Friday, April 4, 2008

Barriers to Couples Serving Missions

As we contemplate going on a couples mission and we advance in age there are a few barriers that make going on a mission harder. A few of the barriers to going on a mission include: lack of money, poor health, desire to not leave parents or grandchildren, fear of rejection, fear of learning a new language, and general fear of the unknown in serving a mission. Psychologically there are always barriers when we anticipate changes in our lives.

Going on a mission requires us to overcome real or perceived barriers in order to build the kingdom of God. In order to overcome barrier people have to realize there is a reward greater than the barrier. That reward for our service whether intrinsic or extrinsic overcomes the barrier. Sometimes barriers are legitimate concerns that affect us where we have competing demands for our lives. Many times fears are usually just our perceptions and don't prove to be valid. Overcoming barriers requires having faith in Christ. It involves an unselfish desire to sacrifice and a desire to do something good for other people through service.

There is a culture of service in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. That culture helps to break down barriers to service. Boyd K. Packer said in November 2007: "Each member is responsible to accept the call to serve.

President J. Reuben Clark Jr. said: “In the service of the Lord, it is not where you serve but how. In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, one takes the place to which one is duly called, which place one neither seeks nor declines” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1951, 154). The Church has no professional clergy. The call to leadership positions worldwide is drawn from the congregation. We have no seminaries for the training of professional leaders.

Everything that is done in the Church—the leading, the teaching, the calling, the ordaining, the praying, the singing, the preparation of the sacrament, the counseling, and everything else—is done by ordinary members, the “weak things of the world.”

We see in the Christian churches their struggle to fill the need for clergy. We do not have that problem. Once the gospel is preached and the Church is organized, there is an inexhaustible supply of faithful brothers and sisters who have that testimony and are willing to answer the call to serve. They commit themselves to the work of the Lord and live the standards required of them.

Members have had the Holy Ghost conferred upon them after their baptism (see D&C 33:15; 35:6). The Holy Ghost will teach and comfort them. They are then prepared to receive guidance, direction, and correction, whatever their position or needs require. (See John 14:26; D&C 50:14; 52:9; 75:10.)

This principle sets the Church on a different course from all other Christian churches in the world. We find ourselves in the unusual position of having an endless supply of teachers and leaders, among every nation and kindred and tongue and people, all over the world. There is a unique equality among members. No one of us is to consider himself of more value than the other (see D&C 38:24–25). “God is no respecter of persons: but in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him” (Acts 10:34–35; see also Romans 2:11; D&C 1:35; 38:16)."

In the January 2008 Ensign Thomas S. Monson discussed being a master builder. He said the second step was "The second bridge provided by the Master for us to cross is the bridge of service. We look to the Savior as our example of service. Although He came to earth as the Son of God, He humbly served those around Him. He came forth from heaven to live on earth as mortal man and to establish the kingdom of God. His glorious gospel reshaped the thinking of the world. He blessed the sick; He caused the lame to walk, the blind to see, the deaf to hear. He even raised the dead to life....The bridge of service invites us to cross over it frequently."

Having analyzed all the talks about barriers I would like to share what the general authorities have said about each barrier with possible ways of overcoming them. If I said the same things it would not carry as great a weight as what the brethren have said themselves.

Speaking about finance Gordon B. Hinckley said: "Candidates should have the means to sustain themselves. If their resources are limited, perhaps their children can assist. This happens in many cases, and both the parents and the children are blessed by the sacrifice made."

In 2005 speaking about missionary couples finances Robert D. Hales said: "In considering missionary opportunities, many couples throughout the world have an abundant desire to serve but lack abundant means. If this is your situation, remember that the right mission call may not be to a far-off country with a strange sounding name. The right call for you may be within your stake or area. “Your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things.” Counsel with your extended family and your bishop or branch president. As the Lord’s servants understand your temporal situation, you will be able to receive the eternal blessings of full-time missionary service.

If you cannot serve because of serious extenuating circumstances, would you consider making a financial contribution to help those who can? The reasonable sacrifice of your means will not only bless other missionaries and those they serve; it will bless you and your family as well."

Earlier in 2001 Elder Hales said: "Some couples who would willingly serve are not able to do so because of age, health, finances, or family circumstances. Perhaps those who are not able to serve could assist another couple to go on a mission.

Missionary work has always involved sacrifice. If some sacrifices are necessary, then the blessings will be all the more abundant. Children, encourage your parents to serve and assist them with financial support if necessary. You may lose a baby-sitter for a short time, but the eternal rewards you and your family receive will more than compensate for the brief sacrifice.

To younger couples with children still at home, I urge you now to decide to serve in your later years and to plan and prepare so you are financially, physically, and spiritually able. Make certain that the great example of missionary service is a heritage you will leave your posterity.

There are two unique times in our lives when we can truly live the law of consecration and devote ourselves in full-time service to the Lord. One is as a young man or woman serving a full-time mission. The other is the unique time you are given after having fulfilled the requirements of earning a living. The latter could be called the “patriarchal years,” when you can draw upon the rich experiences of a lifetime, go out as a couple, and consecrate yourselves fully as servants of the Lord.

The blessings of serving with your eternal companion are priceless and can only be understood by those who have experienced it. My wife and I have had that privilege in the mission field. Each day is a special day with daily rewards that cause personal growth and development in the Lord’s time and in the Lord’s way. The fulfillment that comes from this kind of service will bless you, your marriage, and your family for eternity." (Robert D. Hales, “Couple Missionaries: A Time to Serve,” Liahona, Jul 2001, 28–31.)

Concerning a couple's health. David B. Haight said: "Normally, the age limit is seventy years old. Couples need to be in good health, with no permanent debilitating illnesses. A thorough medical exam is required before submitting papers. However, if both husband and wife are in good health, the age limit is often waived."

Gordon B. Hinckley said about their health: "They should be in reasonably good health. Missionary work at best is rigorous and demanding. It requires strength and vitality. Of course, older couples are not expected to do everything young missionaries do. Some couple missionaries will proselyte, but many will not. Wise and inspired mission presidents will have their best interests at heart."

M. Russell Ballard says: "Surely many more senior couples and others whose health will permit would eagerly desire to serve the Lord as missionaries if they would ponder over the meaning of the atoning sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ. It was Jesus who said, “ should labor all your days in crying repentance unto this people, and bring, save it be one soul unto me, how great shall be your joy with him in the kingdom of my Father!” (D&C 18:15.)

First in order to serve a couples mission they cannot have any dependent family members living at home meaning children eighteen or younger still in school. Russell M. Nelson says about couples leaving family members: "No senior missionary finds it convenient to leave. Neither did Joseph or Brigham or John or Wilford. They had children and grandchildren too. They loved their families not one whit less, but they also loved the Lord and wanted to serve Him. Someday we may meet these stalwarts who helped to establish this dispensation. Then will we rejoice that we did not seek the shadows when a call to missionary service came from the prophet, even in the autumn years of our lives..... As I extol the work of senior missionaries, I realize that there are many more who would like to serve but are not able to do so. Limitations imposed by age or by poor health deserve realistic appraisal, as do the important needs of family members"

Caring for an elderly parent can be a valid reason why a couple may not be able to serve a mission. If you are an actual caregiver to your parents you might be excused from a mission until they depart this world. Ezra Taft Benson said about how we should treat our parents in his talk to the Elderly of the Church: "Now for a few minutes may I speak to the families of the elderly. We repeat a scripture from Psalms: “Cast me not off in the time of old age; forsake me not when my strength faileth.” (Ps. 71:9.)

We encourage families to give their elderly parents and grandparents the love, care, and attention they deserve. Let us remember the scriptural command that we must care for those of our own house lest we be found “worse than an infidel.” (1 Tim. 5:8.) I am so grateful for my own dear family and for the loving care they have given their parents over so many years.

Remember, parents and grandparents are our responsibility, and we are to care for them to the very best of our ability". . . .

Even when parents become elderly, we ought to honor them by allowing them freedom of choice and the opportunity for independence as long as possible. Let us not take away from them choices which they can still make. Some parents are able to live and care for themselves well into their advancing years and would prefer to do so. When they can, let them.

If they become less able to live independently, then family, Church, and community resources may be needed to help them. When the elderly become unable to care for themselves, even with supplemental aid, care can be provided in the home of a family member when possible. Church and community resources may also be needed in this situation.

The role of the care-giver is vital. There is great need for support and help to be given to such a person. Usually this is an elderly spouse or a middle-aged daughter with children of her own to care for as well as caring for the elderly parent. (Ezra Taft Benson, “To the Elderly in the Church,” Ensign, Nov 1989, 4).

In 2005 Robert D. Hales said about family concerns: "Another couple faced family concerns with faith. A faithful sister wrote: “The decision to serve a mission was not hard. But my 90-year-old mother was extremely apprehensive about our leaving. She took great comfort when she heard that our families would be blessed as we serve.” A faithful brother expressed similar concerns about leaving his elderly parents, to which his father responded: “Don’t use your mother and me as an excuse not to go on a mission with your wife. You pray about it and follow the guidance of the Spirit.”

To an earlier generation of missionaries called to leave their families, the Lord offered this reassurance: “And if they will do this in all lowliness of heart, … I, the Lord, give unto them a promise that I will provide for their families.”

Certainly family concerns are real and should not be considered lightly. But we cannot meet our family challenges without the blessings of the Lord; and when we sacrifice to serve as full-time missionary couples, those blessings will flow. For example, one couple worried about leaving their youngest daughter who was no longer active in the Church. Her faithful father wrote: “We prayed for her continually and fasted regularly. Then, during general conference, the Spirit whispered to me, ‘If you will serve, you will not have to worry about your daughter anymore.’ So we met with our bishop. The week after we received our call, she and her boyfriend announced they were engaged. Before we left for Africa, we had a wedding in our home. [Then we gathered our family together and] held a family council.... I bore testimony of the Lord and Joseph Smith … and told them I would like to give each of them a father’s blessing. I started with the oldest son and then his wife and proceeded to the youngest... [including our new son-in-law].”

As we consider couple missionary service, it is appropriate to involve our families in the same way. In family council meetings, we can give our children the opportunity to express their support, offer special assistance we may need, and receive priesthood blessings to sustain them in our absence. Where appropriate, we may be able to receive priesthood blessings from them as well. As the faithful father in this story blessed his family members, his son-in-law felt the influence of the Holy Ghost. The father wrote: “By the end of our first year [the] heart [of our son-in-law] began to soften toward the Church. Just before we returned home from our mission, he and our daughter came to visit us. In his suitcase was the first set of Sunday clothes he had ever owned. They came to Church with us, and after we returned home he was baptized. A year later, they were sealed in the temple.”

Though the details of this story may be unique, the principle is true for all who say to the Lord, “I’ll go where you want me to go.” I testify that as we put our trust in the Lord, He will find the right missionary opportunity for us. As He said, “If any man serve me, him will my Father honour.”

In 2001 Robert D. Hales said the following about family concerns: "The Savior called upon fishermen, entreating them, “Follow me” (Matt. 4:19). He beseeched them to leave their familiar settings behind and become fishers of men. What is asked of couple missionaries is less than half a tithe of the time they will spend on earth. In the eternal perspective, a mission is but a few moments away from familiar settings, family, and having retirement fun with old friends.

The Lord will send special blessings to your family as you serve. “I, the Lord, give unto them a promise that I will provide for their families” (D&C 118:3). Couples are sometimes concerned that in their absence they will miss weddings, births, family reunions, and other family events. We have learned that the impact on families while grandparents are on missions is worth a thousand sermons. Families are greatly strengthened as they pray for their parents and grandparents and read letters sent home which share their testimonies and the contribution they are making in the mission field.

A son wrote a tender letter to his parents in the mission field: “Your service sets an example for our children. As a result, they are more willing to serve in their callings in the Church. It teaches us all to be more charitable as we exchange letters and send packages. When we receive letters and news from you, it strengthens our testimonies. Even though you retired from your profession and should have been happy by all the world’s standards, by going on your mission you have shown us a new way to be happy. You have found happiness money can’t buy. We have seen you overcome medical and other types of adversities and have seen you blessed for your willingness to go and leave your children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. We love you dearly!”

Another couple reports: “One of our grandsons wrote to us while we were in Thailand and told us that he hadn’t decided for sure that he wanted to fill a mission, but we had set the example for him and now he knew he wanted to serve. He is now serving a mission.”

My own father and mother served a mission in England. As I visited them one day in their small flat, I watched my mother, with a shawl wrapped snugly around her shoulders, putting shillings in the gas meter to keep warm. I asked, “Why did you come on a mission, Mother?” Mother said simply, “Because I have 11 grandsons. I want them to know that Grandma and Grandpa served.”

In 1830 the Lord called Thomas B. Marsh to leave his family and go into the mission field. Brother Marsh was greatly concerned about leaving his family at that time. In a tender revelation, the Lord told him, “I will bless you and your family, yea, your little ones. … Lift up your heart and rejoice, for the hour of your mission is come. … Wherefore, your family shall live. … Go from them only for a little time, and declare my word, and I will prepare a place for them” (D&C 31:2–3, 5–6). It is just possible that these are the blessings that are needed most for your children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and future posterity." (Robert D. Hales, “Couple Missionaries: A Time to Serve,” Liahona, Jul 2001, 28),

Having addressed this issue I would like to say that we should consult them before we assume they want us to stay home and take care of them.

In 2001 Robert D. Hales said about general fears couples face: "Fear of the unknown or fear that we don’t have the scriptural skills or language required can cause reluctance to serve. But the Lord has said, “If ye are prepared ye shall not fear” (D&C 38:30). Your life is your preparation. You have valuable experience. You have raised a family and served in the Church. Just go and be yourselves. The Lord has promised that angels will go before you (see D&C 103:19–20). You will be told by the Spirit what to say and when to say it in a very natural process as you strengthen young missionaries, testify to investigators and new members, teach leadership skills, and friendship and fellowship less-active members, helping them return to full activity. You are the testimony, and you will touch the lives of those with whom you come in contact. Couples normally do not tract and are not expected to memorize discussions or maintain the same schedule as young elders and sisters. Simply be yourself. Serve to the best of your ability, and the Lord will bless you.

Missionary couples provide stability with their friendshipping and leadership skills in areas where the Church is in its infancy. I learned this firsthand while serving as a mission president in England. I assigned a couple who had been serving in the visitors’ center to work in a small, struggling unit. They were somewhat fearful of having to leave the “safe haven” of the visitors’ center. But with faith they went to work. Within six months, a unit which had 15 to 20 people coming to sacrament meeting had over 100 attending because of this couple’s fellowshipping, working with the priesthood. To this day, they and their children refer to that time as the greatest experience of their lives.

Another couple recently served in a small village south of Santiago, Chile. They had no Spanish skills and were apprehensive about being in a different country so far from the comforts of home. But they plunged in with total dedication, loving and serving the people. Before long, the small branch grew from 12 to 75 members. When it came time for them to leave, the entire branch rented a bus so they could go to the airport, four hours away, and say good-bye to their special friends.

The service that couples provide is essential to the work of the Lord. Couples can make a difference. Couples can accomplish remarkable things no one else can do." (

David B. Haight expressed the following about couples having a fear of serving: "I’ve talked to enough couples to know that there is often a real fear in their minds—-fear of not being able to measure up, of being embarrassed, of climbing stairs, of slipping on the ice, of many other things. But there really isn’t much to be afraid of, because assignments are made by people who understand the situation—-the mission president or the stake president in cooperation with the mission president. These priesthood leaders know that married couples fill a void that no one else can fill. And they know many great ways couple missionaries can serve and how they can be productive.

Some couples say, “I can’t leave my grandchildren.” My answer to them is: Your grandchildren will be there when you return, only they’ll be two years older and even cuter than when you left them. Besides, what better legacy could you leave your grandchildren than the example of putting your testimony in action by serving a mission?

Usually our fears are straw men that we have imagined. When I was a little boy growing up in Oakley, Idaho, we had a long line of poplar trees growing along the road leading to our home. When it was dark, I used to run as fast as I could past those poplar trees. I always imagined that there was something behind one of those trees waiting to jump out at me. Of course in the daylight, I knew it was all in my mind. That is how it is with our fears—-99 percent of the things we worry about are not real.

It would be a rare incident for a couple to come back from their mission and say, “We didn’t have a good experience.” Now maybe such a thing has happened, but I’ve personally never heard of it. Never. But I’ve heard many couples say, “The thrill of our life was going on a mission!” (David B. Haight, “Couple Missionaries—‘A Wonderful Resource’,” Ensign, Feb 1996, 12).

In 1985 Robert E. Wells said about couples having fears: "Let me encourage you faithful married couples without children at home to go on missions. The Lord needs you out in the mission field. Forget your fears. We don’t expect you to do everything the young missionaries do. In fact, I was in Idaho trying to eliminate the fears of some high priests, and I said, “You retired couples don’t have to memorize scriptures like the young missionaries, you don’t have to memorize any presentations unless you want to.” I told them, “You don’t have to get up early in the morning like the young missionaries do to study, and if it is raining or snowing, you don’t have to go outside until you feel up to it. …” At that point a fellow down in the middle shot up his hand and said, “When can I go? That’s a better life than I’ve got now!"

In order to overcome your fears you need to place your trust in the Lord. If you have concerns consult with your bishop. He can give help you work out any concerns you might have. Ways of overcoming barriers is to also talk with other couples who have served recently. They can give you general information and show you the ropes. The LDS Church has former missionary couples that can answer your concerns. If you want to know more you can call the missionary department in Salt Lake City and ask questions. They will send you information to help you make an informed decision.

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). May the Lord bless you as you go forward overcoming your fears and going on missions.

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