Missionary Couples—Sharing the Gospel through Service


Ada Whetten waited patiently for John Davis while he served a two-year mission in Mexico. Then as Elder Davis approached the end of his mission, Sister Whetten also developed a strong desire to become a missionary and was called to serve in Mexico. Now it was Brother Davis’s turn to wait. They were finally married when Ada completed her mission.

Missionary service continued to be an important part of their lives, and they planned for the time when they could serve again—this time together. Finally, as Brother Davis was nearing retirement, they were called to the Puerto Rico San Juan Mission, where they were assigned to labor in the Dominican Republic, newly opened to missionaries. Brother Davis served as a counselor in the mission presidency.

The Davises joined ten other missionaries and twenty-four local members. Their trial of faith soon began; for two months there were no baptisms. Elder and Sister Davis asked that the elders’ next fast be for guidance and help from the Lord. As the missionaries concluded their fast, the first Dominican family taught by the missionaries was baptized. Before long, the area began to see an increasing number of baptisms each month. New members remained strong and active by their involvement in missionary work, and cities and branches opened up as missionaries arrived in this new area of the mission.

As the Davises’ mission was drawing to a close, they were asked to stay another six months to help the new mission president, soon to arrive in Puerto Rico. Then, as they were again approaching the end of their mission, they received a telephone call from President Spencer W. Kimball, who informed them that the Dominican Republic had been approved to become a new mission. He was calling the Davises to preside over it.

Two years after becoming a mission and four years from the time the Davises arrived, the Church in the Dominican Republic has expanded to twenty-three branches and two mission districts. Over thirty full-time missionaries from the Dominican Republic have been called, and membership there now exceeds 5,000.

Many missionary couples, like the Davises, are making similar contributions in the United States and in other lands. They find great fulfillment in missionary service and in helping the kingdom of God to grow. Their work is extremely valuable and involves more than teaching the gospel. Generally, missionary couples have found they are most successful if they use their talents, skills, and abilities rendering some form of Christian service, rather than spending the bulk of their time tracting.

Under guidelines from the First Presidency, missionary couples and lady missionaries may be given an assignment in addition to teaching the gospel.

Their missionary activities may include:

1. Finding and teaching. Missionary couples may seek out interested nonmembers and teach them the missionary discussions (in their own words, without memorization, using an outline).

2. Leadership and member work. Missionary couples may serve as leadership trainers in member districts and branches, helping leaders and members understand and fulfill their duties.

3. Welfare services. Missionary couples and lady missionaries may be assigned to help ecclesiastical or temporal officers analyze and solve temporal problems affecting Church members. This may include personal and family preparedness and such specific things as gardening, home storage, and budgeting.

4. Visitors’ centers. Missionary couples may be assigned to serve at a visitors’ center, information center, or historical site within a mission area.

5. Public communications. Missionary couples may be involved in the public communications effort of the mission. They may work with local public communications councils of stakes and districts to create a positive image of the Church through the news media.

6. Mission office staff. Missionary couples may serve in the mission office as the mission secretary, mission recorder, mission supply manager, or mission financial secretary.

7. Genealogy. Missionary couples, when assigned, may be involved in locating records, microfilming, acquiring records, and teaching members and nonmembers genealogical skills.

8. Education. Missionary couples and lady missionaries may be involved in teaching in Church schools or working with seminary and institute programs.

9. Temple. Missionary couples and lady missionaries may serve in temples where sufficient local members are not available.

10. International Mission. Missionary couples may serve in opening the work in international areas outside the boundaries of existing missions.

Wise mission presidents have learned to use couples’ unique experiences in performing missionary labors. Some missionary couples have successfully shared the gospel by teaching groups and individuals lessons—formally and informally—in their own areas of special ability and skill. This often provides a more successful approach than tracting. For example, Edwin and Janet Wooley of Ogden, Utah, experienced some of the usual frustrations as they started to do missionary work in the traditional manner by knocking on doors. In the area where they labored, nonmembers appeared uninterested and were unreceptive. After several days of tracting without success, they turned to the Lord for guidance.

Inspiration began to flow. Sister Wooley was experienced in china painting and ceramics. They purchased a kiln, then told members of their small branch that they would teach them how to make ceramics if they would bring at least one nonmember to the class. Several weeks later, seventy-five people were attending the Wooleys’ class. Doors began to open, prejudice disappeared, and friendships began to form, providing many new opportunities for sharing the gospel.

If you were to survey couples in the Missionary Training Center, you would find that twenty to thirty percent of them have served together on a mission before. When you ask why they are going again, their comments are varied but reflect a common feeling. They loved serving their previous mission together, value their mission experiences, and want to do it again.

President Kimball and other Church leaders have repeatedly encouraged service by couples. In an appeal for missionary couples, President Kimball said:

“Fathers and mothers should train their sons to want to be missionaries, and later, if health and other conditions permit, parents can look to the day when they, too, may serve a mission. The Lord has told us many times the great worth of this activity.” (Ensign, Jan. 1982, p. 4; italics added.)

The Church has a great untapped resource in couples who have served for years in its organizations and have a wealth of wisdom, talent, and leadership experience. These couples may assist developing units of the Church to grow in an orderly fashion. Too often this great resource is unavailable; branches struggle to survive because newly baptized local leaders do not adequately understand how the organizations of the Church should function. Missionary couples can provide the experience these new branches need.

Elder David B. Haight, in his April 1979 conference address, issued this challenge to couples: “Some stakes are crowded with mature couples fully prepared to accept a mission call, who could not only enthusiastically help in spreading the gospel but strengthen new members in areas of the world where we are growing so rapidly. The thousands of newly baptized members now in the Church, with its somewhat strange, unfamiliar ways, could be encouraged and trained by someone who today is sitting comfortably at home.” (Ensign, May 1979, p. 62.)

Many couples whose health permits, who are financially able, and who have no dependent children at home have accepted this challenge. However, the need is still great for more couples to step forward and serve, especially those who speak or could learn Spanish. There are currently 56,000 high priests and their wives in the United States and Canada between the ages of sixty and seventy who might be able to answer this call to serve.

Leo and Lucille Bevans of Tooele, Utah, were surprised by their bishop during tithing settlement when he asked them to serve a mission. They had always wanted to serve but had a son in the mission field at the time. Arrangements were made, and they were able to request a date corresponding with the release date of their son so that they were able to come home when he did. They were given courtesy and respect every place they served and were shown they were loved and needed. The Bevans felt that members themselves provide the key to sharing the gospel with nonmembers and that through the guidance of the Spirit, love and service are keys to conversion. As in this case, some couples have been invited by their priesthood leaders, while others have taken the initiative and approached their bishop.

Thomas and Beth Smith of Salt Lake City, who served in the New Mexico Albuquerque Mission, commented on their opportunities for missionary service: “As tourists, we could have never had the precious opportunity which has been ours to visit with people in their homes; to have them open their hearts and share with us their sorrows, their beliefs, their disappointments, their joys, and their righteous accomplishments. If one desires to be close to his fellowmen, he need only begin to share the beautiful truths of the gospel.”

Of course, a mission is both challenging and rigorous, but these refining experiences give missionaries opportunities for growth and development. Adjusting to different conditions and cultures, for example, offers the chance to gain insight and a greater appreciation for blessings received. Elder and Sister Smith commented that “living in a small apartment with few worldly possessions has opened our eyes to how few of the world’s goods we need in order to be happy.”

Furthermore, missionary work is one of the few opportunities in the Church where husband and wife may share the same calling and experience spiritual growth together. The opportunity of being together also cements and strengthens their personal relationship.

Probably one of the most difficult challenges is for couples to leave their children and grandchildren behind. Certainly it tugs at a grandparent’s heart to miss the births of new grandchildren, birthdays, weddings, and other special family occasions. Yet the example a missionary couple sets for their posterity is priceless in terms of the prayers offered in their behalf and the strengthening of testimonies felt by their children and grandchildren. These children then begin to plan and talk about “when I go” rather than “if I go” on a mission.

Some couples who have sent their sons and daughters on missions are now being supported on a mission by their children. Some supplement their retirement funds by renting their homes to raise the needed finances; others are using money they saved over the years for a mission. (Mission costs vary from mission to mission and from country to country, but couples may generally plan on an average cost of $500.00 per month.)

Missionary couples may choose to serve for six, twelve, or eighteen months. Missionaries who do not need to learn a second language spend three weeks at the Missionary Training Center; those learning a language spend eight weeks. Couples enjoy the time they spend in the MTC. Often they compare their experiences there to the feelings they have when they enter the temple.

Great joy comes to those of any age who are engaged in missionary service. The eternal memories and experiences with members and nonmembers form the basis of pleasant conversations between husband, wife, family, and friends for many happy years—or until they decide it’s time to go again!

[illustrations] Illustrated by Phyllis Luch

Richard L. Millett, director of missionaries with additional assignments, Church Missionary Department, serves as high councilor in the BYU Fourteenth Stake.