Missionary Couples—Trading Something Good for Something Better


M. Russell Ballard

I recently learned about the experiences of a man in Zimbabwe named Sabbath Sibanda Maturure. Born in Shurugwe in what he describes as “an ordinary African hut,” he was the seventh of eleven children. Like three of his sisters, he was crippled from birth. At an early age he blamed God for his handicap and refused to attend the Christian church to which his parents were devoted.

When he was seven, he and his sisters were sent far away from home to attend a school for the disabled. Lonely for his mother, whom he could visit only once a year, he became even more bitter. “Life was terrible,” he remembers. “There was just no hope.”

His bitterness grew when his only two friends—his mother and another handicapped child at the school—died. “There really wasn’t anything left for me—not one ray of hope anywhere. Life was completely without meaning. God was totally unfair and not worthy of my worship or respect.”

But after he was befriended by some Christians who urged him to read the Bible, his heart began to soften. As the years passed, he found work, was married, and had two daughters.

In July 1985 a man who “looked honest, humble, and loving” came to his home and introduced himself as Elder Boyd Lake. Elder and Sister Lake, a missionary couple from Oakley, Utah, had met Sabbath’s wife, Susan, at work, and she had asked them to visit her husband. “Anything that is about Christ makes our lives more sweet,” says Sabbath, “so I welcomed him and Sister Lake to our home.” Their message sounded so good that the Maturures invited the Lakes to meet all of their friends at the handicapped center where they worked. And Sabbath and Susan began studying the Book of Mormon.

After several visits from the missionaries, Sabbath became ill. But a priesthood blessing helped to restore his health. He was impressed by the power of the priesthood and the teachings about home evening, fast offering, tithing, and chastity. “I also learned about the eternal family, whereby if we believe and are worthy, we can be married in the temple and be sealed forever as husband and wife and family.”

On 2 August 1986, Sabbath was baptized by the branch president, and Elder Lake baptized Susan and one of their daughters. “What joy we received in our home to be in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints—a church that the Lord himself restored!” says Sabbath. Three weeks later, a third daughter, Helen Happiness, was born. (The baby was named after Sister Lake, whose first name is Helen.)

For the Maturure family, Elder and Sister Lake were instruments in the hands of the Lord in working a mighty miracle. How could the Lakes have guessed before they left their home in Utah that they would have such a rich experience in faraway Zimbabwe?

Missionary couples around the world are bringing similar blessings into the lives of many people. And a happy side effect is that the blessings work both ways.

When I was president of the Canada Toronto Mission, I was amazed at the changes that took place in couples who served in the mission. Very often, they came to the mission field having sacrificed comfortable retirement expectations. But then a beautiful transformation began. As I observed their faith and trust in the Lord, their involvement in the work, and their selfless giving, I felt as though I were watching budding flowers blossom into full bloom. These wonderful couples traded something good at home for something better in the mission field.

Consider, for example, the experiences of Elder and Sister Verl Asay, who served with us in that mission and who are now serving in the England London South Mission—their third mission. When I asked them what they would say to other couples about their work, Elder Asay responded with this encouragement:

“The Lord has a way of opening the windows of heaven if we will earnestly try. I suffered poor health prior to our first call and had to lay off work for days at a time. Nevertheless, I was healthy enough to accept a mission call and we spent two years in the northwestern United States supervising chapel construction. Fortunately, I was blessed with good health throughout the mission.

“After we returned home, we received and accepted another call for an eighteen-month proselyting mission to the Canada Toronto Mission. What a rewarding spiritual experience we had meeting and working with some of the most wonderful, kind, loving people in all the world. Again, I enjoyed good health, even though those were two of the coldest winters we had ever known. The Lord truly blessed us. Our family at home drew closer together from sharing our letters, and our love for family increased many fold.

“Upon returning home, we counted numerous blessings that had come about as a result of those eighteen months: good health, stronger family ties, many new brothers and sisters in the gospel, and countless spiritual experiences as we helped the work to move forward in one little corner of the Lord’s vineyard.

“Now, once again, we are grateful for another call—this time to England. We see a great need for more couples to help prepare the world for the second coming of the Savior.”

I’m sure this couple will do a marvelous work in England. On the first day of the Asays’ mission to Canada, during my orientation interviews with them, Sister Asay told me that she was nervous and frightened to be a proselyting missionary. I told her it really wasn’t that bad; all she needed to do was talk to people about the Church. And we walked through a practice session asking the golden questions.

On their first day out as missionaries, while her husband was paying for some groceries, Sister Asay asked the woman at the cash register if she knew anything about the Church and if she would like to know more. As a result of that question, the woman, Betti W. Guild, was baptized along with her husband and two relatives; at least seventeen others followed.

As I think of this couple who have left family and the comforts of home for the third time to serve the Lord, I think of the words of the Lord:

“And every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name’s sake, shall receive an hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life.” (Matt. 19:29.)

Following are some commonly asked questions. Perhaps the answers will help you understand more about the work of missionary couples.

Who Are Missionary Couples? They are worthy, older married couples who no longer have dependent children at home, are able to support themselves financially in the mission field, and are in good health.

How Long Do Couples Serve? Couples are usually called for eighteen months, but their calls can be for twelve or six months as circumstances warrant. Six-month assignments are limited to couples in vocations that are seasonal, such as agriculture; these short-term assignments are to missions close to where the couple lives. Couples serving for eighteen months may be assigned outside their own country.

After serving one mission, couples frequently feel the desire to serve again. One couple, Ralph and Aileen Tate, are serving their fourth mission; they have served in Toronto, in Nigeria and Ireland, and in the islands of the Caribbean; they now serve in New Zealand. They have seen people baptized in every mission, and the leadership training they have done is tremendous.

Another couple, Ross and Ruby Andersen of Thornton, Idaho, have served one eighteen-month mission and have also filled ten six-month missions. They’re away on missions every winter, and then return home for the planting and harvesting. What a great sacrifice they’re making—to be gone on missions every Thanksgiving and Christmas since 1978! But think of the great blessings they’re making possible in people’s lives.

Is It Presumptuous to Seek a Mission Call? Not at all. Couples don’t call themselves; the Lord does. But they should feel free to go to the bishop and let him know of their interest in serving.

Will We Have to Memorize the Discussions? Missionaries using the current discussions are not required to memorize; they teach from an outline, using their own words. Couples can learn enough of the outline of the discussions—and can even refer to the outline as they teach—so that they can share the gospel very effectively without having to memorize. In this way, they are able to be more sensitive to the Spirit and to the investigator’s feelings. But may I further alleviate any fears on this matter. You already know the gospel! Your years of learning it and living it will provide many unique and wonderful personal experiences through which you can effectively teach it. Do not be afraid. The Lord will bless you as you teach the gospel on your mission.

Will We Have to Learn a New Language? No. The Church needs all the English-speaking couples who will serve. Service to a foreign-speaking country is cleared with the couple before the call is issued.

However, we do hope more couples will start their preparation early by learning language skills so they can serve in places where the Church is in its early stages of development.

Are There Age Restrictions for Missionary Couples? The general age limit is seventy years. However, couples older than seventy may be called if their health is good and if their stake president feels they have the physical and emotional strength to serve.

How About Our General Health? Missionary couples should be healthy enough to contribute to the work. Most couples are actively involved at home, so they should be able to serve a mission. Remember, you will have each other for support. In addition, the mission president will be sensitive to special circumstances and will assign you based on your experience and the need in the mission.

Will I Be Able to Take the Physical Rigors of Proselyting Like the Young Missionaries? Don’t worry about this. You will work at your own pace and will not be expected to follow the same routines as the other missionaries. There are many other ways to make friends and work with them. You have a lifetime of experience to draw upon; the approaches for service are unlimited.

What Are Some of Those Other Approaches to Service? You could teach in the auxiliaries, build chicken coops, train local leaders, bottle tomatoes, fellowship potential or new members, repair fences, reactivate less-active members, teach people how to plant and care for gardens, preach the gospel, love and listen, sing in choirs, paint, baptize, pull weeds—anything and everything that finds access to people’s hearts in faithful, loving ways. The list is endless. Missionary couples are guided by the Spirit to perform many things that can help direct our Heavenly Father’s children toward the Lord and his kingdom.

What Are the Greatest Assets Couples Have As Missionaries? Missionary couples are often assigned to areas where local Church leaders and members can benefit from their experience, maturity, and guidance. Missionary couples add strength to branches and wards just by their presence. One of my colleagues has said: “Missionary couples are living examples of what the Church does for people. People in the mission field look at them and see great faith in action. And they get a perspective of lifetime service in the Church.”

How Many Couples Are Needed? When someone asked President Spencer W. Kimball that question, he replied, “All of them!”

President Ezra Taft Benson has said:

“Today the Church needs missionaries as never before! We are required to carry the gospel of Jesus Christ to every nation of the world. …

“This task will require thousands of missionaries, many more than are presently engaged in worldwide missionary service. …

“You are needed in the service of the Lord today as never before. ‘The harvest truly is great, but the labourers are few.’ (Luke 10:2.)” (Ensign, May 1984, pp. 43–44.)

Elder David B. Haight of the Quorum of the Twelve has said:

“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. … If we could only transplant hundreds of our faithful, well-prepared couples out into one of the greatest chapters of their lives!” (Ensign, May 1979, pp. 62–63.)

Missions everywhere need more couples. Their maturity and experience make them some of the best missionaries we have. Their special skills, honed over a lifetime of faithful service and living, enable them to train local leaders effectively, strengthen and reactivate members, and bring nonmembers to Christ by teaching and baptizing them. The importance of their work is almost beyond expression in words.

Consider the testimony of Elder and Sister Gail S. Halvorson, who served in the England London South Mission:

“After our retirement, we felt comfortable and relaxed in planning visits to the grandchildren, attending BYU football and basketball games, boating, and tending our small farm.

“Then our mission calls came. The message did not do anything to overcome our feelings of inadequacy, but the signature did: ‘Ezra Taft Benson, President.’ The Lord had called us through his prophet. Additional assurance came after reflecting on 1 Nephi 3:7 [1 Ne. 3:7]: ‘I know that the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them.’

“Things moved quickly. It was the children’s turn to be apprehensive. Who would haul the hay? Who would feed the cows and take care of any other problems? But that phase was of short duration as we felt the warmth and wonder of five children, their spouses, and the grandchildren pour out love, support, and advice. What a beautiful switch! Here was our first great blessing that we might otherwise not have experienced: we became the object of concern!

“But the best was yet to come. We faced lorries on the wrong side of the carriageway, stared at buildings that were old when Columbus discovered America, discovered little thatched-roof villages that were frozen in time. We met people who wanted to know more about the Church, and we taught individuals and families in a way that we did not even know we could.

“Tears filled our eyes and flowed down our cheeks as we watched a father baptize his faithful wife. We had found and baptized him and his two sons not many months before. It was not our doing, however, because the Lord had led us to these and other wonderful people. Then we began to understand that no matter how inadequate we believe ourselves to be in finding or teaching, the Lord will keep his promise by providing a way—even for us!”

To all married couples that can serve: now is the time. Thrust in your sickle and serve the Lord with all your might, mind, and strength. You will know more love and fulfillment than you ever believed possible.

A mission is a sacrifice, yet your sacrifice will bring forth “the blessings of heaven.” (See Hymns, 1985, no. 27.) In reality, the sacrifice of leaving home, family, and comforts truly turns out to be a sacrifice of something good for something better.

[illustrations] Illustrated by Scott Snow