Pursuit of Excellence: Less a Program Than a Way of Life
“The Pursuit of Excellence is an achievement challenge designed to help a participant develop a Christlike life of love and service. Accomplishing this objective requires a diligent and serious effort in fundamental aspects of a truly Christian life—spiritual, intellectual, social, physical, and in service and character.” (Pursuit of Excellence Handbook, 1974 Melchizedek Priesthood MIA.)
This program, which replaces the former Master M-Man, Golden Gleaner Award, is more a way of life than a program. It is based on the idea that “nothing is more invigorating than working hard to fulfill a noble and worthwhile purpose” and that life is “abundant and bounteous” when a person becomes absorbed in achieving eternal goals.
To assist in internalizing the process of goal selection, a process that should operate throughout life, the Melchizedek Priesthood MIA has prepared a program handbook containing procedures and sample goals. Anyone in the ward over the age of 18, married or single, can participate. A pin and certificate may be awarded at one point, but the overall goal of achieving an excellent life should continue forever.
The participant should make a preliminary selection of goals by using the Pursuit of Excellence Handbook, available from the Distribution Center, 1999 West 1700 South, Salt Lake City, Utah, 84111. Then he should make an appointment to meet with a member of the elders quorum presidency, a member of the Relief Society presidency, a member of the bishopric or branch presidency, or a stake high councilor. The two should counsel together about the selected goals, set a date to check progress, identify the reasons for working on the goal, and list the steps to accomplish the goal.
Some sample goals are:
1. Spiritual challenges: strengthen your testimony of the gospel through fasting, prayer, and study. Share your growing testimony on appropriate occasions, and participate in missionary or reactivation activities.
2. Intellectual challenges: develop interest in a new creative field or hobby; take advantage of cultural opportunities in your area.
3. Physical challenges: evaluate your adherence to the total spirit of the Word of Wisdom, especially in eating and sleeping habits; acquire greater proficiency in an occupational or homemaking skill such as carpentry or typing.
4. Service challenges: give consistent service to the Church in addition to your Church calling(s); under proper direction, help a child with homework, physical activity, or cultural enrichment.
5. Character challenges: apply the “second mile” principle; make commitments carefully and keep righteous promises scrupulously; do not envy others.
Will this program work? Still in its infancy, it has great promise, but a similar program, instituted on an experimental basis under the direction of stake high councilor Robert Raybould in the former University Stake at the University of Utah, had great success. Initially for the women, it expanded to include men as well just before the stake was reorganized.
And it worked! Marion Randle set up a food storage program with a roommate; Naomi Allred took a tailoring class, something she always wanted to do. Kathy Frederickson learned to golf, and also completed her four-generation program for genealogy. Margaret Young established a program for daily scripture reading. Karen Smith saved up for a trip to the Hill Cumorah Pageant.
According to Brother Raybould, the periodic interviews with a priesthood leader were “one of the keys of the program.” Margaret Young, stake Relief Society president at that time, agrees: “It’s always easier to work on goals with the encouragement of someone else. It’s so much easier if someone believes in us, if someone cares, if someone knows our abilities.”
“We couldn’t have vague goals,” Karen Smith recalls. “I remember that I set the goal of developing creativity by making things with my hands, and Brother Raybould said, ‘That’s not good enough.’ I decided to make something every month and give it away, whether it was a cake or an afghan. A spiritual goal was to read the scriptures. He wanted to know how many, how long, what time, what my goal was, and when I would be finished.”
Brother Raybould stresses the importance of not trying to do too much all at once, since “a clear-cut success gives you feelings of self-confidence and happiness that wouldn’t be possible otherwise.” Valuable goals are in areas where the participant is already working but feels a need for improvement. “This did not burden their lives with additional things to do, but simply increased their effectiveness in the areas they were already involved in,” he says.
Margaret Young found that realistic self-discipline was the key: “The goal of daily scripture reading is still effective in my life today because I realized that even though my goal was to read at least one chapter a day, I would not always be able to do it. Such obstacles as illness, confusion in the room, or complete exhaustion interfered. My solution, then, was to read only a verse or two and ponder the message. This way, I didn’t break the good habit I was forming.”
Naomi Allred also finds that the program has had a lasting effect on her life. “When I came home from my mission I had one goal—like many girls—and I was getting nowhere on it. It was frustrating. This program made me realize that there was more than one thing in life. Marriage is still a goal, but now I understand myself a lot better.” She enrolled in a speed-reading course, took a tailoring class, and accomplished several other goals she had been putting off. “I actually changed my self-image by working through the program. It made me more outgoing. My whole attitude toward myself has changed.”
Brother Raybould sums it up this way: “Setting goals is like riding a bicycle. It’s easier to keep balance when we are moving toward something than when we are standing still. In the same way, it is difficult for us to maintain a spiritual and emotional balance while we are standing still.”
Visualize the Pursuit of Excellence available Church-wide, to every Church member over the age of 18. For those alone through death or divorce, the program provides a means of avoiding despair and discouragement by concentrating on desired goals. For the young, it focuses that exuberant energy in on meaningful goals. For the elderly, it can provide the excitement of setting goals in an unexplored area of development. For married couples, it can be a means of coming closer together in achievement. The vision of this program is exciting; it makes excellence an internal and continuous process—an eternal progression.
The International Look of Health Services Missionaries
“Worldwide health services, which emphasize disease prevention and assist members throughout the world to appropriately use local health resources, are being expanded to a major degree. This will require a substantial increase in the number of health services missionaries.” (The First Presidency, September 6, 1974.)
Health Services missionaries now number more than 100. They come from 20 different countries and are serving in 25 missions of the Church. Working under the direction of local priesthood and auxiliary leaders, they seek to improve the health and well-being of Church members, help to identify health problems, particularly those which are of concern to members, and then assist in developing and implementing programs designed to solve these problems. They identify local health resources which are available, and help members to wisely use such resources. They then help to supplement these available community resources with the teaching of health principles.
Health Services missionaries are called just as proselyting missionaries are, except that their recommendation form should include a concise statement of their qualifications as a health missionary. Initial contact is made through a bishop or branch president; information may be obtained from the Missionary Committee, 47 East South Temple, Salt Lake City, Utah 84111.
If prospective Health Services missionaries are learning a non-English language, they will receive additional training during their time at the Language Training Mission.
Health Services missionaries tell many success stories, some of which were quoted by Bishop Victor L. Brown at the Welfare Services meeting held in conjunction with October general conference.
Health Services missionaries in Chile are teaching Latter-day Saint mothers the importance of good nutrition for their families, including the value of local foods, new recipes, menu planning, and how to select the best bargains in the market. In Mexico, Primary children are learning the importance of washing their hands and taking good care of their teeth. Sister Liselotte Stuber, a nurse from Switzerland serving in the Mexico Torreon Mission, wrote, “I have never seen so many clean hands, nor so many feet with shoes on, in all my time in Mexico.”
In Brazil, members are learning how to prevent heart disease; in Hong Kong, they learn to detect cancer. There are projects for building latrines in Guatemala and for planting gardens in Paraguay. In Colombia, the Health Services missionaries participate in special family home evenings on physical fitness, accident prevention, and immunizations. Elder and Sister George Brown from Idaho are district leaders for the Health Services missionaries in the Arizona Holbrook Mission, where they are doing research and finding materials for the branch libraries and the use of members.
In the Ecuador Quito Mission the work is just beginning. Sister Jeannette Hafner, a nutritionist from Texas, writes that they are finding good local physicians, dentists, and hospitals for the use of missionaries. Lists of these resources are kept in the missionaries’ apartments. In other missions the emphasis is on physical fitness, improving the diet, or some other aspect important in keeping the missionaries healthy and able to work effectively.
The Health Services missionaries have had an impact on the proselyting effort in the missions. From Costa Rica came the report that “as we visited hospitals, we became acquainted with a wonderful thoracic surgeon whom we referred to the proselyting missionaries. He has now joined the Church.” Sister Gertrud Strohbeck, a nurse from Germany who worked in Honduras, wrote that “lessons to children often helped us get acquainted with parents.”
There is an increasing number of local Health Services missionaries who are called to serve in their own countries, working as companions to those called from other lands. They become a permanent resource to priesthood and auxiliary leaders.
Sisters Irene Yuen and Chung Ching Shan have been called as Health Services missionaries in Hong Kong. They recently participated in a seminar on the detection and prevention of lung cancer; approximately 700 people attended. Sister Lin Mei Yu, a registered nurse from Taiwan, is serving as a Health Services missionary in her own country. She and other local missionaries, such as Sister Sulianna Manoa in Tonga, have been invaluable in teaching regular missionaries about the land and the people and about communicating in a new language.
Sister Muriel Ozo, a student nurse serving as a Health Services missionary in the Philippines, writes, “I am so happy I will not have to leave my people when I finish my mission, like all the other Health Services missionaries. I can stay to help them with all the things that I have learned.” Sister Ozo helped to teach a Latter-day Saint mother in Manila, Sister Sally Pilobello, who said, “I feel important because of this Church program to make us happier people. I lost my first child due to malnutrition, but my last baby, my ‘Mormon baby,’ is the healthiest of them all, thanks to what I have learned about good nutrition and good health.”
Sister Iris Ehrsam, a physical therapist from Switzerland, is teaching the same important principles to the members in Italy as Elder Michael Beuger, a physician from Holland, is teaching in Bolivia. Sister Odette Sookun, a nurse from Mauritius, learned Tahitian as she prepared to be the first Health Services missionary to Tahiti. Sister Nancy Opperman, a physical education teacher from Wisconsin, is learning Thai as she prepares to begin her work in Bangkok. Elder Ronald Berg, an anthropology student from California, is learning Navajo, and Sister Solveig Sommervold, a nurse from Norway, is learning Spanish.
There is much to be done to help members throughout the world prevent disease and deal with health problems wisely. To have helped with this challenge is a meaningful experience. As Dr. Blair Bybee, who served in Samoa, expressed it, “God helped me more, blessed me more, answered more questions, and gave me more of a feeling of having accomplished something good than at any other time in my life. If I never were to practice medicine again, all my years at the university, in medical school, and in my internship would have been well spent just preparing me for my health mission.”
The impact is being felt in the missions. President Russell Bishop in the Peru Lima Mission wrote, “These young ladies are doing a tremendous job. If other Health Services missionaries are available, we would certainly be happy to have them, as I feel their work is invaluable. In fact, President Kimball told me personally, ‘Fill those mountains with health missionaries.’ I would like to work toward that goal.”