Disabilities Don’t Impede Effectiveness of Senior Missionary Couples in Western North Carolina

Contributed By Benjamin T. Beasley, Church News contributor

  • 9 March 2018

Senior missionary couples meet weekly to plan the work. Clockwise from the left are Elder and Sister Howell, Elder and Sister Queen, and Elder and Sister Higginson. Photo courtesy of Benjamin Beasley.

Senior couples with disabilities or other challenges may hesitate before considering missionary service, but three senior live-at-home missionary couples serving in western North Carolina have found they can be effective often because of such challenges.

When Elder Skip and Sister Janie Queen comfortably settled into retirement, they enjoyed all that was important around them, including family, the Church, and deep friendships. With 25 years of service as ordinance workers in the Orlando Florida Temple, they had every reason to stay at home.

“We considered serving a traditional distance-based mission,” Elder Queen said, “but due to advancing age and health concerns, we felt that simply would not work for us.” Then the Queens’ daughter and her family moved to North Carolina. “With my wife in a wheelchair, we quickly learned just how far away that was.” During a visit to their daughter’s home branch in Hendersonville, they saw such great need they wondered how they could help. “The branch was overrun with families, children, and visitors in a multicultural and multilingual setting.” Sister Queen added, “So we went up to the branch president and asked, ‘Is there anything we can do?’”

They found the answer to that question would change not only their lives, but the lives of hundreds of others as well.

For several years the Hendersonville 2nd Branch had grown slowly, with members coming from across the Americas, along with a few Pacific islanders. When Micronesian members asked if they could hold meetings in their native language so that they could understand better, attendance and activity swelled. Other islanders soon joined in, until as many as six or more languages could be heard on a typical Sunday.

From left to right: Darney and Marny Alati, Rihner and Alson Mudong, Warny Alati, Benjamin Beasley, Benster and Alicia Etse, Linda Tihpen, and Darlene Beasley meet at the Beasley home to plan a multifaith Christmas celebration. Photo courtesy of Benjamin Beasley.

“It was a marvelous mix of love and confusion,” said Elder Joseph Higginson, who with his wife, Sherri, became the first full-time live-at-home senior missionary couple to serve in the branch in 2016. Although they spoke none of the foreign languages spoken by branch members, they soon found that love knows no bounds. “We encouraged the Queens to submit their papers as we had done because there was far more work to do than we could handle,” said Elder Higginson. The Queens accepted the suggestion, moved to Hendersonville to live, and were soon called to serve in the Tennessee Knoxville Mission as a live-at-home senior missionary couple. They were soon joined by Elder James and Sister Karen Howell, long-established members in Asheville, North Carolina.

The three couples now assist two sets of full-time missionaries in the branch. And it shows. By early 2017, the branch had grown so large that the records of 240 of the branch’s English and Spanish members were transferred to a neighboring unit, which helped strengthen it. That left about a hundred Pacific islanders to form the newly reorganized Hendersonville 2nd (Pohnpeian) Branch. By the end of the year, the reorganized branch had nearly doubled in size. (See related story.)

“We feel like the Lord was speaking directly to us when He said, ‘Be patient in long-suffering and afflictions, … and I will make an instrument of thee in my hands unto the salvation of many souls’ (Alma 17:11),” noted Elder Higginson.

Branch clerk Jim Cannon added, “The Higginsons were so busy in the work they didn’t realize that 48 converts had been baptized into the branch during their mission tenure. And retention is strong. About two-thirds of our members regularly attend. Many converts who have been in the Church at least a year are now endowed and serve in leadership positions.”

As for being confined to a wheelchair, Sister Queen said, “My wheelchair does not limit my testimony or my devotion to do the Lord’s work. In fact, it helps me connect with others in ways I never anticipated,” she said, such as opportunities to work with those outside the faith who have similar disabilities. In fact, branch leaders planned and hosted an interfaith Christmas celebration alongside the Revs. Alson Mudong and Benster Etse, two wheelchair-bound ministers of a Protestant congregation in nearby Asheville, and their wives. About 250 people from their congregation joined with the Hendersonville 2nd Branch for the event held at the stake assembly building on December 30, 2017.

Young Micronesian dancers were part of the after-dinner entertainment at the Christmas celebration. Photo courtesy of Benjamin Beasley.

Elder and Sister Howell, who also live at home as full-time senior missionaries, concurred. “We are here because our Heavenly Father wants us here,” said Elder Howell. “We felt it the first time we came to a Micronesian gathering. We see it whenever a new face appears in sacrament meeting. And we feel it every time a new member bears testimony. We are here for a purpose, and it is not one of our own doing.”

Elder David B. Haight noted in the 1996 general conference: “As we get older we have some limitations. I understand mine, and sometimes we can learn to sort of plow around them. If our vision starts getting a little weaker, I’ve found that we can compensate by doing other things and plowing around that little weakness and maybe strengthening some others. But out of all of that, I want you to know of my love for the gospel and for my knowledge of its truthfulness.”

In that same spirit, the three senior missionary couples say they have found that disabilities and other challenges are no handicap when it comes to their passion to serve and share Heavenly Father’s love with His children.

A long buffet table was loaded with typical Micronesian fare for the Christmas celebration. Photo by Bruce Fielding Tipton.

The Christmas celebration was attended by the Rev. Nelson N. Felep and his wife, Nieves. Rev. Felep served for more than 30 years as a senator in the Micronesian State of Pohnpei. Joining them are Darney Alati and President and Sister Benjamin Beasley of the Hendersonville 2nd (Pohnpeian) Branch. Photo courtesy of Benjamin Beasley.

—Benjamin T. Beasley is president of the Hendersonville 2nd Branch, Asheville North Carolina Stake.