of motherhood. Mission presidents' wives with young children normally have less time to interact with the missionaries or to serve in leadership capacities. Those with more time are able to travel to conferences, speak at conferences, teach, participate in musical presentations, orient new missionaries, and host gatherings."

Gerry Avant in the Church News in 1995 wrote one of the best articles on the role of mission presidents' wives:

"The inestimable work [women] do in the missionary field, as in the home, too seldom receives due recognition and praise. I have profound respect . . . for the mission president's wife who, while showing her deepest tenderness in helping her husband to do his duty, yet in her own sphere, by intelligent, superb planning and unselfish service, gives to any habitation the true spirit of home; and by tender admonition and encouragement, lightens the heart of homesick [missionaries] with the assurance that they can and will succeed." - President David O. McKay, April general conference, 1954.

"We do appreciate you [wives of mission presidents]. You're the ones who give verve, spirit, interest and marvelous spark to our missions. . . . If there's any wife of any mission president who has any question about how important you are: We need you very, very much. The Lord will inspire you and let you discover talents you never dreamed you had, and the power and ability to fulfill every need for every responsibility that will come to you." - Elder Richard G. Scott, at Mission Presidents' Seminar, June 1994.

"My wife and I have a true companionship. We work together. I don't think any mission can be successful without this kind of relationship." -Pennsylvania Pittsburgh Mission Pres. Thales A. Derrick, speaking of his wife, Sister Willa Brooks Derrick, in a Church News interview.

If asked, most members of the Church could give a fairly good description of the role of a mission president. But if they're asked about the role of the woman who serves by his side as companion, they might reply with a statement such as, ``She's the mission president's wife.''

While there is nothing wrong with the terminology of "mission president's wife," her role is much more encompassing than many realize. And the role differs from mission to mission.

Sister Willa Brooks Derrick of St. George, Utah, is one of the 303 women in the Church who currently bears the title "mission president's wife." She has been serving with her husband, Pres. Thales A. Derrick, in the Pennsylvania Pittsburg Mission since July 1992. They are to be released from their missionary service in July.

Sister Derrick hesitates to use the adjective "typical" in speaking of herself as "the typical mission president's wife."

"My situation might be different from that of the mission president's wife in the adjoining mission, or in a mission in another country," she said. "Some bring young children or teenagers with them into the mission field. They will have different kinds of responsibilities than those of us whose children are grown, or those who don't have children.

"At the mission president's seminar we attended before we came to the mission field, the wives were told that our first priority is our husbands and our families. We have four sons and a daughter. Our youngest son entered the Missionary Training Center at the same time we did; he recently returned from the Riga Latvia Mission and is a student at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo. All our other children are married. When we left, we had four grandchildren; now we have nine. Being away from our grandchildren is one of the most challenging things about serving a mission, but we keep in close contact. I write a lot of letters!"

Sister Derrick spends time keeping in touch with missionaries. She makes a point of sending each missionary a card at Christmas and for his or her birthday.

She described one of her major duties as "just being here." She said one of her main, and most enjoyable, duties is, along with her husband, hosting missionaries at the mission home as they arrive in the mission and as they prepare to return home from their missions.

"It's very important for the mission president's wife to be on hand to greet the missionaries as they arrive from the Missionary Training Center and to bid them farewell as they leave the mission,'' she said. "We prepare a nice dinner for them on both occasions. We also prepare meals for other occasions. A mission president's wife has lots of meals to prepare. There is time spent in grocery shopping. I enjoy this."

Another major and crucial responsibility that has been delegated to Sister Derrick is that of assisting in looking after the health and well-being of the missionaries.

"I try to see that they're eating nutritious meals, following good hygiene, getting a good balance of rest and exercise," she said. "Sometimes, I'm able to help resolve health problems by giving some old-fashioned, common sense advice like,
'Try gargling with salt water.' But there are times when permission is given for a missionary to call or go see a doctor. At zone conferences or other meetings with missionaries, I'll talk to them about personal hygiene, taking care of food and proper diet.

"A mission president's wife gives lots of talks--at stake and district conferences, at youth conferences, stake women's conferences, as well as zone conferences," Sister Derrick said. "In our zone conference this month, I'm giving a presentation about the importance of keeping a clean apartment. I've given talks about good manners and etiquette. The first time I did presentation on manners and etiquette, a number of missionaries thanked me. They said I taught them about things they had never heard of before. I also give talks on a variety of gospel-related topics.

"I talk a lot about obedience, because the only way to be a good missionary is to be obedient. Most missionaries come with a great desire to serve and to learn, and they come from families that are strong in the gospel. But some come to their missions without strong family ties, or with no families to support and encourage them. Some are the only members of the Church in their families.

"Missionaries are an outstanding group of people. I can't say enough about missionary couples and older sister missionaries. We appreciate their spiritual strength and wisdom. I marvel at the energy and enthusiasm of the young elders and sisters. We see such outstanding people among our missionaries. It's amazing to watch them, especially as they grow in spirituality and leadership."

Sister Derrick said she might be able to compile a list of all the things a mission president's wife does during her mission. "But," she added, "being a mission president's wife is a kind of experience I can't describe. I get weepy when I talk about it. It's a wonderful opportunity, one of the greatest blessings in my life. It's also quite difficult, especially when I realize how precious the young people of the Church are and how important it is for them to have a really good mission experience. I feel the responsibility of that a great deal."

Before he retired, Pres. Derrick was a career fighter pilot in the U.S. Air Force. He and Sister Derrick lived in many places throughout the world, packing up their belongings and moving their family into different dwellings they made "home" for the duration of his assignments. At times, he went places where he could not take his family, such as to Vietnam.

"Being able to serve the Lord full-time is a special privilege, especially to be able to serve with my husband on this mission," Sister Derrick said. "This kind of opportunity comes in no other way in the Church or anywhere. We've been able to come here and focus only on the work of the Lord, to put the cares of the world behind us. We eliminated a lot of things from our lives that we would have had at home, such as going to movies or basketball and football games. Our whole emphasis has been on a different plane. That plane has been a great opportunity to assist in bringing souls to Christ. I feel we have grown spiritually." ("Roles Are Varied for Mission Presidents' Wives," Church News [Saturday, 18 February 1995]: 8).

Neal A Maxwell says of the conditions she could face: "The first scene: A mission president is called on very short notice to replace a mission president who has died. The faithful wife, in one case, brings her husband's body home, while the other sister, just out of surgery, willingly responds to the call to join her husband far from home. Each sister handles her stern challenge trustingly, sweetly, and without murmuring. They understand that sin is the only real tragedy!

A second snapshot: A young mission president, his wife, and five children in Spartan circumstances. Water must be boiled and placed in their van as they drive for hours under a scorching sun to be with scattered missionaries and Saints. Adopted children from another culture are now in a home which is developing a celestial culture, where the mother is the children's only school teacher. Uncomplainingly, this family goes effectively about their labors--quite innocent of how special they are! They know they are included in this reassuring declaration: "all flesh is in mine hands; be still and know that I am God(D&C 101:16)." (Neal A. Maxwell, CR A'83, Ensign, [May 1983]: 11).

Bonnie D. Parkin tells a time of difficulty when serving as a mission president's wife: "In 1997 my husband was called to preside over the England London South Mission; we began our missionary service in July. Many things were new to me. Embarking on our first round of zone conferences, I hoped to get to know our missionaries, and I hoped they would get to know me. July 11 found us on the stand in the Maidstone stake center chapel for a conference with 75 missionaries.

As we sang the opening hymn, I was suddenly overcome with nausea and dizziness. I turned to my husband and told him I was sick. My husband, an ear doctor, noticed an abnormal jerking in my eyes. He quickly summoned two missionaries to help me out of the meeting and into a classroom. What an awful introduction! Becoming sicker by the minute, I received a priesthood blessing from my husband and a faithful missionary and was then taken to the mission home. Every bump in the road and motion of the car worsened the queasiness and vertigo I felt. Soon I had completely lost my sense of balance and could no longer hear in one ear. Medical tests indicated a probable inner ear blood clot and the possibility of never regaining my balance or the hearing in my right ear.

I was scared, worried, and angry. While I believed my husband and I had been called of God, I wondered, “How can I assist the Lord in this great work if I cannot hear or even walk?” With no other family members or close friends to turn to for help, I felt completely alone. I needed a miracle. Believing I had done God’s will in accepting callings and trying to do what was right, I pleaded with Him to make me well. I was sure I had sufficient faith for a miracle.

With treatment, my balance gradually improved. But the hearing in my right ear did not return, leaving me deaf in that ear. This made me feel more discouraged. Why me? I was serving a mission for three years! Did I deserve this? Unlike Joseph, I did not view this affliction as an opportunity for good. I was more like Joseph’s brothers who, upon finding their money in their grain sacks and fearing an evil stratagem, wondered, “What is this that God hath done unto us?” (Gen. 42:28).

I had forgotten that the same Lord who can turn water into wine can make our weak things strong (see Ether 12:27), that “all things wherewith you have been afflicted shall work together for your good, and to my name’s glory” (D&C 98:3).

Nine years later, with my own deeper perspective, I realize that countless blessings have come from those afflictions in England. For example, like Joseph of old, I was imprisoned—not by bars but by vertigo—in a land far from the help of my extended family. But just as Joseph found support from friends, I found support from my fellow missionaries. Senior couples whom we had barely met came to the mission home and assisted me with my responsibilities to greet arriving missionaries and bid farewell to those departing.

When you hear with only one ear, understanding others when they speak can be extremely difficult, especially if they are on your bad-ear side. By necessity I have become a better listener as I focus more directly on those speaking to me. Looking directly at them helps me better grasp what they are saying and sense what they are feeling.

Partially losing my hearing has helped me develop patience for others, especially those with disabilities. It has helped me find faith to accept affliction. It has given me clarity to realize that instant, miraculous cures are not always the Lord’s will. In fact, sometimes just the opposite is true.

Would I want to go through this experience again? No. Yet has my soul been stretched and expanded from this and other challenges like it? Absolutely. Of course, while the growth has come, my hearing has not; the residue of affliction often remains. What then?

In February 2002 I was sitting across the desk from President Gordon B. Hinckley. He asked, “Bonnie, how is your health?” I answered that my health was fine, although I could not hear in my right ear because I had lost that hearing in the mission field. He then asked, “How is the hearing in your other ear?” “Fine,” I said. “Well, then,” he replied, “just turn your head.” He then proceeded to issue my current call. President Hinckley understands the principle of doing the best with what we have and making adjustments when we need to compensate."

Mary Perriton, wife of the Deajeon Korea Mission President Alan has a special birthday box where elders select a gift and everyone sings happy birthday.

Karen Acerson wife of Jeff Acerson of the Rome Italy Mission had the missionaries "each contributed a miracle or tender mercy that they, an investigator, convert, or even their family had experienced during or because of their mission. I compiled them into a “Book of Miracles” and gave one to each missionary as their Christmas gift. What a treasure this has been as we recognize Heavenly Father’s hand in our lives through great and small miracles." She discusses an angle I didn't think of when she tells how her daughter washes piles and piles of dishes from the missionaries eating at the mission home.

She also tells us: "There are always meals to cook, cookies to bake, sheets and towels to wash, birthday cards to write, calls to be made, and trainings to give. And that’s just my part (of course the children are a big help as well). . . Now imagine this: You have just sent the missionaries off and have about 15 sets of bedding and 15 towels and many dishes to clean and put away and the assistants have you sit down with them to plan the zone conferences for a couple of days later! So you take a deep breath, start cleaning (thank goodness for all these wonderfuly children we have here — they have been a huge help!) and plan your talk/training while doing your house work. We’re loving it though. You realize just how much you have to rely on the Lord to help you and give you those moments of inspiration that will help you as you help Him."

Wickipedia says: "The wife's role varies depending on the age of her children and her background. Some wives with nursing criteria serve as the medical person for the mission. They help with hygiene, particularly in developing countries. Wives also frequently cook meals for visiting missionaries."

I read a few blogs on the internet by mission presidents' wives to see what they really describe themselves as doing. You can check on my sidebar for specific mission blogs. One of their main functions is to travel with their husbands as a companion to the various meetings that they attend including zone conferences, district conferences, and ward and stake conferences. Many times they are called on to speak. They share the responsibility of assisting their husband in various ways so they must be knowledgeable about Church leadership and teachings. They should also be motivational speakers since they will address various groups of people in short talks or by bearing their testimonies.

Here are the list of their blogs:

Jeff Acerson Padova Italy Mission Blog

Grandma Chubby's Stuff (Bucharest Romania Mission)

Called to Serve: Official Blog for Mike and Joyce Murray Mission President of the Pennsylvania Philadelphia Mission of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints

Anyanghasaeyo: News of the Daejeon Korea Mission.

Durban South Africa Mission Blog

Barbara Winder experience while serving with her husband on their first assignment as mission president is related in the October 1985 Ensign: "The Winders’ call to the San Diego Mission was a treasured opportunity to work closely together. But it was also a time when Sister Winder learned to be somewhat more independent. Speaking assignments for a mission president’s wife are frequent—as many as three or four in a single day. Sister Winder would often ask her husband to advise her on a topic that might be appropriate. She laughs when she recalls his standard answer. “Because he was so pressed himself, he would always say, ‘Use your own judgment.’ I think making so many decisions on my own was good preparation for my present calling.”

The missionaries from the San Diego Mission saw Sister Winder as a loving woman, one concerned about them, one they could always approach. Sister Garnett Cooper remembers her personal touch when she would come to visit the missionaries and leave a home-baked treat. Richard Winder wryly remembers the way he and his wife were often introduced at zone conferences: “First we’ll hear from Sister Winder, the inspiration of the mission; then we’ll hear President Winder’s instructions.”

The mission was a time of digging deeper into the scriptures, of becoming thoroughly familiar with them. It was the mission experience, too, that gave Sister Winder the perspective she needs to deal with the constant demands of her current calling. She remembers one particularly frustrating day when she and her husband were scheduled to host fifty missionaries at dinner. She had been up late with mission responsibilities several nights in a row and now had no time to prepare her talk. Knowing how much the missionaries depended on her for spiritual rejuvenation, she found a quiet corner in the dining room. As she pleaded for help, she heard a voice say, “Sister Winder, this is not your time; this is the Lord’s time.”

“From that experience,” she explains, “I knew the Lord would bless me. No matter how I felt physically, no matter what had to be done, I knew he would be with me.”

Sister Winder
also served a second mission a few years later when she was released as the Church's Relief Society President. "On 1 July 1990, a mission in Czechoslovakia, forbidden for forty years, was again opened, with Richard W. Winder as president of the Czechoslovakian Mission. He had served in that country on his first mission as a young man. His wife, Barbara, was released as general president of the Relief Society to accompany her husband on this crucial assignment for which they alone were so uniquely qualified."

Being the companion to their husband they also study Preach My Gospel. Richard G. Scott tells the following experience: "One mission president’s wife studied and pondered every word in Preach My Gospel, including every scriptural reference. She then did something she had lacked the courage to do—she invited a close relative to study and ponder the Book of Mormon. That individual accepted her invitation and has been greatly benefited."

One function that they perform is to see that missionaries accommodations are clean and that missionaries are trained in health, social skills including manners. The mission president's wife plays a vital role in training programs and the health, welfare, and safety of each missionary. They also conduct sister conferences where sisters are taught many different skills from etiquette to beauty skills to spiritual subjects to how to dress for success.

One thing they also do is to make sure that arrangements for food is handled for various functions such as arrival and departure of new missionaries, zone conferences, mission-wide conferences, special holiday functions, and visits of dignitaries including general authorities.

Many of them have public relations skills where they set up blogs or photo displays. On occasion they entertain the families of departing missionaries.

President Ezra Taft Benson said of their role: "During the next few years you sisters will be known as Sister So-and-so, the mission president's wife--not the mission mother. The following thoughts may have crossed your minds. "What am I supposed to do?" "How can I support my husband?" "How does the call to my husband involve me?" Now, may I counsel you sisters in ten specific areas.

You will each be set apart as a missionary companion to your husband. As a companion, you will be a vital force in his success and well being. You are to be ever present with a listening ear, an understanding and prayerful heart, and an enthusiastic spirit. You must be prayerful and continually seek the guidance and strength of the Holy Ghost; not only for yourself, but for your husband, your children, the missionaries, the members, and the investigators.

You have no direct responsibility for supervising auxiliaries. However, if you have expertise in some of these areas, you may offer counsel and assistance as directed by your husband in his calling as mission president, but your first duty is to your husband and children.

You should always be in full agreement with the counsel and policies that your husband is setting in the mission. You must not counsel the missionaries over your husband's head. You must not run the zone conferences--no long talks, etc. If your husband is out of town, the missionaries should know that you, and not the assistants or zone leaders, are in charge of the mission home, but in the proselyting program, the assistants are in charge in the absence of the mission president.

You should always be well groomed and properly dressed. Your skirts should be flared, pleated, or gathered for the sake of modesty when you are seated. Your daughters should never wear bikinis, short skirts, short shorts, tight pants, halters, or low-cut dresses. You should avoid having rock music played in the mission home, in the mission president's car or staff cars.

You should assist your husband in seeing that he has his food, sleep, and exercise and that his clothes are prepared in case he is suddenly called out of town. You should be dedicated to keeping him happy. You should also guard your own health and conserve your energy and strength.

Studying the scriptures daily is essential to your own spirituality and well being.

You should put your husband and family first and the missionaries second, but do everything you can for the missionaries. Do not mother or baby them, but, in your own way, teach them correct principles, such as proper manners--how to be gentlemen and ladies. Teach them how to take care of their health, how to cook and eat the proper foods, how to take care of themselves when they are sick. You will be in an excellent position to provide encouragement to missionaries. Know who your missionaries are and what they are doing. Send birthday cards and acknowledge special achievements or occasions in their lives. Take a special interest in the missionaries and their needs. Call them by name. Address them as "Elder and Sister" . . .never by their first names. Seek ways to continually build them up.

Her first responsibility is to her children to make sure their lives are not disrupted during the three years that the family is serving a mission. This will entail many activities and school functions. I think the mission president's wife is a superwoman since she has so much to do on the home front and in assisting her husband.

If asked to, you should be willing to accept outside speaking engagements (standards nights, etc.), and should only use Church teachings for reference and not your own personal views.

You should be very careful how you spend your household budget.

The mission home should be kept beautiful and clean. Missionaries, members, and investigators should always be welcome (within reason). Yours is the responsibility to create a lovely spirit in the mission home.

My dear sisters the Lord loves you and expects great things of you. May you be faithful in the sacred trust He has placed in you. We love you and trust you as handmaidens of the Lord and missionary companions to your husbands." (Ezra Taft Benson, Mission Presidents’ Seminar, 21 June 1975).

President Benson also said: "We've heard many fine reports on the contributions of the wives as companions to their mission president husbands. Besides the Lord, you're his greatest asset. Together the three of you form a great team. I would urge you to pray for your husband, pray for the missionaries. Don't hesitate to share with your husband suggestions that will improve the mission and strengthen relationships between him and the missionaries or priesthood leaders. There will be times when your husband will need your encouragement. Be sensitive to those occasions to give him that love and encouragement. He cannot succeed without the help of the Lord. He also cannot succeed without your help. (Ezra Taft Benson, "Keys to Successful Missionary Work," Mission Presidents’ Seminar, 20 June 1979)."

When I was a missionary I thought the three mission presidents I served in all had beautiful wives. One of her functions is to be a role model not only to the sister missionaries but to the elders in what kind of a woman they would want to marry when they go home.

I think that their greatest contribution is to counsel their husbands and to listen to him and help him bear up his burdens. Mission presidents' wives are hard working dedicated women who not only take care of the mission president, their families but also the sister missionaries and elders.

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