Agricultural and Health Services Missionaries: A New Way to Serve the Whole Man

As the two missionaries stepped off the train in Tupiza, Bolivia, they were greeted by the mayor, serenaded by the town band, and paraded down the small street. The evening of their arrival they were feted at a special dinner held in the local school.

The missionaries, Sisters Kathleen Stoddard and Florence Warren, had journeyed to the small Bolivian town to serve as health services missionaries, a new facet of the Church missionary program aimed at serving the whole man.

In the evenings, they held classes and taught some 70 to 80 people basic first aid and health practices, including artificial respiration, treatment of blisters and burns, emergency child delivery, hygiene, and nutrition. Those taking the course included schoolteachers, public health nurses, and truck drivers who also serve as ambulance drivers in that remote area.

The course the two sisters prepared and taught was so successful that requests for their help was received from other areas. In Cochabamba, the second largest city in Bolivia, the local government rented the largest theater in town for a week so that the health course could be presented to more than 400 people each evening. (The theater had a seating capacity of 350.) Following an invitation to speak on the local radio station, the two missionaries were then invited to conduct a weekly radio program in the capital city of La Paz.

“The key to the success of the program in Bolivia,” says Dr. James O. Mason, commissioner of Health Services, has been the recognition by local priesthood leaders that problems do exist, and that the health and agricultural missionary programs can help both member and nonmember alike. Where nonmembers are reached, the program can be a valuable missionary tool.

“I believe this program is another indication that the gospel of Jesus Christ can reach out and touch the whole man. The welfare services missionaries are going forth with love and compassion to help their brothers and sisters take better care of themselves and their families.

“Under the guidance of the First Presidency,” he continues, “health services missionaries are resource people to existing ecclesiastical units. They operate through the existing, inspired organization of the Church—the priesthood channels—and, as directed by the priesthood, through the Church auxiliaries.

“We see the health services missionaries as helping to find and prepare people so that they might receive the proselyting missionaries. We have found in many missions that the health services missionaries are accepted in homes that may not be open to a direct proselyting approach. Once they get to know the families, often they can call in the proselyting missionaries, adding up to a fine team effort.

“The program is still new and a great deal of pioneering work has to be accomplished. There is a period of learning not only for the missionaries themselves but also for the mission presidents under whom they serve, as well as for the local priesthood leaders. What is being offered is a new type of resource upon which the ecclesiastical leaders can call.”

In addition to health services missionaries, agricultural missionaries are now being called. According to Junior Wright Child, managing director of the Church Welfare Department, the agricultural missionaries assist primarily in the fulfilling of people’s economic needs.

“For instance,” he explains, “they will survey the nutritional needs and how to meet them. Should additional protein be needed, then these missionaries will develop the necessary programs. We want to raise the economic level of our brothers and sisters who are in less fortunate circumstances. We want to raise their health level, and we want to raise their nutritional level. Overall, it is the gospel in action, and valuable contacts can be made through this program with potential members of the Church.”

Brother Child explains that agricultural missionaries will soon be working with the Lamanites in the United States and with the people in Central and South America and the South Pacific.

“When they go out, they go to teach the local people to help themselves. They instruct them in the value of crop rotation, irrigation, nutrition, and variety in diet. Their responsibility is to teach, to train, to develop—not to do the work for other people. They work with available resources, and all their work is done in correlation with existing Church programs.

“The people called to serve as agricultural missionaries have to be tolerant and patient. When we talk about agricultural upgrading, we’re talking about working a whole year for just one crop. It may not be a very large crop, but hopefully it will demonstrate that different, better, and more nutritious crops can be grown, and that the crops can also be a factor in improving the economy of a family or of a whole community.”

As an example of this concept in action, Brother Child tells of a branch president in South America who had seven acres of land that had been planted into corn for 50 years. Every year he planted his seven acres with corn, and he nearly starved to death as a result of poor nutrition. A missionary with additional know-how and understanding suggested that instead of the regular crops, he could plant five acres of corn plus two acres of potatoes, tomatoes, beans, and squash. By doing this, he now has food sufficient to feed his family and also has a little cash crop.

“The question is asked, what kind of people are we looking for to serve as agricultural missionaries. We need people who are financially, physically, emotionally, and, of course, spiritually able to serve with love. It can be a rugged life; they are sent out to small villages, often miles from the comforts of any city, where they have to be self-sufficient.”

One new development in the health missionary and agricultural missionary programs is the introduction of local companions for single missionaries.

“This accomplishes a number of things,” explains Dr. Mason. “It provides a language fluency that a missionary trained in the Language Training Mission may not have. It provides cultural sensitivity, because the local companion knows the mores and taboos and beliefs regarding health or agriculture in that specific area. It provides an overall quality to the team that would be difficult to achieve if you had, for example, two North Americans or Australians serving as missionary companions.”

Missionaries are being called from countries other than the United States, and in some circumstances, qualified couples are being called together. There are now 80 health services missionaries and 20 local companions serving in 19 countries. Wherever they serve, they introduce better methods of nutrition and health to counter the causes of sickness rather than to treat it after it occurs.

Dr. Mason says that the health program could use additional registered nurses, licensed practical nurses, nutritionists, and those trained in health education, public health, and sanitation. Among those currently serving in the field are nurses, physicians, nutritionists, home economists, a dentist, a dental hygienist, a health educator, and several nurses and nutritionists.

“At the moment,” says Edward L. Soper, assistant to Commissioner Mason, “we have just enough people being called to replace those already in the field. We could use twice as many health missionaries as we have right now.”

A similar situation exists with the agricultural program. “We want people with experience in animal husbandry, agronomy, soils, soils analysis, nutrition, biochemistry, and plant and food analysis,” says Henry E. Peterson, associate managing director of Welfare Services. “We hope that there are Saints with experience in these fields who will be able to give of their time and talents to help others.”

Brother Soper adds, “To me, being a health services or agricultural missionary is the best of both missions. Not only can a person use his professional skills in a very meaningful way, but at the same time he can express the great humanitarian love that he has for others by sharing the gospel and can give and receive spiritual blessings.”

The Missionary Call

How does one become an agricultural or a health services missionary?

Brother Junior Wright Child, managing director of the Church Welfare Department, and Dr. James O. Mason, commissioner of the Church Health Services Corporation, emphasize that the call to serve in these specialized areas comes just as it does to a regular proselyting missionary.

Those desiring to serve should note the following procedures:

1. The process is initiated with the bishop or branch president, using the same forms as are used for proselyting missionaries.

2. Information is sent to the Church Missionary Committee.

3. The call is issued by the president of the Church if all requirements are met.

4. Missionaries who will serve in areas where a language other than their native tongue is spoken will receive language training as do the regular proselyting missionaries, with emphasis on the terminology of their area of specialization.

5. Qualified older couples who have no immediate family responsibilities are just as eligible to serve as are qualified single people.

6. As with proselyting missionaries, health services and agricultural missionaries must be worthy and be able to support themselves financially.

7. The mission period for older couples and single women is 18 months.

[photo] 1. Health Services missionaries Kathy Stoddard and Florence Warren meet with Bolivian family to discuss preventive medicine.

[photo] 2. Missionaries in Mexico transmit weekly radio program on health care.

[photo] 3. Barbara Bruce, left, health missionary from the United States, talks with her local companion Elaine Mora in the mission home in Mexico.

[photo] 4. Dr. Lavell Hoopes, assigned to the LDS Dental Clinic at Chinle, Arizona, works with an Indian patient.

[photo] 5. Health Services missionary Eileen Draper, right, makes friends in Guatemala; with her is proselyting missionary Marilyn Jones.