In early 1973, the First Presidency announced the formation of the International Mission to serve those members of the Church living in remote areas of the globe. Called as mission president was Elder Bernard P. Brockbank, Assistant to the Council of the Twelve.
Unlike other missions, the International Mission has no proselyting missionaries; it is headquartered in the Church Administration Building, 47 East South Temple Street, Salt Lake City, Utah 84111.
Recently, the Ensign met with Elder Howard W. Hunter, Council of the Twelve adviser to the mission, and with President Brockbank to discuss the progress of the mission.
Ensign: How would you describe the main purpose of the International Mission?
Elder Hunter: The International Mission was organized to serve all persons in the world outside of organized stakes and missions so that they will have a unit of the Church to which they are responsible and that fulfills their needs.
Ensign: How were they served before?
Elder Hunter: They were served before, if they were served at all, by their local church units.
Ensign: Does the International Mission differ from existing missions as we know them?
Elder Brockbank: Yes, it does. The fully organized missions of the Church have proselyting missionaries. In the International Mission, we have neither proselyting missionaries nor the responsibility for proselyting.
Ensign: How many members are we talking about?
Elder Brockbank: Our numbers vary and fluctuate, but we have about 500 at the present time. We know that there are probably that many more about whom we do not have up-to-date information.
Ensign: Where are those 500? Is there any part of the world where there are sizable groups of them?
Elder Hunter: Our largest organized group is in Iceland, but they do not represent the largest number in any one country. They are in so many areas that it would almost be wrong to pick a spot. On a little island—Easter Island—in the Pacific, we have a member of the Church, as well as in Madagascar and on a little Atlantic island between South America and Africa, known as Ascension Island.
Ensign: Are most members of the International Mission American citizens?
Elder Brockbank: Most of them are. But we also have members from England, France, Germany, Canada, and many other countries. There are some involved in the armed services, some in diplomatic posts, and others in commercial ventures. One of our English members works in Cuba, and even though Cuba has not been assigned to us, we have corresponded with him because there was no one else to do it.
Ensign: How do you actually serve the members of the International Mission? Do you have individual contact with them on a regular basis?
Elder Brockbank: It is all done through correspondence, the Church programs, and publications. We acquaint people with what is available to them—and, basically, all the programs are available to them if they can use them. We see that they have the literature and materials that are needed. For instance, our members whom we have been able to reach have the family home evening manual. We try to correspond with each member at least every two or three months and with the group leaders and the branch presidents at least every month.
Elder Hunter: If it’s an isolated family, we can supply the Relief Society material to the sister so she can keep up with her Relief Society work. Primary can be accomplished in the same manner. If a young man is at the age to be ordained a deacon, we send his parents the information they need to prepare him for his ordination, and then we make arrangements for his ordination. If a child is approaching the age of eight years, we make arrangements with the family for his baptism.
Ensign: Do you operate through group leaders and branch presidents in some areas?
Elder Hunter: Yes, they are appointed by the mission president. It might also be explained that when a person goes into an area serviced by the International Mission, their Church record is then transferred to the International Mission the same as it would be if they moved from one ward to another.
Ensign: Do bishops and branch presidents play a very important part in referring members to the International Mission?
Elder Hunter: They certainly do, and if they fully understood what we might be able to do for the members, I think they would be anxious to get the information to us.
Ensign: How do you want people to contact you? Do you want to hear from anyone who is going to an area where they know for sure there isn’t a mission?
Elder Brockbank: The most appropriate way would be to write directly to the International Mission and to send their names and addresses and identify where membership records have been held, plus provide some information about themselves. Then we will immediately correspond and follow through on their membership records and give them direction and counsel.
Elder Hunter: If they could contact President Brockbank as soon as they know they are going into a remote area, he can give them information on other members of the Church in the vicinity and also materials that will be available to them as members of the Church and things that might be available for them to take with them when they go. The sooner they contact President Brockbank, the more service they can receive.
Ensign: This idea of letting them know of other families who might be in the same area—do you have occasion to do that often?
Elder Brockbank: Every day we have requests from members, either people leaving to go on a foreign assignment or those already there, wanting to know if there are members in the area. Then, even though they may be as much as 200 or 300 miles away, they may correspond and feel that they have someone close at hand. We have had a number of cases where members have done this.
Elder Hunter: As a matter of fact, there was one letter sent in from a man who was sent on a foreign assignment, and he could have his choice of several places to go. He wrote to President Brockbank, wondering if there were Church people in many of these places—this made a difference to him in his selection of a place to go.
Elder Brockbank: If anyone knows of someone in an isolated area, he should write and let the International Mission know and also provide the address if possible, so we may make contact with the member concerned. The International Mission needs to know not only where the member is now but where he was before; otherwise, his records might be rather hard to find.
Elder Hunter: That’s often the case. If we could have the name of the father and mother and the names of the children, it would be of great value. With just the name of an individual, we don’t know if there is a family. If we can get the names of members of the families, it is helpful.
Ensign: How well are people receiving the type of service you are providing through the mission? Is it helping them to stay close to the Church?
Elder Brockbank: From the letters we receive from the members it appears that they are very pleased that the Church is interested in them, cares about them, and keeps in touch with them—this also keeps them in touch with the Church.
Ensign: Do you encourage them to have a regular program of scripture study? For example what can they do to stay close to the Lord and the Church?
Elder Brockbank: When you are in an isolated area and a long way from the home environment and the Church programs that you are used to, correspondence has a great effect and impression on your thinking. So we correspond with love and kindness to let our members know that they are important and that the Church wants them to stay close to its programs. We send them greetings from President Spencer W. Kimball and we send the prophet’s message at conference time. We get copies of each of the First Presidency’s talks and encourage the people to read them and to keep themselves living as a child of God should live. You can do a lot by correspondence if you always keep in mind that members are under great temptations while living in the world. They often feel that they are all alone, and so this contact with the Church is something that builds their faith and testimony and helps them know they are in touch with the Church in some way.
Here is a letter from a sister who has been in a foreign area away from the Church and has wished she could have contact with the Church. She writes: “I was delighted beyond words to receive the letter from Salt Lake City. It’s a joy to know that I have an official slot, so to speak, within the organization of the Church rather than being in limbo between my old ward and my present address.”
Ensign: What can we, who are comfortably ensconced in wards and branches, do for people who live in Iceland and Madagascar?
Elder Brockbank: Families and friends should be sure to maintain a correspondence with their families and friends who are far away from home.
Elder Hunter: Young adults or special interest groups who are looking for service opportunities could perhaps “adopt” a family in Iceland or in Madagascar or wherever it might be. They could make contact with a family through the International Mission.
Ensign: There must be a special joy in this work.
Elder Hunter: When the decision was made by the First Presidency and the Twelve to organize the International Mission, and it was decided to appoint Elder Brockbank as the president, I was enthusiastic about the prospects.
I know this will bring the gospel into the lives of many people who might not otherwise have had the opportunity. It is going to help people in their search for the Church. I know that great good is going to come out of this program in the lives of many people, and I appreciate the privilege of being associated with President Brockbank in this work. It has great possibilities when we catch the vision of what can be accomplished.
Elder Brockbank: The Church today is taking very close interest in every member—many programs are being used to reach each individual.
The International Mission has been assigned to find and reach the members of the Church who are isolated and away from established organizations of the Church. The Lord wants every one of his Saints kept close to his church. He gave us the parable of the lost sheep; he had 99 accounted for and a search was conducted to find the one that had strayed from the group.
Even though the people we are responsible for did not stray from the Church, they are away from the organization of missions and stakes of the Church. As a result, we need to reach them and be close to them so that they have access to the blessings of the Church and the blessings of the Lord’s way of life. We want them to know that the Church cares, that the Lord cares, and that they should take advantage of what the Lord has for them. This should keep them close to the Lord’s prophet and the Lord’s apostles and give them a very choice anchor to the Lord’s way of life and the program of his Church.
Elder Hunter has traveled in most of the areas covered by the International Mission and understands many of the problems and needs of our members who live beyond the bounds of the stakes and missions of the Church.
It is a privilege to work with Elder Hunter. He has love, concern, and interest for the members in these distant lands.
Elder Hunter: In our conversation today we have used the term “foreign.” I think we should make it clear that there are no foreigners in the Church—and there are no foreign areas. We are blessed in this dispensation with a divine organization, international in scope, to serve the Saints wherever they may be.