We have in the Church a heritage of missionary service given by faithful, worthy young men when they turn nineteen. How did we ever establish such a legacy? Partly by teaching them from a very early age to sing at home and in Primary:
I hope they call me on a mission
When I have grown a foot or two.
I hope by then I will be ready
To teach and preach and work as missionaries do.
(Sing with Me, p. B-75.)
Why don’t older couples serve missions in the numbers that President Kimball is asking for? Maybe it’s because they don’t sing that song! During recent stake conferences I have asked older couples to stand and sing with me: “We hope they call us on a mission/ Perhaps within a month or two/ We hope by then we will be ready/ To teach and preach and work as missionaries do.”
Just as we have a tradition of young men serving, we need to establish a tradition of older couples serving missions.
President Spencer W. Kimball has repeatedly asked for more missionary couples. In 1974 he said: “We should keep alert to find men and their wives who are young enough and yet who are free enough and capable enough to possibly precede young missionaries into new fields. Sometimes people with greater maturity may do an unbelievable work in opening up the program. There are many people in the Church who are ready for sacrifice.” (Regional Representatives seminar, 3 Oct. 1974.)
In 1977 he said: “We need many older couples, who, in general, are retired and have reared their families. There is a great work for them to do as official missionaries. …
“Many of us sit in luxury and wealth while neighbors and friends and relatives are anxiously or unconsciously waiting for the gospel message.
“Many of our good people have reared their families and settled down in advancing years and have relaxed to enjoy life without selflessly sharing it.” (Regional Representatives seminar, 30 Sept. 1977, pp. 11–12.)
In a recent meeting with all of the General Authorities, President Kimball again emphasized the need for an increased number of missionaries.
We all recognize that there is a relationship between the number of missionaries serving and number of convert baptisms worldwide. That’s only logical. And so our first challenge, if we want to do better in missionary work, is to increase the number of missionaries.
In the Church there is a great untapped source of potential missionaries—the reservoir of faithful Latter-day Saint couples in the stakes and missions who can serve the Lord when they come to retirement age. We presently have 28,304 high priests between the ages of sixty and seventy living in the United States and Canada alone. We fully realize that for various reasons some of these high priests cannot go out into the mission field to serve when they become of retirement age. In some cases their companion has passed away or they still have dependent children at home. Some may have impaired health. Some may not have the worldly means to maintain themselves for a certain length of time in the mission field. Some may still be working because they have financial commitments and simply cannot stop working.
But if we assume that a generous seventy percent of that number are unable to serve, when we take a closer look we discover to our amazement that thirty percent of 28,304 is 8,491 couples—16,982 people who could give heed to the challenge of the Prophet today and serve missions! Our current number of approximately one thousand couples would be multiplied eight times.
Currently there are 30,200 missionaries in the field. If we add to that our figure of 16,982 retired members who could serve, the total immediately jumps to 47,182 missionaries. And that’s if the number of young men and women remains constant!
Of course, there is also a great need for young elders and lady missionaries. New missions will have to be opened up in countries where we have not preached before or where we are dividing existing missions. If, for example, we open five new missions, we need at least eight hundred more missionaries to come forward. People don’t realize that for every new mission we open, one hundred and sixty missionaries are needed. Our current emphasis on missionary couples is mainly because they are such a great reserve army.
We are asking all stake presidents and bishops to become “couple-minded.” During interviews there are many opportunities to identify prospective missionary couples, especially when they come in for the renewal of a temple recommend. Too often the bishop asks all the questions and gives the recommend, and the people leave without ever talking about the possibility of serving a mission.
In February of this year the First Presidency announced that in addition to proselyting, couples can also receive special missionary assignments in leadership and member work, welfare services, public relations, genealogy, and education. They can also serve in visitors’ centers and temples, on mission office staffs, and as representatives of the International Mission. (For details, see Ensign, Mar. 1981, pp. 76–77.)
How blessed we are that couples now have an opportunity to serve in these additional assignments. And now, as outlined recently by the First Presidency, they may serve for a period of six months, one year, or eighteen months. For all three options, the Church will handle transportation expenses according to the normal policy for missionaries. (The Church pays all over $50 of the fare to the MTC, and all over $100 of the fare to the mission. The Church pays the full return fare for honorably released missionaries.) The First Presidency also mentioned that couples should not be recommended to serve full-time missions if either the husband or the wife has reached his or her seventieth birthday.
Let us all be grateful for the opportunities we have to serve. Let us show our love and respect for President Kimball, who himself is such an outstanding missionary. We sing often in the Church, “We Thank Thee, O God, for a Prophet.” Why? Because he speaks for the Lord. He tells us things to do—but often we don’t do them. Our personal responsibility is to recognize that when President Kimball gives a challenge, it’s as if the Lord were speaking. And when the Lord challenges us, we cannot take it lightly.
Undoubtedly the blessings will come. Every night children and grandchildren kneel down and thank God that grandma and grandpa are serving a mission far away from home. Their grandsons will brag about them, and in so doing, they will gain an even stronger commitment to serve a mission. A couple’s missionary service will bless the lives of all the family members.
Missionary couples will be examples to both the believers and the unbelievers. Many others may follow where they had the courage to lead.
Couples will come closer to the Savior and their Heavenly Father during their mission. Their relationship with Christ will improve. They will be given increased spiritual strength. For many, a mission will be the crowning experience of a life of service to the Master.
And couples will be closer together than ever before when they are serving in the mission field. Through their special relationship with Christ at that time, their love will increase a hundredfold.
The need is great. The time is short. The challenge is ours. The blessings are many. Let us act now.
After reading “We Hope They Call Us on a Mission!” individually or as a family, you may wish to discuss some of the following questions during a gospel study period:
1. Why is President Kimball anxious for couples to serve missions?
2. In what ways can “people with greater maturity … do an unbelievable work” in expanding the missionary effort?
3. How can an older couple serving a mission be an influence for good on members of their family?
4. What are some of the specific blessings couple missionaries may enjoy as they fill their missions?
5. If you are a couple in a position to serve a mission, what steps do you need to take in order to serve? What kinds of services could you perform in addition to regular proselyting activities?