Monday, March 31, 2008

Missionary Couples: A Critical Need for More in the Mission Field

Recently I received an email from a mission president. He stated that in his mission which is in a tropical paradise and reasonably priced that "We started this mission with 4 couples and one CES couple and one Humanitarian couple. We now have over 23 couples and are constantly searching for their replacements because many of them are getting close to the end of their 18 month assignment." I decided to see if I could help out by running a series of posts on missionary couples.

The need for more missionary couples has been expressed by many mission presidents in areas throughout the world including Utah. You can actually live at home and serve as a full-time service missionaries in a few select places. There just doesn't seem to be enough couple missionaries in many remote areas of the world. There really is a critical shortage and a high demand for missionary couples in growing areas of the church.

David B. Haight said about their choosing where they are called: "The need for help outside of the United States is greater simply because of the size of the world. We are fast approaching the day when we will have more members outside of the United States than inside. But the need within the United States is still there.... All missionary calls come from the Lord through inspiration to his servants. Therefore, it is not appropriate for couples to dictate where they will serve. President Howard W. Hunter said, “When we know why we serve, it won’t matter where we serve!”

However, we want to know as much as possible about potential couple missionaries, including what type of assignment they might like. When couple missionaries and sister missionaries apply to serve a mission, they fill out an additional form that provides us with such information as past employment experience, education or training, language skills, Church positions, special skills, abilities, interests, hobbies, and limitations or special circumstances. This information is considered when making assignments, as are age and health. Even couples who respond to openings listed in the “Church Service Missionary Opportunities” bulletin may express their interest in a particular assignment, but the final decision still rests with the Brethren." Even having said that missionary couples and their bishops can still make requests that will be considered in their call by the missionary committee.

President Gordon B. Hinckley has said about the critical shortage in a First Presidency Letter in 2004: " "Along with the need for young elders and sisters, there is a growing need for couples in the mission field. Older married couples are doing a wonderful work in the missions. Many more are needed. . . . With an increasing number of people retiring while they are still possessed of health and vitality, there are many who can fill a tremendous need in the work of the Lord."

One of the reasons I took my current position in the Middle East was to save up enough money to serve with my wife on a couples mission in nine years when our youngest nine year old daughter leaves home for college. I figure a good way to give back to the Lord is to serve a couples mission plus we can have a travel opportunity while doing something enriching and worthwhile. Both of us being converts of one year went on missions to Canada when we were 20 and 21 respectively. We so enjoyed our first missions that we want to go again.

We are actually counting the years. We know it won't be easy to leave behind our eight children who will have dozens of grandchildren by our mission years but we feel it is a great way to bless the lives of our children and grandchildren and set an example for them all to serve the Lord throughout their lives. How cool is it for an elder or sister to say my grandparents are serving in the Bahamas.

We don't really worry about the money issue since serving a couples mission can run between $900 and $2400 a month. Estimated costs are kept by the Missionary Department. Even our social security will pay around $2000 a month so money isn't really the problem for most couple missionaries. Talk to your bishop there might be someone in your area willing to help out. A couple can actually request where they serve in the world if they are strapped for cash. If you don't want to learn a foreign language you don't have to. You can still go somewhere exotic like Poland for $900 a month and you don't even have to speak Polish if you don't want to.

Senior missionaries completely support themselves while on their missions but there are missions for every budget range. It is a bit different for a senior sister missionary, the Church will help subsidize your mission costs and you will be responsible for a monthly equalized payment of $400.00, the same as younger proselyting missionaries.

The biggest expense for couple missionaries is usually getting some form of transportation when a car is not provided by the mission. In the United States couple missionaries have to provide their own car. In other areas of the world they may have different options. There are a few options such as buying a good second-hand vehicle or leasing/renting a car. Many times departing couples will sell you their vehicles at a reduction in price. A few missionary couples even buy surplus mission cars. Senior sisters are treated like a regular sister so she uses the mode of transportation of her younger companion which is provided by the mission itself and could include a car, bicycle, bus or hoofing it.

David B. Haight said about using a car on a mission: "If called to serve in their home country, couples are encouraged to take their own cars. Insurance and maintenance costs for personal vehicles are paid by the couple. No couple is required to take a car; however, there is no guarantee that the mission will be able to provide a car for them. Couples serving in foreign missions usually use public transportation."

The interesting thing is even if you don't have the money there are many wealthy members who will assist couples or senior sisters for various reasons with your monthly living expenses. Many older members can't go because they aren't healthy enough to go themselves or they are too old to go or they are just so rich they want to help others do a good thing. Money should be the last thing to stop a senior missionary couple or senior sister from serving. Talk to your bishop if you desire to go and he can help you work out the financial details or send you to someone who can. My wife tells me she intends going even if I should die. She says our eight kids will chip in a hundred apiece if she is too poor to go.

My wife and I both speak a little Spanish and my mission was Italian-speaking and hers was French-speaking neither of us is adverse to trying out a mission in a foreign language. You do the best you can and the Lord will make up the difference. You can always brush up with Rosetta Stone software and after a couple of missions in the same country you will be able to converse just fine. Some couples go on a mission come home for a year or two and then go back out. As long as your health is good there is no problem serving multiple missions.

Some foreign missions require no foreign language training. Language training is only available pre-MTC and is delivered by telephone from the MTC upon your request after you have received a mission assignment.

You probably wonder what a senior missionary couple does? You can pretty well tailor your talents to a mission lots of times they need you for leadership training. You can also free up other missionaries if you are more a labor type by working in the office as the fleet coordinator or as a secretary to the mission president. The bulletin officially says "Senior missionaries may serve in leadership and member support, visitor centers, and mission offices. Desires to serve in specific areas can be expressed in the Bishop’s or Stake President’s comments." If you don't want to go on a proselyting mission you can go to places like Nauvoo and make bricks and nails, or Hawaii and hang out at the Laie Visitor's Center. Most of them work around 32 hours a week.

David B. Haight says about what they do: "The greatest need is for couples who can help train local leaders in places where the Church is not yet strong. They also help activate members and fellowship new converts. Some couples serve in mission offices as secretaries, financial clerks, vehicle coordinators, and so forth. In more remote areas of the Church, couples may be involved in ward or branch leadership. Also, much goodwill for the Church is promoted by couples who are actively involved in community service.

In addition to working in missions, a limited number of couples serve in temples. Some are given additional assignments to work in family history, public affairs, welfare, Church education, and a variety of other Church-service assignments. In fact, the opportunities for couples are endless because the need for their services is so great. Couples are not expected to tract or memorize the discussions. They are assigned a regular tracting area only if they request it. Most couples work with local priesthood leaders, less-active members, or converts."

Proselyting opportunities are currently available in THE UNITED STATES: California, Iowa, Minnesota,Mississippi, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, S. Carolina, S. Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, and Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin.

INTERNATIONALLY: Argentina, Australia, Baltic,Brazil, Canada, Chile, Columbia, Costa Rica, Denmark, Dominican Republic, DR Congo, Ecuador, El Salvador, Germany, Ghana, Guatemala, Fiji, India, Japan, Marshall Islands, Mongolia, Mexico, Norway, Peru, Philippines, Portugal, Romania, Russia, South Africa, Spain, Switzerland, Taiwan, Uruguay, South and Central America.

You can actually put in a request for other places and wait if you like. I have never known a mission president to turn down a free helper. You can even serve in Salt Lake City in the church office building with the GA's if that is your style. Me I would rather go hang out in the jungles of the Philippines with some of the friendliest people in the world, sipping drinks while watching the sun set in the evening on the beach with my spouse.

I was very motivated recently to view the video presentation Couple Missionaries A Time to Share. The video helps you understand the process and is well worth your time to view.

In the 25 March 2008 Senior Missionaries Opportunities Bulletin put out by the LDS Church we learn that couple missionaries can serve 12, 18, or 23 months in the United States and Canada or 18 or 23 months in foreign countries. There is an online application process--The Missionary Online Recommendation System--so that couples or senior missionaries can apply from the convenience of their homes. Your bishop can help you if you don't like computers to fill out the forms the old-fashion way. He also has to do some computer work to complete his part of your application and input the results from his personal priesthood interview with you.

David B. Haight says about working with the bishop: "Absolutely! When in doubt, it is the bishop’s responsibility to suggest to couples that they think about going on a mission. He ought to have a list on his desk of all those couples he thinks are eligible. He needs to know something about their family, health, and financial situations. Then he should call them in for a warm and friendly interview and say, “Now that you’re retired, you have the opportunity to be doing something more to help build the kingdom. Have you ever thought about serving a mission?”

We don’t force anyone! We don’t say you have to go! But we are saying that there is a need! Bishops can talk about the couple’s possibility of going in six months or a year if the couple isn’t ready to go right now. It doesn’t have to happen overnight; the need of the Church is ongoing.

I think that some bishops are a little reluctant to bring up the idea of a mission to some couples because they are not sure of all the details in a couple’s life. In that case, a couple should go to the bishop and say, “We’re ready!”

We need to improve communications from both directions, but it is ultimately the bishop’s responsibility to at least raise the question....

Then couples need to review their family, health, and financial situations. If they feel that things are in place and if their bishop has not talked to them yet, they should go to their bishop and say, “Bishop, we think it’s time to talk about our going on a mission, and we’d like to talk to you about it.” The bishop will be thrilled and can take care of everything from there."

In 2001 Robert D. Hales said about couples applying for a mission: "The ways in which couples can serve are virtually limitless. From mission office support and leadership training to family history, temple work, and humanitarian service—there is an opportunity to use almost any skill or talent with which the Lord has blessed you.

Sit down with your companion, make an inventory of your health, financial resources, and unique gifts and talents. Then, if all is in order, go to your bishop and say, “We’re ready.” You may feel it is improper to approach your bishop or branch president about your desires to serve a mission. But it is proper for a mature sister or couple to let their priesthood leaders know that they are willing and able to serve a mission. I urge you to do so.

Bishops, there should be no hesitation on your part to initiate a Recommend for Missionary Service interview to discuss and encourage missionary couples to serve a mission."

The Church has some suggestions on personal items to take care of prior to going entitled How You Can Prepare to Serve, which covers practical things like what to do with your house, etc.

Dallin H. Oaks said about senior couples:

"Just as significant, though less visible, are the millions of members now laboring with similar faith and devotion in the remote corners of the Lord’s vineyard. Our faithful senior missionaries provide the best examples I know.

I recently reviewed the missionary papers of over 50 senior couples. All had already served at least three missions when they submitted their papers for another call. Their homes were everywhere from Australia to Arizona, California to Missouri. Their ages ranged from the 60s and early 70s to the—well, never mind. One couple, who were offering themselves for a seventh mission, had already served on Temple Square, in Alaska, in New Zealand, in Kenya, and in Ghana. They were sent to the Philippines. Scores of similar examples could be cited.

The priesthood leaders’ comments on the papers of these couples are testimonies of service and sacrifice. I quote several:

“Willing to go anyplace, do anything for whatever length of time required.”

“[These] are great examples of Church members who dedicate their lives to the Lord.”

“Will go where the Lord wants [us] to go,” another couple noted. “We pray we will be sent where we are needed.”

Priesthood leader comments on the qualifications of these couples provide a good summary of the work our senior missionaries do so effectively.

“He is great in getting programs running and [in] leadership.”

“Their joy is fullest when they are asked to ‘build’ and develop; therefore an assignment in a developing area of the Church may be appropriate. Willing to serve in whatever capacity called.”

“They will likely be of more value working with [less-actives] and converts rather than in offices.”

“They love the youth and have a gift with them.”

“They feel most effective in and have a fondness for leadership support and fellowshipping work.”

“They have slowed down some physically, but not in spiritual matters or missionary zeal.”

“He is a true missionary. His first name is Nephi, and he follows his namesake. She is a tremendous lady, has always been a great example. Will do great wherever called. This is their fifth mission.” (They had previously served in Guam, Nigeria, Vietnam, Pakistan, Singapore, and Malaysia. Giving them some respite from those arduous paths, the Lord’s servants called that couple to serve in the Nauvoo temple.)

Another couple spoke for all these heroes and heroines when they wrote: “Will go anywhere and do what is asked. It is not a sacrifice; it is a privilege.”

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. The same is true of the army of young missionaries, who put their lives at home on hold and bid good-bye to family and friends and set forth (usually at their own expense) to serve wherever they are assigned by the Lord."

Give a mission a try you might be surprised how much good you can do and have a blast at the same time. You can even email me for the mission president email mentioned above so you can contact him. He can give you the details if you want go to his mission. I am sure he would be glad to have you down there where the blue oceans and tropical breezes are a delight. Make no mistake couples work hard on a mission but they play hard too. We just enjoy the scenery and ability to afford to go out to restaurants better than young missionaries who have tighter finances. We also stop to smell the flowers or jasmine more. Senior couples still have to follow the mission rules we just are more flexible in our interpretations of them. I can't wait to go again so I can get "forgiveness rather than permission" again for any lapses. Most senior couples I bet are more iron rodders than me.

This week I will be focusing on couple missionaries and older sister missionaries. In fact I am going to try taking a poll or two on this subject.

If you have any questions about serving a couples mission feel free to call the LDS Church Missionary Department in Salt Lake City at 1-800-453-3860, ext 23492 (for those outside the U.S. the country code is 001-801-453-3860 x23492).

Let me know your feelings on the subject from you don't want to go to you have a burning desire to what a great time you had when you did go. It is interesting to hear diverse opinions on the topic and get a better insight on couples serving or not serving. We want to hear every side of the story.


Bored in Vernal said...

...sipping drinks while watching the sun set in the evening on the beach with my spouse.

Is that what they do on couples missions? Sign me up!

Cougar said...

I just read your informative post--on the very day that my wife and I received our mission call. We haven't opened the envelope yet because we're waiting until our kids and grandkids come to dinner tonight.

We decided to go on a mission because we want to preach the gospel. We requested Spanish-speaking proselyting. Maybe we will get a different kind of mission call. No matter the call, we will serve with all our heart. Also, no matter what type of missionary service we're called to do, we will "preach the gospel at all times, and if necessary, use words."

As for "sipping drinks while watching the sun set," we might do that--as long as we're doing it with investigators or as part of a missionary social activity.

Thanks for your inspiring post.

Dr. B said...

Cougar: Congratulations on your calling. Have you found out where you are going? Let us hear what your reactions are. My blog following would be interested as would I. Thanks for sharing.