“The sun shines bright on my old Kentucky home …” Just a song. But not so to Allen and Elisabeth Terry, who, after having spent eighteen months in the Kentucky Louisville Mission, consider the area their second home. In fact, letters from their Sulphur Well or Glasgow Branch “families” often end with, “Y’all come back home to Kentuck—and stay!”
The urge to return to those rolling green hills and country folk, to towns with names like Bugtussell, Chicken Bristle, and Knob Lick, was so strong, in fact, that after completing their mission and returning to Salt Lake City, the Terrys headed back to Kentucky to visit for a spell.
It’s obvious that this gentle couple—he, twice bishop, and she, a convert from Germany who has served in every auxiliary at least once—is loved by the Kentuckians among whom they labored with experienced devotion. It’s the little, homespun things that tell the tale. For example, whenever the branch held a potluck dinner (sixty or so members who came to the party loaded three long tables with more than one hundred different succulent, downhome, Southern dishes), some of the sisters always remembered to bring desserts flavored with artificial sweeteners, just for Brother Terry. “How do you think that made me feel?” he sighs. “See, I’m diabetic.”
Each day the Terrys kneel for prayer at the foot of their bed, which is covered with a quilt made of dozens of rectangular blocks, each personally decorated or stitched in some special memory motif and signed by the branch family that produced it.
On their return vacation last March, both of the Terrys were ill with pneumonia by the time they got to Kentucky. Brother Terry was so sick that he was hospitalized in Glasgow, and Sister Terry spent the three weeks of his convalescence at his bedside. During that time, dozens of members visited, many driving long distances.
The Glasgow Branch had planned a social in the Terrys’ honor, and not wanting to disappoint them, Brother Terry managed to wrangle permission from his doctor to check out of the hospital for two or three hours in order to attend the affair. Unknown to the Terrys, the branch had fasted and prayed for them, and the members are convinced that their fast was when the couple began to recover.
How did such a touching relationship begin, one that brought two cultures together and created bonds of love and respect that the Terrys will cherish for eternity? It started when this faithful couple decided to heed the call of a prophet urging retired couples who are financially and physically able to serve full-time missions for the Church.
“Were you afraid to go?”
“No. We were a little nervous about renting our home out. And it’s hard to leave the children and grandchildren too. But the prophet says every year in conference that these aren’t reasons not to go—so, when the bishop asked us, we agreed.”
“And your children? Were they supportive?”
“Oh, yes. Wonderful.”
“Then Peter began to say unto him, Lo, we have left all, and have followed thee.
“And Jesus answered and said, Verily I say unto you, there is no man that hath left house, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my sake, and the gospel’s,
“But he shall receive an hundredfold now in this time, houses, and brethren, and sisters, and mothers, and children, and lands, with persecutions; and in the world to come eternal life.”
“We saw a fulfillment of that scripture,” says Brother Terry with great conviction. “We did gain homes and children and brothers, a hundred times over.”
“We certainly didn’t lose a thing,” agrees Sister Terry.
Many older couples worry about the contribution they can make in the mission field, about their own abilities in the face of the schedules and life-style expected of younger full-time missionaries. But the guidelines for older missionaries are designed to meet their special needs and talents, and are not the same as those for younger missionaries. (See “New Guidelines for Missionaries with Additional Assignments,” Ensign, March 1981, pp. 76–77.) We need only look at the Terrys’ eighteen-month stay in Kentucky (older couples can now choose terms of six, twelve, or eighteen months) to recognize the impact they had in their mission.
In May 1980, they arrived in Louisville (pronounced “Loville” by Kentuckians) and were assigned by their mission president, Calvin Smoot, to an area of five counties in south-central Kentucky. They lived in Glasgow, the largest city in the area, with a population of about 15,000.
It wasn’t long before the Terrys began to realize that they had a real purpose to fulfill on their mission.
“In a very short time we began to fit in with them. We felt so congenial, and so much a part of them, that it began to be very obvious to us that we had been called by inspiration to that location. I guess sometimes I’ve taken it with a grain of salt when they say missionaries are sent by inspiration, but we both can tell you now that it’s true—we went exactly to the right place.”
When the Terrys began working in Glasgow, they found only two active families in the whole city. “We did a lot of detective work those first few months, trying to search out the inactive members. When we would find them we’d ask, ‘Are you a member of the Mormon Church?’ and they’d say, ‘I used to be.’”
A big problem was one of logistics. There wasn’t a branch meetinghouse in Glasgow, so when the missionaries did find any new investigators or inactive members, they had to ask them to travel to church about twenty-five miles northeast to the small country hamlet of Sulphur Well. There, one small, charming, white frame and red brick church nestled among lush green trees served the entire five-county area surrounding it; still, there were only about fifty active members.
But the problem was not only that of distance (although rising gas prices put a definite hardship on the people), it was more a problem of the newcomers not feeling “at home” once they arrived. It takes time for people to “fit in” sometimes, and more often than not, they would get discouraged and quit coming after only one or two visits.
Yet those who were active were amazingly faithful. The Sulphur Well Branch president, Wallace Thompson, and many of the key auxiliary leaders had held the same positions for a very long time and were earnestly striving to keep up the spirit in the branch. Part of the reason this was so difficult was because the stake center was “a fer piece” (120 miles) away in Louisville, which was even located in a different time zone. Contact with the stake had not been at its best, with only a few faithful branch leaders being able to attend vital stake meetings.
The Terrys are reticent, almost embarrassed, to talk about their contribution in remedying the situation. If it is suggested that their service gave the necessary spark that helped get the branch going again, they flatly deny it.
“It was just the timing, that’s all. The foundation was already strong before we came.”
In August, 1980, President Wallace Thompson was released as branch president of the Sulphur Well Branch after fifteen years of faithful service. Soon after, he was called to be the Gospel Doctrine teacher. Meanwhile, Brother Terry was called to replace him as branch president.
President Terry, with the stake and mission presidencies, realized that the first need was to build an organization that would “hold the people.” The Spirit confirmed that decision, and under inspiration they began by releasing all of the faithful members who had carried the branch in the same positions for so many years. Then they followed the promptings of the Spirit and shuffled them all around into new positions, “because, as they say, a change is sometimes better than a rest.”
“We wanted to get them following more of the Church programs, so there would be something for the people to hold onto,” says Brother Terry.
Because of expediency, and sometimes out of a lack of enthusiasm, some of the programs were not being followed exactly as designed. For example, the seminary program in the mission field is outlined to be held on a day other than Sunday for ninety minutes. Because of the travel situation, seminary was being held Sunday morning at the same time as Sunday School; this denied the youth the chance to attend Sunday School classes, and there wasn’t enough time during that fifty minute block to do justice to seminary either. Attendance was poor.
President Terry and his counselors decided to establish Wednesday night as a branch general activity night, when seminary, Relief Society Homemaking meeting, Boy Scouts, and officers meetings were all held. And, if there was a fifth Wednesday in a month, a branch social would be held.
Within a few weeks, enthusiasm began to build. Young people began bringing their friends to seminary, and again on Sunday to Sunday School and on Wednesday to Mutual. One Sunday when Brother Terry was asked to substitute in Sunday School, he was pleasantly shocked to find twenty-four students in class, of which only about eight were members.
“We were really impressed with the work of the young people. One of the biggest problems we had was keeping the girls from taking over the Boy Scouts! Those kids wanted to do everything.”
“There are no more faithful people in the Church,” adds Sister Terry. “Anything you ask them to do, they do—and they do it well! They just needed someone to see things with new eyes.”
“I’d just drop the seed of a hint and turn around, and there was a tree growing behind me,” mused Brother Terry of the members’ willingness to serve. He tells of one time when he spoke to the branch members urging them to make the difficult effort to attend the temple. After the meeting, there was a long line of people outside his office waiting to be interviewed for temple recommends. Within a few months, the Sulphur Well Branch was leading the stake in temple endowments.
“You should know what a great, great sacrifice it is for them to go to the temple,” said Sister Terry.
The Washington D.C. Temple is 750 miles from Glasgow. At the time it cost approximately $125 per couple for bus fare and motel, with food costing extra. The members have to leave Thursday afternoon and travel two hours to Louisville to board the stake excursion bus. It leaves at 6:00 P.M. and travels all night, depositing the weary Saints at the temple in time for the 7:00 A.M. session. They attend five or six sessions that Friday, plus perform some initiatory or sealing work in between, and at 10:00 board the bus for their motel.
The next morning, the bus collects them at 6:00 A.M. to make the early Saturday morning session, and they work three or four sessions until 1:00 or 2:00 in the afternoon. They board the bus again at 3:00 P.M., ride all night, arriving in Louisville at 3:00 A.M., drive the two hours back to their homes, sleep a couple of hours, and still manage to be in church Sunday morning by 9:00 A.M. This grueling trip occurs at least four times a year. The Terrys say that this regular temple excursion was “magic” for the branch.
But temple attendance wasn’t the only matter that the Terrys turned their attention to. They noticed that even though the Sulphur Well Branch is the oldest in Kentucky, established in 1897, as far as they knew, there had never been a full-time missionary sent from there. They began encouraging, “a missionary tradition” in the branch, and within a year, two missionaries were out. Sister Terry proudly says that soon there should be six missionaries out.
As the second year of their mission started, the Terrys, along with other branch leaders, began pressing to establish a branch in Glasgow. They soon bought a house to use as a chapel, and in August 1981 the Glasgow Branch was established, with Brother Stanley Slinker, a counselor to President Terry, as branch president. At the same time, President Terry was released as branch president of the Sulphur Well Branch, and his other counselor, Brother Errol Edwards, was called to succeed him. The responsibilities for both branches were turned completely back to able local leadership.
Soon, the missionaries and members in Glasgow began to attract many inactive members and new investigators to the new branch. But this presented a problem. Before long, the house was bulging. As if by a miracle, they found an already existing church that had been started by its Protestant congregation but because of finances hadn’t been completed. The general contractor finished it himself and sold it to the Church. In January 1982, after the Terrys had completed their mission and had gone home, that first meeting in the new chapel held well over one hundred people—this in an area that only a year before had only two active families.
When asked if they would recommend a mission for all retired couples who can meet the requirements, the Terrys responded with a resounding “Yes!” Older couples can contribute in endless, unique ways to the missionary effort. Their special talents and experience, their capacity for patience, love, and service, are the backbone of the missionary system. As the Terrys’ mission president, Calvin E. Smoot, once said, “I love my missionaries, but the couples are my strength.”
Brother Terry says that the wives who serve missions with their husbands are super women, that their genuine, unconditional love for everyone is the greatest missionary tool of all. “I thought my wife was the only one like that, but I found out that all of them were like that!”
Examples like Brother and Sister Terry demonstrate that an older couple’s contribution to the stability of a mission is incalculable.
The Terrys are absolutely convinced that couples are vital to the missionary effort. Their greatest fear when leaving Kentucky was that there wouldn’t be another couple to replace them. “Our mission was one of the highlights of our lives,” says Sister Terry.
When asked what special service retired couples can render on a mission, President Stanley Slinker of the Glasgow Branch summed it up this way: “Elder and Sister Terry did much good as a retired couple because people respected them. They had a great deal of experience in their church callings, and Brother Terry knew how things should be run. But most of all, they loved us, and people knew that!”